Ps and Ds spark hunt for elusive coins

Instead of minding my Ps and Qs, I’ve been minding my Ps and Ds.

All for naught.

I am one of the clever 18 bazillion collectors saving those interesting new state quarters. I thought it would be nice for grandchildren, surely I will have some grandkids some day, to help grandma sort through the quarter box I started way back in the old millennium.

I was plugging along nicely, until my daughter, Kati, said I had to find both Philadelphia and Denver mint quarters. I had tons of Denvers but only one Philadelphia in my stash. The Ps and Ds are located on the front of the coins at about the 4 o’clock position.

I look like Dr. Watson with my magnifying glass reading the little letters on my silver spheres.

Needing both mints made the state quarter hunt more intense. I recently went to Reno and spent my time buying rolls of quarters, sorting out the state finds, then selling back the change for paper money.

I only found two Ps in Reno. Here I thought gamblers from around the country would have plunked several Ps in the slot machines. They must all be taking their Ps to Atlantic City.

I might call my Uncle Neal in Virginia and see if he wants to swap Ps and Ds through the mail. I wanted to find out how valuable the quarters might end up.

I found professional advice. Jeff Smith of Everett, an admitted purveyor of junk, has collected coins for four decades. It’s such an overwhelming hobby, one might want to specialize. Smith, 55, is particularly interested in old Lincoln pennies.

He hunts with his buddy, Walter White, 55, also of Everett. They collect teddy bears, cookie jars and Teddy Roosevelt items at garage sales and swap meets. They haven’t found the elusive "big daddy" Lincoln penny, a 1909 S-VDB that is worth thousands of dollars. The duo settle for lesser treasures.

"It’s nice to find a coin worth $8 to $10 in a sack of pennies," Smith said. "We try to make it fun."

If you want to wheel and deal in pennies, call Smith at 425-252-0500.

Smith isn’t keeping a bunch of the state quarters. I think he is on to something. Mints are producing more than 700 million of each issue.

I can’t see what future enhanced value the circulated quarters will have with that many being produced. Serious collectors are squirreling uncirculated quarters that are worth more than versions that already passed hands at the 7-Eleven.

The state quarter program runs until 2008, with five new quarters released every year, about one every 10 weeks. The quarters are being released in the order that the states joined the union. Each quarter will feature a different design on the back.

The state quarter embodies what Smith loves about coins.

"To me, they tell history," he said. "Coins are art."

Smith owns an 1853 penny. He told his son that Abraham Lincoln was alive when the coin appeared.

"The state quarters make me feel good because they are arousing the public interest in the hobby," he said. "Collect what you can afford, what you like."

He suggested I try finding P quarters at a federal reserve bank.

Jeannette Mitchell, vice president/manager at Frontier Bank in Everett, is saving a few state quarters for relatives.

"We don’t always get a huge supply," Mitchell said. "We get the Denver mint quarters."

Customers can find Ps at the bank as coins do circulate around the country. Some tellers set aside state quarters so they are available for those who ask for them, she said.

Avid collectors can always shop coin stores, the secondary market or the Internet. Smith checked a catalog and noticed a roll of uncirculated Delaware state quarters could be purchased for about $60.

That would be the day, when I would pay $60 for $10 worth of quarters. With 700 million being made of each state, I think I will stay pretty casual about my collection.

The whole hobby could have landed me in hot water the other day. I’ve been contemplating getting one of those United States wall maps to display my coins. I have been waiting to find one with spots for mounting both Ps an Ds.

I thought I found one at a little shop at the mall. I held a sealed package with a map in one hand while I scanned an open model on display. Darn. It didn’t hold both the Ps and Ds.

I walked out of the store and waltzed down the mall, then realized I still clutched the sealed model I didn’t buy.

That’s an awful feeling.

I rushed back to the store and threw myself on the mercy of the shopkeeper. He believed I wasn’t shoplifting, but probably wondered about the weird lady who left his store mumbling about her Ps and Ds.

Kristi’s Notebook appears Tuesdays and Fridays. If you have an idea for her, call 425-339-3451 or send information to

o’harran@heraldnet.com.

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