We’ve gone more than a year without the one-cent coin, and I for one haven’t had much occasion to notice the absence. By now I am used to automatically rounding the number off in my head, and many cash registers have been programmed to do the math for me in any case. Truth is, the poor coin didn’t have much buying power in the first place, and we wanted to keep it mostly for sentimental reasons.
Now my attention has turned to the five-cent coin, our current lowest denomination. I suspect that it may be a wonderful place for new collectors to start out with, since the cost is minimal. The truth is, the lowly “nickel” doesn’t have much purchasing power either, and mostly serves to help us make change. So on the surface, it sounds like a great place for kids. The coins have little value on their own, so starting out a collection has little cost, and what little cost there is can be recovered by simply spending the coins. An inexpensive collection that can be liquidated for the cost of acquisition seems like a no-brainer at first.
However, as a way to excite new collectors, the five-cent series of circulating coins has a huge drawback: it is very boring. Now I’m not saying the cents were exciting. For the most part, the entire series can be broken up into just a few type coins. As a youth, I remember poring through coins looking for elusive dates, but that was the second stage of my early collecting experience. What first attracted me to the coins was that they were not all the same on the obverse. I know it makes me sound old, but in my youth Queen Elizabeth II coins were fairly new. There were still plenty of Georges out there, both George V and George VI. It was easy to spot, one woman and two men, one of whom had a beard. There were also plenty of Lincolns and at first I couldn’t figure out who he was, or where he fit in among the kings and queens on my other coins.
My first numismatic discovery was that U.S. coins circulated in Canada. So I first sorted my coins by monarch, and then by date. It was at that point that I discovered some dates were more common than others and began looking for what I now know were keys and semis. Even later I realized that some coins were prettier than others. My point being that today, going through a pile of five-cent coins isn’t very interesting. For one thing, Elizabeth has been on the throne for so long that you almost never see a George in circulation anymore. It is hard for a young collector to get excited by different portraits of the same person. To make matters even worse, the Royal Canadian Mint’s alloy-recovery program means that we are steadily losing even early Elizabeth coins.
Design-wise, the coins have changed very little. They have all been around since 1968, and with the exception of dual dates and mint mark variants, the only commemorative circulating five-cent coin since 1967 was the 2005 victory design. It is an interesting series, but only to the established coin collector. The 10-cent series is little better. In my opinion the most promising way to attract new collectors is with the 25-cent series. Granted, the wonderful pure nickel commemoratives of 1992, 2000, and 2001 have already been mostly gobbled up by the Mint’s alloy-recovery program, but the multi-plated family has more than 40 commemorative issues alone, some are in colour, and that’s not getting into dual dates and mint marks.
Even a simple type set of plated 25-cent coins involves more than 50 coins, some of which hardly show their face in circulation. The cost of putting together such a set from pocket change is still less than $20 and it would be spread out over time, so the cost is minimal. It involves some searching, and can be opened up by the hunt for variants and mules. So if you want to excite a young mind about coin collecting, think a bit bigger than the beaver and move up to the caribou. You may find better results.