It started with a man, a book and a few rolls of pennies.
It ended when William Gaitlan of Yuma, Ariz., sold a 1969-S doubled die cent at a June 5 Heritage auction for $21,500.
“I still don’t understand why people pay so much for them, but I’m going to leave that alone,” Gaitlan said. “I’m not going to question that.”
Gaitlan has been searching pocket change and rolls of coins since 2011 when his girlfriend’s son gave him a copy of the book Strike it Rich with Pocket Change by Ken Potter and Dr. Brian Allen, which is published by Krause Publications.
“I couldn’t believe the amount they were asking for these rare error coins,” Gaitlan said. “I kind of got fixated on looking for them, but I never thought I’d find any.”
But look he did.
“I started looking through pocket change, and then I’d go to banks and look for rolls of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters,” he said.
It was last December when he went with his girlfriend to Walmart to pick up some prescriptions. While they were there, he went to the Sun Bank inside the store to buy $3 worth of cents. But the bank only five rolls of cents so he ended up with $2.50 in cents and two quarters.
That night he began looking through the rolls, searching for that ever elusive error coin.
“It was 10 p.m. and I was almost falling asleep looking at them,” he said. “The very last penny was a 1969 so I had to look at this one. I didn’t know it was an ‘S,’ but I look at every ’69.”
He couldn’t believe what he saw. All of the letters were doubled.
“I was kind of going nuts for awhile,” he admitted.
Not sure he could believe his own eyes, he awakened his girlfriend’s daughter and asked her to look at the coin and compare it to the photo in the book.
“I said, does it look like that in the book and she said yeah.”
It was a sleepless night for Gaitlan.
The book said the cent was worth $126,000 uncirculated to about $40,000.
“It all depends on the grade,” Gaitlan said. “Mine was a pretty beat up one.”
He wanted to make sure the coin was real, not a counterfeit, so he went to the Internet to do some research.
“I’m just a guy who was looking for something, not a collector,” he said. He needed help from an expert.
The research advised him not to take it to a local coin dealer, because chances are he wouldn’t have seen such a coin before. His girlfriend’s son suggested he take it to a coin show where PCGS would be able to look at it.
“So I drove it from Yuma to Long Beach, Calif.,” he said, accompanied by his 16-year-old daughter.
If you get pulled over by the police, what are you going to tell them, she asked Gaitlan.
“I’m driving a penny to Long Beach,” he said.
Once at the show, Gaitlan filled out some paperwork and dropped the coin off at the PCGS booth.
“A couple of weeks later they emailed me and gave me an estimated value of $24,500,” Gaitlan said. “I was so glad because a lot of people, all my kids, thought I was nuts getting my magnifier out and always looking at coins.”
After all, he’d been looking at coins for three or four years without finding much of value.
“I’m glad I found it,” he said. “I got my dignity back.”
Gaitlan decided he would sell the coin, and consigned it for auction with Heritage Auctions.
“I didn’t want to give it up at first,” he said. “But I had it hidden under my bed. What if it gets stolen?”
Gaitlan still has the $21,500 in the bank. He sells small recreational vehicles for a living and may buy a few used ones to sell and make more money. He’ll also pay a few bills.
“And I’m still looking through coins,” he said, still thankful for the book that started it all.
“I remember my girlfriend’s son said that once the coin hunting thing bites you there’s really nothing you can do about it.
“He’s the only one who understood.”
To purchase your own copy of Strike It Rich with Pocket Change by Ken Potter and Dr. Brian Allen, go to the ShopNumismaster webpage here:
Photo courtesy Yuma Sun. For more photos and the story in the Yuma Sun, go to: