A Fistful of Dollars

Treasures sometimes turn up on the television "roadshows" but don't bank on it at your own house.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Sorry, Grandma and Grandpa, but I’m pricing the coin collection, the old pocket watch, and the silver set. 

Actually only a small part of it, and what it fetched was far from a fortune. More like pocket money, in fact, but the selling was a small and instructive adventure. 

My attention was attracted by a full-page advertisement in The Commercial Appeal for “Paying Cash” for coins, silverware sets, gold jewelry, and guitars (more on that in a minute).

Like any good Cub Scout in the Fifties and Sixties, I had a penny collection in blue books with little slots for Lincoln pennies from 1909 to 1959, and a bonus page for Indian-head pennies. I also was the recipient of a hand-me-down bag of miscellaneous silver dollars, half-dollars, nickels, and commemorative coins dating back to 1882. And two sets of silver table settings. 

With money-market interest rates below zero and stocks swinging wildly day after day, I decided to stuff a sample of my treasure into a manila envelope and take it to the dealers at Agricenter International. 

THR & Associates is known to its fans through the television show Treasure Hunters Roadshow. Sellers, some clueless and some not, bring their antiques and collectibles to learn more about their origin, age, and — most important — value. The newspaper ad had tantalizing pictures of pennies, nickels, dimes, and dollars worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. The fine print, of course, is everything.

Three THR employees and a line of 10 people were at the Agricenter. I was customer Number 83 that day, and had to wait about 45 minutes for my one-on-one session. 

A cheerful woman inspected each of my treasures. There was no pressure to sell. On the contrary, she told me my pennies, even the well-worn 1909 one, were worth only a few cents each. As for my book of nickels dating from 1964, “go ahead and spend them,” she said with a smile. 

My silver half-dollars were worth $3 apiece. If I could have produced a 1938-D, it would have been worth $200. She offered $10 apiece for two silver dollars roughly 100 years old and in good condition. A pair of 1892 Columbian Exposition commemorative coins were my most valuable offering, at $15 apiece. That old pocket watch, which doesn’t work, drew a bid of only $10 even though it is an Elgin with 15 jewels. Working, it would have been worth $100. Instead it went back into its velvet sack and my pocket. 

My “haul,” if you can call it that: $68, less the $5 face value of the lot. I plan to spend it on six growlers of Boscos craft beer, which is probably close to the purchasing power of the coins the year they were minted. Here’s to you, Gramps. 

I decided not to part with any of the family silver, even though we rarely break it out and it leaves a funny taste in your mouth. Sterling silver — forget anything silver plated — gets weighed, paid, and melted down. Short of unemployment, I’m not up to that yet. 

My best deal of the day turned out to be a cool story told to me by THR’s Greg Logan. A few years ago, he was doing a show-and-tell in Memphis and a man brought in a guitar. It was a Les Paul Standard, 1959 model, black. At first Logan thought it might have been painted, but the customer told him it had belonged to his father, a Memphis musician, and it had not been painted. Logan did some checking and found out there were exactly two black Les Paul Standards from 1959. 

The customer sold it for $450,000. Modern rock stars, it seems, have a habit of collecting such things, and it could well be worth more than $700,000 today.  

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