April 14, 2006 -- You may want to pay extra close attention to your loose change -- some small coins now in circulation could be worth big bucks.
National Coin Week starts April 16, and one coin expert hopes to spread the wealth. Scott A. Travers, coin aficionado and former vice president of the American Numismatic Association, is deliberately putting three valuable and highly coveted coins into circulation.
His method is unusual, but Travers hopes his idea will gain attention and inspire people to start their own coin collections.
Outside the Nasdaq offices in New York City, Travers dispersed the first of three coins -- all pennies -- at a food vending stand just this week: a 1914-D Lincoln cent valued at $300.
On Tuesday Travers will spend two more pennies -- a 1908-S Indian Head cent and a 1909-S VDB Lincoln Head cent valued respectively at $200 and $1,000 apiece.
So how do you know if you've got the lucky penny worth $1,000? Travers says, "On the front of the coin is the year 1909, and under the year is the mint mark "S," meaning it was minted in San Francisco. On the reverse of the coin are the designer's initials -- V.D.B. (Victor David Brenner)."
Finding a Fake
Coin collecting is seen as a great American hobby, one that is growing in interest and numbers. According to U.S. Mint statistics, more than 150 million Americans collect the state quarters in circulation, and a half a million people subscribe to popular coin publications.
Past coin drops, in 1997 and 2002, succeeded in sparking interest in coin collecting, but Travers doesn't know if anyone "cashed in" by finding the coins. Travers has met many people who believe they've discovered his coins, and though they may have found valuable coins, they weren't his.
Travers said that for the most part, people only notice coins when they look different, such as mint errors or coins that are older.
Travers said he expected thousands of e-mails as curious people examine their pocket change. Consumers can get more information about how to authenticate their coins at ngccoin.com or pcgs.com.
One concern Travers has with this coin drop is that fake copies of his coins will emerge following the publicity surrounding the treasure hunt.
Counterfeit coins were a major concern in the early 1970s, and have continued to be a problem through the years. This led to the creation of the Hobby Protection Act in 1973, making the production of fake coins not clearly marked as such illegal.
In his book "The Coin Collector's Survival Manual," Travers offers his 2 cents on distinguishing the real deal from the counterfeits.