Dr. Sol Taylor

Coin Discoveries In Your Own Home

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, June 23, 2007

n 1994, my daughter and her husband bought a colonial period home in the old town section of Alexandria, Va. Three years ago, during a major remodeling project, they found several dozen coins in the soil under the house. Most were Spanish American silver coins and a few early U.S. coins, including a 1794 half cent. After following my cleaning suggestions, they sold the find to a local antique dealer for $450.
    A World War II veteran who served in the Pacific gave me a shoebox filled with coins, currency and military memorabilia when I sold his home some 20 years ago. The wide assortment of material included several "short snorter" bills, many New Guinea silver shillings, several dozen Australian and New Zealand coins, hundreds of minor coins of various countries, wads of Japanese occupation currency, a large-sized $1 bill from 1923, and much to my amazement, a well-worn $5 Educational Note of 1896.
    A retired pediatrician in Sherman Oaks told me in 1999 that as a boy, he put away all the Indian head cents, steel cents, buffalo and Liberty head nickels he could find. When I asked where all of these coins were, he said, "Somewhere in the basement." He then left the room to go down to the basement.
    After about 20 minutes, he returned with a bank bag of coins — all steel cents. We agreed on $3 per pound (there are about 150 coins per pound). The contents weighed just over 20 pounds. As to the other coins, he has not found them to this day.
    My next-door neighbors used to visit Las Vegas regularly during the 1950s-60s-70s. The wife died during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and the husband moved to Israel a couple of years later. Their granddaughter brought me a cigar box with all of the silver dollars and obsolete casino chips (from hotels such as the Hacienda, Sands and Dunes, which have been demolished) that her grandparents had put away from their trips to the gambling mecca.
    The going price at the time was a few dollars per Morgan and Peace dollar, and a lot less for the chips. There were 326 silver dollars, a couple of Mexican 8 escudos, and one British crown of George V. No CC dollars or scarce dates were found.
    A fellow teacher in Whittier in 1970 brought me a little box of coins one day. Her father had passed away and her mother found this little cardboard box, a bit larger than a deck of cards, with a note penned in her late fatherís handwriting: "Do Not Spend." Her mother had at first ignored the message and dipped into the box a few times for a dime or other change.
    When I separated out the coins and made up a list, the run of coins was breathtaking: both 1932-D and -S quarters in near-mint condition, a 1916-D Mercury dime in Very Fine condition, an 1927-S quarter in Almost Uncirculated, a 1921 half dollar in AU — and a total of only 64 coins. This was many years ago, and the fair market value at the time was well over $2,000. I told Miss Boyd to type up a duplicate list, put one copy in the box, and put the other copy in a safe place with other valuable papers. Also, do not let her mother spend any of those coins. Her father obviously put aside all of the "keepers" he could find in change over a long period of time, probably going back to the 1930s.
    A plumber I know was doing a copper repiping job and had found two 6-foot sections of galvanized piping under a house with caps on each end. The pipes were much heavier than normal, and he forced off the caps of each pipe and found that every one was filled end-to-end with Mercury dimes! This was in 1979, when common silver coins were worth as much as 25 times face value. I referred him to a coin dealer who ran the coins through his counting machines and wound up paying out several thousand dollars.
    The late coin dealer and numismatist Maurice M. Gould told me when he in lived in the Boston area that his house was more than 150 years old, and there were spaces in many of the floorboards. He said if anyone ever tore down the old house or dug underneath it, one would surely find lots of coins — some of which Gould himself lost when they rolled off the table and vanished. This is probably true of many homes throughout the country that are more than a century old. Tearing apart your classic antebellum or colonial house is not recommended as a treasure-hunting method.
    Chances are that in your family, neighborhood or circle of friends, someone either has a hoard of coins, an old house that survived the Great Depression, or an ancestor who preferred his home to banks for his cash.

    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.