uncirculated (BU) rolls are a popular way to collect coins today,
especially modern issues like the 50 State Quarters. In addition,
the significant prices paid in recent years for low population,
condition rarities (aka "pop top" coins) have driven many
cherry pickers to buy up original BU rolls and search them for high
grade specimens worthy of certification. Notwithstanding the fact
that finding such coins are longshots, truly original rolls frequently
sell at auction for several multiples of the usual BU roll price on the chance
that certifiable, high-grade coins might be found.
Together, both movements have created
a wide awareness of the BU roll market. However, from the
questions we hear everyday, it is clear that few people really understand the
processes through which BU rolls are handled as they flow from the Mint
to the ultimate consumer or collector. Similarly, the queries we
receive make it clear that the terminology used in
the roll trade is often misunderstood and very frequently misused, even
by experienced buyers and sellers. Through this article we hope to
debunk some of the more common myths and provide a better understanding
of the processes involved.
of Roll Collecting
David Lange writes in the
Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents that collecting coins by the roll
first became relatively common in the mid-1930s. Indeed, 1934 is
the first year represented in the Coin Dealer Newsletter's price
sheet for BU rolls which would seem to substantiate Lange's
research. Our experience also correlates as we frequently buy and
sell BU rolls from about the mid-1930s to date but rarely see earlier
rolls. For a couple of
decades, Lange writes, collectors and speculators generally confined
themselves to a roll or two of each date. Then, in 1955, it was
widespread knowledge that 1955 would be the last year for use of the S
mintmark on the Lincoln Cent. Accordingly, collectors and
speculators not only set aside more rolls than usual but even began to
hoard and trade cents in bag (100 roll) lots.
In the years that followed,
collecting current issues in roll and bag quantities became even more
widespread reaching its height in the 1960s. In 1960, the mid-year
revision of the cent dies creating a large and small date version heated
up the speculation in current issues in roll and bag
quantities. Then, starting in 1961, it became growingly
apparent that the nation was in a coin shortage. While the
shortage was actually due to an increased demand for coin and
currency driven by a growing economy and the proliferation of vending
machines, the Mint blamed collectors, speculators and hoarders for the
At the height of the shortage in 1964m
the Mint began to take
measures to reduce the amount of coins withdrawn from circulation in
roll and bag quantities by collectors, hoarders and speculators. The first step
was legislation in late
1964 that froze the 1964 date on coins until the shortage was
remedied. Second, mintmarks were removed from coins for 1965
through 1967. In both instances, the thinking at the time by those
in charge was that by reducing the number of different date/mintmark
combinations that could be collected or hoarded, the aggregate amount of
coins pulled out of circulation for such reasons would be reduced.
Table 1: Mintage figures (in millions) showing record 1964
Accordingly, 1964-dated coinage was produced
through all of 1964 and much of 1965 resulting in record mintages for
the date (see Table 1). It was also the last year for 90% silver dimes, quarters
and halves for circulation causing even more people to put away rolls of
this already widely available date. As a result, even today, 1964-dated coinage is one of the most readily available in BU rolls, with the
1960 to 1963 coinage also being plentifully in BU roll
Speculation in any commodity tends to
drive prices continually to new highs with everyone clamoring to buy and
limited quantities available. Then, one day, large holders began
selling and soon everyone is a seller, there are no buyers and the
market crashes. The crash in the BU roll market came in late 1964
and for many dates the prices have not recovered to the 1964 high ever
Each passing year since 1964 up until
1999 has seen fewer and fewer BU rolls put away in the year of
issuance. Just look at any price guide that includes pricing
information for BU rolls and notice the general trend. The 1960s rolls
tend to be a few cents over face value--virtually no premium despite being 40 years old and in
BU quality. The rolls from the 1970s are bit more pricey but not
as much so as those from the 1980s or early 1990s.
Uncirculated Sets (aka Mint Sets)
sold annually by the US Mint represent the primarily source for BU
singles during the post-roll-bust era. For the most part, a few million sets were produced each year and the packaging has
kept the coins in nice BU condition and suitable for sales as
singles. One notable exception is the years 1982 and 1983 when no
Mint Sets were produced. As a result, prices for rolls from these
two years are outliers. Take, for example, the 1983-P
quarters. At this writing (April 2003) the wholesale dealer Ask
price, as reported in the Coin Dealer Newsletter, is $800.00 per
roll. Compare that to the comparable price for 1981-P and 1984-P
rolls of $12.50 and $16.00 respectively and one can see the impact of
Mint Sets on the BU roll market. More importantly, one can see
that very few coins were being put away in roll and bag quantities by
the early 1980s.
Another event in the early 1980s that
forever impacted the BU roll market was the rise in value of silver and
gold to levels not seen previously (or since). Silver approached
$50 per ounce and, as a result, many of the the BU rolls that were put
away two decades previously came out of old-time collections and hoards
and found their way into the melting pot. This somewhat offset the
glut of early 1960s rolls but even today they are still readily available.
The final two impacts on the BU roll
market came in the mid to late 1990s. First, a significant subset
of collectors began to pursue their favorite series in as nice of
condition as possible. This created a new market in coins for the
finest known or near finest known examples unlike any every seen
before. As a result, entrepreneurial dealers and collectors
began searching rolls for the top quality coins. As prices
for the finest known coins rose, BU roll prices were pulled up as well,
particularly for unopened and original rolls.
The last (but by no means
least) impact came in 1999 when the US
Mint introduced the fifty-state series of circulating quarters. This immensely
popular program made coin collectors out of much of the nation's
population and a popular way of collecting these exciting new coins was
in BU rolls. The short 10-week production schedule and economic
ups and downs created an number of issues that are rarer than others
in BU rolls. For those in shorter supply, prices rose causing
speculators to enter the market, which in turn tended to create surpluses
of other issues.
Now, around 70 years after roll
collecting first became popular, it is again a widespread phenomenon
within the hobby. Both times, it was accompanied by a large influx of
new collectors into the hobby. Many of these new collectors are
not content to build roll sets of the 50 State Quarters but are also
looking to collect the earlier issues.
2: Where Rolls Come From
We frequently get requests for
"Mint rolls" or "Fed rolls" Actually, neither
of these entities wrap coins today and one never has. "Bank
wrapped" rolls are also commonly requested as well as bought and
sold in today's roll market. However, few banks actually wrap
coins these days and that has been the situation for decades. Part 2 seeks to explain away these common
misconceptions and help the reader better understand the processes
surrounding wrapping of current coinage.
Of course, the process all starts at
the US Mint where coins are manufactured. Generally, speaking most
of the nation's coinage is produced by the main US Mint facility in
Philadelphia or the branch facility in Denver. The Mint also has
facilities in San Francisco and West Point but most of the circulation
coinage is produced at either the Philadelphia or Denver facilities.
Again, generally speaking coinage
needs east of the Mississippi River are met through the Philadelphia
facility with the Denver facility filling orders west of the Mississippi
River. Thus, depending on where one lives, typically only P-mint or
D-mint coinage can be obtained locally. There have been notable
exceptions with new issues, shortages, surpluses and other anomalies but
for the most part this rule has held true.
||Image 1: Mint-sewn
bags of quarters, dollars and cents.
The Mint ships coin to regional
Federal Reserve banks. The coins leaves the Mint and arrives at the
Federal Reserve branch bank in bulk lots. Historically, coins were
delivered in "mint-sewn bags" (see Image 1). Thes number of coins in
these bags varied by denomination containing 5000 cents, 4000
nickels, 5000 dimes, 4000 quarters, 2000 half dollars or 2000
dollars. Roll collectors note that the coins left the Mint loose in bags, not rolled.
In late 2000 and early 2001, in a
cost cutting move, the Mint discontinued use of the traditional sized
bag and opted instead for a larger bulk, or "jumbo" bag, containing from 50
to 100 times the number of coins that were previously placed in the
smaller bags. Specifically, these larger bags contained 400,000
cents, 240,000 nickels, 500,000 dimes, 200,000 quarters, 100,000 half
dollars or 140,000 dollars (source Coin
World). Note that even after the process change, coins still
left the Mint facility in unrolled form.
The Federal Reserve Bank branches
store coins in the bulk bags as received from the Mint until receiving
an order from one of their customers, typically a commercial bank or
other depository institution. Typically, the local banks contract
with an armored car company (e.g., Brinks, Loomis, Wells Fargo, Dunbar, etc.) to
pick up the coins from the Federal Reserve bank and deliver them to the
local bank. However, the local banks desire the coin in rolled
easy dispensation to their customers. As a result, the
armored car companies have central processing facilities where they take
the bagged coinage for wrapping into rolls and boxing prior to delivery
to the requesting bank. Yes, it is the armored car companies that wrap the vast
majority of coins into rolls in today's economy and has been for the
last few decades.
|Image 2: Rolls from
the 1950s and 1960s with bank names.
Back in the days when there was one
or two main banks in town, long before banks tried to have a branch in
every neighborhood, larger banks often had their own wrapping
machines. Their larger volume at a single location warranted the
initial expense of a wrapping machine (which can cost as much as a small
automobile) and the required regular maintenance program.
Particularly large banks often ordered wrapping paper pre-printed with
their bank name. These rolls, true "bank wrapped" rolls
(see Image 2) are often seen on rolls from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s but seem to have
largely disappeared by the 1970s. During this same era, and
particularly the 1950s, the Federal Reserve Banks also had wrapping
machines and did wrap some of the coins, especially for smaller banks
without wrapping equipment. Consequently, one can sometimes find rolls
from this era stamped with the name of a Federal Reserve Bank.
However, as banking spread all over
town, the economies of scale were lost and it became even more important
to have a reliable vendor provide transportation of coin and currency
between the Federal Reserve Bank and the many local bank
branches. Since the Federal Reserve Bank did not wrap the
coins and the individual local banks did not have wrapping equipment,
the job of wrapping coins was left to the armored car companies.
Did you ever wonder why banks required you to wrap coins before they
will accept them for deposit? It is because they do not have a
wrapping machine on premises and the do not have the staff to hand wrap
large volumes of coins.
In summary, the vast majority
(probably well above 99%) of the rolls today are wrapped by the armored
car companies and the names "Mint wrapped", "Fed
wrapped" and even "bank wrapped" are all misnomers as
applied to modern coin rolls.
||Image 3: Coin tubes.
3A: Tubed Rolls
There are a number of containers for
holding a roll of coins. Coin tubes (see Image 3) made of sturdy plastic with
either screw on or snap on caps are often used for more expensive rolls
as they provide better protection. Due to the expense these are
not used by banks but rather are exclusively collector-used products. Hence,
they are an after-market addition to the roll.
3B: Hand Wrapped Rolls
||Image 4: Flat coin
wrappers (left) and preformed tubular coin wrappers (right).
There are two basic types of
paper rollers for hand wrapping rolls (see Image 4). The most common rollers for hand
wrapping rolls come flat. They are opened to allow insertion of
the coins and then closed by folding over the excess paper on each end
of the roll. This is the least expensive type of paper wrappers
and small quantities are frequently available to account holders at
local banks at little or no cost. Larger quantities are readily available at most
office supply stores.
The second most common type of paper
wrap for hand wrapping rolls come preformed in a tube shape with one end
machine crimped. Coins are inserted into the tube and the roll is
sealed by folding the uncrimped end over the coins. These paper
tubes are easier to use but more expensive and thus not usually provided
free at banks. They too are available at most office supply
3C: Machine Wrapped Rolls
The first type of machine wrapped
roll we discuss also utilized preformed paper tubes like those discussed in the
prior section. In this case, the machine is only used to seal the
rolls. The coins are still inserted manually in the tube and then
the machine is used to crimp the open end of the paper tube.
Typically the non-factory end is not crimped as tightly. Also, the paper
tends to be loose around the roll since the tube is slightly larger than
the diameter of the coins so that the coins can be easily inserted
without jamming. These crimping machines are very inexpensive
(compared to a wrapping machine) since all they do is seal the
tube. This type of crimping machine is available for a few hundred
dollars for higher volume users. For smaller volume users and home
use, hand versions
and a supply of preformed tubes can be purchased for less than $10.
|Image 5: High speed wrapping
The vast majority of rolls today are
wrapped with a wrapping machine (see Image 5). These sophisticated machines--often
costing as much as a small car--have
larger hoppers capable of holding a few hundred rolls of coins at a time. The
machines reject misshapen coins, coins of other denominations,
off-center strikes, and the like. They count the correct number of
coins into the roll for the chosen denomination, tightly wrap the roll and
nicely crimp the ends. The entire process takes no more than a few
seconds per roll.
|Image 6: Rolls of wrapping
These high speed wrapping machines
utilize wrapping paper that comes on a large roll, just like toilet
paper, only in a even larger roll (see Image 6). Several companies manufacture
paper for these machines. From the volume of rolls we have seen,
N.F. String & Son appears to have the lion's share of the
market. Partly, that might just be that N.F. String & Son appears to be the only
manufacturer that actually puts its name on the roll. Many new roll collectors mistake the
presence of the N.F. String & Son name on the wrapper to mean they were the company
that wrapped the roll. About twice a month we receive a request
for rolls "wrapped by N.F. String & Son" and have to
explain that "they just print the paper." Visit the N.F.
String & Son website to learn more about the company and see the
coin and currency wrapping products they sell. Other vendors of
rolls of wrapping machine paper include Clean
Sweep Supply, US
Bank Supply, and Keysan
among many others.
Table 2: ABA Standard Colors.
various suppliers of this paper generally have slightly
different designs. However, all conform to American
Banking Association standards on the colors used.
Typically the paper is white (although occasionally kraft) with
the color of the printing indicating the denomination (see Table
2). The printing will specify the dollar value of the
roll and the denomination.
|Image 7: Various quarter
wrapping paper styles.
Many of the manufacturers will
also custom print the paper with the name of the armored car
company. As a result, there are a variety of
different looks within the same standards. Image 7 shows three
variations : N.F. String & Son
(top), generic (middle), and printed with armored car company name (bottom).
||Image 8: "Shrink
Beginning in the 1990s, a new type of machine was introduced that
wrapped coins in a plastic sleeve, making them appear "shrink
wrapped" (see Image 8). The plastic is tightly stretched over the roll of
coins keeping them together. The coins are easily removed by
squeezing the roll or tearing away the plastic wrapping.
The paper styles shown in Images 6 and
7 are examples of the types in use
today. When one looks back at older rolls, the style was
different. It seems the above-described styles (mostly white with
color coded printing) came into being around around the
mid-1970s. Prior to that and going back to the 1930s, most
of rolls tend to have been wrapped in solid color paper (like those in
Image 2 above). Typically, the
paper itself is color coded to denomination with the printing typically
being in red or black. The solid wrapper colors generally
correlate to the color scales shown in Table 2 above. The cent and
nickel are the main denomination seen with variations. While red wrappers
are very frequently encountered on cent rolls of this era, and blue
wrappers are typical on nickel rolls of the era purple wrappers are also
common for both denominations. Sometimes, kraft colored paper can be found on all
denominations from this era.
3D: Rolls Sold by the US Mint.
Starting with the introduction of the
Sacagawea Dollar in 2000, the US Mint has sold specially wrapped rolls
of some denominations to collectors (see Image 10). Actually, the the first
specially wrapped rolls of Sacagawea Dollars were distributed to
Wal-Mart and other promotional partners as part of the introduction of
the Sacagawea Dollar. Later that year, rolls wrapped in the same
gold and black paper were sold to collectors. These specially
wrapped rolls of Sacagawea Dollars have been offered each subsequent
year as well.
Starting with the issuance of the New
Hampshire quarter in late 2000, the US Mint began selling State Quarter
rolls specially wrapped in a orange, black and white wrapper.
These wrappers have the two letter postal code for the state as well as
the P or D mintmark in large letters. These rolls have been offered for each
subsequent state as well. However, none were issued for the 1999
states or the first three states in 2000.
In 2002, the US Mint sold Kennedy
Half Dollars in blue and white wrapped rolls. The Mint has
continued to offer these blue and white wrapped half dollar rolls each
year since. In 2004, the
Mint offered not only 2004-dated halves in these specially wrapped rolls
but also released 2001-dated halves as well.
In 2003, the US Mint offered
specially wrapped rolls of 2003 Jefferson Nickels. The special
packaging of this denomination continued the following two years with the
issuance of the commemorative reverse Westward Journey nickels and again
in 2006 with the Return to Monticello Jefferson nickels.
While the US Mint sold these rolls
directly to the public, they were not wrapped at the US Mint (remember,
we said the Mint does not wrap rolls). Instead, they were shipped
to an outside contractor in bulk bags for wrapping (source: Coin
World and Coin
World). Thus, the handling these coins received is
essentially the same as those issued through the Federal Reserve for
circulation. The coins were shipped off-site in bulk bags to a
third-party contractor for wrapping. The contractor then
dumped the coins in a wrapping machine hopper and wrapped them in
the specially printed paper. Next, they were shipped to the Mint's
order processing contractor in Memphis, Tennessee. There, they
were stored until needed to fill customer orders when they were then
shipped through the US Postal Service to the ultimate customer.
|Image 10: From left
to right, BU rolls
sold by the US Mint: Sacagawea Dollars, State Quarters, Kennedy Half Dollars
and Jefferson Nickels.
4: Storing BU Rolls
This section focuses on the issue of
proper storage of BU rolls which generates a lot of questions among
collectors. In short, there are a lot of acceptable options and a few
The main situation to avoid is
storing rolls in a wet environment or one that is not climate
controlled. Extra precaution should be taken in coastal areas due
to the presence of salt in the air and general environment.
Many people choose to store their
valuables, including rolls of coins in a home safe. Those with
fire-rated safes should understand that these safes typically trap
moisture (ask your safe's manufacturer for details if you have one of
these safes). As a result, storing coins in these types of safes
requires extra care in keeping silica crystals or another absorbing agent
present and active in the safe to keep any trapped moisture away from
the coins. This requires regularly replacing or renewing the
Another common roll collector dilemma
is whether to keep the rolls in the original wrapper or open them and
place the coins in a plastic tube. As one would expect, there are
advantages and disadvantages to both. On the one hand, a sealed
tube better protects the coins from moisture and environmental
contaminants. Sulfur, widely present in the environment and a
component of most wood and paper products (including the paper used to
wrap coin rolls), causes coins to tone (turn dark). This is
particularly true of silver and copper coins which are very
reactive. The toning concern is less acute with nickel and copper
nickel clad coins. Keeping coins in their original color is
usually best accomplished long-term through the use of tubes for roll
On the other hand, coins can be
fingerprinted or otherwise impaired in the process of transferring them
from a roll to a tube if one is not extremely careful. Also, coins
are typically a little loose within coin tubes which could allow them to
rub together and lessen the quality of the coins. Finally, today's
current BU roll market places a premium on unopened rolls. This
has not always been the case and likely will not always be the
case. Notwithstanding, the disparity in price on some issues today
is great enough to warrant consideration of this factor in the tube/paper decision.
We have attempted to include the more
common terms used in the BU roll trade and give their technical meaning as well
as meaning in conventional use, if different.
A roll wrapped by a bank. Rolls were commonly wrapped by banks in
the 1950s and 1960s. Typically the "bank wrapped" status
is evidenced by the presence of a bank name printed on the wrapping
paper itself. While technically the term could apply to rolls hand
wrapped by banking personnel, the term typically is applied only to
machine wrapped rolls. 2. Often, the term is more broadly used to refer to an
unopened, machine wrapped roll whether wrapped by a bank or not,
especially when applied to rolls from the 1970s and later (which were
rarely wrapped by banks (typically the wrapping was done by armored car
brilliant uncirculated roll. The roll may be original and/or
unopened but neither is required to be a BU roll.
tightly, rolled up end of a machine wrapped roll.
Federal) Wrapped--1. Technically, a roll wrapped by a Federal Reserve Bank
branch. Rolls were commonly wrapped by Federal Reserve Banks
branches in the 1950s and 1960s. Typically the Federal Reserve
status is evidenced by the presence of a Federal Reserve Bank branch
name printed on the wrapping paper itself. 2. Often more broadly
and erroneously used to describe a roll as being wrapped by a Federal
Reserve Bank that was not actually by a Federal
Reserve Bank when in actuality the Federal Reserve no longer wraps
rolls. Instead, the rolls this term is used to describe in
conventional use are rolls that were wrapped by an armored car company delivering
bulk coinage from the a Federal Reserve Bank branch to a local branch
bank. They are wrapped in paper that has been standardized by the
American Banking Association. This "official look" cause
many (if not most) people to assume they are government wrapped.
acronym for "from Mint Sets" used to describe a roll that was
put together by cutting coins from Mint Sets.
folded over end of a hand wrapped roll.
Heads/Tails--Typically used to describe a State Quarter roll that
has the heads side of a coin (with the mintmark) showing on one end and
the tails side of a coin (with the state design) showing on the
other. This enables one to identify the state and mintmark without
having to open the roll.
Roll--1. Often erroneously used to describe a roll as being
wrapped by the Mint when in actuality the Mint does not wrap
rolls. Instead, these rolls are typically rolls that were wrapped
by an armored car company delivering bulk coinage from the a Federal
Reserve Bank branch to a local branch bank. 2. Rolls of Sacagawea
Dollars, State Quarters or Kennedy Half Dollars sold by the US Mint (but
wrapped by an outside contractor) in specially designed, colorful
paper. 3. A BU roll (the term "mint" is often used as a
synonym for "uncirculated" as in "mint state.")
& Sons--A company that manufactures coin and currency
wrapping products, including rolls of wrapping paper used in wrapping
machines. N.F. String & Sons is one of the most widely used
brands of paper and one of the few manufacturers that prints its name on
the paper, causing some collectors to believe (erroneously) that the
rolls were actually wrapped by N.F. String & Sons.
OBW or Original
Bank Wrapped--Technically an original, bank wrapped (i.e., has the
bank name preprinted on the wrapping paper) roll. More often used
to describe any unopened, machine-wrapped roll.
term used to describe a roll that has remained intact since the year of
issue. A roll that has had a coin or coins removed and replaced is not original. The term is often used to describe an
unopened roll, however, rolls can be opened (even tubed) and still be
Orange/White--A term used on quarter rolls to describe the type
of wrapping paper (white with orange printing) used to wrap the roll.
Roll--The opposite of an original roll; a roll that has
been made by combining coins from two or more rolls, often after cherry
picking the varieties and/or high grade coins from the roll.
Originally, a term was used to describe a roll that was twice the
typical length (as in a double barrel shotgun). For example,
casinos frequently wrap half dollars in $20 (40-coin) rolls.
2. Some also apply the term to describe a hand wrapped roll that was wrapped
utilizing a preformed tube. The preformed end is rolled up and
crimped like the end of a shotgun shell, while the other end is folded
over. 3. Most often today used to describe any machine wrapped,
that have been wrapped in a stretchy, plastic sleeve rather than a paper
roll that has been removed from its paper wrapper and placed in a
roll that has not been opened.
roll that has not been searched for errors, varieties, higher grades or other
more desirable coins. Typically used to describe an
unopened roll but even opened rolls can be unsearched.