Jim Bisognani: 'Wheaties' Are Champs with This Kid

Posted on 5/5/2022

A youngster starts his numismatic journey, and world coins remain blazing hot.

Well, my friends, the merry month of May is here and, as usual, much of nature’s bounty that had remained dormant through the winter is now bouncing back to life. A bounce back is something that the present coin market has not experienced as there hasn’t been any period of dormancy, at least during the past two years. Yes, my fellow coindexters, I can report there is still an untethered upward trajectory for our treasured metal discs.

I have observed, and dealers have relayed to me, that prices realized on the bourse have been fantastic. As I assimilate data from public auctions, the results remain remarkable as competition for fresh, high-grade and iconic coins is fierce. The eyes and resources of major dealers are now focused on how to replenish their dwindling inventories.

“It’s a challenge — a real challenge” proclaimed a well-known West Coast dealer. “I am finding myself paying as much as 50% more for coins that I actually owned and were in my inventory less than a year ago.”

US coins and currency and world coins are all stretching boundaries that were thought to be unbreachable. So, whatever your budget allows, be prepared to pay more.

12-year-old boy starts collecting ‘Wheaties’

A 12-year-old chap by the name of Danny emailed me a few weeks ago. He said his dad had been a stamp collector when he was a kid and branched out to include coins when he was in his early 20s. But fatherhood came along, and the hobby was put on the back burner.

Then, about five years ago, his dad began to buy junk silver and finally filled up his Lincoln Cent “Wheaties” album. Per Danny, when dad bought the 1909-S VDB a few years ago, “My dad couldn’t take his eyes off the coin for a month or more.”

A 1909S VDB One Cent graded NGC MS 65 RB
Click images to enlarge.

That’s when young Danny first really took notice of numismatics and figured he needed to see what was so fascinating to his dad.

Then, some magic happened. Danny was able to hold the iconic coin in hand and look at his dad’s treasured coin under the magnifying glass. “I saw the V.D.B. on the back, then the sharply defined S under the date. It was really neat. A coin that was over 100 years old and looked nearly new.”

Danny went on to write that he had learned that there wasn’t just a single first year of issue. There were four first-year-of-issue coins: two coins from Philadelphia, the 1909 and 1909 VDB, and a pair from San Francisco, the 1909-S and the 1909-S VDB.

He was so excited that he was able to buy the 1909 and 1909 VDB in near Mint State at a local coin show in early March.

The young coindexter has already appreciated the vintage “look” of the early wheat cents. “The colors are neat, too — dark brown, light brown, red and orange. And they are heavier than the newer cents I get in change.” I explained that is because of the composition for the last 40 years, which is just a copper layer over zinc, not the heavier bronze composition of the Wheaties.

And whether the numismatic gods were with him, or perhaps there was a case of dealers salting some “older coins” back into circulation for ANA Coin Week, Danny found a 1939, 1929 and 1917 Wheaties a few weeks back. It was a thrill for sure.

Now the young collector is ready to commit his hard-earned allowance and chore money to Wheaties — and not the cereal, as Danny quipped.

So, the big question from Danny is if he should save for the big purchase of a 1909-S Lincoln in About VF, which is presently trading at around $150.

The lad said it will probably take him until mid-summer to save up for this big splurge into coin-dom.

I relayed to Danny the beginning of my coin journey. In fact, the first key coin I acquired was a 1909-S Lincoln Cent, too. I was 14 and was attending a local coin show, which was held the last Sunday of the month. As it turned out, the dealer I bought it from was from my native Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A lovely VF+ coin — smooth and medium brown, with just a hint of that typical wood-grain texture to add to the appeal of the coin — and the price was $20.50.

Danny said, “Wow, you must be real old, but it sounds like a great deal.” I said yes to both.

The big question for Danny is: Should he go all in for the 1909-S or is there a better option?

So, by just using rough calculation, using my purchase price of $20.50, the price of the 1909-S has climbed 632% since I first bought my coin. Now, dividing that by 50 years (gulp), that equates to an average annual increase on the order of nearly 13%.

Based on that, I would probably recommend that if his budget is around $150, for enjoyment and the proverbial hunt, he should spread out his funds and track down a group of eye-pleasing VF and better mintmarked coins from the early Lincoln Cent series.

I always enjoyed mintmarked Lincolns because, unlike every other US series of the same time period, you didn’t have to flip the coin over to see if there was a mintmark on the reverse.

I then compiled a list of my favorites, which should run about the same as the 1909-S alone! I suggested the 1910-S, 1913-S, 1911-D, 1914-S, 1916-D, 1918-D and 1921-S, all in VF+.

Then, perhaps by the end of the year, maybe pull the trigger on the 1909-S. I then stressed that building a collection should be fun and a learning experience. Personally, I think accumulating some of the semi keys at this point would be the best route here.

Of course, I didn’t tell Danny about my passion for world coins! That will be next time.

World coins are on fire

Yes, world coins are also on fire. For example, the just-concluded Stack’s Bowers May 2022 Hong Kong Auction realized $26 million. A pair of NGC-certified coins stood out in this powerful sale.

The top NGC-certified lot was a China 1949 Bamboo Dollar graded NGC XF 40 (lot 51083), which realized $480,000. This rare coin’s design is highly thematic and has always enjoyed a wildly popular following. Issued just prior to a new government taking power, this coin, to my recollection, has to be the priciest post-World War II coin in the world spanning the entire Baby Boomer generation.

China 1949 Bamboo Dollar graded NGC XF 40. Realized: $480,000
Click images to enlarge.

The demand is so strong for this type that this NGC XF 40 coin realized $72,000 more than an NGC AU 50 from not even a year ago!

Then, there is this fabulous “Sun Yat-Sen” Mausoleum Pattern Dollar of 1927, graded NGC MS 63, which slammed the top pre-auction estimates by 300% en route to realizing an astounding $408,000. A truly splendid example of this proudly crafted and designed coin. The coin, endowed with tantalizing rich original toning, is really thrilling — but just how thrilling?

China 1927 Silver Dollar graded NGC MS 63. Realized: $408,000
Click images to enlarge.

Well, a top-graded, tied for finest known NGC MS 65 example had the fortune (or misfortune) of being sold at the (barely) pre-pandemic Heritage Hong Kong Auction sale the first week of December 2019, where Dr. Sen realized a “paltry” $60,000!

Amazingly, the just-sold coin, although highly attractive, is numerically two grading points lower, yet in two and a half years powered to an increase of 580%. Yes, my friend’s quality and rarity remain scorching hot.

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

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