Just Throw Money

I mentioned the gold coins somebody dropped off, just stuff that had been sitting in a safe deposit box. I am so grateful for eBay, because this makes it possible for me to sell the things without having to post a volunteer with a ruler to whack your knuckles if you try to pick them up at the Collectors table come July.

Money turns up quite often at the Book fair, really, from those pennies that somehow land in boxes of books (another reason not to use banana boxes: the pennies fall out through that hole in the bottom) to that $10 bill your Grandma gave you in 1949 and you tucked it away in Forever Amber to keep it flat. Or, to judge by the page you marked with the ten dollar bill, maybe it wasn’t from your Grandma at all.

This is not only handy—every penny counts—but very educational. Some of the money that has come in has taught me interesting things about history and life.

Military Payment Certificates: The military has been aware for some time that the cash it pays out to its employees, especially overseas, is not always spent in a manner the military approves. To get around this, the government frequently paid salaries in these coupons, which could be spent like real American dollars, but which had an Expiration Date. This meant the friendly folks who ran the Black Market couldn’t hoard them, at least in theory. Since their period of usefulness was limited, a lot of these little coupons got thrown away, so most of them are collectible, and some are valuable.

Fractional Currency: During the Civil War, people got a little paranoid about gold and silver coins and hoarded them, figuring the gold and silver would be good even if the government went under, whereas paper money would be good only to start a fire. So a shortage of coins developed, and people used postage stamps for small change. The Post Office resented this (you’re supposed to buy a stamp and use it—once—and not have it keep changing hands at a value of two cents every time.) So from 1862 to 1879, the government actually printed small pieces of paper money with values from three cents to fifty cents. These are all very collectible, and some are quite lovely. A man named Spencer Clark, who was in charge of the project, put his own face on one of the five cent notes, and so offended people that the government passed a law requiring people to have been dead two years before their picture goes on a stamp, coin, or piece of currency.

Notgeld: Something similar happened during the years of fierce inflation in Germany after World War I. It hardly paid anyone to mint coins at all, with the mark at such depressed levels, so authorities came out with little notes which covered 500 marks here, or a million marks there. As prices went up and up, more and more of these were printed. These are also pretty and collectible, but only some of them are valuable.

Austo-Hungarian restrikes: That gold coin I was given bore a date of 1907 and the face of Franz Josef, the Emperor one of my great-grandfathers had to pledge allegiance to every morning in school. This coin was actually minted in 1953, in Austria, and sold to people who were suffering from that age-old paranoia about paper money. A little gold stashed around the place seemed a good investment, and how much better it was to have a gold coin which did NOT bear the face of anyone in any recent governments. You could always claim it had been in the family for years if a commissar came around and asked, Comrade, where you got enough money to be buying an ounce of gold.

Silver Certificates: I have learned that some people really get excited about certain silver certificates AND that they can get my phone number and call me up about them.

Pennies: It is possible to drop pennies into a box of books while it is being packed, but I still haven’t learned HOW. Do you carry your pennies in your shirt pocket? Do you carry the books to the banana boxes by shoving them into your pants pocket, and the pennies get stuck in the process? And why is it always pennies? Does no one ever drop a fifty, or even a twenty, into a box by accident? I’d take a silver certificate.

Anyway, if I have learned anything of long-range usefulness from all this speculation in vintage currency, it is that a lot of people don’t trust paper money. So you folks out there ought to invest it in something good and solid. How about you come in July and see if I can’t sell you something in exchange for all that silly paper? I promise that before you buy the book I’ll have tried to take out any dubious cash the previous owners left behind. 

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