It’s not common to chance upon a conversation about coins these days, unless you work in a company like International Coins and Currency. Here, most of us talk about coins all day – whether we’re collectors or not – but outside of work, discussions on coin collecting don’t happen very often. For anyone who does know about coins, when the topic comes up, it’s easy to say, “wait a minute – that’s wrong!” especially when you know a little something about the coins in question!
I’m an English graduate student, and my life outside of work almost never involves numismatics. You’ll most often find me critiquing stories and writing in my free time. Part of my work as a graduate student is to participate in peer reviews. This week, I decided to analyze a story by a classmate whose work I had never critiqued – and he happened to mention the 1921 Peace dollar.
In his story, a thief keeps a silver dollar in his pocket, flipping the coin to determine the outcome of the heist he’s about to embark on. The coin that he mentions in this story is a 1921 Peace dollar, a relatively rare coin given its extremely low mintage of just a little over one million coins (1,006,473 to be exact). In the story, the character (Ronnie) mentions that he “found the coin 15 years ago at his first job.” The story implies that Ronnie has been given jobs by some “higher-up” to rob from upper-middle-class homes.
When I read his story, I got excited. Not many writers make extraneous numismatic references in their short stories, especially not the graduates I share class with, who range in age from around 22-40. My goal as a student critiquing another’s work is to focus on the small details. In this case, I prefaced the information I gave him regarding the Peace dollar with an explanation: “If this seems excessively nitpicky, I apologize! This is what I do for my day job, and I noticed a discrepancy here.”
The issue in this story was that it insinuated the 1921 Peace dollar was an easy find. To those who are unfamiliar with Peace dollar mintages, the assumption is an easy one to make. In comparison, the 1921 Morgan dollar had a total mintage of 44,690,000 so the coin is exceptionally more common than the Peace dollar. I mentioned in my critique, “If your character found this on his first heist, it’s more likely going to be a 1921 Morgan rather than a Peace dollar.” It seemed to me that a thief would be more likely to find a more common Morgan dollar that had been passed on from a father to a son, or from a grandfather to a grandson, especially on his first-ever heist!
Many silver coins during this era were lost to melts and attrition, so the Peace dollar is even more rare than its mintage suggests. The 1921 Morgans were also lost to these melts, although there were so many minted during 1921 that they are exceedingly more common than their Peace dollar cousins. The value of a coin is not just based on its precious metal content or its age; in fact, mintage numbers play a huge role in the numismatic value of a coin.
What’s most fascinating to me about the entire thing is that an English student chose to mention and focus their short story on a coin. Now, some people might really think that’s over the top to be this nitpicky, but I say, what if a dedicated numismatist or coin collector happened to read your story? They would be sorely disappointed in your lack of research! Authenticity is one of the most important factors to a realistic piece of fiction. In this case, the author used so many minute details throughout his story I thought it would be a shame if he didn’t take the time to research and understand the implications of the 1921 Peace dollar as a prop.
It is important to understand how much mintage numbers can greatly affect the value of a coin. In cases like the 1921 Peace dollar, this is because the coins started out with a low mintage to begin with and were then subjected to melts and attrition later on. The value of the coin is much higher than that of the 1921 Morgan dollar, which holds the same silver content and is the same age. The difference here is the mintage numbers. Factoring this key piece of information into your collecting (or referencing) habits is extremely important to any collector, beginner or advanced.
Amanda Paulger-Foran, for ICCoin.com
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