Give coin gift with a good story

December 6, 2018

Pat Heller


Now that many of us are actively buying gifts for others, take a moment to consider how a numismatic present could end up creating a new collector.

Gifts of coins, precious metals, and paper currency (other than the spending kind) tend to have enduring value. They won’t be consumed and quickly gone. They don’t break down and get thrown away after a limited number of uses.

Literally, they could be treasures. Numismatic items can communicate something of significance on a wide range of levels. Beyond the financial value, they can be appreciated for their artistry, history, geography the theme depicted, or perhaps serve as a reminder of a pleasant experience.

Most of all, coins and currency tell stories. It is the stories that help interest a budding numismatist. If you are contemplating giving some coins or paper money to a youngster in hopes they might take up the hobby, don’t just hand them a few pieces and maybe some supplies.

Instead, commit to take the time to share the stories. Years later, it may be the time you spent together discussing the story of money that may be more treasured than the actual pieces received.

Let me give you just one example of the kind of stories I mean.

Just about every American, young or old, has some Lincoln cents. But how many people know the story of how this design came to be created?

In anticipation of honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of Civil War president Abraham Lincoln, then U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt invited Lithuanian immigrant sculptor and Lincoln aficionado Victor David Brenner to create the design for a cent to replace the coins with Liberty wearing a male Indian headdress.

Brenner’s original design on the reverse closely copied that of the then currently circulating French 2-francs coin. Because of this similarity, U.S. Mint Director Frank A. Leach rejected the concept. Brenner then created a new reverse with the familiar durum wheat stalk design, except that he spelled out his full name across the bottom. Leach objected to the appearance of the full name (which, by the way, is a common practice on many medallic issues), so Brenner revised the reverse to only have his V.D.B. initials.

Leach finally accepted the design with Brenner’s initials, but only after receiving pressure from President Roosevelt to do so. The coins went into production at the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints.

The story didn’t end there. Upon release of the new coins, several newspapers attacked the prominent placement of Brenner’s initials. The dies were quickly altered to eliminate the offensive letters. From mid-1909 through 1917, Lincoln cents do not identify Brenner as the designer. It was not until 1918 that the initials were restored but placed in an obscure location – on the obverse at the bottom of Lincoln’s shoulder – where you can still find them today!

It is the combination of a gift of coins, precious metals, or paper currency and the time to share the stories behind them that could result in creating a new numismatist. But you know what? In the process of doing so, you just might be giving yourself a gift.

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