By Ron Drzewucki – Modern Coin Wholesale …..
To some collectors, “modern” is a dirty word, signifying the worst of everything in the hobby.
The worst coins.
The worst monetary policy.
The worst design.
To others, “modern” represents something democratic and personal. The money we use every day is “modern”; it’s everywhere we turn, and quality collectible pieces are still accessible to the average Joe.
Shrewd dealers might see a market primed for growth. Other dealers, no less shrewd, might turn up their noses at anything newer than, say, a 1904 Morgan dollar. Some even turn their noses up at Morgans.
Maybe it’s a generation thing.
Point is, strong feelings abound on both sides. But I’m confident that the “modern” numismatic naysayers are wrong.
I’ve been a professional numismatist since 1984, when I was 15. I grew up collecting modern coins and recognized the potential modern coins had for transforming the industry.
I’ve seen that transformation first hand.
Still, one wonders about the negative reception modern coins get in some circles. Are they simply misunderstood? Where lies the root of the problem?
So today, I wanted to focus on the word “modern” itself, and try to find out where it picked up such connotations.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines modern as “relating to, or characteristic of the present time or the immediate past”. It goes on to define it as “produced by or embodying the most recent techniques, methods, or ideas”. Perhaps not unrelated to the issue at hand, Webster’s lists another (obsolete, it says) definition for modern: “commonplace, ordinary, trite”.
Well, when I think of the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum commemorative coin program and it’s one-of-a-kind cupped shape, I don’t think “commonplace”, “ordinary” and “trite”, but ill will towards modern coinage started long before that phenomenon happened.
The first two definitions are a good start, though. Modern coinage is contemporary or–at most–issued within living memory. Again, it’s the money we use everyday. All the coins you might reasonably find in pocket change, and all of the Mint’s special products released at the same time (like bullion and commemoratives), are therefore “modern”.
Yet every coin that’s ever been produced was contemporary (and therefore “modern”) for somebody. Are people only supposed to like “old” coins? Does being “old” make a coin more valuable, more worthy? In a previous post, I said that being old doesn’t necessarily make a coin more “valuable”, but it does relax grading standards for what is. Age may make coins more interesting to some collectors who especially enjoy the historical aspect of our hobby, but that doesn’t seem to be the reason moderns get a bad rap. Not entirely, anyway.
What about definition two, “embodying the most recent techniques, methods, or ideas”?
The only way this is a reason to discredit modern coinage is if “modern” techniques, methods and ideas somehow make worse coins than in the past. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was very concerned with the methods, techniques and ideas at work in the nation’s nascent Mint, and besides setting the country on the course of a decimal monetary system, he worked hard to bring the most advanced equipment and skills to Philadelphia. And the Mint’s talented artists, skilled laborers and engineers have never stopped improving how we make coins ever since.
But is there something to the argument that coins are of lesser quality today than in some idealized past? If you were alive during the sixties, or just aware of what happened, you might say that there is indeed something about “modern” coins that makes them different from older types: the switch from silver to clad.
Silver vs. Clad
In a nutshell, inflation forced the price of silver up to the mint value of United States coinage. It became more and more difficult to produce enough coins for circulation, which would have repercussions for the economy. It was also obvious that people would pull what silver there was out of circulation in such a dire situation. By the early sixties, the Federal Government was ready to radically change our coinage, going from a precious metal (silver) alloy to a base metal “clad” composition.
Beginning in 1965, the new clad coinage was released into circulation and the old silver coinage was withdrawn. By 1966, the government was confident that there was enough coinage in circulation and that the changeover would take.
Interestingly enough, this change had already occurred in many places around the world as early as the 1940s. That may be one reason why World Coins always seem to be one or two steps ahead of the curve when it comes to innovative new production techniques and artistic design.
Many dealers, collectors, and ordinary, everyday folk didn’t like the change. What’s more, some didn’t trust it. And that’s perfectly understandable. People had been taught all their lives that the intrinsic value of money is what gives it value (or, more accurately, guaranteed its value). Then along comes the Fed (who already took Daddy’s gold!) to all of a sudden say that doesn’t matter anymore, and maybe never did.
Some coin collectors have drawn the line between collectible and not collectible ever since.
But to many people, “modern” coins have presidents on them. That means we can arguably push the beginning of modern coinage back to the year 1909, when the Lincoln Wheat cent debuted. If we assume that, then we have almost 60 years of modern coinage that contains silver. So what’s the answer?
The answer, I believe, has a lot to do with that third, supposedly obsolete definition in Webster’s. Some dealers and collectors just assume that modern means “commonplace” (worthless), “ordinary” (boring), and “trite” (unoriginal).
I, for one, think that maybe, just maybe, they haven’t seen everything the Modern Era has to offer. I believe that, if they did, they just might change their minds and find a coin or a series that they really love.
Modern coins deserve the esteem that many, many dealers and collectors already have for them, and one day, when modern coins are no longer “modern”, you might kick yourself for not getting in while the getting’s good.
© 2014 Modern Coin Wholesale. Republished with Permission.
Want more about moderns? Then check out these classics from the CoinWeek archives:
- For CladKing, it’s all about the clads
- Five modern coins you should be collecting right now
- More thoughts on modern coins: a reader writes
- Does the Ike dollar market foreshadow a crumbling modern coin market?
- Choosing a key date clad roosevelt dime