Coin collectors are on the cent
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.