Coin col­lec­tors are on the cent

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Erin Dou­glas

The price of one bit of his­tory could reach a half-mil­lion dol­lars next week in Den­ver.

A coin and money con­ven­tion, in­clud­ing an auc­tion for rare cur­rency, will be rolling at the Col­orado Con­ven­tion Cen­ter down­town Tues­day through Aug. 5.

The World’s Fair of Money, spon­sored by the Col­orado Springs-based Amer­i­can Nu­mis­matic As­so­ci­a­tion, will be home to more than $1 bil­lion of valu­able cur­rency.

The gen­eral pub­lic can view the rare coins and bills — in­clud­ing “funny money,” which is cur­rency bear­ing some sort of mis­take — and can learn about the his­tory of coins through ed­u­ca­tional sem­i­nars.

Free ap­praisals will be avail­able by nu­mis­matic ex­perts, and more than 500 deal­ers will be buy­ing and sell­ing rare coins.

The auc­tion will fea­ture a 1792 Birch cent, the first penny man­u­fac­tured in the U.S. It con­tains 264 grains of cop­per be­cause the gov­ern­ment wanted it to be worth ex­actly 1/100 of a dol­lar — but it’s the size of a half dol­lar. The Birch pen­nies were never cir­cu­lated.

Her­itage Auc­tions, the or­ga­ni­za­tion sell­ing the piece for an English coin col­lec­tor who found it, sold an­other Birch cent a few years ago for nearly $2.6 mil­lion. David Stone, a U.S. coin cat­a­loger for Her­itage Auc­tions, said he ex­pects this one to go for a half-mil­lion bucks be­cause its con­di­tion is not as good.

Stone said it is un­known how many of these first pen­nies were man­u­fac­tured, but about a dozen are known to ex­ist to­day. The one at the Den­ver auc­tion was last seen in 1890 but re­cently turned up in Eng­land with a coin dealer.

“We thought we knew where it was be­fore, but we were wrong,” Stone said. “This one was hid­den for all those years.”

Other no­table coins at the auc­tion will be ex­per­i­men­tal pen­nies made from plas­tic, glass or zinc-cov­ered steel — pro­to­types to show to Congress for con­sid­er­a­tion dur­ing World War II when they were short on cop­per due to the man­u­fac­tur­ing of shell cas­ings and other war ne­cessi- ties. One of these ex­per­i­men­tal coins sold for $70,000 last year, Stone said.

For one year only — 1943 — an al­ter­na­tive penny was man­u­fac­tured with zinc-coated steel. But dur­ing that pe­riod, a few cop­per cents got through be­cause the metal was still left in the mint­ing ma­chines. One of these mix­ups will be at the auc­tion. Its auc­tion es­ti­mate is $160,000, but Stone said he ex­pects it to go for twice that price.

Stone said most col­lec­tors are high-pro­file busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives with lots of money — and an in­ter­est in his­tory.

“It’s kind of fas­ci­nat­ing,” Stone said of coin col­lect­ing. “It’s a phys­i­cal link to the past. Maybe Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton held this coin at one time.

“Our whole money sys­tem came from these coins, and it wasn’t a sim­ple process. It’s just a re­ally good story.”

Some of the coins with good sto­ries are an­cient cur­rency.

“A lot of the things we know about an­cient civ­i­liza­tions — the things that are left to tell us about them — are from the coins they is­sued,” Stone said. “You can tell what some­one from 1,000 years ago looked like from a coin.”

Al­though coins might have his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, there are some ad­vo­cates for elim­i­nat­ing the penny from cir­cu­la­tion al­to­gether. They ar­gue that it costs more to pro­duce than it is worth.

Leg­is­la­tion at­tempted to move away from the penny, but it never got through Congress.

For a coin col­lec­tor like Stone, how­ever, the penny is nos­tal­gic.

“It’s prob­a­bly in­evitable (pro­duc­tion of the penny will end) some­day, but I don’t think that day is here yet,” Stone said. “I think peo­ple are too at­tached to let it go now. I think we’ll see it for the fore­see­able fu­ture.”

A 1792 Birch cent, the first penny man­u­fac­tured in the U.S., is ex­pected to go for a half-mil­lion dol­lars at auc­tion in Den­ver next week.

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