This past weekend my wife and I visited my mom for a few days. Knowing that I collect coins and have a general interest in pilfering through pocket change, my mom saves for me what she can. Since it had been a while since my last visit, she had plenty of coins stockpiled for me.
I looked through the quarters first to see if there were any new additions for my 50 State Commemorative collections or any silver. I pulled out two new additions and one replacement for the commemorative folder, but didn't find any silver. I moved on to the nickels and pulled out a few 2004 and 2005 commemorative pieces, but nothing too spectacular. The dimes offered up a few 1960s and 1970s, but also nothing too noteworthy.
What I really wanted to search through were the Lincoln cents. I have been working on filling up my Lincoln Cent folders from 1909-1998 and have more empty spots than I would like. I was able to get a few copper cents out of the bunch and was able to find a 1955 D and a worn 1946 S for the collection. I found a few other replacements and a few additions for some open common dates.
At first, I thought I would only find US coins, but I found a few interesting foreign pieces while searching through the cents. Two Canadian pennies, a penny from the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, and a corroded brass looking coin popped out . I was singularly focused on sifting through the cents that I just set them to the side so that I could review them later.
Mostly this was to keep myself from losing track of what I was doing. It almost worked, but I did get side tracked with the corroded brass coin. I couldn't immediately tell what it was. I set it to the side, but after going through a handful of cents, I picked it back up to give it another look. I noticed what looked like a hammer and sickle, but couldn't find any date or country of origin. The only other prominent feature was the denomination "2" on the other side, and the first two letters of a Cyrillic word.
I had to force myself to put it aside and continue my search through the cents or I would never finish. I finally got through all the coins, separated my keep from bulk piles, got everything stored, and finally stared at my mystery coin. I had wracked my brain thinking of what it might be, what secrets it might hold! This, this is what we crave as coin collectors.
I knew that it was most likely a Communist-era, Eastern European coin, but could go on nothing else than that. What little script I could see could be multiple different versions of the Cyrillic alphabet. I knew it had to be at least 2 of whatever denomination the currency was. And it had to come from a Communist country due to the prominent hammer and sickle design. This coin drove me crazy trying to figure out what it was.
So I started digging in the few coin collecting books I had, mostly books on beginning coin collecting. I wanted to know how to clean the coin, thinking "Hey, I might learn more!" The consensus of what I found: don't do it. The general advice for beginners from Kenneth Bressett's Whitman Guide to Coin Collecting: An Introduction to the World of Coins reads: "Yes, shiny coins seem much more attractive, but when coins are improperly cleaned, they can easily be scratched and damaged. A harshly cleaned coin is always worth less than a similar one that is natural and untouched. The best advice is never attempt to clean a valuable coin (79)."
I read on, thinking "this might or might not be a valuable coin, how can I tell without cleaning?" For corrosion, Bressett mentions that "Common solvents, such as alcohol and acetone, may be safely used for this purpose, but even that kind of a bath is best left to more experienced professionals (89)." My head spun. How does an amateur numismatist, a beginner home collector, learn such skills? I considered sending the coin in somewhere, but who knows how much that could cost me in proportion to the value of a mystery coin.
I put everything aside to mull on what to do. The next morning my wife and I sat drinking our morning coffee, so I asked for her opinion on how to clean my coin. She, an archaeologist, said to just use soap and warm water. She said if its good to clean thousand year old animal bones and pottery then its alright for a modern coin. Taking her professional advice, which seems much of an easier solution than I was making it out to be, I drew a little warm water and some dish soap and lightly rubbed the coin with my fingers and a soft cloth.
Suddenly, I was able to make out more details of my find. The denomination and date popped up under the "2", so I flipped the coin to the other side and saw it: "CCCP". I finally got my answers. I had a 2 Kopeck piece from the USSR minted in 1961. Here are the details I found:
The Kopeck was minted by the Soviet Union beginning in 1961 until its collapse in 1991. It is composed of brass (58% copper, 40% zinc, and 2% manganese) and weighs 2 grams with a reeded edge. I couldn't find any information on who designed or engraved the coin nor could I find any evidence that the design of the coin changed in its 30 year mintage.
The coat of arms of the Soviet Union with two bundles of wheat surrounding capped with a star above the lettering CCCP.
Reverse:The denomination "2" set above ÐšÐžÐŸÐ•Ð™ÐšÐ˜ set above the date 1961 surrounded by a wreath.
After the Kopeck dried, the corrosion made the coin as illegible as before. I'm fortunate that I was able to get the information that I did, nor did I ruin the coin. While it may not be considered a valuable coin to most, many selling for a dollar or less, to me it is worth quite a bit. If nothing else that it represents the thrill, the chase, that rush we get as coin collectors. All I could think was how did this coin end up in the United States? When did it get here? How had no one seen this before and popped it out of circulation? Could this have been a keepsake, a token of the past, or talisman carried by someone who had lived through the Cold War? And how did it end up in my mom's pocket?
I'll never get any of these answers. At best, I will fill the answers in for myself on my drive to work and change them again while doing dishes. And that is okay. Because you never know what you're going to find in your pocket change.
All quotes from Bressett, Kenneth. Whitman Guide to Coin Collecting: An Introduction to the World of Coins. Pelham, AL: Whitman Publishing, LLC, 2018.