National Coin Week: A Trip Down Memory Lane

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, June 17, 2006

ach April, the American Numismatic Association sponsors a week-long National Coin Week program. Participating coin clubs are urged to put on exhibits and programs during the week. Each year has a different theme, such as "Coins are Educational" or "Coin Collecting is Fun" and so forth.
    In the 1960s and 1970s, the Whittier Coin Club held a week-long information booth and display at the local branch of the National Bank of Whittier on Whittier Boulevard. The local newspaper gave the event publicity, and a sign on the boulevard announced "National Coin Week (date and hours), Free Coin Evaluation."
    The response was exciting in many of those years. The club would put up a folding triptych with photos of the club in action, newspaper clippings and copies of the club bulletin, "The Proof Sheet." Bank President Gordon Ferguson and Vice President Lorne Brown cooperated in furnishing a few numismatic items from their own collection.
    The Fergusons were a third-generation family of bankers. They displayed some early large-sized notes signed by Ferguson's grandfather in the 1920s.
    In the 1965 National Coin Week display, Brown obtained a bag of 1,000 new Kennedy half dollars, which we put on display for sale at 50 cents each. Several early photos of the early National Bank of Whittier buildings were also displayed, along with various documents from the 1920s. Brown also dug out from the vault some rolls of cents and nickels that had been there for a few years, and put them out for sale at face value.
    One of the more interesting moments occurred when an older woman got into a shouting match with a teller and shuffled out of the bank into a waiting car. Brown asked the teller what the problem was. The teller said, "The old lady wanted to cash in a bunch of gold coins. I told her we don't cash in gold coins." Brown ran out to the parking lot in an attempt to get the woman back into the bank but was too late.
    Another bank customer showed off a large-sized national bank note of the Bank of Italy that had been in his family for three generations. The Bank of Italy eventually became the Bank of America.
    W.V. "Bill" Tracy, a long-time Whittier resident, brought in his favorite display: a complete set of Flying Eagle and Indian head cents, all in mint condition including the rare 1856 Flying Eagle. He said he had been offered $1,000 for the set and turned it down (in 1965). Today several single coins would bring more than $1,000 each. He selected only colorful and toned coins, so by today's standards, most would grade as "RB" (red-brown) instead of "red." It was the most admired item in the exhibit. He claimed he found a few of the coins in change back in the 1910s and 20s.
    Many bank visitors brought in old and odd items such as scrimshaw (carved whale teeth), commemorative coins, many kinds of foreign coins and a wide mix of early American type coins, usually in low grades. The rarest single coin was a 1796 quarter in Very Fine condition except for the tiny hole drilled at the top for a necklace or bracelet!
    With lots of reference books on the table and hundreds of years of experience among the Whittier Coin Club members — including Nate Bromberg, Wendell Markham, Howard Wasner, Tom Murphy, Jean Ellis, Walt Holzworth and myself — we were able to give reasonably accurate valuations on just about everything that was brought in for us to examine.
    A couple of years later, Holzworth, one of the first divers in the famous treasure ship Atocha expedition, brought some of his gold and jewelry treasures to a National Coin Week exhibit.. I have a photo of the two of us looking at a dumbbell-shaped cannon round found in the Atocha treasure trove. His story made the cover of National Geographic that year.
    In 1975, Richard Nixon was given Whittier Coin Club membership No. 500 and presented with a special membership plaque. Rep. Chuck Wiggins lent the plaque to the Whittier Coin Clb exhibit that year. It is believed the plaque is in the Nixon family museum in nearby Yorba Linda in the house where Nixon was born. Nixon was a personal friend of Gordon Ferguson.
    Prominent numismatic author Q. David Bowers (who lived in Whittier briefly) loaned several reference books for our annual National Coin Week exhibit. For the Whittier club's 25th anniversary, notables including Richard Yeoman (author of the annual "Red Book"), Maurice M. Gould and Florence Schook, then-president of the American Numismatic Association, attended a special banquet.
    The souvenirs of the banquet, including a souvenir card showing two old National Bank of Whittier notes, were on display at the 1975 National Coin Week exhibit. The National Bank of Whittier was subsequently taken over by the Bank of America and the club discontinued the annual events.
    National Coin Week is still observed by many organizations each April throughout the country.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.