From the November 2002 issue of ACCent, the newsletter of the Anchorage Coin Club:
You never know what you might find if you look hard enough! I just returned from a very enjoyable two week vacation, which was spent sailing off the coast of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts with my Dad and his wife. Our visits to shore were few and far between, as we generally spent our days sailing out among the numerous rocky islands that populate the coast of northern New England. At night we would simply drop anchor in one of the countless small coves that exist along the coast.
However, even living on a boat, it is still necessary to go ashore from time to time to re-provision our supplies, get fuel, do laundry, etc. Sometimes our trip to shore has a bit more of a sense of urgency attached to it, such as the approach of Hurricane Gustave. We had planned to stop in Marblehead Massachusetts for the usual chores and had even planned to spend a few hours walking around the area.
Marblehead is an exceedingly old settlement, located on the coast just a short distance from Salem. Most of the houses display a wooden plaque on their exterior stating the date of construction along with the name and occupation of the original owner. These are fairly good sized houses, generally constructed for ships captains or local merchants. In Marblehead, a 200 year old house actually is considered to be ‘new construction’! The majority of the houses here were built long before the first mint was established in Philadelphia. A rough guesstimate is that about 20% of the houses are from the 1600’s, 60% from the 1700’s, and the remaining 20% from the 1800’s. The streets never seem to go in a straight line for a distance greater than three houses, and ‘blocks’ as we know them today are nonexistent – no problem in a day when your transportation is on the back of a horse. Undoubtedly a great deal of colonial coinage has passed through this town – at face value!
As we were going to be here about 24 hours longer than expected (due to Gustave’s 40 knot winds), I decided that the used bookstore would be top on my list of places to burn some time. As many of you know, I have a fairly substantial numismatic library, both new and old books, but I am always on the lookout for new acquisitions.
Whenever I enter an old bookstore, I tend to seek out the numismatic books first, with some bizarre sense that some other coin collector might just be about to walk through the door and beat me to a real prize. Anyhow, I found the coin books, which are almost invariably found together with books about stamps, antiques, and other collectables. There were only three numismatic books, two of which were not very old, nor particularly interesting. The third (which I purchased) was entitled “The Coinages Of The World Ancient And Modern” by George D. Matthews, issued by Scott & Company, New York, in the year 1876. It is a medium sized book, over 300 pages in length, with somewhat worn leather bound covers. The pages inside have yellowed with age, particularly near the edges, but the type is very clear and easy to read. The price was $20, plus 5% tax.
Certainly not a great bargain, but I was happy just to find something numismatically related in this store, as I usually (almost always actually) come out empty handed. Once I had thoroughly cased the two shelves of books in the antiques and collectables categories (making sure there were no misfiled numismatic books), I toured around the rest of the well stocked bookstore, but made no other purchases. The closest runner-up was an old copy of the diary of Samuel Pepys, a Naval clerk who lived in London during the 1660’s, during which time he kept a very detailed diary. He recorded his travels to quite a few of the London taverns of the day, giving details about these taverns about which little else is known, other than that they existed. This information is of great interest to collectors of London tokens, which were issued in copious numbers centuries ago. An article on the subject, well worth reading, is published in the August 2002 issue of “The Numismatist”, beginning on page 890. I would have liked to purchase this diary, but it was a fairly large book and I had to watch my budget.
The moral of all this is that you never know where you may find coins or numismatic books. Some of the antique shops that I explored in Marblehead had a few scattered coins, usually Peace dollars and 1921 Morgans, available at full premium prices. But you should check even these! Who knows when you may stumble across a 1921 of 1928 Peace dollar, or even a 1934-S or one of the scarce dates of the early to mid 1890’s Morgan series. Odds are that the proprietor of the store knows little about the coins in the display, and probably does not even have a current Redbook. I have not been so lucky (yet), but I will keep searching. So far my best find is in the category of books, in which I was able to pick up an excellent condition copy of the 400 page 1911 Mint Directors Report, an attractive black hardbound book.
Keep your eyes open when you travel around, both near and far. Yard sales can even be productive and turn up old Redbooks priced at 50 cents. Used bookstores are always worth a look, as are antique stores and even thrift stores. Your good finds will be few and very far between, but can be rather exciting when you are successful.
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