Jeffery Smith, long-time coin collector, has found a unique way of sharing his love of coins and fanning the numismatic flame in new collectors.
Past and Present (P&P): First, tell me a little about yourself and how you got started in coin collecting.
Jeffery Smith (JS): My name is Jeffery Smith, I’m 47, I’m a video Production Manager at my local cable’s community access center, AccessVision. I’ve been working here for about 10 years.
I’ve been a coin collector since I was about 7 or 8 years old, although I didn’t know it at the time. I got started coin collecting with my grandfather. I used to spend the weekends with him when I was little, and every Saturday morning, he would take me to the bank and “buy” $20 or so in coin rolls. We would spend the better part of the day laying on his living room floor searching through them. He would write down a list of what I was supposed to look for, mainly the wheat cents out of penny rolls, although I quickly caught on to what silver coins looked like, as there were still some in circulation back then, in the late 70’s.
After the sorting was done, he would pull out his Whitman Books for the cents and we would add whatever we had found to fill the holes. The extras would go into a coffee can and get put up on a shelf. I still have his Whitman books today. I’ve all but completed his sets for him, but am still missing the “high dollar” key dates from the Vol. One Book, 1909-1940. He was born in 1909, so we were always on the look out for 1909 cents, especially the 1909-S minted coins. We never found any.
P&P: Why are you interested in using community access television to talk about coin collecting?
JS: I started the Coin Show on our access channels about a year ago. As the center’s Production Manager, it’s my job to help all our volunteer producers to shoot, edit and then air their programs. I rarely have time to produce something that interests me, but one day, the topic of hobbies came up. I was talking with one of our volunteers about my coin hobby and he said that it sounded interesting, and maybe I should make a show about it. So, the next time I did a coin roll hunt, I took a camera home and recorded the process. I added some graphics about the coins I was searching, information on what errors I could or did encounter, and put it on our channels.
After the first one, I just kept going. It was about 3 or 4 months after I started airing the program that I started hearing back from people in the community. When I mentioned that I worked at AccessVision, I would hear “Oh, that’s the channel that has that coin show on Sunday afternoons, right?” We’ve since had phones calls, email, and comments on our Facebook page about the show. I’ve had coin collectors come to my office with coins they found in circulation, or coins handed down through the family, or coins from their own collection, that they wanted to show me or ask about more information on its value. I’ve added a YouTube Channel for my Coin Show, but keep airing on the local channel as well. I use it not only to educate the viewers on coin facts, but can also use the show to help promote the fact that anyone can make a show about their hobby, or any other topic that interests them. The channel now has shows on comic books, action figures, and other pop culture hobbies.
P&P: What’s your favorite part of coin collecting to talk about? What seems to spark people’s interest the most?
JS: The personal aspect of it, coins that are passed down through the family, generation to generation.
What interests other people generally breaks down into 2 groups. I either get into conversations about the history of coins, who could have held these antique pieces, what was going on in the country when they were released, how much buying power they had back in the day (large cents really freak people out when I show them one!) and thinking how much stuff you could buy with one cent, or even a half cent. That’s probably the one coin that almost nobody understands the reason for it existing.
The other main focus of my conversations are error coins. Every time a new error coin gets “discovered” and hits the news–the “In God We Rust” Kansas State Quarter comes to mind–everyone who knows I’m a coin collector asks about the Facebook post they saw, do I have one, how much is it worth, should they go looking for it? So that topic comes up from time to time, and it’s usually because people think they can get rich quick, turning pocket change into a college fund for their kids.
P&P: Do you have a favorite coin or set? What draws you to that one in particular?
JS: I have many different “favorites,” for many different reasons. I was recently asked this same question on one of my YouTube videos, so I’ve been working on a show that has my favorite coins as the topic. The short answer would be the Lincoln Cent, mainly because it was the focus of my coin roll hunts with my grandfather when I was a kid. It’s also the series that I am the closest to completing, just 3 or 4 of the key dates remain. One day I will fill those holes, though I may not. Maybe because that way, my hunt with my grandfather is still active and a part of my collecting. It may be hard to close the door on that, just for emotional reasons.
A couple of my other favorites are the 1916-era coins. The Mercury Dime, Walking Liberty Half Dollar and the Standing Liberty Quarter. These are undeniably 3 of the most beautiful coins that the US has ever minted. The fact that all 3 started at the same time, as ordered by a President that detested the prior Barber (boring) coins is just a highlight of art in the American culture. I wish any other President from then until now shared a similar amount of pride in representing our nation with circulating coin designs. Except for the ongoing Quarter Commemorative designs, our coinage has been a vacuum of art and style for hundred years.
P&P: What advice would you give to a collector about how to talk to non-collectors about coins?
JS: I guess we just have to tailor our conversations to whatever aspect the non-collector finds interesting. There are so many topics that coin collecting can be interjected into: history (World War II cents and nickels had a different composition due to war needs), economics (The half-cent was needed for everyday commerce), art (The 1916 series in particular), foreign interests (The Trade Dollar, or Morgan Dollar compared to the Spanish Reale and other silver crowns). I’m sure there are others. Those are just some of the conversation topics I’ve had recently.
I think more often than not, when someone finds out that you’re a collector, they will generally approach you with their topic of interest. Probably 99% of the time it will be “I have some coins in a jar that my grandad left me, what should I look for that might be rare?” Those are usually the best conversations that I’ve had: they start with a family connection and end with the idea that they might just have a rare or error coin in that jar that could be very, very valuable. They usually don’t, but I can see the spark in their eye and I talk very enthusiastically about the coin hobby, hoping that I can fan that flame and make a new collector out of them.
There are so many fascinating and effective ways to spread the love of coins. Thank you for your work, Jeff!