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Market Whimsy: Of Hoards and Buried Treasure

By Charles Morgan with Hubert Walker …..
Charles and Hubert’s column Market Whimsy, which originally appeared in the American Numismatic Association (ANA) magazine The Numismatist, won the 2016 Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Column, Non-Profit Large Publications.

This article was first published in December of 2015 as “Buried Pleasure”. It has been updated where necessary.

* * *

Hoards and buried treasure–and rumors of hoards and buried treasure–have captivated collectors and non-collectors alike for as long as human beings have sought a hidden plot of earth in which to bury something of value.

Such was and is the distrust of financial institutions, nosy neighbors and marauding armies (not to mention the extralegal means by which wealth is sometimes acquired) that the incidence of buried coins is not as infrequent as one might think.

From Saddle Ridge to the Rive d’Or, from LeVere Redfield’s basement to the English moors, any number of treasures big and small continue to turn up and paw at the imaginations of dreamers who long to find that legendary “pot of gold”.

I wish that would happen to me, thought virtually everybody who read about the California couple that kicked one of several buried cans containing over 1,480 gold coins.

Well, the story that follows won’t yield such fantastical returns, but it may (if you pay careful attention) lead to a stash of coins buried 30 years ago.

When I was a kid, I became enthralled with coins. My grandmother Ruth [See “Finding Ruth” in the December, 2014 issue of The Numismatist. —CoinWeek] sparked an interest that has only grown over the years. By the early 1980s, I had built quite the collection of pre-1965 U.S. silver coinage (for a seven-year-old, anyway) in an assortment of dates, all pulled from the junk boxes at Perry Coin & Loan in Hopewell, Virginia.

I expressed my appreciation for coins then differently than I do now. I was most concerned with how they felt in my hands. An appreciation for the designer’s art was beyond me at the time, as most of the coins I had access to were worn to very worn. Why pay $75 for a conditional rarity when a child’s allowance of 60 cents would suffice? Especially since I didn’t have $75 to spend on a coin to begin with…

For me, starting my first coin collection was about imagination and history. Imagining these coins as artifacts from years long past, of a time in history before personal experience. Learning about that history from the local coin club and doing something “grown-up”.

When I think of the ways in which the hobby tries to reach out to youngsters, I hope we don’t lose sight of the fact that kids who love coins tend to be precocious, and shouldn’t be pandered to or dismissed but treated–as much as possible–as equal participants.

That, however, is a topic for another time.

Suffice it to say that on one early ‘80s summer afternoon my kid impulses overtook my collector impulses and, in an effort to impress one of my dear childhood friends, a neighbor from Bolivia who taught high school Spanish, I buried my stash of coins under the ground in a plot of soil near where we were gardening.

The idea was to dig up the coins and pretend that I had discovered long-lost treasure. In retrospect, it’s embarrassing to think back at that plan and to unpack the myriad issues involved with telling a lie in order to get attention, but I suppose in some ways many of the great storytellers start their careers as braggarts and liars. Should I aspire to be a better writer then at least I will know that it was worth it.

Unfortunately, my plans unraveled the day after the coins were squirreled away. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to find most of the coins that I’d buried. I pulled a worn 1932 quarter out of the ground but little else. We planted a row of shrubs and I learned a great deal about gardening and Bolivian culture, but I left that summer with a feeling that I wasn’t quite ready to put together the world’s greatest coin collection.

Over the years, I’ve often thought back to that moment. Invisibly blushing over the foolishness of youth but admiring in a way that idealistic, enthusiastic and mischievous youngster.

And as for that stash of coins and how to find it?

I doubt that I’ll ever go back and dig it up. But for anyone who deems it prize worth it, all you have to do is follow these directions:

Go to where the county meets the city and drive down an old Iron Bridge road. Follow it about a mile until you pass a 400-year-old oak tree and turn right. A foot below the soil along the property line, to the left of a row of shrubs in the backyard of the fifth house on the right, you should find a cache of coins. Buried silver. All that remains of my first coin collection. ~20 pieces. 90% pure. Fine to Very Fine.

There are probably some worn out V-nickels in that bag. And loads of memories.

Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker have been contributing authors on CoinWeek since 2012. They also wrote the monthly "Market Whimsy" column and various feature articles for The Numismatist and the book 100 Greatest Modern World Coins (2020) for Whitman Publishing.

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