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Collecting Small Cents - A Personal Recollection

Tom Becker

During the late 50ís and early 60ís (1900 not 1800!) I was an enthusiastic young coin collector living in southeastern Michigan. At a coin show in St. Clair Shores, a dealer from Sarnia, Ontario noticed me walking around looking lost and called me over to his table. "Want to see something special?" he asked. "Look at this."

What I viewed was the finest 1923 Canadian cent I may ever see. I find no reason to describe or mention the price of something I didnít have the sense to buy. It took me another decade to realize that what this dealer was trying to do was encourage me to become a numismatist instead of an accumulator while acquainting me with quality at a level where I couldafford to participate.

When I got started collecting coins quantity was king. With everyone else needing a wheelbarrow to leave the bourse room, why would I buy a single 1923 cent? If I kept looking I might discover something really neat like an overlooked Arnprior dollar or coins where it seemed straps didnít hold up the Queenís dress. Back then, for most everyone who was new to the hobby this was the hot stuff!

Collecting the first series of Canadian small cents can be a sophisticated endeavor. Concerns about strike and coloration are critically important-- sometimes more so than the technical grade. Most new collectors can find other easier ways to begin collecting. Why collect brown "pennies" when bright silver dollars can be had for the same price? Perhaps one collectorin 5 or 10 thousand may understand and appreciate the answer.

If I were beginning a collection of the Canadian Small Cents minted from 1920 through 1936 I would set my sights on a complete set less the 1936 dot variety. My choice would be to acquire reasonably well struck, glossy brown examples, in the About Uncirculated grade. I would not ignore a splendid coin deserving the technical grade of EF if the piece fit nicely with the others. I would not give in to the temptation to mix uncirculated examples with hints of mint red showing unless these were the key issues in the set. My objective when offering this suggested collection is to keep it both challenging and affordable. Problem free AU examples of these coins, without stains or spots, are not easily found. This is not some incidental collection you can toss together at every coin show. Leave your wheelbarrowin the trunk of the car!

My reason for recommending high-end circulated coins for this set is to save you money while developing your ability to discriminate. Considerable skill is required to build a nicely matched set of these attractive little coins. Based on my experience, patience is a difficult virtue for most new numismatists to acquire. Hopefully you will find working with these coins to be a challenging and rewarding experience.


Tom Becker is a regular contributor to the Canadian Coin Reference Site, you can direct your questions directly to Tom easily by or visit Tom's website @


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