In the early 1970s when collectors were all abuzz about the
upcoming Bicentennial of the United States, I was taking home $110 a
week as a young reporter.
We juggled the bills and rushed downtown more than once to pay the
water bill before the city could cut us off.
Kids’ shoes took precedence over coins, so my collection did not
grow by much then.
The papers were full of ads for Bicentennial collectibles —
beautiful Franklin Mint medals, postage stamps celebrating everything
from the Declaration of Independence to Colonial craftsmen and, of
course, U.S. Mint coins and medals.
I salivated over all of them, but really didn’t buy anything save
a couple of three-piece 40 percent silver Proof sets for $15 apiece —
almost $60 in today’s money.
All this stuff was widely marketed to noncollectors. And, as its
original purchasers age, it’s coming on the market in torrents.
There’s more material than collectors, and dealers have a hard
time moving it. Prices are fluid, depending mostly upon how much
you’re willing to pay for something you know will never be worth much.
I’m a buyer now. The kids — mostly grown and on their own — can
figure out what to do with it in a few years when my bones have turned
to dust. For now, I’m happy to buy the things I couldn’t afford 40
years ago for less — way less — than the issue price.
My favorite piece so far is a set of 11, 1.5-inch pewter
reproductions of medals awarded by the Continental Congress to
Revolutionary War commanders. The set was sold as“America’s First
Medals,” in subscription style at $5 a medal in 1974 and 1975.
Bound in a slip-cased book, the set begins with the Washington
Before Boston medal and includes a 43-page booklet by Vladimir and
Elvira Clain-Stefanelli. I paid $25 for it and love to look at it. The
dealer had several dozen, but I was happy with just one.
In November, I paid $6 for 10 (including six duplicates)
Bicentennial First Day Covers from 1973 to 1975.
These were 1.5-inch bronze medals packaged in special envelopes
that were stamped and postmarked on July 4 of each year.
I don’t remember what the issue price was, but it must have been
several dollars. The stamps alone on the 1975 issue had a face value
of 40 cents.
The medals feature patriots —Paul Revere on the 1975 — and the
tiny Bicentennial logo, which is a kind of swooshy star that looked so
modern then but now looks like a recycling symbol.
The dealer who sold them to me said they were so pretty and so
cheap that he could not pass them by. Neither could I.
Gerald Tebben is an editor for the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.