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What story does your money tell?

 The reverse of the 2018 Native American Dollar coin depicts the exceptional athlete Jim Thorpe.

The reverse of the 2018 Native American Dollar coin depicts the exceptional athlete Jim Thorpe.

Attention numismatists and dealers: if you want to interest new collectors or customers, be sure to share the stories that coins and paper currency can tell.

Think about it. Why does someone become interested in a particular hobby? There are a lot of possible answers, including beauty, history, family connection, or value.

Here is one example of how to share a story.

The U.S. Mint has issued the 2018 Native American Dollar coin. It depicts the exceptional athlete Jim Thorpe. If you were to simply tell that much information to a non-collector, their reaction is likely to be, “So What?” or “That’s Nice.”

But if you can make something about the coin possibly relevant to the other person, you just might spark the interest of a new collector.

The coin dealership I used to own and where I still work is located about one mile from the campus of Michigan State University. Here is how I tell the story about the 2018 Native American dollar coin to local non-collectors:

Did you know that there is an indirect connection between a 2018 United States coin and Michigan State University?

The U.S. Mint’s Native American dollar coin this year honors the athletic star Jim Thorpe. He played his first professional football game for the Canton Bulldogs on Nov. 28, 1915.

Gideon Smith played his only game of professional football on the very same team on the same day. He entered the game as a fourth-quarter substitute and recovered a fumble that helped preserve the team’s 6-0 victory over the Knute Rockne-coached Massillon Tigers.

So, who was Gideon Smith?

Smith was a star tackle on the Michigan Agricultural College (as MSU was then known) football team. He was the first African-American varsity athlete in any sport at the university and perhaps only the second or third African-American college football player at any school nationwide. In his second and third season on the team, the Aggies finally beat their arch rivals at the University of Michigan for the first and second time.

After graduation in 1916, Gideon Smith served in the military in World War I and became a teacher at what is now called West Virginia State University. In 1921, he became the head football coach and a professor of physical education at Hampton Institute, now Hampton University.

In his second season as head coach, his team won the black college national championship. He continued to coach through the 1942 season, the longest tenure of any Hampton football coach. His overall record of 97 wins, 46 losses and 12 ties represents the most career victories by any Hampton football coach.

After serving as Hampton’s football coach, he remained at the university another 13 years as professor and assistant athletic director until his retirement. Smith was inducted into the Michigan State University Athletics Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Hampton University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009.

But for one professional football game in late 1915, former MAC football player Gideon Smith was a blocker for running back Jim Thorpe, the man honored on the U.S. 2018 Native American dollar coin.

You won’t find this coin in circulation, but it is available at Liberty Coins.

As you can see in the above story, there doesn’t necessarily have to be a direct link to make it interesting. This story combines football, Michigan State University, a famous extraordinary athlete, and also a coin. What’s not to like?

So, what kind of stories could you share about coins or paper money with non-collectors?

Patrick A. Heller was the American Numismatic Association 2017 Exemplary Service and 2012 Harry Forman Numismatic Dealer of the Year Award winner. He was also honored by the Numismatic Literary Guild in 2017 and 2016 for the Best Dealer-Published Magazine/Newspaper and for Best Radio Report. He is the communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes “Liberty’s Outlook,” a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at Some of his radio commentaries titled “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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