Journal of a Living Lady #406
Nancy White Kelly
I never met him personally, but a man named Peter once said, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee.” After making this statement, a lame man was healed and walked again.
While this quote is from the Bible and not the mantra of our Ye Old Coin Shop, we can relate. Buying and selling gold and silver as well as numismatic coins and supplies is how Buddy and I supplement our retirement income. What we sell as merchants is simply store stock to us.
In the course of a month, especially in the winter, we meet people in dire circumstances who need kindness in word and deed. Like Peter, we try to be aware of those who are sick or hungry and respond accordingly.
There has been quite frenzy in the precious metals market lately and not much confidence in the paper dollar. The United States can legally print as much money as it likes whenever it wants; if we citizens did that, we’d be serving time in a federal prison.
I believe there is a huge difference between profit and greed. Profit is not a profane word. Greed, however, on my morality scale is worse than profanity. I have met my share of greedy numismatists. The worst ones are those who prey on the desperately poor or widows.
Recently I had occasion to witness a transaction between an elderly lady and a despicable dealer at a coin show. I am not a “goody two-shoes.” I am wearing white sandals today and it is after Labor Day. However, I can be quite good with a verbal boot.
Visiting a coin show in a nearby city, I observed an older lady struggling to carry a heavy bag. She stood at the entrance to the large amphitheater-like center and seemed over-whelmed by the enormous crowd and scores of coin dealers lined up a dozen rows. She was obviously unaccustomed to a bourse area and stood still for several minutes, trying to determine where to start.
Finally the frail lady mounted the courage to engage conversation with a dealer near the front. Within moments she spilled out the contents of her sack onto his table. I quickly recognized some old gold coins and hundreds of silver coins referred to in the trade as junk silver. These are coins minted before 1965 which contain 90% silver.
I edged closer as if the next in line. The calculator in my head easily valued the cache as worth at least $3000. I listened as the man ran his hands through the coins as if they were truly junk. He commented about their circulated condition and low value, not “worthy of serious collecting.”
True, the silver coins weren’t in fine or newly minted condition, but with silver at near $40 an ounce, this wasn’t chunk change. The old gold coins did have numismatic value, but he down-played their significance as well.
“Nobody is collecting Gaudens anymore,” he said. My jaw dropped in disbelief.
The little woman asked what he thought they would be worth. He shrugged his shoulder and said unenthusiastically, “I’ll give you a four hundred for the whole lot.”
She mulled the offer. I was caught in a dilemma. In the coin trading world, it is considered unethical for a dealer to disrupt another dealer while in a transaction with a customer. In fact, it is an infraction of the ethical code of conduct. Yet, my personal world doesn’t stand for robbing the vulnerable.
I interrupted before she responded to the dealer. “That sure is a fine collection of coins you have there, Mam. You must have been collecting for years.”
The dealer frown turned into a scowl. The soft-spoken lady shook her head and said that her recently deceased husband had been the collector.
“I don’t know nothing about coins,” she continued, “but figured they might be worth enough to pay a past-due utility bill.”
The squinty-eyed dealer stood silent.
“Mam,” I said with a wink. “I do know something about coins and think you should check around with several dealers before accepting your first offer.”
“Sure,” the dealer said politely while casting a sinister eye in my direction.
The lady thanked me for the advice and turned back to the dealer.
“I think I will ask some others first,” she said as she gathered her coins from the dealer’s table. She thanked me and I turned away only to hear the dealer offer her an additional fifty dollars.
What the outcome was I can’t say. I breached professional etiquette and could have been booted from the show had I been there as a dealer.
Like Peter, “Silver and gold” had I none that day, but what advice I had, I gave. Hopefully she walked away.