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What’s your favorite coin?
By Dr. R.S. “Bart” Bartanowicz
October 09, 2017

"Thanks for taking time to show me some of your collection. You really have nice coins. I can see that your collection is a labor of love. I’ve come to appreciate the fact that you’ve shown me that not all coins have to be in mint state to have great eye appeal.”

Our numismatist didn’t mind the numismatic flattery but it made him uncomfortable. “Thanks for the nice words. But as I’ve said before, I’m just one collector and a lot of people might not see my collection in the same light that I do. I’ve had other collectors give me a raised eyebrow and ask, ‘Why did you decide to collect coins in that particular grade?’ I never take it personal.”

His friend replied, “I get what you’re saying. There is one thing I’ve wondered about. You’ve never said what your favorite coin is or, put another way, what’s the star of your collection?”

Our numismatist contemplated his answer while tugging at his beard. “This is sort of like the old Smothers Brothers comedy skit about who Mom liked best. I actually have two favorite coins, one is a 1941 Philadelphia-struck Mercury dime and the other is a 1941 Mexican one-centavo."

His friend looked surprised.

"They are both AU coins and are part of my 1941 birth year collection. These were the first two coins that I started the collection with. Both are attractive and well struck.”

His friend was indeed surprised.

“I assumed that your favorite coin would be a rare or elusive piece. On the other hand, you do your own thing. You’ve told me that Robert Frost is your favorite poet. As such I guess this the numismatic version of Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken.’ But what’s the story behind these coins?”

“Sure, the birth year set was a diversion from my regular collecting routine. My goal was a worldwide set of just one inexpensive coin from each country that was a 1941 issue. The criteria were that coins be well struck and not abused, e.g., cleaned, scratched or badly tarnished. I thought it would be fun. I was also interested in what world coins looked like in 1941.

“I started this quest by going through a dealer’s bargain box. I pulled several candidates. One was the 1941 Mercury dime. It was well struck, free of distracting marks, but it had started to tone a bit unevenly around the rims. The toning appealed to me and I grabbed it.

“The second best coin was the Mexican one-centavo. This coin was also well struck and without problems. It was a nice even brown and the dealer had priced it at 99 cents, which made me chuckle.

“The other coins did not pass muster and I put them back in the box. I did a little bargaining and as I recall the total came to about six or seven dollars.

“When I got home I reholdered the coins in fresh 2 by 2s and examined them even more. I reflected on the year 1941 and what was going on in both the United States and Mexico. I really enjoyed myself.

“Six dollars for an afternoon of enjoyment and reflection was a real bargain.

“Completing my birth year set took about two years to complete. It was a challenge and I quickly realized what numismatic treasures world coins were. It was a great journey and it was those two coins that started me on a pleasurable quest without spending a great deal of money.

“So, those are my favorite coins.”

His friend nodded, “That’s a great story. I’ve seen your birth year set when you’ve displayed it at coin shows as well as club meetings. The set is certainly eclectic and I can see why it appealed to you.”

Our numismatist replied, “I’m just a sentimental old geezer.”

Well, that was another trip down memory lane. When asked about favorite coins, most folks will talk about the star of their collection be it in terms of the hunt for the coin, the rarity and the value and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Conversely, I know folks who have old and worn coins that are pocket pieces that were handed down to them that they will never part with. (Note: pocket pieces were coins that were often engraved with a sentiment and considered to be good luck.)

They might own a rare Saint-Gaudens gold $20 piece, but the old and worn pocket piece will be their favorite because of the story connected to the coin.

Collect what you like and enjoy it even if it isn’t the rarest or most expensive coin in the world. You might have more enjoyment doing this than trying to be the Big Kahuna.

Next time you’re in the greeting card section of a store or restaurant you might look for a series of birthday cards that celebrates particular birth years listing what the favorite movies, cars, etc., were.

I’ve sent these cards out before with a coin from that year enclosed. It might get someone interested in collecting coins.

P.S. What do you know about your birth year?

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