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What’s That Again?

7th National Silver Dollar Convention

St. Louis, Missouri

November 13 – 17, 1986


What’s That Again?

By:  LeRoy Van Allen, NLG


Most dealers at one time or another have had some pretty unusual, dumb and weird questions asked of them at their bourse tables.  Sometimes these instances help pass an otherwise slow day.  But other times, they can be an irritation we have to live with and accept as part of the business.  I’ll relate a few instances that have happened to me.

Ugly Duckling:  I usually have a few toned silver dollars on display in my bourse case and they are a constant source of entertainment for me.  Usually it is a family sauntering down the aisle with several kids in tow.  You know they aren’t serious buyers but are just sightseeing.  It may be their first time to a coin show.

Invariably, one of the adults will spot these toned coins and call out to their mate, “Hey look, these coins have been in a fire!”  Their kids will crowd around to get a look and someone will ask, “What happened to those coins?”  I then explain that the silver dollar coins have tarnished just like silverware.  The sulfur in canvas storage bags or paper coin wrappers produced the thin film over a number of years resulting in the various colors.  “Doesn’t that make it worth less?”, they ask.  “It depends,” I answer, pointing out that ugly dark toning can make it worth less while pretty rainbow toning can bring premiums.

The family leaves talking excitedly among themselves, and I feel like the toned coins will be the highlight of their visit to the coin show.

Beauty Courtship:  The young couple pointed excitedly to the toned coins in the display case and the man asked to see a vivid rainbow-toned silver dollar.  I pulled the coin out and the woman exclaims, “Isn’t it beautiful!”  After careful examination he asks, “How much?”  The coin is an MS-63 and I quote about 50% more than the MS-63 bid since I had to pay a premium.  He looks at his grey sheet and comments the price seems high and that he’ll look around on the bourse floor for another toned dollar.

At mid-day the same couple swings by the table and asks to see the coin again.  He returns the coin and says he’s still looking around.  At mid-afternoon the woman appears at the table and looks at the coin through the display case, but moves on without making any comment.  Later that afternoon the couple reappears again and decides to buy the coin, having not found a toned dollar they liked as well at other tables.  The modest profit of about $10 was hard-earned in that case and I’m sure this couple was happy with the purchase because of the extra effort of shopping around.

That High:  You can sense the young couple meandering down the aisle is new to coin collecting.  This is confirmed when the woman exclaims, “Aren’t these pretty and shiny!”

They both glance at the uncirculated silver dollars in the display case and you can anticipate the next question coming, usually asked by the man:  “How much are they worth?”

“Anywhere from about $20 to over a thousand dollars,” I answer, not getting into the value of any specific coin.

“Oh, that much!”  he exclaims.  “My grandmother has some silver dollars.  What would they be worth?”

“It depends on their condition and rarity,” I answer.

“Oh, they’re over a hundred years old and nice and shiny,” he replies.

As they walk away talking excitedly between themselves, I’m sure they thought they would inherit a fortune in silver dollars from their grandmother some day!

“Do You Have…?”:  Invariably at every coin show someone will pass by the table asking, “Do you have ancients, early copper, etc.?”  This always amazes me since all I have on display are Morgan and Peace dollars.  I usually mutter “No”, or if I’m feeling especially tactful “No, just Morgan and Peace dollars.”  For the past five years at one show the same dealer walked by asking the same question:  “Any Canadians?”, which has gotten to be a personal joke.

Those Were The Days:  The older couple gravitates towards my table, the man excitedly looking at the Morgan dollars.  “I love Morgans!”, he exclaims.  “I have a whole collection.  Got them many years ago for a couple dollars apiece.”

At this point I know that I’m not going to sell him anything, the price of Morgans being what they are today.

He continues, “Used to go to the bank and get silver dollars with my pay check.”  He continued to ramble on, but somehow my mind drifts off to the other things having heard these stories over and over.  Out of courtesy I let him continue for a while and then interrupt saying, “Those were the days”, and I excuse myself to see another dealer at the far corner of the room.

“Wouldn’t Give a Plug Nickel”:  The guy fishes a coin out of his pocket and asks, “What will you give me for this?”

At a glance it is an unusual coin and as he hands it to me, I see it has a hole in the center with practically all of Miss Liberty’s cheek missing and the reverse shows a flowered effect with the poor spread eagle de-breasted.

“Yup.  Shot it with my forty-five!” he explains.

“Yes, pretty spectacular!” I admit.  “But it’s not really the kind of error coin I usually buy.  In fact, it’s not an error coin since it was damaged outside the Mint and isn’t worth a plug nickel.”

At that point the proud owner turns on his heel and stomps off.

Ah, yes!  Lost another customer.

It’s Old – So It Must Be Valuable:  The little old lady approaches your table and asks timidly, “Do you buy old coins?”

“Yes, mostly silver dollars,” I reply.  “What do you have?”

“Oh, I’ve got one silver dollar over 100 years old!”  she exclaims.  She reached into her purse and pulls out some coins loosely wrapped in tissue paper.  There are a couple of silver dollars and a few minor coins, all fairly darkly-toned from being in the tissue paper for many years.  “My husband got these from change many years ago and they’re very old.  What are they worth?”

I look at the silver dollars first and one is an 1878-S Morgan in VF condition and the other is an AU 1922-P Peace dollar.  The remaining coins are the usual Indian Head Cent, Buffalo Nickel, Standing Liberty Quarter and Barber Halves.  None are scarce dates and all are fairly worn.  I try to break the news to her gently.  “These coins are all circulated, but the 1878-S Morgan dollar is worth the most at $15.  The 1922-P Peace dollar is worth about $10 and the other coins are less at a few dollars each.  All are common coins with no scarce dates.”

“Oh,” she says.  “That’s all?  They’re all so old.”

I point out a couple of dealers on the floor that might buy circulated common coins and she shuffles away with her coin fortune greatly deflated.

Best Coin:  Usually, it’s a dealer.  But sometimes it’s a collector.  They may glance quickly at your display coins before asking the $64 question, “What’s the best coin?”

I try not to become attached or have favorites among my inventory coins, lest I start putting some aside.  So I reply, “Best what?  PL?  Regular?  Toned?  Nicest cameo or highest-priced coin?  Rarest one?  Highest grade?”  Usually they want just the cleanest coin with fewest marks.

At this point, I doubt that any of my coins will be good enough but I pull out a few to show him anyway.  He quickly glances at them but mutters, “No, not quite good enough.”  He swiftly moves to another table, flitting about like a butterfly, seldom encountering the perfect coin he desires.

Proof-Like What?:  After he or she studies the coin display for a few minutes, the question is posed, “What is proof-like?”  I always try to have a few PL’s in my display and marked PL on the flip card.  Sometimes the question is what is meant by PL or DMPL?

In any case, I know there will not be a sale to this person if they know so little about Morgans.  I usually briefly explain about the reflection in the Morgan dollar’s field like a mirror and the depth of the mirror can affect the coin’s value.  This usually grabs their interest when the increased value is mentioned.  If they don’t move away from the table at that point I may pull out a PL from the case and demonstrate the mirror effect with printed material or my PL Guide.  They usually walk away happy with their new knowledge and I can be sure the same question will be repeated later in the show or at the next show form another person!

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