In My First Car Was Really a Tank (read me), I spoke about trading in a coin collection at Frederick’s Coin Shop so that I could have money to buy a part for an old car. When I was a very young boy, my dad had a small coin collection and he got me started by buying me a new Whitman Lincoln penny coin folder. Whitman folders were ‘the’ folder for collecting coins (and I assume they still are).
His mom, (my grandma), saved her old silver coins in socks. She had done this she said since she was a little girl so she had quite a number of socks stuffed full. Perhaps this is how my dad got started. His collection was very small so I don’t think he was very serious about being a real collector.
I remember beginning collecting at the age of 5 or 6. It all began with Lincoln pennies and a few John F Kennedy half dollars. I liked, (and still do), the feel of the weight of dollars and half dollars; they feel like they have purpose. I can remember using the Kennedys out in the alley with my friends, pitching them close to a line and thinking that I was increasing the value because I was making them look older. When we finished, an older kid tried to sneak away with 2 of them in his shoes. I had counted the coins beforehand so when we had finished, I saw two of them were missing. My friend Timmy (read me), called the guy out and told him to take off his shoes (pretty cool move for a 6 year old). He took them off and tried to shrug it off. That’s when I learned Doug Hubbard was not to be trusted. Later that day my dad explained to us that scraping up a coin makes it less valuable.
Over the years my collection grew. When I worked at Taco Bell, I’d occasionally get to swap out silver out of the cash drawers, silver I’d hear in the customer’s change. It has a distinctive sound and I can still hear it if tested – I might even be able to tell you what coin you have. Each time I went to Grandma’s house in Vincennes, Indiana she would bring out a different sock, dump the contents on the bed and let me go through and take everything I wanted. Mercury dimes, Roosevelt dimes, Washington quarters, Walking Liberty’s, silver dollars – you name it, she had it and willingly gave them to me. She had tons of socks so it was a drop in the bucket to her.
Many years later when the Hunt Brothers’ silver hoarding ran the price of silver sky high, my dad and his sister got Grandma to pawn her silver. I’m fairly certain she did well on that and it likely went a long way towards paying the bills (although I’m not quite sure what bills they had – everything was paid off). By the time 1975 came, (when I sold my collection), I myself likely had more than 30 pounds of silver. Even at today’s depressed silver price, that would be worth over $10,000 at the time of this writing. Frederick offered me $120.
Like Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, pawning his 1993 Rolex Daytona for only $500, I said – I’ll take it. I really wanted that car fixed. I regret this today because I gave up the coins my grandma gave me. They really meant a lot to me; apparently though not as much as the possibility of becoming mobile. Why are we so consumed with growing up when we’re teenagers and then when we get there, we spend the rest of our lives trying to recapture our youth?
A couple of years before selling my collection, my parents had gone through bankruptcy. Going through bankruptcy in the early teen years was such a painstaking experience. In hindsight, the old saying about ‘what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger’ certainly played a superior role in my life. I guess I should be thankful as it factored in strongly all throughout my professional career and personal financial planning. Hell, I even made sure that our kids were at least 4 years apart so we wouldn’t have two kids in college at the same time!
I was to rebuild my coin collection over the next 35 years, but I continue to feel that act was one of the moments I wish I cold go back in time and relive. I say this today, but I’m deluding myself if I think I would handle myself differently; I wouldn’t. I didn’t have money and having a car was the most important goal in my life at the time.
I have a fair collection today. The Jefferson nickels are complete as are the Roosevelt dimes and Lincoln cents, (minus the 1909-s VDB). I have a 30 year old full set of King Tut gold stamps I haven’t a clue as to their worth and I don’t even know how many pounds of silver. I save all nickels and all pennies before 1982 even still; both are worth more in their metal content than their pressed denomination so the collector in me compels me to save them. The collection is kept in a safety deposit box that I visit a couple of times per year. Its destiny will either be the old age, emergency fund or an inheritance.
Today, the collection represents too much to me to get rid of – a kid wanting so much to become an adult with a car, promises to myself that my kids would one day have all the opportunities I did not, memories of sitting with my grandma who had tucked away her dimes and quarters in socks for years while she passed her collecting memories to me…..and my not having the fortitude to resist pawning those memories for pennies.
Some aspects of growing up on Prytania were a little more tough than others. Today I’m more focused against collecting love and memories…..I figure that once a collector, always a collector.