Dr. Sol Taylor

Sleuthing at Garage and Estate Sales

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, June 13, 2009

A 10x glass (jeweler's loupe) is one of the keys to successful coin sleuthing.
o be a good sleuth, you need to have a good eye, a knowledge of coin values (both foreign and domestic), and carry a good 10-power glass.
    I will point out a few good sleuthing moments I have had over many years of scrounging around garage and estate sales.
    First, check your local newspaper for weekend garage sales — especially those that state "estate sale," which means the whole household is for sale. These are your best bets, since the sellers are usually not the owners. (Usually they are the children of elderly parents who passed away or are in nursing homes.)
    At an estate sale a couple of years ago, I saw five coffee cans filled with foreign coins for sale. The lady running the sale asked for $3 per can. Since I saw there were many hundreds of coins in each can, I knew this was a bonanza. Indeed, after sorting through some 35 pounds of foreign coins, I found more than $200 worth of silver coins, a few U.S. coins, and I sold the balance to a dealer for $2 per pound.
    At a garage sale more than 10 years ago, I asked what the owner wanted for a small coin purse (the beaded type popular some 100 years ago) with about a dozen old coins. The price was $10. That sounded high, but the coins looked intriguing, so I bought it. The purse itself went up for auction on a bid board and brought $10. However, the coins included a counterstamped Seated Liberty quarter which I sold for $35, while the other coins brought a total of another $35.
    I passed up many others where the owners had some inflated prices and I made no buys or even made any offers. One seller had a few Morgan dollars for which he wanted $25 each (they were not uncirculated). I looked at each one hoping perhaps there would be a "CC" (Carson City Mint) coin in the lot or a scarce-dated coin such as 1903-O (New Orleans), but all were common dates from slot machines in Las Vegas in the 1960s.
    The other good hunting result is sterling silverware mixed in with common silverplate spoons and forks. To see that, one usually needs a magnifier; sterling silverware bears the word "sterling," while silverplate usually says "silverplate." With silver prices at new highs, even years ago, such sterling silverware often brought top dollar. I admit to finding several such pieces.
    Most estate sales have some coins or paper money with numismatic value, or in the case of silver coins, bullion value. In one lot of foreign coins I was offered at an estate sale, the seller wanted $20 for a bag of about 150 foreign coins. Since some appeared to be silver coins (British half crowns of George V and Edward VII; Swiss 1-Franc coins of the 1930s), I took the plunge. The bonanza was a gold English half sovereign. The remaining coins sold for well over the price I paid for whole bag.
    At an estate sale around 1990, the seller, who was a World War II veteran, had many items from the war including coins of New Guinea, Australia and Fiji, as well as paper money from various Pacific theater countries. He was moving to a retirement community and was clearing out his home of more than 50 years' worth of accumulation. Among these items were a few military ribbons, insignia, Japanese occupation currency, sea shells, and a few short snorter bills.
    All of these items were in a tattered shoe box. He wanted $50 for the box. I examined some items and made a counteroffer of $30 and he accepted. Once everything was sorted out, the key find was a well-used $5 Education series note of 1896. Even in that condition, I eventually sold it for $78 on a bid board. A well-worn $10 silver certificate could bring only face value due to its poor condition; still, $10 is $10. The rest of the contents brought about another $75.
    I'd say that about one in five estate sales offers some numismatic opportunity, and for garage sales that chance is about one in 20. But once a real bonanza is discovered, it energizes the search for similar results. Happy hunting.

    To report your own personal success stories, send email to Soltaylor2@aol.com.