A Conversation with Sterling Rachootin,
Modern Renaissance Collector
By Dr. Sol Taylor
The following story, resulting from an interview, is told in first person by Sterling Rachootin.
In the mid 1930s, when the penny boards just came out, a few of my friends bought them and began collecting. I thought it was a great idea, especially when my father bought a neighborhood grocery store and I had the opportunity to try and fill my penny board. That was not to be.
My father was in fact dealing in pennies, also, and he felt that I was in competition with him by taking pennies out of his cash register. On a 15-cent pack of cigarettes, 2 cents was the profit margin, so I had to get rid of my penny board. My dad worked very hard from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., seven days a week, with one day off each year Yom Kippur. He had to retire after his heart attack in 1944.
By 1960 I was a married man with three children. One evening, while walking through a Sav-On drug store, I noticed a thick, three-holed notebook filled with pennies in 2x2 holders. In one corner were marked prices ranging from 10 cents up to $3.50, and in the opposite corner was the date and mint mark.
In my mind, I was thinking, "I must be throwing away a fortune in pennies."
So I immediately purchased a Whitman holder, some 2x2 coin holders and a copy of Dick Yeoman's "Red Book" ("A Guide Book of United States Coins").
Dad's grocery store was no longer available to me, but I was in "good" with the cafeteria manager of our school where I taught, and she sold me her daily take of change.
A few weeks passed and I had my penny folder almost complete, except for 12 empty slots. I needed the 1909-S VDB, 1914-D and some of the scarcer pieces.
Just out of curiosity, I went to a nearby coin store and inquired as to what the 12 slots would cost to complete my set of cents. The dealer added up the cost on his calculator and it came to $375.
The dealer saw I was not impressed, so, wishing to make a sale, he said, "I have a complete set of Lincoln cents in a Whitman folder I just bought, that you can have for $300." I purchased the set of Lincolns just to prove to myself that I was a serious collector. I still have it.
My father-in-law had just moved to Los Angeles from Monaco and I noticed he brought with him a gumball machine filled with pennies. After a hint, he gave me the machine, but I couldn't open it. So I smashed it open to obtain some 40 pennies all common ones. The gumball machine was worth some $75, however.
This incident only verifies my commitment to numismatics. Needless to say, I progressed to nickels, dimes, quarters and dollars, which were still common in Las Vegas. In the gumball machine was a strange copper-like coin, so I made a trip downtown and visited several coin stores to learn what I had found.
The first three coin dealers could not identify the token, but the fourth dealer informed me I had a Civil War token. I was so excited that I bought two black books by Fuld for $1 each, and I began collecting Civil War tokens. Then I met Jack Detwiler, who encouraged me to write articles for the Civil War Token Society. I joined the society, served on the board of governors, and a few years later I was elected vice president and later as president.
My collecting enthusiasm did not end there. After meeting another numismatist, George Baude, I became interested in many new fields of numismatics. I became excited with encased postage, followed by privately issued scrip and postage stamps of the Union and confederacy of the Civil War era, then patriotic covers and the interesting propaganda messages contained therein.
There was inflationary money appearing after World War I, with its anti-Semitic, Nazi propaganda. I was on a roll, and almost everything proved to be exciting: counterstamped coins, love tokens, Conder tokens from England, Hard Times tokens, cobs, and most recently, items not used for commerce made from coins and currency.
I have not collected coins from every field yet, but I seem to be swayed by every field of numismatics. If I live long enough, there are many more fields that will excite me. I just remembered I delved into the field of errors and off-metals earlier and helped a few get started in that field. When I taught elementary school, I usually provided material to after-school stamp and coin clubs that met weekly, gratis. If money and health hold up, I'll be into more new fields.
The interviewer, 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.
©2008 SCV COMMUNICATIONS GROUP & SOL TAYLOR · ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.