Dave Wnuck has two thought-provoking articles in his Making the Grade newsletter #25, published January 26, 2016. Here's the
Where Did All Our Coins Go? A Numismatic Mystery
It is said that a curious mind is, well, er, a good thing, I guess.
So a recent article by my friend Winston Zack in the John Reich Journal got me to thinking about the survival rate of our coins. Why are
survival rates for coins so tiny?
For example, a survival rate of 3% is generally accepted for the early date large cents. And survival rates seem pretty consistent
across dates and time periods.
That's a lot of missing coins – many billions of round metal objects, not all of which are made in precious metals or even made in
easily reusable metals. Where do all of these “missing” coins go?
Were they melted?
OK – it is true that lots of coins have been melted over the years. That definitely happened to some US coins, to some extent. It happened
to large cents (largely in the 1850's) and to lots of silver and gold coins, for example. Fair enough.
So let's pick a coin struck a metal where there was no significant melting: nickel. I know of no one who has melted quantities of
nickel coins to turn them into nickel alloy ingots for speculation or investment, for example.
And then lets pick a design: the Shield nickels made from 1866 through 1883.
There were 128 million shield nickels minted. Do even 5% of these survive? If so, that still means that several million shield nickels
are still lying around somewhere.
If we say that 5% survived, that means 95% did not. That is over 120 million unaccounted for shield nickels. Every one of those little
metal disks had to go somewhere.
Were the coins lost?
There were no major shipwrecks where millions of shield nickels were lost. I find it hard to believe that if someone walked home from the
store with 20 shield nickels in their pocket that by the time they arrived home 19 had been lost in the dirt. And that would have to be
done over and over and over again for them all to be “lost in the dirt”.
That is 660 tons of lost shield nickels since 1883. And that is just 1 design in 1 denomination made for less than 20 years in the
The fact is – those 95% of shield nickels struck really did go somewhere. There is a right answer, or a right series of answers. I just
don't know what those answers are. And thinking about it makes my head hurt.
Well, we know a lot of Buffalo Nickels get made into Hobo Nickels or jewelry. But Shield Nickels? Have they all been telemarketed into
oblivion, scattered around the homes and safe deposit boxes of gullible buyers? Does a coin dealer or hedge fund have a storage unit
full? If you could put the entire original issue in one place, how much space would it actually take up? The image above is an 1869
Contemporary Counterfeit Shield Nickel offered by Dave in the same issue (not included in the 128 million originals...) -Editor
To read the complete newsletter, see:
Making The Grade #25: A Coin Mystery Worthy of
Scully and Mulder; How Smart Phones Affect Coin Values
To visit Dave Wnuck's web site, see:
Wayne Homren, Editor
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