10th National Silver Dollar Convention
St. Louis, Missouri
November 28 – December 3, 1989
Chester West Tells It As It Is
Of Fads and Follies and Fun-Filled Flops
In 1936, the depression was subsiding and evenings found kids at the kitchen table with a cigar box containing magnificent accumulations consisting of coins and mementos gathered in their young lifetimes. All collections were kept in cigar boxes in those days. My box contained odds and ends of coins and things together with a Max Mahl catalog from Texas. What were the conditions of those coins??? No one knew!! No one cared. We just had fun collecting and swapping. Eight of us had a collecting club. We met to build crystal radios in match boxes and grow crystals with coals and bluing and compare coins. It was the fad and we had fun.
In 1941, the war started and cigar boxes were replaced by foot lockers and ditty bags and new fads began.
Collecting fads began and ended as troops moved from Island to Island. In Hawaii, bills stamped Hawaii, in the Philippines Tiger Eyes shells – Japanese invasion money was a big trading fad until everyone had a bag full. A single Chinese bill traded as high as a package of Camels – but when the fad ended you could get a box full for a pack of Old Golds. In 1946, the Roosevelt dime created a stir and a new album was added to collector bookshelves.
In 1950, the production of Proof Sets was restarted, but it wasn’t until 1955 that the fad began. It wasn’t long until 1957s became a “ho-hum” item. They became so common that Savings & Loans used them for premiums. The proof set fad subsided until 1964, but in the meantime, collecting began to blossom, spurred by the inactivity of the San Francisco Mint plus the advent of the 55 Double Die and the 50 D Jefferson. This was not a full blown fad – it was more a time of reorganization.
In the early 60s, with the aid of the WEE, fads became the vogue. Washington released the stored silver dollars and lines formed for blocks in DC to acquire bags.
Then in 1963 the real fun began. Uncle placed his tampering digit on Proof Sets and limited the number per order. This step was followed quickly by the removal of silver from the coinage. Coin clubs sprung up and teletypes and bide boards became the fad. Coin Care – Jewel Luster – and Capital Plastics watched sales figures go off the chart and a guy named Hayling wrote books about Profit Marches of coins. Jerry Cohen had little time for John Q. and Steve Markoff had a mountain of 55 S Lincoln bags behind a closet curtain. Everyone was a coin collector of sorts. Those were the years. Everyone cleaned coins. Anyone who had a method of cleaning or toning coins started a class. Talk about activity – you never saw anything like it. Restaurants and barber shops had cases with coin displays.
It all passed – as fads do. I put a few coins in my cigar box – sold my proof sets and gave some to the kids, and just stuck around to see what would happen next.
“Next” happened fast. It was 1975 when Uncle launched the Bicentennial in earnest. Everyone came back and a few more. The suede shoe boys jumped in with both feet. Mail order flourished selling everything from Moth balls to Kupee dolls. If it was stamped 1970, it was bought by those who reasoned that in a hundred years it’ll double in value. And – they might be right.
People stood in line for hours to buy their limit of five $2 bills and then scurried to the post office and stood in line again to have them stamped April 13, 1976.
I could fill a book with tales, but this exercise in fun filled mania also passed.
Things were quiet for a few years. People were busy taking their losses on Gold Plated Bicentennial Sets. Then the gold and silver markets began climbing and it looked like there was no top. Full page ads appeared in every publication. We buy and sell – Send money. Everyone was in the market. The bubble burst of course and the “Johnny-Come-Latelys” went back to work for a living. The Joe Persons – Stan Zurawskis – and David Staggs and thousands of others just continued servicing the collector as they had always done.
Quiet has a fascinating way of disrupting itself whenever the opportunity arises – and the opportunity arose.
A number of dedicated people discovered simultaneously that there was disparity in the statistics on silver dollars. Books were published and a silver dollar club was formed. Controversies arose concerning everything from how many to how good.
Grading systems were debunked as fast as new systems arose and the new ones debunked the old “new one.” It was exciting – except for those who didn’t have the vaguest idea what was going on. They complained as usual.
Then appeared “St. George” in the person of David Hall. Now David was not a newcomer on the scene. During the previous two or three bubble bursts he was the quiet one walking the showroom floors just thinking a judicious thought and studying the controversies.
This modern St. George reasoned the solution to the problem of “how good” was to slay the dragon. Which he did and to prove he had learned his lesson well in his twenty years of indoctrination, he backed his belief with his most precious asset – his reputation. This new fad is different than most others. This one requires research – knowledge – experience – capital and caution. These are traits that have never before been foisted on the average collector and now he’s frustrated again.
He has only two paths to choose from. He can write diatribe blaming everything but his lack of ability to participate – to the morals of the players. Or – he can follow my lead and just have fun collecting and watching the passing parade of history’s fads. It’s really a blast, even if you’re not a player.
So “quitcherbelliachin” and have some fun. Be Happy, Be Healthy, Get Wealthy, and Hold a Good Thought. I am Chester West.