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?

Boomers Knew Camelot

Among the nominees for this year’s Tony Awards for Broadway productions was an adapted revival of a musical known to boomers: Camelot. The Lerner and Loewe musical, which first appeared on Broadway in December of 1960, is currently running in New York. Back in December of 1960, the original musical starred Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Queen Guenevere, and Robert Goulet as Sir Lancelot.

The musical opened with mixed reviews, but looking to pay tribute to Lerner and Loewe after their string of hit musicals in the 1950s (that included Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon and My Fair Lady), Ed Sullivan invited the team to do a medley of their hits on his show. Instead, they chose to present four songs from their current musical, Camelot. Richard Burton and Julie Andrews were already established actors before appearing in Camelot, but Robert Goulet was in his first Broadway role. When he sang If Ever I Would Leave You on Ed Sullivan’s show, it so enthralled the viewers that the song became his signature number throughout his career.

Boomers, including Mister Boomer, watched the Ed Sullivan episode and therefore became aware of the Broadway musical. The show ignited advance sales in New York, and it went on to a three-year run on Broadway. It spawned several U.S. tours that overlapped the Broadway run, but most boomers knew the musical from the film adaptation, which was released in 1967. It starred Richard Harris as Arthur, and Vanessa Redgrave as Guenevere. Of course, Mister Boomer also knew of the Mad Magazine parody of the film, Can A Lot, from 1968 (issue #123 for you Mad fans).

For the past six decades, Camelot, a story about a king looking to create a realm of justice and equality “for one brief, shining moment,” has become associated with the administration of President John F. Kennedy. How did that happen?

After President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, in an interview with Life magazine, Jackie Kennedy said that the president often enjoyed listening to the cast recording of Camelot as a way of relaxing before bed. She was implying that John Kennedy was inspired by the aspirational idealism of the Arthurian legend of Camelot, though some dispute that assumption. Whether it is truth or myth in Jackie’s assertion, Camelot is associated with the Kennedy administration to this day.

Perhaps there is a historical lesson in the story that is a good description of the Boomer Generation in itself — aspirational idealism. Boomers felt they inherited a world that begged for change, and began the process by upending the status quo with political protest, fashion and music. The process of cultural change is still evolving today, but boomers took the proverbial ball and ran with it.

How about you, boomers? What memories do you have of Camelot?