Coins – where do they go?

Ken Marich

Over the last 200 years millions of coins have been minted by the U.S., yet for some coins there are small numbers remaining making them relatively valuable. Where did they go? The largest percentage loss for any U.S. coin is from normal use. The average lifespan of coins is 25 to 30 years. The worn coins are removed by the banks, sent back to the mints, melted and reused for modern coinage. Other coins are lost or destroyed as a natural process. Silver and gold coins have always had a threat to survival due to their intrinsic metal value. The 1933 gold recall resulted in massive amounts of gold coins being melted. Mint records indicate that 40% of all $20 gold coins and 37% of all $10 gold coins were melted. Thus, many of the gold coins existing today are in short supply and, regardless of the mint records, are now valuable to coin collectors. Silver coins faced even more severe destruction than gold. In the 1850s virtually no silver coins were in circulation as they were melted and/or hoarded. In the 1870s Trade Dollars were minted for exportation to China to help U.S. foreign trade in Asia. About 36 million were minted, 27 million were exported and later only two million were returned to the U.S. All trade dollars now have a significant premium. And again, the 1918 Pittman Act authorized melting up to 350 million Morgan dollars (any and all dates). It’s estimated that 270 million were melted. Morgan dollars were minted between 1878 and 1921 and are now valued between $50 to $8,000 each, depending on their date and condition.

Another area where millions of dollars in U.S. silver and gold coins have disappeared was in shipwrecks. A few of the most famous were the SS New York sunk off the Eastern coast in 1846, the SS Yankee sunk off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, in 1854, the SS Central America (1857) and the SS Brother Jonathan (1865). With new technology shipwrecks continue to be found while coin collectors await the news of coins found amidst their watery resting places. And lastly, in the 1920s and 1930s paper money covered the monetary needs of the U.S. market and the Treasury bagged millions of silver dollars in canvas bags and put them in storage. During 1962 to 1964 the Treasury decided to release the coins. Thus many of the so called valuable dates now showed up in the coin market reducing the value of many of the key date dollars. Historically speaking, the travels of U.S. coins have been spread out across the world and many are still missing in action.

The SaddleBrooke Coin Club meets the second Thursday of each month from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. in the Sonoran Room in the MountainView Clubhouse. Membership is open to all SaddleBrooke residents. Our remaining schedule for 2014 is as follows: September 11 (cancelled), October 9 and November 13. For more information contact Ken at 825-1709 or [email protected].