Bought a salad for lunch at the Zoo today. Paid with a fiver, got 40 cents back in change — a nickel, dime, and a quarter just like the thousand nickels, dimes and quarters that have found temporary homes in my pocket over the years.

Not quite. Later on for a snack at the vending machine I had my sights set on a pack of ranch-flavored Corn Nuts (gawd they’re good in a bad way). In went the nickel and another. Then a series of five dimes, finished off with the quarter I got back in my change from lunch.

But the vending machine wouldn’t have it. Spit that 25-cent piece out fast like it tasted rotten. Retrieving it from the change return I flipped the coin into the slot slot again. No. And again. No. And again — this time with a little backspin. No. And again. Nothing doing. Patooey.

Damn machine.

After hearing the coin clink into the change return for the fifth or sixth time, I noticed it had something of a different sheen to it than normal quarters, almost a patina. And so I quizically palmed it thinking that the cashier had slipped me a slug or a Canadian something or other. Instead I found he slipped me some history in the form of a 1942 quarter.

1942q.jpg

I’m always amazed by old money… but “amazed” is a lazy word. Enamored? Intrigued? Fascinated? Better. It’s hard to pinpoint, but it’s like holding living history and all the mysteries inherent to it. Where has it been? Who has it seen? What has it bought?

But I first put all that wonderment on hold and trot back to my cube to retrieve a spare quarter (I check its date: 1996) with which sacrifice for my Corn Nuts. Heading back to the machine I can readily feel the difference between the two coins. The older one is heavier and the texture of its edging rasps much more noticeably against my fingertip. I’d've thought the elder would’ve been worn smooth from all the years.

As I dispense the replacement quarter into the slot and pull my snack out of the machine I head back to my desk, and let my curiosity flow free. I can’t help but travel back to the middle of World War II when this coin was born and imagine where its long journey had taken it and left it circulation all these years to end up in the palm of my hand.

Hopping over to Google, I found out via coinfacts.com that the “S” stamped below the wreath on its back indicates it was minted in San Francisco, one of 19,384,000 others that went into circulation. It’s composition is 90% silver and 10% copper, and at an auction in 2001 one sold for $747.50 — relax, that one that sold at auction was probably in perfectperfectperfect condition

Another site estimated that even one in “very fine” or “extremely fine” condition wouldn’t fetch more than $3 and $6, respectively. Still, it’s kinda cool landing a quarter that’s worth at least three bucks. Wish that could happen every day. I suppose if I was a good coin fisher I’d practice catch-and-release and put it back into the moneystream. But I think I’ll keep this one. At least for a little bit, while I imagine the stories it could tell and the pockets and purses it’s seen.

Reprinted from my blog. Originally published August 17, 2005