Holiday Memories

Posted on 12/7/2017

Ideas for the numismatist (or potential numismatist) on your shopping list

The eternal youngster in me notes that, as this article posts, we are a few short weeks away from the Christmas holiday. As the countdown begins in earnest, presently here in New England it is feeling like, but not looking like, the holiday season. No snow yet.

Yet as Sam the Snowman boisterously announces in the 1964 animated classic “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”: “Ahh … I love this Christmas-y time of year.”

Caroling, classic movies, TV and coins — all seem to have been a part of my early DNA. Certainly, numismatics was an important part of my formative years, and the sight of Christmas stockings always make me wax nostalgic. You see, my holiday hosiery would always bear considerable fruit other than traditional apples and oranges used to fill out those old hose socks hung up on the mantle as a silver coin or two always found their way in there, usually tucked strategically in the toe.

Memories of Christmas past

I vividly recall the yuletide memories leading up to the big day when I was seven years old. As always, closing my eyes was easy, but sleep was such a challenge on Christmas Eve — yet eventually the Sandman did his job.

Then I recall I suddenly woke up (a bit disoriented, but excited), and my eyes would pop wide open and I quickly glanced at my clock on my nightstand. I wanted to make sure time had truly elapsed! My bedside timepiece revealed it was 3:45 a.m. — that’s good enough for me! I bounded out of my bedtime cocoon, slid into my slippers and quietly raced downstairs.

I was the first one down in the living room, as my older twin brothers were still in slumber land. Santa, of course, had already arrived, and our tree was surrounded by assorted packages left by the jolly old elf. Now, it was standing family rule that if we were the first ones up, we were allowed to investigate the contents of our respective stockings only!

I believe a Franklin silver half dollar was the first coin Santa left me, and I was always thankful for such a monetary gift. But the following year, this Christmas of 1964, I was gifted a much larger silver coin — an 1891-O Morgan silver dollar.

an 1891-O Morgan silver dollar
Click images to enlarge.

I recall when I came across the hefty silver piece, I didn’t immediately know what it was, as I hadn’t seen any like this in my pocket change. My first numismatic coin! A coin dated in the 1800s! Fantastic!

I pulled out my little Cracker Jacks premium plastic magnifier and studied the coin — and right then on Christmas morning, I was hooked. I wanted to learn more about it. Who was that lady on the front? What years were they made? And so on. There are many enjoyable pastimes and great hobbies, but for me, coins are such a great one.

What to get a child today?

In this age of electronic wizardry (scanning an iPhone or tablet morning, noon or night), you have access to coins of every description from the four corners of the globe! This truly makes it much easier for Santa to deliver the right coin in the right grade on this Christmas Eve. Of course, a little direction from Mom and Dad (or husband and wife) as to the specific coin or series goes a long way to assist the old gent from the North Pole.

Ideas? Lincoln Cents and Morgan Dollars are two of the most popular coins and series to collect, as each series is stocked with common type as well as scarce and rare coins. For the beginning collector, young or old, either of these wildly popular issues would be a great indoctrination to the hobby. Perhaps a nice inaugural 1909 VDB Lincoln Cent graded NGC MS 64 RD or the debut 1878-S Morgan Dollar graded NGC MS 63. Either coin can be easily located for under $100 and would make a wonderful numismatic gift. Certainly, a Red Book (“A Guide Book of United States Coins”) is a superb must-have reference.

The site affords the newcomer, intermediate or advanced numismatist with a mindboggling array of information for the Coindexter, including historic data, census and pricing, auction results, the NGC Coin Explorer the NGC Registry and chat boards! You could spend all day on this tremendous site, and it is free!

Animals aplenty

What to get the youngster on your list? I always recommend something topically themed to entice them. Animals featured on world coins are great starting point. I can suggest coins from the Republic of Ireland (the farthings to half-crowns, 1929-1966) or those from Norway (the ore to krone, 1958-1973).

Coins from these two nations are varied — they feature moose, rabbit, salmon — and some shared design elements include horses, chickens and dogs. This is a very inexpensive option to build an animal type set for the newcomer, but there are also scarce to rare coins in these series for the advanced hobbyist.

But for the most part, and most importantly to me, they are very affordable and fun. I know I had a blast collecting them, and still do! Be sure to view the NGC World Coin Price Guide for some ideas and price points!

A winning idea: penguins

Personally, I always have enjoyed penguins, and have collected the little birds in various formats for a long time.

This year, the kid in me surfaced, and I said: “I want that!” That is referring to the Falkland Islands, which has issued a special Christmas Penguins £.50. There are two versions — one example is standard cupro-nickel produced in a diamond finish and colored, and the other is a sterling silver piedfort.

Considering that the Falklands are home to about 1 million of the birds, this limited edition coin fittingly features five indigenous varieties of the waddling gang.

The obverse features the regal portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, and the primary reverse element features the Rockhopper, King, Macaroni, Magellanic and Gentoo penguins — all huddled together beneath a lantern, each with their beaks pointed up as if they were caroling! It is, in a word, cute.

A Falkland Islands Christmas Penguins £.50
Click image to enlarge.

When I last checked, the Pobjoy Mint still had a few silver piedfort from a limited edition of 2,000 worldwide. Unfortunately, the cupro-nickel color version’s 7,500 allocation has sold out. However, it can still be found on eBay and similar searches!

Coins can be truly fun to collect, and for many, those holiday gifts left under the tree or tucked inside a stocking this year can easily be the inspiration for a lifetime collecting adventure.

Until next time, happy collecting!

Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst, having previously served for many years as an analyst and writer for another major price guide. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.

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