In the late 1960s, most coin dealers were busy buying silver coins
from the public. In the meantime, the rare coin market, which had
reached unprecedented highs in 1964, had crashed in 1965 with a thud.
The bellwether object of investment desire, a bank-wrapped roll of
40 1950-D Jefferson 5-cent coins, which in the late 1950s could have
been bought for less than $50 (representing a great profit to holders
at the time), zoomed up to $1,200 before stopping in its tracks in
1965. Then the market ran out of new buyers (hard to imagine today in
2012, but history does repeat itself, doesn’t it?).
The slump continued into the early 1970s, when a strong interest
in gold coins turned things around and the market was hot once again
when it was anticipated that Americans soon would be able hold gold
bars and bullion legally, which had not been possible since Franklin
D. Roosevelt prohibited the same in 1933.
The coin market woke up. Led by gold coins, prices strengthened
and in some instances multiplied. Oops! In 1974, the coin market
slumped. Following the old stock market adage, “sell on the news,” I
predicted this would happen.
In 1973, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times interviewed more
than a dozen coin dealers, seeking their comments. Everyone said that
starting in 1974 there would be an unprecedented boom. I was the
exception. Later, the reporter called me back and asked me how I knew
this might happen. “I have studied economics and the coin market and
have learned the lessons of history,” was my reply.
In 1976, the nation celebrated the Bicentennial. A survey of coins
in everyday circulation would have shown the following. Lincoln cents
were nearly all with the Lincoln Memorial reverse; “Wheaties” were
hardly ever seen and were worth two or three cents each. Jefferson
5-cent coins were the same as ever, except that most were dated since
1950, and no silver-content wartime pieces were to be found. Dimes,
quarter dollars and half dollars were all of copper-nickel clad metal
— silver had disappeared. Eisenhower dollars in copper-nickel clad,
introduced in 1971, were never seen, or at least were not seen by me,
except during a trip to Las Vegas where they were in common use on the
The 1776-1976 Bicentennial coinage was a numismatic nonevent. The
market remained in a slump. Proof set orders fell below expectations,
and except for the quarter design with its drummer boy, most
collectors found the new higher-denomination designs to be ugly.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.