At Face Value!

Even a penny is a treasure!

treasure

One of my earliest memories of my father involved him giving me a small metal treasure chest filled with old coins. In actuality, this was a just a metal coin bank, but unlike the usually piggy bank shape, this one was shaped like a stereotypical pirate chest one might see in an old movie, or in an illustration from a book on pirates. Although I was quite young at the time, I do remember three things about the incident.

The first thing was that my father originally told me a tall tale about finding the treasure chest buried in the yard by pirates. Not quite the right thing to say to a young impressionable boy with a vivid imagination. My first impulse was to grab a shovel and start trying to dig up the yard in search of more buried pirate booty. Upon realizing his mistake, retrieving the shovel and re-filling the holes in the back yard, my father confessed to making up the whimsical pirate story in jest to have a bit of fun at my expense. A kid will believe anything, they’re too young to know any better.

After a long explanation that pirates like Long John Silver and Blackbeard were not part of the modern world,  the second thing I remember was being delighted that the coins all looked different from contemporary money. I was old enough to know the difference between pennies, nickels, dimes, dimes, quarters, half-dollar, and dollar coins. A lot of the coins were from the 1800’s. This was my father’s coin collection, and he wanted me to have it to encourage an interest in both saving and collecting money. This is something which has stuck with me my whole life. A year or so later, my father died suddenly as a result of kidney failure.

The third thing I remember about the treasure chest of coins was that sometime after the death of first my father, and then my step father, my mother sold the coins to a dealer without my knowledge. It’s not like I looked at them every day, and we had to move quite a bit after she sold the house. Things ‘out of sight’ were always said to be ‘packed away in storage’ until I forgot about them. My mother only understood two things about money, she could spend it, and she never had as much as she’d like.

Bringing home the bacon.   

The origin of the piggy bank is disputed by different sources. Some say  that early coin jars in the middle ages were made of a type of clay called pygg. This word sounded like pig, and an English potter mistakenly created a pig-shaped bank when someone asked for a pygg money jar. There is little evidence to support this widely believed myth.  What is known is that sometime about 1900, the first modern Piggy Banks were sold in the USA, and they cost 25¢. Billed as a new novelty, these early clay banks didn’t have the removable stopper on the bottom of the bank. If you wanted to remove the coins, you had to smash the bank, or kill the pig, so to speak. Even to this day, whenever I empty my coin jar and take a bunch of wrapped coins to the bank, I say to the back teller that I killed the piggy bank.

I never quite understood the charm of a piggy bank, or of giving them to children to teach about saving. A coin jar works much better. It’s my humble opinion that parents who encouraged children to save money in piggy banks did so because young children have a nasty habit of putting everything they can grab into their mouth.  By making a game of putting the penny in the piggy bank, it helped keep the coins out of the mouths of babes. Of course, I may be mistaken, but that’s the nature of opinions.

The next time I became excited about coins and money was 1976, the USA bicentennial.  There was a lot of hoopla concerning our great nation reaching its second century. Tall ships sailed into NYC, there were extra fireworks around the 4th of July, a lot of patriotic symbols on all kinds of novelties could be had. And the money changed.  The  quarters, half-dollars, and dollar coins all had a special bicentennial obverse and a double date. Likewise, after a ten year absence, $2 bills were reintroduced with a bicentennial themed back depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I had never seen a $2 bill. My mother was very excited. That was when I suddenly remembered about the long-unseen treasure chest of coins, which I then asked for, only to be told that that was ‘lost in the move’. As a consolation, I was given several specimens of all the new bicentennial money, including several $2 bills. I’ve had a love of $2 bills ever since.  I even have some Canadian $2 bills, both the obsolete paper money and the two loonie or toonie coin. Canada stopped printing $1 and $2 paper money back in 1986. Canadian dollar coins have a loon (a common Canadian waterfowl) on the obverse. They were nicknamed loonies. Some Canadians even started referring to piggy banks as loonie bins. In the late 1980’s Playtoy Industries of Toronto Canada manufactured a Giant Loonie Bank. Sadly, according to a recent news article, Canada says that currency which is no longer being printed will cease to be legal tender in the near future, and will become worthless paper.

looniebin2

This takes us back to collecting coins and money in general. For the most part, money is the one collectible item that always retains its face value.  The USA considers all US currency to be legal tender. If you take a 1937 ‘Mercury Dime’ to your bank, you can deposit it into your account as 10¢. Once a bank gets a hold of old money, it takes it out of circulation never to be seen again. If you took it to a coin collector instead, you’d get more than face value. The silver content alone is worth more than a dime.  To collectors, the condition of the money and its rarity give added value beyond that of the face value. I save all kinds of old money. Some of it is for sentimental reasons, like my $2 bills. Others like my Indian Head pennies are rare. Some coins I have paid slightly above face value to get an entire set in ‘uncirculated’ condition. To collectors, uncirculated coins and collector proof sets command high value. The US Mint sells these collector proof sets for way above face value. The 2018 proof set has ten coins all bearing the ‘S’ mint mark from San Francisco with a frosted, sculptured foreground set against a mirror-like field. You get the five America the Beautiful Quarters, the Native American $1 coin, Kennedy Half-dollar, Roosevelt dime, Jefferson nickel, and Lincoln penny.  Face value, it adds up to $2.91. The US Mint sells it for $27.95 +S/h.   To me, it’s not worth the extra $25.04 for super-shiny, uncirculated coins. Some people buy these  proof sets every year for their children and grandchildren.  I’m not saying that they won’t increase in value among collectors, just that they only are worth face value if you spend them.  I can’t tell you the exact number of times some teenager came in to the convenience store I worked at back in the day with a horde of old coins. In my mind, I just knew that someone had raided grandpa’s coin collection, but the money was legal tender, and I was simply speculating on how it was obtained.  I would buy out the rare monies once they left, replacing the antiquities with contemporary counterparts from my wallet.   

I’m probably never going to cash in my coin and paper money collection, but it is a comfort to know that if something terrible were to happen, I could at least spend it for face value even if I couldn’t locate another interested collector willing to obtain the collection for a premium.     

“Loose Change” AKA “Penny Song”

Lyrics by Andrew Peterson

I’d give you all of me to know what you were thinking

And if I had one wish I’d wish I wasn’t sinking here

Drowning in this well, oh can’t you tell?

I can’t pick myself up off the ground,

Well I’ve been face down and pushed aside.

Well you know I’d rather just turn tail and run

than lie here in the sun and watch you pass me by

Cause I ain’t worth a dime.

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah)

But If only I could stand up straight, I wouldn’t have to lie and wait,

I could up and roll away, never be ignored

I’ve got a feeling that I’m something more

than just a piece of copper ore, turning green and looking for

The reason I was born.

I’ve been around since 1964, in banks and bottom drawers

And on railroad ties. I’ve been passed around and cast aside

Skipped and flipped and flattened wide, Spun around

And thrown away and left alone to lie

But If only I could stand up straight, I wouldn’t have to lie and wait,

I could up and roll away, never be ignored

I’ve got a feeling that I’m something more

than just a piece of copper ore, turning green and looking for

The reason I was born.

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah) na na na na na

But I heard about a penny found, lying underneath the couch

By a woman who was kneeling down, looking for some change.

Then the woman danced around and called her friends all over town

Told them what was lost is found, it’s another penny saved.

And so I find that all this time beneath the surface I could shine

Like all the gold a king and queen could measure

You see even a penny is a treasure

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah) na na na na na

The 1987 movie Throw Mama From The Train stars Danny DeVito  and Billy Chrystal as Owen and Larry. Middle-aged Owen lives at home with his overbearing mother. He seems like he might be a little slow.  Larry is his writing teacher at the adult continuing education program he attends. There’s a scene that is genuinely emotionally touching  when Owen wants to show Larry his coin collection. Larry doesn’t want to see the coins, but Owen makes him feel bad when he says he’s never shown them to anyone before.  Owen slowly pulls out coins saying “This one is a nickel. And this is one is also a nickel. And here’s a quarter, and another quarter, and a penny.” Larry is annoyed at this, as the coins are all seemingly contemporary currency, and not worth anything more than face value. Owen then proceeds to explain how each coin is special to him because they were the change his Dad gave him during various father-son trips.  It’s a collection of coins from change his dad gave him, and that’s where their value lies.

Although the original coin collection my father gave to me is long gone, the special memory of the gift remains. Like any successful person who faces a setback, I started over, and in time I slowly began to amass a new collection of coins.  As my financial situation improved, I started adding things like old paper money, silver certificates, foreign coins, uncirculated coins, you name it. At face value, my collection is worth thousands. To a collector, it’s worth even more. As far as I’m concerned, it’s priceless, and not for sale. Someday, I too hope to pass my collection to my son, when I finally have a  son. Hopefully he will be able to keep it longer than I did my father’s. In either case, you can’t take it with you when you go, and a good man provides for his children, and his children’s children. Money is nice to have, but the memories we make with our loved ones are worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox. As always, I wish you success and happiness!   

Author: instantcoffeewisdom

I am a lifelong coffee enthusiast, a poet, and I am in the process of opening a cafe!

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