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Beating the Doldrums
By Dr. R. S. Bartanowicz

"This is too nice a day to go through our usual Saturday routine. Let's go to that little town with all the antique shops." Our numismatist winced. He wasn't up for a 120-mile round trip. His spouse added, "I think you found some old coin books there last year?" Suddenly his mood changed. "Yeah, I picked up a 1933 edition of the Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia. Give me time for a quick shave and shower."

As he showered and the hot water beat on his head, he realized that he had been snookered. His spouse was clever. She could probably get him to visit the local landfill or wastewater facility with the mere hint that it might have something to do with coins.

The drive was pleasant, and his pulse quickened as they approached the small antique center. The town had once been a thriving center for cattle, citrus and other agricultural businesses. Time had not been kind to the town. The businesses were smaller, but the old downtown had been "cultivated" into an antique center.

His timing was perfect, as it looked like a special occasion. Tables were set up on the sidewalks and side streets. It was obviously a community day, and things looked busy. Our numismatist virtually leaped out of the car. "Honey, what say we meet at the little park at the end of the street in about two hours? This way we can both take our time." He got "the look," which meant, "OK. But don't spend a lot of money."

First stop was the bookstore where he had found the Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia. Fortune was not smiling. All the numismatic publications were gone. Oh well, there were other shops to visit and he still had nearly two hours.

Our numismatist was down to his last 30 minutes and he still had not found anything that he could proclaim to be a find or a real treasure. He was visiting a side street vendor and was sorting through old boxes of miscellaneous items. Finally, he found a shoebox with assorted fraternal pins, coins, tokens, tie tacks, cuff links and other small items. The real treasure was 30 or so Mexican and South American coins, along with some dateless Buffalo nickels.

The vendor eyed our numismatist like a Florida turkey vulture circling a prospective meal. "I can always do a little better on the price. I think some of the coins are silver." Our numismatist nodded as the vendor explained, "I picked most of this up from different estate sales. I put the men's items in one box and the women's in others. As you can see, I got all sorts of stuff in other boxes that I haven't even sorted out yet."

"So I see," our numismatist responded. "Do you have any more coins?" he asked.

The vendor shook his head no.

Our numismatist was being cagey. "What do you want for the whole box? My wife's waiting for me, and I need to be moving on." The vendor looked over the box and its contents and made an offer. Our numismatist countered with an offer and the goods were quickly his. (Note: Our numismatist's spouse reads this column and we don't want to get him trouble, so we won't mention the amount.)

Strolling up to his spouse with a smile on his face and the box under his arm, he excitedly blurted out, "I've got coins, pins, tokens and all sorts of little treasures - I bought the whole box at a great price." He quickly got the look followed by a smile as his spouse said, "I did OK too."

At home the contents of the box were separated into two groups, the "keepers" and items destined for a nearby antique store. The box had a bit of silver and a few interesting coins along with the dateless Buffalo nickels. He appropriately holdered and mounted everything. The keepers, such as some of the coins and a few pins, were placed in a collection box of non-descript items.

He took the remaining items to the antique store. His sorting and labeling of the items made them more sellable and resulted in almost paying for the cost of the entire box. Doing his calculations for gas, meals and his small sale, our numismatist had only lost about $100. But a day in the sunshine having fun was priceless, or so says the commercial.

Now for the cautionary note. Buying coins and other items at unfamiliar venues can be risky since you're dealing with strangers. Conversely, you can find lots of diverse material including coins. The fun is sorting through the stuff and finding things that interest you.

Besides coins, I am fond of old watch fobs and fraternal order pins. As to finding silver coins, be wary of counterfeits, plus some folks have been known to "salt" a box with a few small silver coins to attract interest.

So have fun, but do be careful.


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