How I Got 2 Genuine 1877 Indian Head Cents for Eight Dollars
By Robertson Shinnick
OK, here goes. (True story).
It’s the year 7 B.C. or so (that’s seven years Before Computer, in other words, about 1992 in my case). Asheville, NC. An earlier career and marriage- a completely different life for me. I went into Bill Wright’s coin shop to sell a few pitiful coins I had, since we were dirt poor, living hand-to-mouth, and were having many of our utilities shut off on us.
I don’t remember what I sold, but I happened to notice Bill had stacks and stacks of British large pennies on his desk. Hundreds of them. And also a bunch of other world coins. I told him I liked the Brit pennies, as they were old and big and cheap and cool, yada yada yada. So he says I can have the whole hoard of “foreign” coins for 10 cents each. But there is a catch. I have to buy them all. (Bill hates “foreign” stuff and dumps it as fast as possible). There are 400 coins. Forty bucks. A king’s ransom to me in those days.
I threw caution to the wind and spent forty bucks on the coins, leaving me slightly poorer than I had been when I went into the shop. (What my then-wife didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her). I went through all the coins, using the Krause catalogs. Conservatively graded, what was the total catalog value of the 400-piece lot that cost me forty bucks?
Most of the Brit pennies were key or semi-key dates. There was a nice 1752 halfpenny in there, too. And a Swedish billon solidus from the 1640’s. And an Irish coin worth ninety bucks by itself. And a large number of Dutch coins from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, including plenty of silver. The list goes on and on.
Now, these are foreign coins, mind you. I live in the South and sell at the redneck flea market occasionally. My chances of getting twelve hundred bucks out of this lot of coins, let alone selling very many of them at all, is roughly equivalent to my chances of playing tiddlywinks with my ears.
BUT- I can try to swap them through the free classifieds in Numismatic News.
Turns out an old swapping partner of mine in Indiana, was interested in swapping for the Dutch coins from the lot. They had a combined catalog value of $350.00 or so, and there were about eighty of them. So, figure I paid ten cents each; therefore I had eight bucks total in them.
All right, so now I’m out eight bucks plus shipping for my end of the trade. Sam sends me a fantastically beautiful 1937 15-piece British proof set in the original case. Sweeeet set, with fantastic toning. Worth about $185.00 catalog at the time, so Sam got the better end of the trade in catalog value, but I didn’t mind that one teeny little bit.
I kept that set for a while. Then, one day, on a whim, I took it in to Bill Wright’s shop. This is the same guy who hates foreign coins and sold me the box of “junk” that started the whole thing, remember. Bill loves the Brit proof set, and believe me, Bill is very hard to impress with US coins, let alone British ones. I forget how it happened, but when I left the shop that afternoon, Bill had ended up with my 1937 British proof set and I had TWO 1877 Indian cents in exchange. (I was sort of working on a G-VG Indian cent set at the time). One of the ’77 Indians was an AG/G with no problems, the other was a G/VG with some counting wheel damage across the headband.
So, let’s sum up:
$40.00 to Bill for box of world coins (400 coins at ten cents each).
$8.00 of that was for 80 Dutch coins (80 coins at ten cents each).
Dutch coins to Sam, British proof set in return.
Proof set to Bill, two 1877 Indians in return.
Presto. Two genuine 1877 Indian cents for eight bucks. (OK, so it’s a little convoluted, but there you have it).
And it was all gained by trading with two guys who both knew more about numismatics than I did. I told Bill how well I did on the deal, and his only reply was, “Good for you.” (He still didn’t give a hoot that he’d dumped $1,280.00 worth of world coins on me for forty bucks. It wasn’t worth his time to mess with them, he said.)
Oh, yeah- icing on the cake- I got four or five hundred more bucks out of the rest of that box of foreign “junk”, though it took me another two years or so to get it, and I sold the coins well below catalog.
The morals of this rambling tale:
1) Never turn up your nose at “foreign junk”, just because you personally aren’t into it. It’s a potential gold mine, not to mention educational and fun. Plus the coins are interesting and beautiful. Even if you don’t collect it, you can cherry pick it, sell it, and buy stuff that DOES interest you. “The Dark Side” beckons, folks! But it does require some patience. And the right books. Which brings me to the next point…
2) Money spent on reference books is never wasted, even if you don’t end up using the books much. A few months before all these trades, I had spent $120.00 on the ANA Centennial special hardcover editions of the Krause catalogs, which covered basically every world coin from 1701 up in two volumes. At the time, that was the most comprehensive coverage available in a single publication, and the books represented a huge sacrifice for me considering my poverty. It paid for itself many, many times over, though. Without the Krause, I wouldn’t have known what I had.