Boomers Dropped A Dime

Did someone ever tell you to “drop a dime?” Did you ever say that phrase to someone else? If so, you recall that the idiom meant, “Give me a call.” The phrase referred to the common charge for a phone call at a pay phone. The cost of a phone call was ten cents (i.e., a dime) from the 1950s until the 1980s. By the 1980s, most states had raised the cost of a pay phone call to 20 cents or 25 cents.

The whole idea of calling someone has completely changed in the three generations that have come into adulthood since the boomer years. In the 1950s and ’60s, the phone was a vital instrument to arrange plans and schedules for personal and business needs. Boomers, especially boomer girls, began expanding the idea of what a phone call could be by carrying on extended conversations with classmates after school. One of the things that enabled this shift was the notion that a household could have more than one phone. The ad blitz Bell Telephone created surrounding the first consumer-available push button phones in 1963 promoted that idea by calling one line of their new product “Princess phones.” Ford had taken a similar approach in the 1950s when their ad blitz promoted the idea of a second family car. (For additional info on phones in the boomer era, see: For Boomers, Phone Followed Function)

Still, pay phones prevailed as the go-to resource when one was not at home. Mister Boomer recalls his mother telling him and his siblings to always keep a dime in their pockets, just in case they needed to call home. Some boys in Mister B’s neighborhood wore penny loafers with their white t-shirts and blue jeans. The penny loafers were the ideal place to keep dimes that could be used in case of emergency. You could not “drop a dime” if you didn’t have one.

Today’s generation pays for gum with a cell phone (which costs much more than a dime!). They spend countless hours scrolling through videos and other internet content on their cell phones. Their cell phones never leave their sides. Yet, this generation is not all that interested in “dropping a dime” on their friends, family and colleagues. Texting has far surpassed the desire to call someone. Many have gone one step further, composing text messages not with words, but emojis. In boomer days, there may have been a small percentage of people who could speak Klingon (to boldly go where no one had gone before), but these days there is a much wider group who speak emoji. Mister Boomer is not one of them.

How about you, boomers? How has your relationship to the phone changed through the years? Was “drop a dime” ever part of your regular vernacular?

Boomers Collected Coins for Fun and Profit

When Mister Boomer was a child, his father was a coin collector, sifted from coins in circulation he would receive as change. He would empty his pockets of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, and enlist the help of his children to look through them, one by one, checking dates and mint designations; the Boomer children learned to look for the most-often found mint markings at the time: D meant that coin was minted in Denver, S was San Francisco, and no marking was from Philadelphia (a P was added for Philadelphia in 1979). It was the early 1960s, and it was not uncommon to find circulating coins that were up to 50 years old or, on rare occasion, older.

The first coins issued by the United States government were minted in Philadelphia, and issued in 1793. They were a larger format than our current coins, and made from gold, silver or copper. In 1858, the large format coins were discontinued. Nostalgia for the older coins, and an interest in colonial-era coins, spurred a coin-collecting trend. At that time, coin collecting had more to do with history than it did as a potential financial investment.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, there was a resurgence of interest in coin collecting that corresponded with the introduction of the first “penny boards.” These pre-printed cardboard sheets had circular slots to hold specifically marked, dates and mints. There were penny cards issued for pennies, dimes and nickels. Many parents of boomers may have acquired their coin-collecting pastime from the process of looking for and filling these cards. Children and adults could examine any coins they had in their possession, whether found on the street or received as change in stores, to “fill their card.”

Baby Boomers became coin collectors in the 1960s. To this day, that was the era when the largest number of people professed to be coin-collecting hobbyists. As in 1858, when there was a change in coinage that prompted a coin collecting response, a similar reaction came in 1964 when the government removed silver from coins. There was so much of a rush to gather pre-1964, silver-laden coins that Congress debated a bill that would ban coin collecting altogether. The bill was ultimately defeated, partly because some blamed coin collecting for a coin shortage, which was later discovered to be not the case; a distribution problem was the culprit. Nonetheless, the government attempted to discourage coin collecting to alleviate the coin shortage by issuing coins without a mint marking. A great many of these coins came from Philadelphia, but other mint locations also issued non-marked coins between 1965 and 1967, when markings were re-established.

It may have been this time period when many boomers became amateur numismatists. By 1966, Mister Boomer had been given coin folders of his own, which were the evolution of the penny boards from decades earlier, introduced in the 1940s.

Mister Boomer still has most of the coin folders of his youthful time collecting, but alas, never located the rarest or most important coins that would secure his retirement. Still, learning the history of the WWII-era 1943 steel penny; the story of the wheat penny and remembering when the Lincoln Memorial was introduced to the back of the one cent piece; the story of the buffalo nickel; and the change from the Mercury head dime to the Roosevelt dime, brings back nostalgia for his hunt for those coins, and interest in American history in the process.

As the number of coin collectors ebbed and flowed through the years, the introduction of U.S. state quarters in 1999 prompted a renewed interest. More recently, during the pandemic, coin collecting enjoyed the highest resurgence in hobbyists since the rush of 1964.

How about you, boomers? Did you collect coins as a child? Do you collect them now?