Just the other day I was thumbing through a magazine my wife subscribes to and came across some of the most interesting articles I've seen in a while.

One article published in "The Old Farmer's Almanac" listed some of the greatest bargains of the century. As luck would have it, I had firsthand knowledge of several of the items listed — not that I had ever taken advantage of any of them.

As a youngster growing up in south Alabama, I was a coin collector ... on a very small scale. It was the summer I turned 12 that my dad bought me several coin collecting "books." They were about 6" x 8" and had specially-made, circular cutouts where you could place coins of varying denominations, mint locations (D-Denver, P-Philadelphia and S-San Francisco) and years that the coins were minted. 

I started with the Lincoln head cents, which were obviously the least expensive coins to be collected. Daddy gave me a ten-dollar bill which I took to the bank and exchanged it for $10 worth of pennies. I would take the 20 rolls of pennies home and thoroughly search each one looking for the coins I needed to fill up my "book." Then, I would roll the loose pennies, head back to the bank where I would repeat the process. This went for most of the summer.  

During those early years of collecting, I remember reading that the most valuable of the Lincoln Heads were those minted in San Francisco in 1909 — the year the Treasury switched over from Indian Head pennies to the Lincoln Heads (also known as the wheat penny). And to make it even more valuable, you needed to look for a "1909 S, VDB" penny ... the rarest of the lot ... not counting the rarest of the rare, the wheat pennies that were mis-stamped during production. Very — VERY — few of those mis-struck coins are still around outside of collections. 

Getting back to the VDB, which was stamped into the back side of the coin very near the bottom. VDB stood for Victor D. Brenner, who designed the coin. Only 484,000 of the 1909 coins were stamped in the San Francisco mint. Despite what may sound like a lot of pennies, today a 1909 S, VDB in uncirculated  condition (looks like it went straight from the mint to a collection) brings about $2,000. Oh yes, the mis-stamped Lincolns can fetch upwards of $50,000 each. Good luck finding one.

History repeated itself when I was in my 40s. That's when I started my sons collecting baseball cards. Their enthusiasm for collecting lasted a couple of weeks ... but my love of collecting baseball cards was rekindled and lasted for years.

I remember being in a card shop in Dothan when the owner told me a great story about buying some of the most valuable — old — cards on the market. An older man came into my friend's shop carrying a shoe box full of what are known as "tobacco" cards. That's because tobacco companies used to include the baseball cards in their packs of cigarettes and chewing tobacco. The older gentleman explained to the store owner that when he was just a kid, he used to go into the fields with his father and other men, and pick up up the baseball cards that the men would casually drop on the ground when they opened a pack of tobacco. Even though the rare T-206s collected by the man are highly collectible, most of the ones he had were in very poor condition.

In 1909,  Honus Wagner was a star shortstop  for the Pittsburg Pirates. Apparently, he didn't want to be associated with tobacco products. So, as one story goes, he approached the American Tobacco Company and asked the company to remove his card from production. (There are several versions of this story.) But for whatever reason, there were only about 50 to 200 of his cards printed and distributed to the public.

Needless to say, the card's value has skyrocketed since 1909. How high you ask? In October 2016, a 1909 Wagner T206 card sold for $3,120,000. 

Speaking of valuable cards, you can also keep your eye out for a high-grading Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps card. About four years ago a PSA graded 8.5 (out of 10), sold for $1.13 million. And in case you're looking for an investment, PSA (Professional Sports Authenticators) will put another '52 Topps Mantle ... which grades an even higher 9 out of ten ... up for auction in April. Its pre-auction estimate is a staggering $3.5 million ... topping the Wagner card. Call your broker today!

So, if you're looking for a hobby, collecting coins or baseball cards is a sure fire way to have some fun and perhaps make a buck or two. But unless you've got some rare cards in incredible condition, I wouldn't stake my retirement income on it.

Until next time.

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