1909 S

Gold, and to a lesser extent, silver, had been the primary work of federal government’s branch mint in California since 1852. They had to do something with all the precious metal they were finding in pans and such. Rather than transport precious gold all the way back east to Philadelphia’s main mint, somebody got the bright idea to bring the mint to the metal.

Decades later, when the California Gold Rush was a memory shared on a grandpa’s knee, the San Francisco Mint began punching out a relatively small number of cents for the West Coast.

In 1908, the Indian princess was till “heads,” and 1.1 million cents had the little “s” on the reverse side. In 1909, the total output for “s” cents was 2.6 million, distributed between Mr Linc0ln and the lady. Up to six million in 1910, down to four million in ’11. Until 1916, it was four million or six million and change. In the times of the Great War, production ramped up at all the mints. San Francisco punched out 139 million in 1919, a mark that would not be surpassed until World War II.

When I was growing up in upstate New York, these “s” cents were relatively scarce. I hoarded every one I could find. From about age four, when my dad came home from work, our evening routine included “checking his change.” The oldest “s” cent I found was a very well-worn 1911. The mint mark was almost rubbed off.

My good friend Sam has uncovered a piece I’ve long sought for my collection: one of those 2.3 million Lincoln first-years from San Francisco.

This is not the really valuable find, the one with the designer’s initials on the reverse side. It’s just a scarcity–not the kind you’ll ever find in pocket change these days.

I know you can get all these items on the internet. And you’re relatively safe from Chinese forgeries by steering clear of acquiring the super-valuable rarities. Go to a trusted dealer–not the laughable hacks on shopping channels. (800% markups are not unknown.)

To me, there’s something more satisfying about the gradual assembly of a coin collection the old-fashioned way: browsing a dealer’s showcases and making friendly conversation on the way. I’ve known Sam for over ten years, since I made his establishment a regular stop when I would visit hospitalized parishioners in Fort Dodge. One of the pleasures of coming back to Iowa is the occasional trip north to catch up with an old friend and shoot the breeze about a shared love.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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