Old Hobby for a New Generation

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coin research
Coin research space — also known as the Turnbo family kitchen table. (Submitted photo)

By Robert Turnbo

I started collecting pennies when I was 12 or 13 years old. I can’t remember exactly; I only know I had a lot more hair and a lot less belly. It was exciting to rummage through my parents’ and grandparents’ change looking for that correct year or mintmark, or even just a coin I already had but one in better condition. My goal was to collect an example of every cent minted from 1900 to present, about 1981 at the time.

Like many kids, I started out with the Whitman coin folders. You know, the ones you had to push the cent into that had the date printed beneath the spot that held the coin. Of course, I quickly realized I was much too serious of a collector for these “kids’ books” and instead, opted for a three-ring binder that held clear plastic sleeves to hold the coins. First, I placed the cent in a cardboard coin holder (so I could see both sides of the coin), then slipped it into one of 20 slots on the clear plastic sleeve that made up a page.

I found or purchased all but five examples by the time I stopped seriously “collecting” in my mid-20s. I wasn’t counting errors such as double dies, off-center, or other minting mistakes. I’m not sure why I stopped, but at that age, I guess I thought I had better things to do or better things on which to spend my limited funds.

Cent folder
Coin folders serve as an intriguing platform for piquing the interest of young coin collectors. (Image courtesy: by Monocletophat123 [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons)
Recently, however, I’ve found a renewed passion for my old hobby. I think it’s due, in part, to the desire to connect with my son in a meaningful way. He’s 11 years old and although he says he likes sports, he’s not very athletic. He’s just starting to get into video games, and the more I can do to redirect that mind-numbing activity the better.

He saw me looking at my old three-ring binder full of cents the other day and seemed to be interested, so I did what any well-meaning father would do: I ran right out and bought him a set of Whitman coin folders. He sat down and went through our family coin jar and asked where he could find more pennies. I happily answered that we would go to the bank the next day and get him “a whole bunch” to look through. 2,000 pennies to be exact.

For the next three days, he and I sat at the dining room table and went one by one through our supply of cents and slowly filled well over half of the spots in his coin folders. I was surprised at how many wheat cents we found, although I remember finding a whole lot more 35 years ago when I was looking for myself.

Tomorrow I’ll be making another trip to the bank to trade in our cast-offs for a new batch of cents to look through. I don’t think he’s quite as excited as I am, but hopefully his interest will grow and we’ll have something we can enjoy together as he gets older and other interests slowly pull him further and further from our kitchen table.

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