Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Heritage Auctions' Collector's Corner: For the love of cents and a grandfather

Nov. 3, 2009
Posted by Noah

(Today, in the latest installment of Heritage's Collector's Corner, our writer offers up a moving tribute to his childhood collection of cents, as well as the grandfather that lovingly got him started. The core of this wonderful story, however, is the regret the writer expresses around an impulse act, centered on a craze of his youth, which actually led him to make a mistake with his collection of cents. Whether the collection was ultimately worth more or less than he got from an unscrupulous dealer is immaterial to the lesson that he ultimately learned. There is a happy ending, though, so no worries. As a successful professional the writer was able to get back some of that early lost innocence and, in the process, bring him back to the grandfather he so loved and the coin collecting experiences with that grandfather that meant so much to him. Enjoy! - Noah Fleisher)

When I was eight years old my grandpa Abe gave my brother and I a handful of Indian head cents. I was intrigued by these beautiful coins from another time and wondered who may have held them almost a century before. This began my fascination with coins.

It was a time when you could walk into a bank, give the teller an old dollar bill, and walk out with a shiny silver dollar. Or buy a role of pennies and occasionally find an Indian head cent. I began collecting primarily Lincolns and Indian cents. The Lincolns I found in my change. Most of my Indians were gifts from my grandpa Abe. The coins were all placed in those old blue albums. I would always check the dates of the coins in my pocket, hoping to find a 1909-S VDB or a 1955 double die. My collection grew and I would spend nights poring over my albums, hoping to fill the empty holes.

When I was 11 I made a mistake that I will always regret.

In suburban New York, we were in the middle of the “slot car” craze. Young teens took their electric model cars to stores with electric race tracks. We paid a small fee to race our cars. My best friend Larry had just bought a car, a beautiful red “Manta Ray,” and I badly needed money for a car of my own. I took my penny collections to a coin dealer in town. He examined the coins carefully and, after much eyebrow raising, offered me around $6.

Whether I was swindled or just had a lot of junk, I will never know. But I took the money.

That evening, I stayed awake in bed and felt very empty. I never mentioned it to my grandpa, but to this day I feel guilty about selling these small gifts he lovingly gave me. I don’t remember what happened to the slot car. The craze ended within a year.

My love of coin collecting, however, never left. I would always check the dates of the coins in my pocket.

As a teenager, I began saving “wheat backs” and silver coins after they began disappearing in 1965. I never really found anything of value in all this (although once I found a 1912-D Lincoln in VF condition), but I loved the thrill of the hunt. I still have all those wheat backs and silver coins, but they are largely worth only their “melt-down” value.

About 15 years ago, when I turned 40, I was a busy physician and met a patient who was a coin dealer. I told him of my love of coins and joked how I dreamed as a youngster of finding 1909 S VDB Lincoln in my pocket change. He called me a few days later and told me he located one - a nicely graded uncirculated coin - and was I interested?

I knew little about grading, but educated myself that day through the Internet. I purchased the coin later that week (a PCGS MS63 RD). Actually owning this coin was the realization of a childhood fantasy. The next month I bought a 1955 double die (PCGS AU55) on eBay.

I then started collecting coins that I always loved to look at in the “Red Book” as a child: Peace dollars, Indian eagles, and, of course, Lincolns and Indian cents.

Having my collection back is comforting and takes me back to the days when I would run through the door of my grandpa’s Brooklyn apartment to see what wonderful surprise awaited me.

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