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He got everything right except the safe-deposit box
Man Turns Granddad's Coins into Pure Gold
By Terry Savage
Monday, July 10, 2006
Nick Dorado e-mailed me with a problem: Too much money!
To be more specific, he literally had pounds and pounds of coins, collected and saved by his grandfather. He stored them in a safe-deposit box for years, always wondering if he had some rare penny or other collector's item that would be worth far more than its face value.
Or perhaps he was paying storage charges on bags of coins that could be better spent on bus fare.
We decided to find out.
I arranged an appointment at Harlan J. Berk, Ltd., respected Chicago coin dealers, and members of the Professional Numismatists Guild (www.PNGDealers.com). Berk himself is a past president of the guild. Going to a reputable coin dealer is important because you'll never know which coin might be the rare and valuable one -- or if you're getting paid an appropriate price for your coins.
Of course, you could use the annual "Guidebook of United States Coins." But most people who inherit coins saved by family members don't have any idea of what to look for in matching coins to the book illustrations. They all seem pretty much alike to an amateur, and coin prices can change frequently.
Berk's company does not charge a percentage fee for an appraisal. He says that skews the appraisal process. Instead Berk charges $150 per hour. That gets you a written appraisal, which you can use for insurance purposes. There is no fee if Berk buys the coins or if you just want a verbal appraisal.
Nick arrived at the appointed hour, toting a satchel full of coins. They'd been stored for years in purple velvet Crown Royal drawstring bags, plastic containers and wilted brown paper lunch bags.
The "collection" also included some large-sized bills -- paper money left over from an earlier era.
It was an impressive hoard -- but would it be worth anything?
Berk, Nick and I discussed the possibilities, while Berk's right-hand man, Bob Greenstein, started sorting the coins with amazing speed, and no apparent rhyme or reason.
The collection contained a lot of pennies, and Berk whetted our appetites by pointing out that a 1955 penny "double-die" from the Philadelphia mint could be worth as much as $1,500, depending on the condition. In that year, and at that mint, a number of coins were struck by a malformed die stamp -- resulting in what looks like two separate images.
I could see the headlines already, but then Berk pointed out that the odds were a billion to one of finding such a penny.
What WAS piling up were "wheat" pennies, minted in 1958 before a change in 1959 that put the Lincoln Memorial on the reverse side of the penny in honor of the 150th anniversary of his birth. Today wheat pennies are worth about 1.5 cents each. And you thought a penny wasn't worth much today.
Another penny, a 1943 steel cent, was worth about a nickel. And there were some Morgan silver dollars in the collection, worth about $9 each. The values were literally piling up.
Among the paper money was a $1 silver certificate overprinted "Hawaii" during World War II. A bill with this wording could automatically become de-monetized should the U.S. lose the Hawaiian Islands in the war. Today the bill is worth upwards of $10. A 1928 dollar bill was the first series to replace the large size bills previously issued, and was worth about $10.
While we were talking, Nick's eyes kept wandering to Bob's sorting job. Bob was now using a small calculator to total up the values of the separate piles.
When all was said and done, Nick's collection was worth $754.50, far more than his wildest dreams. Nick was ready to sell.
I stopped him and asked what he planned to do with this "found money?"
Nick said he'd probably just deposit it in the bank. I made a suggestion. We'd been looking at some U.S. gold coins in the nearby case. I pointed to a U.S. $20 gold piece from 1923. At that day's gold price, it would cost $725.
I gently suggested he might consider turning his old coins to gold -- true alchemy. Nick took the suggestion, bought the coin, and pocketed the change to buy lunch after stashing his new gold coin in the now-empty safe-deposit box.
Nick Dorado. His name means "gold." It seemed like fate. Nick did find gold in those dusty bags of coins. And he's hanging onto it. That's the Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and a columnist for Creators Syndicate.