Coins, Currency, Stamps, and Neighbors
About 30 dealers in coins, stamps, medals and currency gathered at the Quarterly Vienna Coin & Stamp Show to trade, sell, research and learn.
There are coins, currency, stamps, and medals everywhere if you know where to look. Chances are great that they are all right in your own neighborhood.
That was the case when I attended the Vienna Quarterly Coin & Stamp show the weekend of January 26, 2019, in Vienna, VA, less than 10 minutes from home. It is hosted by the Fairfax Coin Club and, not being a coin collector myself, I was more than surprised at what was on display from about 30 dealers or so.
Naturally, there were coins. What I didn’t know was the extent of the coins available. There were gold, silver, historic, vintage, international, and even coins as novelties. I particularly like my one ounce copper Morgan “golden” dollar and a base metal reproduction of an 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar coin from Golden Cities Trading Company. They aren’t authentic, but weren’t meant to be. For a buck or two, they just feel nice to juggle in the hand.
The 1921 Morgan Silver Dollar is the most traded silver coin because of its high mintage, easily bought from collectors for $22 to $35 depending on condition for all beginning numismatics.
Nelson Whitman of Capitol Coin & Stamp Company, a Washington, D.C. institution for at least 50 years, was visiting with Jay Jefferson of Coins of the Realm of Rockville, MD, while I was looking at $20 gold coins and scarce early US silver dollars. I even got to hold one for the first time. “The Morgan Silver Dollar is the best seller of the silver dollars only because so many of them were minted,” he said when I asked which US coin sold well. “Gold and silver bullion,” one of his other specialities, “sell very well, but like the stock market tends to be up and down,” he continued.
Coins of antiquity and treasure coins were featured from Alexander Scorupsky with the Alexandria Coin Club. An 8 silver real, an authentic “piece of eight,” dated 1783 from the shipwreck El Cazador that sank in the Gulf of Mexico in 1784, was a featured silver coin.
Russian wire money from Peter the Great was one of the most unusual offerings.
Another was a curious bit of silver wire money issued by Czarist Russia from the 14th to the 18th century. Very small, not very impressive, “… it was a bit of silver wire that was cut into irregular pieces no larger than about .20 grams of silver or so,” Alexander says. “They were then pressed between two dies with the obverse usually featuring a horseman and the reverse featuring heraldic images,” he continues. In fact, four of them can fit on a Lincoln penny and are worth about $5 to $20 each, but you can just feel the history of the ancient Russian steppes in each one.
A 12 oz. hallmarked silver bar from 18th century Vietnam and a 2 Tael Sycee from the 17th century Ching Dynasty of China made his offerings even more interesting–enough to want to learn more.
To learn about the world for me, though, I studied vexillology, the science of flags. With flags, you can learn about art, history, language, culture, design, and communities both local and around the world. It can also be done with world currency. Daryl Spelbring of Banknotes of the World in Vienna, VA, literally had boxes of currency from around the world, old and new.
Paper currency from the US or from around the world is also highly collected and valued with its own set of standards and scarcities.
Centavos, pounds, rubles, yuan, cruzados, soles, marks, some ancient, most more modern, all tell a history of national struggles, heroes, those of prominence and prestige from countries that were and nations that still are. Curiously, a lot of early currency was made of leather, wood and even stone.
The Bank of England in 1695 was the first to issue paper banknotes to help fund the war against France. The US began issuing its own paper banknotes during its Civil War with most countries following suit shortly after. Learning the kings, queens, commoners, playwrights, military heroes and iconic national images displayed on banknotes helps to understand and appreciate the history of communities around the world, no matter the denomination.
Exonumia brings together tokens, medallions, commemorative medals, decorative coins and even scrip. Presidential inaugural medals from Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan were featured along with large agency challenge coins from the Office of the Surgeon General of the National Health Service and commemorative coins for the national arts and sciences.
Exonumia is the collecting of tokens, commemorative medals, and decorative coins that are not legal tender, such as this collection featuring a Ronald Reagan medal, a commemorative Continental coin and a medal honoring General Horatio Gates.
Tokens from subways, railroads, early trading posts, and those issued just for fun bring an entirely new dimension beyond just coins of the realm. Usually made of tin, copper, aluminum, porcelain, and brass, these tradeable bits of credit helped a local economy function in the absence of real currency or coinage even as far back as the Roman Empire. Most are available from $5 to $35 easily, and all tell an amazing historical story.
Another satisfying way to tell the story of nations as communities is through philately, the study of stamps. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a consistent stamp collector throughout his life, even into his presidency. Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones collects stamps to this day.
Philately, stamp collecting, is still one of the top ten collectible hobbies with nearly 3 million hobbyists worldwide, according to a recent study.
Wayne R. Gehret of Stamps for Collectors in Ephrata, PA, had one of the largest display of stamps from around the world. “While First Day Covers after 1940 were issued more for the commemorative event,” Wayne tells me, ”those before 1940 are highly sought after by collectors of all ages.” That can be said for stamps as well, according to collectors and most are easily available within any type of budget.
And stamp collecting still ranks within the top ten of any collectibles category because of the variety, the history, and mostly the chase to discover something new, scarce, or quite rare.
The show also featured an area to buy books, supplies, and research material to better understand the industry and the hobby itself. The “Red Book” was available, as well as histories of US Mints, currencies, and stories behind some of the most iconic and collectible coins and stamps available. The Kids Table was particularly gratifying, especially as the dealers contributed coins by the handful to be given to new and emerging collectors. The kid in me got a 1944 wheat penny to learn more about.
To learn about coins, your reference library needs to include “The Red Book” that tracks the history and value of US coins each year.
My thanks to the Fairfax Coin Club for a pleasant afternoon and for encouraging those young and old to discover the world and its communities of nations that may very well be forgotten in closets, on old letters, and maybe even in your own pockets, if you would just slow down enough to take a closer look. Then, let these knowledgeable neighbors help when you think you found something.
Tom Carrier is a General Worthologist with a specialty in Americana, political memorabilia and he has been the resident WorthPoint vexillologist (flags, seals and heraldry) since 2007. Tom is also a frequent contributor of articles to WorthPoint.
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