To the untrained eye, the shiny Washington quarter in the glass display case looks the same as the coins a fast-food restaurant cashier would give you as change.
So, why does its price tag say $760?
Coin expert Sam Clements retrieves the quarter from the glass case and points to the date of 1936, which was during the depths of the Great Depression when fewer coins were made. He then flips it over and points to a “D” roughly the size of a pencil tip that was stamped below the heraldic eagle’s cluster of arrows and olive branch.
The “D” mint mark stands for Denver. Of the three mints coining Washington quarters in 1936 (Denver, San Francisco and Philadelphia), the Denver mint is the most valuable because it produced the fewest coins, he explains.
The coin’s like-new condition—you still can see the waves in President George Washington’s hair—also ups its value.
“You couldn’t afford to save them (during the Great Depression) because you needed money to live on, so a lot fewer of them were put away in brand-new condition,” he said.
Clements, who began collecting coins in the 1950s after his dad brought home coins and paper money from his time in the Pacific during World War II, fields questions daily about a coin’s value at Hartville Coin & Jewelry, which is among the oldest—if not the oldest—family-owned coin shop in northern Ohio. Rick Frost, the son of the late Richard Frost who founded Hartville Coin & Jewelry in 1968, has operated the company since 2013. Besides coins, the store’s 19 employees look to buy diamonds, gold, jewelry, military items and other collectibles. Frost estimates the business buys from 30 to 50 people each day.
Clements, who has been working at Hartville Coin for the past 22 years, said he sees fewer and fewer true coin collectors—those more interested in collecting a part of history than the monetary value of the coin—and more customers interested in buying silver and gold coins as an investment. The most popular gold bullion coin, he said, is the 1-ounce American Gold Eagle.
Clements said coin collecting reached its peak in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s but started losing popularity after the government began withdrawing silver from currency in 1964.
“You couldn’t find silver coins in your change anymore, so that takes the fun out of it,” he said. “And at 16 years old, you don’t have a lot of disposable income to go buy coins.”
He said younger generations also seem to prefer video games and gadgets over a coin collection.