With economy tanking, 'liberty' coins made of
silver are paying off
BY Matt Lysiak
Leobald is fighting the federal government - one
silver coin at a time.
The 42-year-old East Village writer struck one
of his mild-mannered political blows the other
day at his favorite deli, where he bought some
cold cuts and a roll, paying with a silver coin
marked $10 and getting back three dollars in
That simple transaction could mean jail time for
Leobald and the butcher. The coin, called a
Liberty Dollar, is not legal tender and passing
it is a federal crime.
Libertarians, who are pushing the coins as an
"inflation-proof" alternative to the greenback,
call it a revolutionary act.
"It's about trying to take power away from the
Federal Reserve and return it to private
citizens," Leobald said.
He says he spends his coins at Gray's Papaya,
grocery stores, movie theaters and on taxis.
"I use them all the time. People love Liberty
Dollars," said Leobald, who has several hundred
For years, those who obsessed about the Gold
Standard and tried to pass so-called "private
money" were considered fringe nutcases.
With predictions of the dollar weakening and
consumer fears of inflation strengthening, there
is sudden new interest in alternative money -
even in New York City. "I ask the merchants if
they would rather be paid in green pieces of
paper or real silver, and more often than not,
they want the silver," said Karl Reile, 47, who
says he spends Liberty Dollars on a daily basis
at gas stations and restaurants.
He said store owners almost always accept the
"I take them at my store because they are so
unique," said Andrew Ilnici, who runs the East
Village Market and Deli.
Ilnici says he brings them home for his
children, who enjoy the touch and feel of the
The U.S. Mint says only Congress has the power
to coin money, but in the gray world of barter,
shopkeepers who accept the coins as souvenirs
for their kids aren't really breaking the law.
No one has ever been arrested for passing a
The alternative currency was invented 10 years
ago by controversial "monetary architect"
Bernard Von NotHaus.
The coins come in several denominations, from a
copper piece marked $1 to a $500 gold piece.
They have soared in popularity since the economy
Sales of the coins are up more than 100%, Von
NotHaus said, adding that more than $22 million
in Liberty Dollars are in circulation.
Von NotHaus's company sells the coins over the
Internet. A 1-ounce silver coin stamped with
"$20" costs $18.26 at bulk rates. The firm says
buyers can make out by spending Liberty Dollars
and getting real money back.
Ultimately, the company wins. Silver is trading
now at around $13 an ounce.