Jeff Starck

Starck Contrasts

Jeff Starck

Jeff is a senior editor and was Coin World's 2003 Margo Russell intern and joined the staff in 2004. Jeff has been a collector since childhood and fondly remembers the challenges of completing Whitman folders by pulling coins from circulation and searching rolls from the bank. His current collecting interest focuses on Missouri-related numismatics and exonumia. He is the primary writer for the World Coins section in the monthly Special Edition and is responsible for Coin World's coverage of world coins and weekly International page. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Webster University in St. Louis where he was editor-in-chief of its weekly student newspaper.

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Pocket change memory

There’s still something alluring about finding an old “wheat penny” in circulation.

As I started my day one morning recently, I grabbed the change from the previous day’s travels and discovered that an old Lincoln cent with those familiar ears of wheat had somehow slipped in without notice.

Usually observant of my coins, I must have been harried as I slipped the change into my pocket the day before, and been too tired at the day’s conclusion to pay attention to the antique artifact.

Like many coin collectors, one of the reasons I love this hobby is the ability to be transported through time to when the coin was issued and consider where it has been, and who has used it as spending money all this time.

That task is a bit harder with this particular coin, since the date is essentially illegible. Both sides of the coin are worn pretty smooth.

The first two digits — the obvious ones — are still discernible. It’s those last two digits that prove the most vexing. The dates that my mind sees the most end in 23, 25 or 28, but that could be a mirage.

The Mint Mark, however crude, indicates that the coin was struck in San Francisco.

I’d like to think that the coin was struck in 1927, the birth year of my maternal grandmother, who played a large role in my early collecting journey.

My only “three-cent nickel” came from her, when I was maybe 12 years old. Knowing that I had been bitten by the collecting bug, she allowed me to rummage through a pile of wheat cents and other strange coins that I had never seen outside of the “Red Book,” picking out ones I needed to fill an album or build my nascent cache.

“What do you want for them?”

“Just give me face value,” she offered.

So, mistaking it for a dime, given its color and size, I paid 10 cents for the 1865 coin. That was the first year of issue, and the most common date, for the denomination and design type.

Both numismatically and sentimentally, it’s worth far more than I ever paid for it. And I still have it!

Though the date on the Wheat cent could very well be another year, I like to think it has special meaning, despite its wretched condition.

In fact, the reverse of this newfound cent is worse than the obverse.

The denomination ONE CENT is still visible, but the wheat? It’s almost completely harvested. The remnants of the legend E PLURIBUS UNUM resemble what you might hear someone say right after oral surgery.

That might explain why it was still slipping by in circulation.

So what is it worth?

A cynic knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing, right? Well, maybe that saying should be flipped to say that a romantic values everything far beyond its cost.

In commerce, the smooth cent is worth at least a cent, of course, but the value of a memory from my early collecting days can’t be quantified.

What’s your story?

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Older Comments (1)
I'm coming up on 10 years of collecting. The very first old or good coin I got in change was a 1963 silver Roosevelt dime. I got it on my 13 th birthday in 1995. Back then I really didn't think much of coins. Fast foward 10 years to May of 2005. Then I was grown and 23. I got a 1950 D wheat cent in change. For some reason it was then that the bug bit me. I haven't stopped collecting since. Of course I've filled albums like everyone else,but I also found that I enjoy teaching about the hobby. So it's not that a coin is worth something,but it's the memories of getting them AND becoming friends with other numismatists that is. One word sums it up : PRICELESS.