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We keep a charity jar in the front hall. Found money goes there, as well as coins that fall on the floor and bills that go through the wash.

Every few months we count it up and donate the money to charity, often to whatever disaster has befallen the world that month.

Circulation microcosm

In a microcosm, the contents of that jar capture the state of circulating currency this past summer. I got curious the other day and counted out the 5-cent coins.

This denomination has always been a favorite of mine for circulation finds.

When I was a boy in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Indian Head 5-cent coins abounded in change and the odd Liberty Head 5-cent coin wasn’t unknown. I never found a 1950-D or 1939-D Jefferson 5-cent coin, but pulled bunches of “war nickels” from circulation.

While higher denominations have been subject to the depredations of silver melters over the years, 5-cent coins, except for those wartime alloy pieces, have been generally safe from the smelter’s reach.

The Jefferson 5-cent coin was minted from 1938 through 2003 — 65 years — without a substantial change in design.

Here’s what’s circulating today.

The jar held 57 5-cent coins; three from the 1960s, seven from the 1970s, 15 from the 1980s, 21 from the 1990s and 11 from the 2000s. The latest coin was dated 2008.

The oldest coin is 50 years old — a 1961-D piece. Rounding out that decade’s coins were a 1964 coin and a 1969-S piece. The San Francisco Mint stopped producing 5-cent coin for circulation in 1954 and resumed again for two years in the late 1960s — 1968 and 1969. The West Coast facility continues to strike 5-cent coin, but only a few million each year and only for Proof sets.

The 1970s coins included 1974 (two), 1977 (two), 1978-D and 1979 (two) pieces.

The sample included all dates from the 1980s, but not all Mint marks. Those coins were 1980, 1981-P and 1981-D, 1982, 1983 (two), 1984 (four), 1985-D, 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989.

More coins — 21 — came from the 1990s than any other decade, a development that puzzles me. I suspect it has to do with the design changes of the 2000s.

Collecting design types

People tend to keep coins that look different. And the changes to the 5-cent coin, commemorative reverses and a facing portrait of Jefferson, certainly are different.

That decade’s coins included 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995-D, 1996, 1996-D (two), 1997 (three), 1997-D (two), 1998 (three) 1998-D, 1999 (two) and 1999-D (two).

Coins from this millennium include five old style 5-cent coins — 2000-P and 2000-D, 2001-D and 2002-P and 2002-D. The sample of coins included one Peace Medal (2004) and one Ocean in View (2005) 5-cent coin from the two-year Westward Journey series and four facing portrait coins (2007-P and 2007-D and 2008-P and 2008-D).

Except for a few die varieties, no Jefferson 5-cent coin is worth more than a few dollars in circulated condition.

But its longevity — approaching 75 years — and design types make it an interesting series to collect from circulation.

Gerald Tebben is an editor for the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.

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