Following up on an article in last week's issue,
E-Sylum Feature Writer and
American Numismatic Biographies author Pete Smith submitted this
article on coin bags. Thanks!
Essay on Coin Bags
During the period of 2003 to 2006, I worked for a rare coin dealer who was affiliated with a bullions dealer I will call Minneapolis Gold and Silver (MGS). I could report extensively on the bullion business but I will limit my comments to discussion of coin bags.
The bullion side did not deal with the general public. The owner did not want to do business with anyone he had not known for thirty years. One of the clients drove around to smaller local dealers to buy up 90% silver coins and other bullion products. Another client was a hotel buyer and convicted felon who had served prison time for racketeering. Our boss was happy to buy his bullion.
These clients and others would bring in
junk silver in canvas coin bags. The company had one major customer in the telemarketing business. MGS would take silver out of the used bags and repackage it in new bags marked with the name of our client. The used bags were thrown in a large cardboard box in the garage. Sellers could take used bags to go out and buy more silver.
I had permission to go through the box and pick out any I wanted to form a collection. I was initially interested in bags marked for the U. S. Mint (Mint Bags) but expanded into other areas. I now have two boxes with about 100 different bags.
Types of Bags
Most new Coin bags are very similar and made of white canvas that turns to light gray. They have a cloth tape near the top that is used to tie the top shut. The generic bags have no printing.
Mint bags are printed with the name of the mint, the denomination of the coins and often the year. Usually, the date is just the year. I have some with the full date applied with an inked date stamp. Examples have one year overprinted in black with a new year.
I created a couple of sub-sets of coin bags. I have a date set, a mint set, a denomination set and a color set. Here is a piece of trivia you won't find anywhere else. What colors were used on mint bags? I have cents in red, nickels in blue and brown, dimes in green, quarters in orange and purple, and
Golden Dollars in brown.
Bags also come printed with the names of Federal Reserve Banks. I assembled a complete set for each of the twelve Federal Reserve districts. I have two more with the names of Federal Reserve Bank branch offices.
Some bags come imprinted with the name of a local bank. There must be hundreds of different ones. I did not select all the different ones I saw.
Bags also come with the names of coin dealers. I worked for another firm that ordered bags while I was there. Again, there are probably hundreds. I only saved a few that had some significance for me. I don't have examples from the companies I worked for.
There are many other examples for cloth bags. I have seen bags marked for transportation tokens and for casino tokens. There are small sized bags. I have modern bags for $50 in Westward Journey Nickels, $25 in Quarters and $100 in Kennedy halves. The bag most frequently seen on eBay was sold to the public with state quarters and ATB™ quarters.
I never found a bag for Morgan Dollars or U. S. Gold. Those would have more value for collectors.
I worked for another dealer who accumulated a lot of face value coins as we bought collections. These were thrown into plastic pails until we had enough to take to the bank. We did our banking at a commercial bank that had a coin counting machine. It was my job to feed coins into the machine.
The operation frequently had to stop to replace a full bag with an empty bag. These were tough clear plastic bags. I never had the opportunity to set aside a used one.
David Lange showed there was an interest in coin boards. There is an opportunity for someone to take on coin bags in the same way. Perhaps there is an opportunity to make a market for them.
In our correspondence, David Lange gave me the name of another collector who has a thousand bags. I suspect there are other collections out there.
Bags stored in a dry vault can survive a hundred years. Bags sitting in water can rot. A rotten bag dropped on the floor can split open. We discarded bags that were ripped or too weak to be reused. I suppose someone could try to collect
poorest known examples.
Dealers often repurpose bags and write a new label with a black magic marker. That graffiti might add to the historical value of the bag.
Not long ago the Mint sold off their stock including unused remainders. For my collection, I prefer bags used in commerce. The investor market for bags in high states of preservation is slow to develop.
Availability and Rarity
There are hundreds of offerings on eBay for bags similar to what I accumulated. I would describe anything dated in the past fifty years to be common. Bags from 1964 and earlier are uncommon. Bags for Morgan Dollars and gold are scarce. I don't recall ever seeing a bag from Carson City. Those would probably qualify as rare.
It is possible there were bags used that have no surviving example. It is also possible they have no surviving record.
At one time I thought I would try to develop a grading system for bags. I thought I would use
Bag State grading or
BS Grading and numbers from 1 to 70. Thus, an ideal perfect bag would be BS-70.
As I developed the concept, I thought I should make it more personal. I could form a third-party grading company for coin bags. My thought was to call it Peter C. Smith Grading or PCSG. I never registered that as a trademark, so anyone is free to use the name.
Creating a catalog of coin bags would be a great challenge that only a fool would attempt. [Yes, I am considering it] I am not aware of any archive that has records of coin bags. Perhaps a start would be to apply for a grant from Newman EPNNES to go to the American Numismatic Society and catalog their collection.
Is there enough interest to start a specialty club for collectors of coin bags? I am thinking of calling it the Old Bags Collectors Club. Anyone have a better suggestion?
Since starting this article, I actually started making a listing of coin bags from the U. S. Mint and federal reserve banks. This list already has more than 200 items. Watch for future reports on my progress.
A Related Question
I remember when the Treasury had thousands of bags of unissued dollars in their vaults. How were those bags marked? Does anyone still have an original bag of coins in the original bag?
Thanks for the great summary and humorous take on the subject. As I noted last week, coin bags are interesting souvenirs and collectibles, and a project to photograph and catalog them would be welcome. It's nice to know there are some large collections of them, which would make for a great start to a cataloging project.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
COLLECTING AND CATALOGING U.S. MINT BAGS
Wayne Homren, Editor
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