Friday, August 14, 2015

Sepia Saturday: The Value of Money

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is quite the challenge focusing our attention on banks and money. I am certainly no numismatist, but a bag of coins has made me somewhat curious about the history and value.

Many years ago, my little collection of silver dollars and half-dollars moved from a plastic bag to an old bank deposit bag from Bank of Virginia where my husband was employed. Apparently the bag had been retired to the trashcan, judging by the red stain inside, probably from an exploding security dye pack. At any rate, the pouch has held my coins safely for a long time.

Bank of Virginia bank deposit bag

These coins along with some $2-dollar bills were gifts from my paternal grandparents. They never accumulated much in their lifetime, but they managed to remember me on birthdays and Christmas with a little money.

Fred and Julia Slade, Wendy Slade 1952
My grandparents Fred and Julia Slade
me probably 1952

Even as a child, I recognized that these silver dollars and fifty-cent pieces were special, which is why I still have them. But I have never paid much attention to them or wondered about their age or value. Until today.

So, what do I have?  Seventeen silver dollars and 10 half-dollars makes $22.  A couple are really old, dated 1896 and 1898.

Morgan silver dollars
Morgan silver dollars
Top:  obverse
Bottom: reverse
According to Wikipedia, I have 4 Morgan silver dollar coins, which were minted between 1878 and 1904, and then again in 1921. Named for the designer George T. Morgan, the obverse is a profile representing Liberty and the reverse is an eagle with wings spread. If there is no mint mark above the “O” in “Dollar” on the reverse, the coin was minted in Philadelphia; I have three. A mark of “O” represents New Orleans; I have one of those.

If average condition
If mint condition
1898 O
$30 on eBay


Peace silver dollars
Peace silver dollars

The other thirteen coins are the Peace dollar minted from 1921 to 1928 and then 1934-35. The idea for the coin originated as a way to commemorate the peace following World War I. The obverse is the profile of the Goddess of Liberty; the reverse is a bald eagle at rest on an olive branch.

If average condition
If mint condition
1922 (3 of these)
1923 (9 of these)

Even an untrained eye such as mine can tell that there are no mint coins in the pile. Therefore, these coins in average condition are valued at roughly $484. Even at melt value the silver dollars have proven to be a good investment: $187.

The half-dollars are not extinct, but they are no longer very popular for general circulation. In fact, most banks do not even keep them in stock. My two oldest are the 1943 Walking Liberty coin. The obverse shows Liberty walking into the dawn of a new day. The reverse depicting a bald eagle rising from a mountaintop perch has been a long-standing popular design. However, the difficulty of minting the intricate front design was one reason for the redesign in 1948.

Walking Liberty, Ben Franklin, Kennedy half dollars
Top row: Walking Liberty
Second row: Ben Franklin
Third and Fourth rows: John F. Kennedy

The Ben Franklin coin was next, and I have three: 1952, 1958, and 1963. But with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, ol’ Ben was kicked to the curb and replaced with the Kennedy half-dollar. Many of the Kennedy coins were hoarded for sentimental value, but in 1965 the silver content was reduced to only 40%. The 1971 model was the first to be cast in a base metal with no silver at all.

If average condition
If mint condition
1943 Walking Liberty (2)
1952 Ben Franklin
1958 Ben Franklin
1963 Ben Franklin
1964 Kennedy (4)
1966 Kennedy
1967 Kennedy
1971 Kennedy

I doubt any of these coins would be deemed “mint,” so I possibly have $95.50-worth of half-dollars. With a melt value of approximately $51, I still come out ahead.

No fortune here, obviously. Judging by the dates, though, I suspect my grandparents collected these coins over many years, most long before I was even a gleam in their eye. Out of love they doled out their private collection as gifts, bit by bit. Can’t put a dollar value on that.

I’ll bet you dollars-to-doughnuts that there are more interesting stories and photos at Sepia Saturday. In fact, you can bank on it.

Coin Trackers.  2010-2015. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.
Franklin Half Dollar. Wikipedia. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.
Half-dollar. Wikipedia. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.
Kennedy Half Dollar. Wikipedia. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.
Morgan Dollar. Wikipedia. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.
Peace Dollar. Wikipedia. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.

Walking Liberty Half Dollar. Wikipedia. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. I love looking at old coins and collected them as a child. My dad had a giant collection and after looking at your coins, now I want to investigate what is in his.

  2. I collect some of our commemorative Australian coins as they are issued. They have no value other than face value but they give me pleasure. When I was young I had a collection of 50 cent coins and my mother needed some money for shopping and used them :( They were round 50 cent coins and actually did have a value higher than their face value but she didn't realise that.

    I really enjoyed this post and admired the pictures of the old coins.

    I think your grandparents did well with their present giving :)

  3. I had some silver dollars I received mainly as gifts. I probably got some from the bank myself too since I had a blue coin book that was filled. I finally traded them in about 5 years ago. I can't remember for sure, but I think they would have been worth even more for a time in the 1980s.

  4. That is quite a collection you have of coins. It is interesting that they did have the coins a bit before they gave them to you one at a time on birthdays, etc. Makes you wonder how they chose to give you the one they did for that particular milestone of yours. We have lots of old coins from hubby's parents; I briefly did some checking on them to see what their worth might be. Hard sometimes to figure it all out though (at least for me).


  5. Sometimes it is not the monetary value but the sentiment behind the gift. Your grandparents sound lovely.

  6. Fascinating, and lovely that your grandparents gave you some of their coin collection. I've saved a few unused special issue coins the sane way Anne has, and I also save/hide away $100 notes if I ever get any, but will never have much of a collection of those!

  7. I used to love the size & weight & feel of the silver dollars my folks were given in the gambling casinos at Stateline, Nevada in south Lake Tahoe or the casinos in Reno. They would give one to each of us siblings & I thought it such a great treat. I remember saving them in a special box for a time. I also earned some on my own at Tahoe when I sang in the talent contests they used to hold at Meeks Bay. First prize was three silver dollars. Sadly, I have no idea whatever happened to my collection of silver dollars? Odd, that - but, oh well. Easy come, easy go I guess.

  8. I had a similar collection though at age 12 I got serious and put them into those blue coin collector books. I few years ago when silver suddenly jumped in price I sold them for their silver value. Fool that I am, it was too soon and the price continued to climb much much higher. I kept the pennies though.

  9. I'm with you on thoughts of money, and have a collection of old coins as well. They are still a treasure I'm not ready to give up! Silly right? It's a tradition I began with my father as a child, but I actually have given some to a couple of my older grandchildren. I'm hoping the tradition carries on, even if it's just in my dreams!

  10. I have some of the coin in your collection, but the only time I got really into the "collecting" thing was with the statehood quarters --- and that was because of the grandchildren. They each have the full set, not that the set is worth very much, but as you said --" You can't put a dollar value on that" and in this case it was collection with the grandkids.

  11. Loved your post! How special that you still have those coins :)

    Just today I received 2 Kennedy 50 cent coins at a teacher's rummage sale. One mom gave her daughter who was about 7 years old, three one dollar bills and a 50 cent piece to buy a $4 item. I showed the girl the back which says "HAL:F DOLLAR," although I still let her buy the item. Kids don't use money these days as their parents swipe the plastic to pay for is so difficult to teach money to these 2nd graders....some do not know a penny!
    Happy August :)

  12. Thank you for making me say the word numismatist, even if it was only in my head! I too used to collect coins in my ‘piggy bank’ as a child and would love to read the strange inscriptions on them. I no longer have any of them; like your stash, they probably weren’t worth much in monetary terms, but I should probably have kept them for nostalgic reasons.

  13. Gosh, I didn't dream those coins could be worth that much!

  14. As I was reading about your collection and the value todays market placed on them, I kept thinking "they are actually priceless". My thoughts were confirmed with your last paragraph. Your grandparents were very thoughtful with their gifts and the one they bestowed them on. So enjoyed this to go and check my collection also in an old zippered bank bag from where Hi Honey once worked.
    Sue at CollectInTexas Gal

  15. Even though these coins aren't in mint condition, I'm sure they are priceless to you because of their sentimental value.

  16. My parents and grandparents also gave us gifts of silver and half dollars, some from the 1800s. I still have them in a box upstairs and haven't thought about them for years. My husband also has a collection when he continues to talk about selling but never does. Perhaps they hold more sentimental value to him than he will admit....

  17. My husband's grandfather gave all of the grandkids a silver dollar when they were born. It's interesting that seems to have been relatively common and yet not a tradition carried on today.