Many, if not most collectors seem to pay little attention to saving coins that were minted since the mid-1960s. Maybe it’s because of the misinformed perception that there’s nothing of much value among these coins. So, collectors who fall into this philosophical camp are usually in for a big surprise upon discovering that many post-1964 coins are worth more than face value – even if worn, even without errors or varieties.
Here’s a rundown of three types of coins that collectors should be saving from pocket change, rolls, and bags…
Pre-1982 Lincoln Memorial Cents
It’s often stated that 1965 was a watershed moment in United States numismatics, which as many know marks the year when the U.S. Mint stopped making 90% silver coinage for circulation. But what is frequently forgotten is that the process of removing precious metal from circulating coinage didn’t happen overnight. History shows us that the landmark removal of valuable metal from U.S. coins occurred over a span of more than 15 years.
Yes, there was the elimination of 90% silver coins in 1965, but circulating half dollars retained silver until 1970, at which point they were debased from a 40% silver composition to copper-nickel clad. And the Lincoln Cent? It was very nearly recast as an aluminum coin in the mid-1970s amid rising copper prices, which fell during the late 1970s but rose yet again in the early ‘80s. The United States government acted quickly to approve a new composition for the Lincoln Cent, which saw its last full year of production as a 95% copper coin in 1981.
Midway through 1982, the Lincoln Memorial Cent was reimagined as a copper-plated zinc coin, a move that at the time helped keep total production costs for the coin under its face value. But much has changed since 1982… Even with the conversion to the coin’s cheaper, zinc-based metallic profile some four decades ago, the cost of producing the one-cent piece has yet again increased above the face value of the coin.
Talks continue – largely on a hypothetical basis – of completely eliminating the one-cent coin from production altogether. Never mind the fact that the price of copper today remains at a point that bronze “pennies,” which includes all pre-1982 Lincoln Memorial Cents, are worth approximately twice their denomination in intrinsic copper bullion value. Those with a proper scale will want to check their 1982 Lincoln Cents, too – those that weigh around 3.1 grams were made before the changeover and are also made from bronze.
It’s presently illegal to melt United States one-cent coins. However, bronze Lincoln Memorial Cents are widely traded today on a speculative basis for anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 cents apiece, sight unseen.
1983 Washington Quarters
Did you know that 1983 Washington Quarters in higher circulated grades are worth more than face value? It’s true… Massive federal budget cuts in late 1981 led to the elimination of countless jobs and services throughout the United States government and its interests. Among the victims of these widescale cutbacks were United States Mint Uncirculated Sets. The 1981 Uncirculated Sets were slated to be the last such products offered by the U.S. Mint, with the thinking that collectors could obtain all the uncirculated specimens of new coinage they wanted through bankrolls and other channels of commerce.
But it didn’t quite work out that way. A handful of private enterprises packaged their own sets of uncirculated coins to fill the void left by the absent government-issued Uncirculated Sets. Besides, many collectors who ordinarily got their fill of contemporary coinage by purchasing one or two current-year uncirculated sets simply weren’t inclined to buy and save entire rolls of 40 or 50 coins. But surely there were collectors who did this in the effort to obtain a few specimens of the contemporary coins they needed to fill holes in their albums (remember, it was the early 1980s – well before PCGS was on the scene, so there were no Registry Sets…).
This led to a dearth of uncirculated coinage from this period, as there were no government-packaged uncirculated sets to supply collectors then – or, decades later, now – examples of uncirculated coinage from 1982 or 1983, the years that no U.S. Mint Uncirculated Sets were made. And this is often where the modern-day tellings of this story stops in explaining the relative paucity of uncirculated U.S. coins from that time. But there’s another reason high-end U.S. coins from 1982 and 1983, particularly quarters, are comparatively rare…
The historic stagflation-era recessions of the 1970s didn’t end when the clock struck 12:00 AM in New York City’s Times Square on January 1, 1980. Economic malaise continued to plague the United States into the early 1980s, and some of the worst economic times of the period occurred late in 1982 and into 1983, when unemployment figures hit highs unrivaled since the Great Depression 50 years earlier. The recession affected coin collectors, too. Many were out of work, and many were tight on money. For some, it was a matter of paying for coins or paying the rent.
While rolls of Lincoln Cents, Jefferson Nickels and, to a lesser extent, Roosevelt Dimes were within financial reach of collectors, few could spare throwing $10 a pop toward buying rolls of new Washington Quarters, a workhorse coin at that time as today. Bear in mind, the federal minimum wage in 1982 or 1983 was $3.35. The coincidental occurrence of the recession just at the time when the U.S. Mint ceased production of Uncirculated Sets left collectors with few affordable options for procuring uncirculated examples of contemporary coinage. The Washington Quarter, in particular 1983-P and 1983-D issues, simply weren’t saved in large numbers. Today, even lightly circulated specimens grading XF45 and AU50 can trade for $2 or $3. Gem examples fetch more than $30 apiece.
Lots of collectors like Ikes. When the Eisenhower Dollar series was in production from 1971 through 1978, it proved most popular in the casino circuit, which is where these dollar coins were then most frequently encountered. But beyond the realms of Las Vegas, Reno, and Branson, Eisenhower Dollars simply failed to make their rounds in pocket change. By the 1970s, the shrinking value of the dollar and lightweight allure of folding banknotes rendered large, heavy coins like the girthy Eisenhower Dollar unpopular with the public.
In the years that followed the demise of the Eisenhower Dollar in 1978, collectors began appreciating the Ikes – a coin symbolically representing the end of the large-size dollar era that began in the United States way back in 1794. Collectors, albeit a rather small number of them, were actively collecting Eisenhower Dollars during the 1970s, and the numismatic legions of Ike fans grew in the years that followed.
These days, Eisenhower Dollars have gained a strong foothold among collectors, particularly younger hobbyists who grew up with fond memories of the large coin during their youth. How often did the Tooth Fairy leave an Eisenhower Dollar under pillows in exchange for newly lost baby teeth? Countless aunts, uncles, and grandparents randomly awarded their young family members with shiny, new Eisenhower Dollars in the 1970s and ‘80s. And more than a fair share of performing illusionists incorporated Eisenhower Dollars into birthday-party and schoolground magic shows of yesteryear. The charm of the Eisenhower Dollar has also beguiled many older collectors, even those who consider themselves advanced hobbyists of robust financial means.
A look at the PCGS Set Registry will quickly reveal the fantastic modern-day popularity of these coins, many of which trade for thousands of dollars in top grades. Yet, it’s not just the Gem-level beauties taking big bucks these days. Even circulated Eisenhower Dollars now routinely trade for small premiums over their face value. These large copper-nickel coins, advancing beyond 50 years of age, are becoming collectible even in worn condition. And while nobody may ever get rich from their hoard of worn 1776-1976 Eisenhower Dollars they’ve got sitting in the closet, they’re likely taking a potential loss of anywhere from five to 25 cents per coin if they spend them at face value.