Coins of the Heart, A Currency That Keeps

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My coin collection is not extensive, is not intrinsically valuable, and is not for sale. Once in a great while I heft the wooden box that is my treasure chest and look things over, but I do not fondle the money miserly.

Some years ago now I mentioned here in another context my $10 gold piece that I had lost. Not lost, really, but separated from by the wiles of the bankers. My dad suggested I put this coin in the savings bank for safe keeping, and thus I wouldn't lose it when I frolicked on the green with my juvenile associates. He assured me the bank would give it back to me if I wanted it. Thus I found that bankers and fathers speak in forked tongues, and $10 are $10 and my gold piece disappeared.

But a lady in Winchester, Mass., read my complaint and agreed that I had been needlessly bilked. She graciously sided with the little boy who supposed bankers could be trusted, and she sent me a $10 gold-piece replacement. She was Miss Maude Shapleigh, the date was March 23, 1968, and I love her exceedingly but never met her. My coin collection begins right there. FDR took the country off the gold standard in his muddled time, but Miss Shapleigh and I paid no attention.

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It was in 1914 that my mother took my younger sister and me from Boston to Prince Edward Island to get acquainted with our Canadian grandparents. One morning Grampie gave us each a Canadian cent. They were the big Canadian coppers shortly to be taken out of circulation, and mine was dated 1908, the year of my birth.

Grampie told us to trudge over to the Acorn store, the business center of Millview, and buy ourselves some "sweeties," which were small peppermints that looked like camphor moth balls. I don't remember if my sister squandered her cent, but I kept mine and have it now. It is the size of our US quarter, and it might be Canada hasn't a candy counter now where my copper would be recognized as money.

I have the first money I ever earned. One jitney and two cents. A jitney, then, was a nickel because it would buy a ride on the trolleys. My chum, Homer, suggested we shovel snow, and we went looking for a house with snow to shovel. A lady asked us what we would charge her, and Homer said 15 cents. Homer claimed the odd cent because he had acted as business manager of our firm, and that seemed fair. I put mine in my collection, and my jitney and two coppers are laid away.

I have a considerable number of silver dollars. My United States dollars began with 1878. My father was cleaning out his overall pockets one day, and he tossed a silver dollar at me across the room. "Put this in the box," he said. "It's the same age I am." And 1878 was a good year.

My other silver dollars are the consequence of my philanthropic nature and the fact that advancing age has made me sedentary. I refer to the Susan B. Anthony dollars and the similar Canadian coin called a loonie. The Anthony coin was not a howling success, but not because of Susan B. Anthony.

It was said the people of our beloved country were unable to tell it from a 25-cent piece and shunned it. It bothered me that I lived in a nation where people couldn't tell a quarter from a dollar. I liked better the fact that there was no bin for the things in a cash register. There was no place to put Susie. True, we already had silver dollars, but at least in the effete East we didn't use them, and we folks would sometimes go days without seeing one. I believe the worst fiscal blunder we made was to issue Susan B. Anthony to save wear and tear on paper dollars, and then keep on making paper dollars.

The Canadians were smarter. They brought out their first silver dollar with a loon on it, which the people at once dubbed the loonie, and then they took their dollar bills to the shredder. Canada also continued to use their two-dollar bills, and we kept on making them and didn't use them.

I bought a roll of Susans at the bank, and had great fun using them in Canada to tip waitresses. This was before loonies, and silver dollars were novelties. Our first waitress at Grand Falls, New Brunswick, eyed a couple of them, thanked us pleasantly, and before we left was back from the kitchen. "Do you have more of them?" she asked. The other waitress wanted one, and so did Emile, the cook. She had a handful of two-dollar bills for swaps. But then Canada produced the loonie, and I began using them for tips back home.

AMOST interesting item in my coin collection is a disk that fitted the pressure-spray nozzle on our apple-orchard pump some 50 years ago. The original factory nozzle had a metal disk to convert a stream to a mist-spray, and the chemical used to get clean apples caused corrosion. When mine wore out, I went to get some new ones, and the man said they would be 35 cents apiece.

As I held one of his disks in my hand, I chanced to lay it on a coin, and I found it was the same size as a quarter. The thought crossed my mind that I'd be a nut to pay 35 cents for a quarter. After I bored a hole in a quarter I never bought another spray disk, because the coin metal from the mint didn't corrode. In this way I found that collecting coins was instructive, too.

Mostly, though, my box of coins contains memory gems, to put me in mind of this and that. The barbershop in France where the barbers had green hair. The single one pfennig from the Munich candy store when I bought a Souchard with Greek money. The "plugged nickel" that came to be with a hole in it full of soap. And all the others. I must look again.

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