In what’s being called the biggest coin drop in American history, hundreds of coin dealers across the country spent the end of April seeding over a million vintage and collectible coins back into circulation. As NHPR’s Sean Hurley tells us, the Littleton Coin Company joined in the Great American Coin Hunt, distributing 50,000 rare coins across northern New England.
Butch Caswell has been grading coins at the Littleton Coin Company for more than 40 years, but still checks his pocket change for possible treasures. “I still have a tendency of looking at my change,” Caswell says. “I don't know why. Habit I guess. “And the quality has really changed over the years. Now the quality is way down, it's just been circulated so much over time.”
Finding rare coins in your pockets has gotten harder and harder, Littleton Coin CFO John Hennessy says. “And that's a lot of what we're trying to do with this new great American Coin Hunt is to reintroduce some of those coins back into pocket change to reinvigorate that discovery process.”
Hennessy pours out a bag of the coins he and his employees have been releasing. “So we decided to distribute coins from the early 1900’s,” he says. “So we’ve got Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes and Standing Liberty quarters. Everyone's been taking pocketfuls of rolls of coins and just using them over the course of the week and giving them to people as tips, putting them in change jars, buying things with them.”
“Actually what I do,” Butch Caswell explains, “I go down the street and I actually hand the whole roll out. Every time I walk into an Irving or something and get my little snack or something and I'll just throw those in that bucket change they have there.”
So far, Hennessy says, the nearly 300 employees at the company have either spent or handed out almost 50,000 coins - but he has a last bit of change left that he’d like to drop today.
We walk down Littleton’s Main Street and head into Chutters, home of the World’s Longest Candy Counter. Hennessy has over 400 coins he wants to slip into the cash register, which requires a bit of explanation to store owner, Jim Alden. “So we have a whole little bag of classic coins from the 20s and 30s and 40s,” Hennessy tells Alden, “and we'll put this in your cash register for you to give out to your customers over the next few days.”
“Got you,” Alden says and holds up one of the old silver coins. “How much is this Liberty quarter really worth?”
“So this is 90 percent silver,” Hennessy says, “so just the silver alone is worth 10 times the face value on that quarter. And the collectible value is more than that.”
After Alden hands the bag to cashier Danica Bays – and Bays distributes the coins into her register trays – candy customer Stephanie Morris steps up – clearly having overheard John Hennessy’s rare coin pitch.
“Am I getting the special quarters?” Morris asks hopefully.
“You are,” Hennessy confirms. “So you're part of the Great American Coin Hunt. And there's a thousand dealers nationwide putting up a million classic U.S. coins back into circulation to share the hobby of coin collecting.
Morris regards the silver coins in her hand. “My lucky day!” she says.
Start checking those pockets and sifting through your change – and it could be your lucky day too.