This New Edition of Tales from the Bourse is published courtesy of David Lawrence Rare Coins….
John just read this and points out that I would have been much better off if I had kept the two dimes instead of the gold piece. Twenty dollar gold pieces are quite common (worth perhaps $500-$600 at the most in today’s market), whereas the dimes are still very rare.
Some coins that are normally common can have a minor attribute that makes them very rare and valuable. We see this with the 1926-D quarter with “Full Head,” which changes in value from a few hundred dollars in typical uncirculated condition to more than $10,000 when well struck on Liberty’s head. A similar thing occurs with the 1945-P Mercury dime, and in 1980 I happened upon two of them.
That spring was very hectic both in the coin market and in my personal life. The Hunt brothers had pushed the price of silver to $50 an ounce (today it’s only about $5) and even the most common coins were selling for a lot of money. I was teaching at Chaminade High School in Hollywood, Florida, and doing coin shows every Sunday. I also ran a price list and was actively looking for a job as a marine biologist.
At school, when I didn’t have cafeteria duty, I would eat my lunch in the library with other teachers and volunteers. One day, a parent volunteer told me her father had died and left a coin collection that she and her siblings probably wanted to sell. I arranged to look at it at her house.
When I arrived, I could see it was a simple collection, all housed in cheap Whitman folders. Aside from a few gold coins, there was very little of interest. I examined the coins quickly — there wasn’t even a proper light — and made her an offer. Even without the gold coins it came to several hundred dollars because silver was so high.
Weeks went by and the family couldn’t make up its mind about selling. Finally, on the day that I was leaving South Florida (to move to Virginia), when I had a Ryder truck fully packed in my carport, and was on the floor eating dinner with my family, she called. They were ready to sell the collection, but without the gold coins.
I rushed over to her house and wrote her a check. I didn’t even have time to look over the coins again — just put the folders in my briefcase and left. Very early the next morning we headed north.
It probably was several months before I got the chance to work up the collection. I noticed several Mercury dimes that were actually uncirculated, though I had figured them for AU. By itself this was no big deal.
Even the AU’s were worth $11 each (today it is more like $1), but there were two 1945-P’s that were well struck in the center.
Normally this issue comes without any detail in the middle of the reverse. Whereas most late-date Mercs display a horizontal line across the pole, the 1945 dimes from the Philadelphia Mint are completely flat. At the time, 1945-P dimes with so-called “full split bands” were listed at $2,000 each in MS65 condition. In fact, this dime with full bands was so rare that few dealers had ever seen one. Certainly I hadn’t.
I carefully put them in holders and brought them to the next show — at the Sheraton Hotel in Lanham, Md. In those days, this was an important show and all the “big boys” were there. As soon as I got the chance I showed them to Steve Ivy, today one of the principal owners of Heritage.
Steve conferred with his people and after a few minutes decided he wasn’t interested. “Not high enough grade,” he said. “We only deal with gem material.”
“Surely, they have value,” I said, surprised that he had passed.
“Yes,” he agreed. “They are rare, just not for us.”
I didn’t know what to do next. I realized they were not gems and didn’t know how much they might be worth or who might be interested.
The following day I became friendly with a dealer from Michigan who had the table to my right. It turned out that he had some very high-powered clients and was intrigued by my two dimes. He was a little suspicious of the “bands,” however, and wanted to show them to a few friends to make sure they were not re-engraved.
“Go ahead,” I said. I knew where they had come from and wasn’t concerned about their authenticity.
A little while later he came back and we made a deal. My dimes for a nice uncirculated $20 gold piece.
I don’t know if he sold the dimes, but the other day, 20 years later, I noticed the gold piece in my safe deposit box.