US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for June 11, 2018

A lot of people stop to pick up loose change that they find in parking lots and elsewhere like this staged image. What does the prevalence of such finds say about those who consider coins disposable?

Coin World photo.

A few days ago, as I was driving in the parking lot of a shopping center in Sidney about a mile from our offices, I watched as a man and woman passed in front of me, crossing my lane on foot, as they had just left one of the stores. A few seconds after they cleared my driving lane, the woman stopped, reached down, and picked up something small. I recognized the motion because I do the same thing in the same parking lot, and others.

She was picking up a coin. 

I find coins lying on the pavement or on the floors of businesses fairly frequently. Usually they are Lincoln cents; I acquired the first of the two 2017-P Lincoln cents I have found in this way. Sometimes, though, I find bigger denominations; a week or so ago, I found a Roosevelt dime in the parking lot.

I almost always stop to pick up a coin, as long as I am not in the path of traffic. Walking upright I have been nearly struck several times by drivers oblivious to my presence, usually because they are speaking on a cell phone (or because they are simply oblivious in general). Leaning over to pick up a coin would only reduce my profile and heighten the risk. Heavy rain can also dissuade me from picking a cent.

I will never get rich finding coins like this. The one more-sizeable sum that I did find was in someone’s lost pocketbook filled with various important documents; I turned that in, and later learned that the owner did retrieve it. I choose to ignore studies that state that a person loses money every time he or she stops to pick up small change. I cannot help myself — free money is free money, even if a year’s total of finds is less than $1.

What is worrisome, however, is the suspicion that a lot of people find coins so disposable that they throw them away deliberately or that coins register so little that they are oblivious to their loss after leaving a store (my rare finds of small change in coin returns at self-checkout stations seem to be evidence of this).

original design for the Washington MonumentInside Coin World: Note shows Washington Monument as it should have looked: A 19th century note shows the Washington Monument in its original though abandoned form. Also in the June 25 Coin World, a coin scandal begins in 1935.

It is undeniable that cash — coins and paper money — plays a smaller role in transactions these days. A recent report from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing indicated that cash accounts for 32 percent of all transactions, and half of those under $25. I can remember a time when most people used cash for almost all of their transactions, with checks reserved for some larger purchases. My late parents almost never used a credit card; for them, it was either cash or a check. Even I, as a collector, make most of my purchases using a credit card (the cash-back inducement helps). And while BEP states that the number of ATMs is growing and the amount of notes in circulation increased by 43 percent from 2008 to 2016, you have to wonder what percentage of that cash is hoarded rather than used in commercial transactions.

The growth of credit cards, online payments, and crypto-currencies — a long-established coin firm just announced that it will now take payment in the latter — and the reduced reliance on cash has major implications for the coin collecting hobby. It is no secret that older collectors are not being replaced at a 1-to-1 ratio by much younger collectors. Many of us in the hobby suspect, as more and more younger people use digital payment methods exclusively, that the idea of traditional forms of money will seem quaint, and that the practice of collecting coins and paper money will not even register as a potential hobby.

That does not mean that coin collecting will die out any time soon. However, it does mean that the collecting community has to be diligent in introducing new generations to the hobby that the readers of Coin World love. 

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