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Donít Be Ashamed to Dive In
By Dr. R.S. "Bart" Bartanowicz, Coins Magazine
November 04, 2013

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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Don’t be ashamed to dive in. Surprises might await you.

“Running out of money, are you? Did you lose it all at the race track?” Our numismatist let out an audible groan, saying, “Droll, very droll my friend. I can see that you’re still working on your routine for the local comedy club.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t resist saying something when I saw you going through the three coins for $5 bargain bin. By the way, did you just insult me?”

Our numismatist smiled, “Droll is a word that the British like to use. It basically means odd humor that perhaps is only amusing to the speaker. I hardly ever use the word. I decided to use it today since you were having fun at my expense.”

Our numismatist arched his eyebrow and continued, “Would you like to know what I found?” His friend nodded.

“First, there was a priceless 1944 zinc-coated steel Lincoln cent. Then I found a 1937-D three-legged nickel. The Buffalo’s date was barely readable. On inspection I made out the date and saw that it was a rare three-legger.”

The dealer was listening and laughed, saying, “Those are still my coins. You haven’t paid me yet.”

“OK. I didn’t find any rarities. But I did find three beautiful coins from the Bahamas. I have a one-cent piece with a starfish, a five-cent piece with a pineapple and a scalloped-edged 10-cent piece depicting two bonefish. These will go into my collection of topical and odd-shaped coins. I had a great time, and it won’t cost that much after I negotiate the $5 asking price with our dealer friend.The dealer groaned, saying, “You guys are killing me.”

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The point of our story is that bargain bins can hold interesting coins that don’t cost a lot. Bargain bins are not just for folks with limited budgets or newcomers. Strolling around coin shows, I often see crowds around some bargain bins. A sign advertising “six coins for $5” gets people interested. Better yet, there are some bins where you can get three coins for a dollar.

Why are bargain bin coins so inexpensive? Let’s start with U.S. coins. You will often see modern-date proof coins in the bin. There are plenty of people who collect proof sets, but the majority of us collect by denomination, and not all denominations. By way of example, a collector of quarters will need a proof example to complete a collection. After removing the desired quarter, the remaining proofs are usually sold off to other collectors or dealers.

You will also find a lot of modern business-strike coins that are in ample supply and thus the dealer wants to reduce that inventory. Because of the volume of these type coins, the dealer doesn’t always have the opportunity to look them all over.

World coins are another opportunity. A lot of these coins come into shops from collectors or people who have accumulated these coins during their travels. You will see foreign coins that are really cool in terms of topic and shapes. Additionally, you may find obsolete foreign coins that are no longer legal tender in their country.

The price will usually tell you how common the coins are. Three coins for a dollar will not buy great finds. Conversely, three coins for $5 may have better-date coins or selections. A big “however” is that it all depends on what the dealer decides to put in the bin. The dealer may not be looking at any particular pricing strategy other than reducing the inventory of unsold coins.

Peruse the bargain boxes at your local dealer or at coin shows. You may find some interesting coins.

As a military historian, I was thrilled when I discovered a quarter-sized Czech Republic 20-korun piece that depicted the Czech national hero, St. Wenceslas, in armor on horseback. The coin was About Uncirculated. The bonus was that the coin is 13-sided (tridecagon). I found the coin in my friend Vic’s “three coins for $5” bargain box. Vic sold it to me with the admonition that he had better not see the coin on eBay with a big markup.

Don’t be afraid to look into that bargain bin.

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