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When silver calls, boy do I feel young again

Numismatic News editor has found memories of silver's glorious past.

Silver is $13.52 a troy ounce as this is written. Where is it going? I don?t know. I would like to think I do, but that is wounded ego and pride talking rather than any true insight beyond what any other true blue coin collector possesses.

The wounds are old and healed, but I remember them. Silver jilted me. That?s why I am here. Still, I am a coin collector. I love silver. I like how it looks in coin form. I find it infinitely desirable. My blood races when prices rise.

Consider a Tuesday morning in this office almost 27 years ago. Much as now, silver had been creeping higher for quite a long time. When I went home Monday night, Sept. 17, 1979, silver was at $13.90 per ounce. When I came into the office Tuesday morning, the old clackety-clack of the Teletype machine at Coin Market editor Bob Wilhite?s desk had spit out the news that silver had leaped in London trading by nearly $5 a troy ounce. New York trading shortly thereafter confirmed the price of $18.30.

Holy cow! Wilhite was excited. I was excited. The markets were obviously turbocharged. Anything was possible. The sky seemed the limit. The Teletype message was torn off and passed around to anyone in the office who would look at it. Since I was not the one passing it around the building, I don?t know who saw it or in what sequence, but later than morning, Chet Krause showed up at my desk. He was the owner of the firm. He ran it. He did not make a habit of stopping at my desk, so when he appeared it was a reason to give him my undivided attention.

What did he want? He might have been as excited about silver as I was. He had gone into the vault and pulled out a silver bar from the San Francisco Assay Office. It weighed approximately 107 troy ounces, with the weight stamped right on the bar. It was rough looking. It was not like the beautiful extruded bars that comprise physical silver stocks today. He was marveling that in one day the bar had jumped in value by nearly $500, or over 30 percent. He wanted to show it to me. Imagine the profit in owning many more silver bars? It was enticing. Then he told a story. At one time he had had the idea that he could make money in silver bullion. I assumed this was at the time when the Treasury stopped controlling the price of silver and the free market took over. It was the same period in the late 1960s when I had purchased a 100-ounce silver bar. My bar had no history, or so I thought. His did.

Even though the markets were frisky. Chet never made a fortune in silver. Had he done so, perhaps he wouldn?t have had need to run his own business. The conclusion of his story was that he found it was better to tend to his business than to chase the siren song of silver. But, oh the notes she sang still sounded sweet.

I had taken a flier in silver futures in the middle 1970s. The account was in my father?s name. I ran it. I made money at first. It seemed so easy. But over time, the losses started and then accumulated. By late 1977, they totaled over $2,000 apiece. It was time to call it quits. I had to get serious about working. I did. I found a job here.

So there Chet and I were. Both of us in our own ways had been jilted by silver. My wound was fresher, but I took Chet?s point. Silver is fantastic. It seems so appealing, but don?t get distracted by it. Tend to business, which in my case was trying to become a competent Numismatic News editor.

Chet stuck with his company. I stuck with my job. I don?t know what went through his mind as silver reached $50 a troy ounce Jan. 21, 1980. I had rejected silver. Look how beautiful it still looked, and $50, too. What if?
Well, silver finally slipped. We learned that the Hunt brothers of Texas had tried to corner the market. Regulatory and exchange actions were taken to stop the corner. Prices collapsed. In two months it was $10.80. It was on its way to a quarter century of doldrums.

I chose to stick with the job. I?m still here after 28 years. My title has changed. My responsibilities have increased. My hair is going gray, but oh do I feel young when silver calls.