In the numismatic world, we think of “provenance” as the ownership
history of a valuable coin, such as the Mickley-Hawn-Queller Class I
1804 Draped Bust silver dollar graded Proof 62 that sold for $3.74
million in 2008.
Heritage Auctions, which offered the coin, described its “long and
historic provenance that extends back to noted 19th century collector
Joseph J. Mickley.”
What would you say if I claimed that “everyday” provenance —
ordinary pocket change and paper currency — can be worth far more than
any Class I 1804 dollar, at least figuratively, and priceless to the owner?
To begin with, two types of everyday provenance, “public” and
“private,” exist. The former involves a common numismatic item
associated with a famous individual or occasion; the latter, with a
personally important individual or occasion.
How much would you pay for a worn $5 Confederate note? Perhaps $25
How much would you pay for the one in Abraham Lincoln’s wallet
when he was assassinated April 14, 1865? It’s not for sale. The
priceless note, along with other possessions in his pockets, is
archived in the Library of Congress, where it will remain.
Some everyday items are associated with famous occasions.
Ordinarily, a heavily environmentally damaged 1936 Winged Liberty
Head dime with a graffitied reverse would be worth only face value.
Such a dime was taken by astronaut Gus Grissom on the second
manned U.S. space flight, July 21, 1961. Bolts on his Liberty Bell 7
Mercury spacecraft exploded on splashdown, sinking the craft in the
Atlantic Ocean. The capsule was recovered July 20, 1999, and one of 52
dimes found within was auctioned by Heritage Nov. 17, 2010, fetching a
realized price of $3,858.
That was a bargain.
Personal everyday provenance can be priceless, too, at least to
family members or loved ones. For instance, coins from a fallen
soldier’s pocket are handed down, generation after generation.
Included in an estate collection I recently appraised was a coin
bracelet of ordinary foreign and U.S. coins, but representing cities
visited by an airline steward from Iowa.
I have my own collection of everyday personal provenance,
including two Kennedy copper-nickel clad half dollars left to me by my
mother along with other coins; a $2 “good luck” note from my father;
my first coin shop purchase, an 1884 Indian Head cent; an 1864 Nova
Scotia cent marking a 2001 family vacation; and a 1925 Stone Mountain
Memorial commemorative half dollar from my grandfather.
My most recent addition is a Ulysses S. Grant Presidential dollar
that was in my pocket while I was sworn in on July 26 as a member of
the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. I had several in my pocket
that I had purchased from the U.S. Mint lobby kiosk, and I gave one
each to my sons and the rest to youth members of the Ames (Iowa) Coin Club.
You can share your own such treasures with friends or perhaps
fellow collectors in the Letters section of Coin World to
show the value of everyday provenance.
Michael Bugeja, a coin collector since childhood, is a professor
at Iowa State University and also serves as president and Webmaster of
the Ames (Iowa) Coin Club. He is a nationally known author, journalist