By Dr. Richard S. Appel – UniqueRareCoins.com ……
For well over a century, when coins were produced at one of the U.S. Mint facilities, they were first counted and then placed in heavy cloth bags. Other than silver dollars, each bag normally held 100 rolls of a given denomination. A bag of cents contained 5,000 coins; a bag of nickels 4,000 coins; dimes 5,000; and quarters 4,000 coins. Half dollar bags held 2,000 fifty-cent pieces, and a bag of dollars contained 1,000 silver dollars. After the Federal Reserve came into existence in 1913, the bags were transported from the Mint to one of its branches for distribution to commercial banks, savings banks, and other financial entities where they were needed.
The Fed branch that received the bags either broke them down into 100 rolls or transferred the intact bags to banks requesting them. At either the Federal Reserve or the banks to which the bags were forwarded, the coins were machine counted and tightly sealed in paper wrappers with both ends firmly crimped to protect the coins. In the early part of this era, this process was performed manually, and later it became increasingly more mechanized.
Normally, the entity that wrapped the rolls stamped their name on the outside of the paper wrapper; the specific Federal Reserve branch or independent bank that produced the finished roll embossed it to guarantee its contents. This was completed before the rolls were distributed to the public. Often the company that prepared the paper used for wrapping also displayed their print name.
When the term “bank-wrapped rolls” was first used is lost to history. However, the use of OBW to describe these rolls has only recently been coined by the coin collecting community. While there were variations through the years, the sequence of events that led to the creation of an OBW roll and their appearance remained essentially unchanged until the past few decades.
All Original Bank-Wrapped Rolls are not the Same
At any point during this process, the bags–along with their contained individual coins–may have been handled carefully. Or they may have been thrown, dropped, or otherwise abused. “Bag marks” is the term used by numismatists to describe a coin’s surface damage caused when one coin scuffs against another after being struck, while being placed into or transported in a coin bag.
Often the fashion in which the bags were treated was determined by the volume of coins that were needed by commerce in a given year. In years when there was heavy business demand, a substantial increase in coinage production occurred. This would pressure the Mint employees and often resulted in their regularly mishandling of the coins and bags. For instance, this was very pronounced during the early 1960s. This is the reason why high-grade surviving examples of the different denominations from those years are very elusive and are often quite valuable.
This does not mean that in low mintage years the coins were better handled and had fewer bag marks, but there is some correlation. These are some of the reasons that coins contained in different OBW rolls of the same date, mint, and denomination may not be the same. The quality of the coins in a roll is determined by how well or poorly the coins were both made and handled before being wrapped into rolls.
Why OBW Rolls are so Desirable
During the past few decades, high-quality examples of so-called common date coins from the 1900s have markedly increased in value. Further, the early pre-1965 uncirculated coin roll market has progressively strengthened during the past year or two. This confluence of events has motivated collectors and investors to increasingly seek OBW rolls. The great lust for them stems from the knowledge that they have been untouched and unsearched by anyone before the current owner breaks open the roll and examines the individual coins one at a time.
When one purchases an OBW roll, the hope is that there will be one or more Gem-quality coins or some rare variety inside that return many multiples of the buyer’s original cost when the special coins are sent in for grading and sold.
This is the reason OBW rolls often sell for substantially more than an attractive uncirculated tubed roll of the same denomination, year, and mint. In fact, the original bank-wrapped roll market has begun to take on a life of its own and has changed dramatically in recent years. As recently as several years ago, OBW rolls and nice uncirculated tubed rolls sold for about the same. Today, the demand for OBW rolls has rocketed as have many of their prices.
What to Look for When Considering Purchase of an OBW Roll
There are a few features that collectors should look for before buying what is offered as an original bank-wrapped roll of coins.
First, the paper wrapper should appear as old as the coins that reside inside it. Rarely did a Federal Reserve bank or receiving bank hold the coins very long after their receipt. Holding a bag would tie up capital and lose the interest it could have earned.
Next, as stated earlier, there is typically an inscription of the bank that produced the roll and/or the company that manufactured and supplied the paper used in its wrapping. Also, for coins produced prior to the mid-1970s the wrapper should be of a solid color. Further, prior to the 1970s rarely did a bank mix coins from different years, or both uncirculated and circulated coins, in the same roll.
During the 1970s striped wrappers began to appear. At first, they were utilized along with the earlier solid wrappers. Later, the uniform-colored wrappers were gradually discontinued in favor of the striped rolls.
Importantly, both ends of a roll should appear tightly coiled, intact, and untampered with. Occasionally, only one end was machine wrapped, with the other end neatly and firmly folded. Additionally, the coins should feel tightly wrapped within the paper.
Further, it is normal to find OBW rolls with some degree of toning on the outside coins. This is due to the coin’s contact with the paper wrapper and its long exposure to air. The paper normally contained some sulfur. Because of its close contact with the end coins, the oxidation process took over and often “toned” the exposed end coins to varying degrees.
It must be remembered that neither the Federal Reserve nor the bank that produced the roll had any concern for the date of the coins. To them, the rolls were solely for distribution to businesses or individuals. Therefore, both end coins may be of the reverse, and the date can only be ascertained by opening the roll. For this reason, the collector who acquired a roll from a bank or coin dealer often placed the date and mint on the paper wrapper. This may be accompanied by the date acquired and/or the price paid for the roll.
A few caveats. Coin counting machines have been used by coin dealers and collectors since they came into use. Many of these machines have coin rolling attachments and are often available. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous individuals use the widely shared hope that exceptional coins may be found in bank-wrapped rolls, to take advantage of the unsuspecting public. They offer rolls that appear to be produced at the Federal Reserve or a bank as being genuine OBW rolls. However, the rolls were put together in their store, office, or basement. Also, it is important to study the integrity of both ends of the roll. It is not unheard of for someone to carefully open one end of an OBW roll, remove the higher-grade coins or varieties, and then reseal the end. If you keep these possibilities in mind, it can help you avoid any trouble.
Due to the increasing popularity of OBW rolls and their potential to contain exceptionally valuable coins, it is likely both their desirability and prices will continue to escalate. Further, the excitement felt by someone who opens one of these rolls can be overwhelming! Despite the fact that original bank-wrapped rolls have only recently begun to carry a premium to even attractive similar rolls in tubes, I believe their future price appreciation is indeed bright. They are not only a potentially exceptional investment but can also have the impact of a lottery ticket if you pick a winner.
* * *
About Dr. Richard Appel
Dr. Richard S. Appel has been a numismatic expert for 50 years. He offers his personal services as a rare coin broker or rare coin consultant to both beginner and experienced consumers alike. Please visit, or contact him at his website www.uniquerarecoins.com. He can also be reached by phone at (800) 782-2646. For a modest fee he will treat every purchase or sale of your coins as if they were his own, and will negotiate the best possible prices on your behalf.