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Hollywood and coins benefit from sequels

I just watched the ?Butterfly Effect 2? on DVD. I did not like this movie as much as I did the first one. No, this is not a movie review, but the economics of movies can teach us a lesson this week.

Just as Hollywood would rather bank on a sure thing in the form of a sequel, we see the Professional Coin Grading Service offering a reward of $10,000 for the first finder of a 2007 Sacagawea dollar with edge lettering.

This offer is a sequel to an offer made in 2003. Readers might remember when Paul Montgomery of Bowers and Merena Galleries offered a $1 million purchase price as a reward for the finder of the then-lost Walton specimen 1913 Liberty Head nickel. The offer generated a buzz that proved attractive even to the nonhobby media. Moreover, it was the beginning of a sequence of events that prompted the heirs of George Walton to step forward and find out if the coin they had was the ?missing? fifth specimen, or simply the counterfeit it had been called by a major firm more than 40 years prior.

Now you can?t do better with publicity than to gain massive amounts of media attention and then actually discover the coin you are seeking. That is something for the record books. It is part of the lore of the hobby that we will all continue to talk about and write about as long as we are in numismatics.

The $10,000 Sacagawea error reward is a wonderful attention getter. I said it would be even better if we had a photo of PCGS President Ron Guth with a briefcase full of cash to go with it. That kind of photo always appeals to readers.

But, this is the sequel. It can?t possible be as good as the original, but that doesn?t mean it won?t work. It will. The coin being sought does not yet exist in hobby hands. It may never exist. But with the release of the 2007 Sacagawea coins just days away as this is written, the reward will prompt many more people to think about getting the new Sacs and looking at the edge, which unlike the new George Washington dollar, is supposed to be plain. Can a Sac appear with a lettered edge? It is plausible. Someone at the Mint will have to knowingly or unknowingly mix the coins up. Is this likely? Probably not, but that doesn?t mean it is impossible.

Fort Worth, Texas, dealer B. Max Mehl offered $50 for 1913 Liberty Head nickels back around 1930 knowing full well they were all accounted for. But it worked. People wrote for his price list. People who never contacted him paid attention to their coins. During the Depression, $50 was a small fortune. Modern Americans are probably somewhat jaded. Can even $10,000 motivate them to get down to their bank and ask for the new Sacs? I hope so. It will make this a better story, sure, but it will also prove that the inherent curiosity in most people has been tickled enough to spur some to action. It is in this process that new collectors are born. I didn?t become a collector until it dawned on me in the midst of my search for Lincoln cents that might be worth more than face value as advertised in a comic book, that I rather liked looking at coins, figuring out what they were and putting them in albums. This wasn?t an instantaneous thing. It could have just as easily turned out like my collection of rocks did, or my collection of stamps. I quickly outgrew both of those.

Many persons who are motivated solely to get $10,000 might just find as I did that it is great fun to study coins for their own sake and the reward becomes unnecessary. I never did find a Lincoln cent that I actually sold. I did find one dated 1909 that made me think anything was possible if I just kept working at it. I am still working at it. Who would have thought at the time that it would lead to a career? Certainly not me or my parents.

So perhaps somewhere in America, this sequel will inspire the next David Hall, David Bowers or even my successor in this editor?s chair. That makes this reward sequel a very good thing for PCGS in making the offer and for the hobby. Whether the firm ever pays the $10,000, it will get its money?s worth.

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