From the Numismatic News 60th Anniversary Special Issue – By Rev. Ken Denski, OCR • Southampton, Pa
There are many negatives about getting older; hair gets a bit thinner and somehow, magically, turns a bit grayer every day! It’s tougher to keep those few unwanted pounds off. And then there’s seeing those lines and wrinkles on your face that you just know should belong to somebody else.
There are positives, too. You have had greater life experiences, so it seems your view of things is a bit calmer. More reflective. And that ability to “reflect” has many advantages. Reflection. Good memories of childhood, a simpler time. Nothing complex. Especially growing up in the 1950s. Especially having a dad who was a friend. A respected friend, to be sure.
I don’t remember where or when my interest in coin collecting began. I recall seeing a well-worn 1906 Barber dime that my mother had kept in her jewelry box. She told me she found it and just held onto it as a lucky piece. I just thought it was neat. Sure, back then, we had Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, Walking Liberty halves in circulation, but very few Barbers.
It was a few years later, in late 1955, on a trip to downtown Philadelphia on a Saturday to go to the Betsy Ross House and then see the Liberty Bell that we walked past a coin shop on Arch Street. It was called Penn Coin Shop at 908 Arch St. (now, a tattoo parlor, but I digress). Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a cigar box filled with shiny pennies. The box was marked “3 for 25 cents.” Now, 25 cents in 1955/1956 to a young boy was big bucks. In fact, it was my full allowance at that time.
I asked Mr. Mattner, the owner, if I could see one of those different pennies. He took one from the box and told me how to hold it on the edge. I looked. I was hooked. I blew the entire 25 cents weekly allowance on those three 1955 doubled dies. Sadly, I sold them around 1970. But the seed was planted.
Over the course of the next few years, I would take trips to downtown Philadelphia whenever I could. Penn Coin Shop, Philly Coin & Stamp and, of course, the coin department at Gimbels. It may be hard for anyone under 50 to believe that a major department store had a full coin department right in the middle of their first floor. Many a bright, uncirculated Lincoln cent and Standing Liberty quarter (they were so common then) were purchased there over the years and at what a bargain.
Sometime in the spring of 1956, dad and I went to take a tour of the U.S. Mint at 16th and Spring Garden streets. That third U.S. Mint building was so impressive. The exhibit room, the cashier’s window where you could buy the current year’s proof sets for $2.10 each. But the tour – wow! I can still see the molten silver coming from the furnace being poured into molds, then being placed in cool water, then being rolled to proper thickness, blanks being punched from the strip and finally going into the coining press. You could stay and watch the operation for as long as you would like.
Your “guided tour” was your mind and boy, did mine race back to what it must have been like when gold was melted and coined into eagles and double eagles. I went there often over the years until it closed in 1969. The “new Mint,” now almost 43 years old, just never seemed to have the same feel, the same atmosphere as the one on 16th Street.
And through it all was one constant, my dad. Although he never caught the coin bug himself, he always encouraged my interest and did so many things that just made my interest grow.
For Christmas 1958, for my gift, he went to Gimbels and bought a 1958 proof set in a Capital Plastics holder (Yes, I know it should have been mint-sealed, but as he later told me, it was so sharp in that jet black holder). I still have that set today; it is a really prized part of my collection.
As I grew older, and my allowance increased, I would save that and gifts received for birthdays (seems like one Aunt had an inexhaustible supply of Legal Tender Red Seal $5s). I would go to the Central Penn National Bank at 5th and Wyoming, a few blocks from my home, after school on Fridays and change whatever paper money I had for either silver dollars or rolls of pennies or nickels (dimes, quarters and halves were too rich for my blood at $5 and $10 per roll). One Friday, in late November/early December, 1962, I believe, I stopped there after school and asked the teller for “five silver dollars.” She told me I was in luck, they just received some bags of new silver dollars that morning. I just knew that I would find that 1895-P or 1893-CC or some other rare date in pristine condition.
She brought out the five shiny new dollar coins, placed them in a bank type envelope and said, “See you next week.” So, as I walked out of the bank, I looked at the dollar coins just received. They were certainly new; they were really shiny. To my amazement, two were 1903-O and the remaining three were 1904-O dollars. Wow! I struck it rich. Red Book price for the ’03-O was $1,500 in Uncirculated; for the ’04-O it was, I think, around $300. The next day, a Saturday, came with a trip to downtown Philadelphia to collect the rewards of my big find. Well, we all know the story from here.
Dad is unfortunately gone now; I truly miss him still. When he allowed me to spend my 25-cent allowance that fall day on three of those “strange pennies,” he had no idea that he started me off on a lifetime journey of education, fun and friendships.
A year before he died, he came to my home and saw a copy of Numismatic News on the end table.
“Still reading your coin papers, Ken?” he asked.
Yes, dad, still reading and enjoying, with a big “thanks” to you!