From the Numismatic News 60th Anniversary Special Issue – By Chuck Chinici • Springfield, Pa.
My story begins in mid-summer 1958 in Springfield, Pa. Summer vacation seemed to last forever, especially to a 10-year-old Baby Boomer who was accustomed to summer’s daily routine of playing baseball, exploring the nearby woods or just hanging out with his buddies all day.
I vaguely remember one evening when my dad, owner and operator of a small hardwood floor company in suburban Philly, asked me if I had any plans for the following day. Without thinking, I answered with a questioning “No, I don’t think so” and dad responded with “Great, how about coming to work with me tomorrow? I can use your help.”
Before I had a chance to show any signs of remorse to his surprising suggestion, he added “I’ll even pay you 50 cents an hour.”
Did I hear correctly? My mind quickly began to calculate. Fifty cents an hour times 40 hours a week equals $20. Could that be right?
Twenty bucks back in the 1950s was just short of millionaire status, especially in the era of penny candy, 25 cents movie matinees, nickel packs of sports cards and 15-cent hamburgers. I think that I responded with a resounding, “OK!”
The next morning seemed to arrive too quickly and I was awakened by my mom, who had breakfast all ready. We ate, got to the job early and my new position soon became evident in the hierarchy of my dad’s company. I was to be the “gopher” for my dad and his handful of workers.
If anyone needed some lumber, I had to go-pher it. If they needed nails, I had to go-pher them. Whatever anyone desired, I was there to “gopher.”
By the time Friday rolled around, I was accustomed to my new part-time career and I even became quite good at reading minds. Before someone had to request me to “gopher” something, I was usually already standing there with that something in my hand.
I vaguely remember it being late in the work day that first Friday, and I began to load up the truck with dollar signs floating in my head. Dad had an old canister vacuum cleaner (resembling R2D2 of “Star Wars” fame) that he used with just the hose to clean under those big iron hot-water radiators that were found in most of those old three-story houses he worked in that summer. I figured that I could get some bonus points with pop, so I decided to empty the dirt out of the “old monster”.
I found an empty cardboard box in the truck, opened the vacuum and proceeded to dump the contents, mostly into the box but some on top of my black hightop Converse All-Stars. I remember peering into the box at the dirt, clumps of dust, hairpins, etc. and seeing something unusual sitting there in the debris. I reached in and pulled out what seemed to be a nickel-sized round button with a pin attached. The front of the button read “I LIKE IKE.”
By age 10 I was old enough to know that our President Eisenhower’s nickname was Ike, so I knew that this button referred to him. I figured, OK, let’s see if I can find some other little hidden treasures. So I got a small stick and began to poke through the rest of the mound of dirt. My treasure hunting awarded me with two more “I LIKE IKE” buttons (one somewhat scratched up) and some assorted small change (several wheat cents, I think two or three Indian Head cents, a few nickels and dimes, plus two quarters with one being a dateless Standing Liberty).
I was all set to terminate my hunt when what seemed to be a rather large, shiny round object at the bottom of the box caught my attention. Am I reading this right? Was I holding in my hand a real 1832 half dollar? Wow! I remember thinking that 1832 was a long time ago. I excitedly brought my treasure to show my dad, who casually glanced at my findings stating, “Finders keepers.” I don’t think he noticed the half dollar.
That weekend was spent looking through our World Book Encyclopedia (thanks for the correct spelling Jiminy Cricket) to find out what important things in American history took place in the 1830s. I remember reading about the Cherokee Indians and the “Trail of Tears,” the battle of the Alamo during Texan independence and President Andrew Jackson. I knew something about American history, but finding that 1832 half dollar certainly kick-started two new ventures. U.S. History and coin collecting soon became my passions.
The rest of the summer was spent working with dad during most week days, while evenings and weekends were occupied by baseball, reading about history and pulling out old coins (older wheaties, Indian Head cents, Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, Standing Liberty quarters and Walking Liberty halves) from mom’s big coffee cans of poker money, of which I would reimburse her out of the huge salary I was making.
Mom would even get me rolls of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and halves from the bank for me to search through and whatever I found would be a part of my weekly salary. She even bought me the Whitman folders for cents, nickels, dimes, and quarters and also got me several Landmark children’s books pertaining to U.S. history (a few of which I still have).
Dad provided me with a means to earn money, which allowed me to go to the local coin shop in nearby Clifton Heights to fill in a lot of the holes in my Whitman folders. Thanks to mom and dad, I enjoyed my two new hobbies of coin collecting and American history for a long, long time.
Fast forward to 2012. It’s now 54 years later, and I’m happily married with a wife, three children, six grandchildren and I’m still into coins and American History. I have totally enjoyed numismatics now for 54 years and over these years have met some great people involved with coin collecting from dealers to fellow collectors and have even been lucky enough to put together quite a nice collection of U.S. coins (I would conservatively estimate its worth somewhere between $75,000-$100,000). And I must say that my love for American history has also become instrumental in my life.
This September marked the beginning of my 43rd year in education. I’ve been teaching high school and middle school U.S. history now for over four decades and I’m still loving every minute of it. And believe it or not, I’m using those Ike campaign buttons in my history lessons.
Getting back to coins, I have the good fortune to own some nice ones, such as an 1869/69 Indian Head cent in VF, an 1877 Indian Head in VG-F (with all letters of LIBERTY present, but a few are weak), a 1937-D “three-legged” Buffalo nickel in VF, a 1919-S Standing Liberty quarter in AU, an 1801 Draped Bust half in VF, two 1885-CC Morgan dollars in MS-63 proof-like, and a nice MS-63 Saint-Gaudens double eagle from 1924 as part of my collection.
Ironically though, I have to admit that the pride of my collection is still that somewhat shiny 1832 Capped Bust half dollar that I found at the bottom of the cardboard box in 1958 that changed my life forever.