Finding Treasure in Old Coins
When I finally razed that 1940's cabinet so out-of-place in an 1840's home, I looked down and spotted a coin wedged in between the original pine floorboards. "That coin has to be over a hundred years old," I told myself. "Maybe it fell out of some carpenter's pocket when he was building the house or installing the planking."
I fetched a pair of needle nose pliers and realized that pliers alone would not do the job. This coin was stuck in the crack so deep that removing it required the use of a hammer and a long nail that would be used like a crowbar. "Good," I said. "Coins so firmly cemented between planks and rocks and other such places that they have to be "crowbared" out are indubitably rare and priceless." It's a theory that will find a spot on my upcoming list of Murphy's Laws for Antique Optimists.
I loosened the coin from its slot. Pulled it out gently with the pliers and gave it a look. It was so grimy it looked like it was stuck in a pit of copper-toned tar. "Another good sign!" I said to myself. I made my way to the sink to clean it with the kind of eagerness I see on people's faces at gas stations and variety stores: People who rub those little squares on lottery tickets. "Oh my lucky day!" I said to myself, using words less fit for print. "It's a 1943 copper penny!"
Ever find an old queer looking coin and wonder if it's a "winner?" Here's the bad news: valuable coins are very scarce. Still … you never know. Here is a little American "change" you'd be well fortuned to find between your floorboards:
- A Three-Legged 1937D Buffalo Nickel: Buffalo nickels were produced from 1913 to 1938. Artist James Fraser's front side portrait was based on his composite of three different Native American sitters. The tail side model is "Black Diamond," a bison that resided in the New York Zoological Gardens. Buffalo nickels didn't and still don't wear well. Any example still retaining all its date numerals is well worth treasuring. Buffalo nickels of an especially rare nature include: 1913 & 14, 15S, 21S and especially a sprinkling of 1937D coins that were stamped out with a die defect in the bison's right foreleg. Those few 37D nickels having such an imperfection depict poor old Blacky standing on only 3 legs. While I won't tolerate a 3-legged pig, I love a 3-legged buffalo. Some of those nickels are worth $1,000!
- 1916D Winged Liberty Head or Mercury Dime: Only 264,000 were produced – a minuscule run by mint standards.
- Lincoln 1909S VDB: The coin issue that's had so much hullabaloo made of it over the years it now casts a Paul Bunyan shadow. The S will be found under the date on the face side. The VDB printed on some coins to honor its engraver, Victor D. Brenner, will be on the reverse side at the bottom rim. As of 1918 Brenner's initials appear under Lincoln's shoulder. In worn condition a VDB-S will fetch hundreds. Mint examples fetch thousands. Not a great deal of money considering all the fuss. Other Lincoln cents to look for are: 1909S, 1914D, 1922D, 1924D, 1931S and (this applies to almost all coins) double strikes and other minting errors.
- 1926 Oregon Trail Half Dollar: It's a commemorative coin with an image of a standing Indian superimposed over America. Holding his arm eastward the proud brave is futilely trying to hold back westward expansion. The coin's reverse illustrates a Conestoga wagon train heading out on the Great Plains toward a setting sun. It's one of the two most beautiful coins ever struck. The other is the 1907-1932 high relief $20 Standing Liberty and eagle gold coin directed by Teddy Roosevelt and designed by the president's friend, the great sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. A near perfect example will set you back as much as $10,000. Great art can prove a costly investment.
- 1932D and 32S Washington Quarters: They look like all the other quarters in your pocket except, because of their rarity, they are worth $100!
- 1943 Copper Penny: Due to a shortage of the critical war metal, copper, 1943 pennies were all made of zinc-coated steel. All but a few. Find an authentic 1943 Lincoln head penny made out of copper, and you really have found one of the big money giants of all American coins. By the way, that coin I found in my floorboards looked like a '43 copper -- until I cleaned it and discovered it was just a nice little gray-toned wartime steel penny worth about 25 cents. Oh well, a penny saved is a quarter earned.