My first memory of looking for certain dates on coins or Barr notes was with my father when I was young. My mother was a waitress, and we would often help with the counting and rolling of the tips she brought home. Whenever we found something noteworthy (forgive the pun), my father – a collector of trinkets and oddities of all kinds – would ceremoniously stash it away for safekeeping. I was fascinated by the idea of finding secret treasures in something as commonplace as currency. My interest in coins took a backseat as bicycles, motorcycles, fishing and a long list of other things occupied my interests as a young boy in the 1970s.
When my father passed away in 2003, I volunteered to spearhead the splitting of his collection of coins and currency with my brother. I bought a Red Book and several other books to help educate me on the value of the collection. Although my father’s collection did not have anything of great value, the occasion reignited my fascination with “secret treasures,” and I soon developed a full-blown passion for collecting coins. I began attending auctions and visiting local coin shops, adding to my own collection as well as educating myself on the topic. As I’m sure many coin collectors have experienced, over the years I’ve had quite a few friends and family ask me the value of something they have. From single coins to entire collections (and once, even a five-gallon bucket of silver halves!), I’ve become known as the local coin man.
I am currently semi-retired from the aircraft industry, as are several of my neighbors, so we have plenty of time to talk about all kinds of hobbies and interests. Last month, I showed one of my retired neighbors a recent purchase of an NGC-graded Saint-Gaudens and grabbed the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame silver dollar to show him as well. He mentioned his wife had some coins that might be interesting. She walked up and shortly after I showed her the coins I had shown her husband, she went inside to retrieve a worn-out plastic bag that she said had been in her closet since about 1974. At a quick glance, it was a respectable collection: her bag had a variety of coins with nine silver dollars, five or six halves, a few quarters, half a dozen dimes, and then an assortment of nickels and 1-cent coins. The bag also contained six small circular flat glass pieces in plastic sleeves that have numbers and scales as well as circles and radiuses with values given to them. I was able to give a quick look at the dollar coins while we talked in the yard, but I told her I would need to do more research to evaluate the others. She smiled and said, “I trust you.”
My wife and I had some errands to run right after visiting with them, so I did not get back to looking at the coins until the next day. There was a variety of silver and clad coins, most of which were highly circulated, but there was one coin that really caught my attention. Her collection contained an 1892-O Barber half dollar. Since 1892 was the first year for the Barber half series, that’s a good date, though the coin has seen a lot of circulation. The obverse is in better shape than the reverse, as is typical on Barber halves. I was on the fence on this coin grading either AG-3 or G-4. Looking in my 2021 Red Book, I saw there was a “Micro O” variety for the year 1892 with the value of $3,650 for a coin in G-4 condition. After a bit more research, I learned that there are barely more than 50 known and certified Micro O’s.
I thought, “Wow! Wouldn’t that be cool if this is a Micro O?” The rarity and value of the Micro O made me doubt it, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to investigate the possibility. I flipped the coin over and saw a small “O” but did not know what a Micro O looks like. I was pretty sure I did not have an 1892-O Barber half in my collection, but I quickly discovered that I have an 1893-O half to compare with and I was surprised to see my coin having a noticeably larger mintmark than her coin. Could this truly be? I quickly went to the PCGS and NGC websites for information, as well as Googled the information on the mintmark. I pulled down my stereo microscope to get the best look at the coins. I remembered the glass pieces in the bag and decided to use them to assist in comparing the two mintmarks. I later discovered the six glass pieces are called reticles and used for measuring under magnification: exactly what I was doing with them. After looking and rubbing my eyes several times in disbelief, I realized her coin is indeed an 1892 Micro O Barber half dollar. I nearly leapt up two flights of stairs to announce this incredible discovery to my wife: I’ve found a spectacular secret treasure! Unfortunately, it was too late in the day to let my neighbors know about the coin. It was tough getting to sleep that night. When I saw my neighbors in the driveway the next day, I could hardly contain my excitement to rush over and share the news.
They could see me almost dancing as I explained that the die-makers mistakenly used the “O” mintmark that was for the quarter and that fewer than 100 of these are believed to have been minted. After all this world has been through in the last year and a half, the energy and excitement this coin brought me has uplifted me in a way that I didn’t know I needed.
I returned their collection and explained to them all the information I had on the other coins. I also told them I highly suggest that the Barber coin be sent off and graded. I asked if I could do this for them, and they agreed. She works at a local business in town but her husband is retired from aircraft and I asked if he wanted to go to my local coin shop with me to have the coin sent in to be authenticated. He agreed and we made an event of it, even stopping for breakfast on the way to the shop. The guys at the coin shop performed a thorough examination of the coin and agreed to send it in for me.
After getting the email that the coin was back, I eagerly went to pick it up. It was official! PCGS graded it AG-03 Micro O, just as we had expected. I discussed with my wife how important this coin is and how I feel almost emotionally attached to it: I may never hold another one again. She knew the conversation was coming and agreed that we could spare the money to purchase the coin from the owners if they were willing to sell it.
I told the owners their coin was back from being graded and, after asking if they were interested in selling it, we all sat down at our large dining room table to discuss a deal. I had gone to the bank to get cash, as I feel it is always more satisfying than a check. After some discussion, we came to a fair price for each of us.
I might make a few dollars on this coin one day if I ever sell it, but I did not buy the coin to make money on it. I purchased the coin because of the excitement it has brought me in achieving this numismatic dream: discovering a true secret treasure in the small, tattered bag of coins from the back of a closet.