- On May 24, 2016
How do people get started collecting coins?
There are many ways, of course. Receiving an old penny in change. Coming across a newer coin you haven’t seen before, such as one of the special 25-cent pieces issued to honor the 50 states of the union. Seeing a TV news report or reading a newspaper article about the discovery of a hoard of buried gold coins or a sunken Spanish galleon laden with treasure.
In my case, the spark was ignited by my grandfather, Red Lievens, when I was a youngster growing up in Louisiana. Starting when I was just 7, in 1962, Grandpa Lievens – nicknamed “Red” for the color of his hair – gave me a dollar every time I got an “A” on my report card.
The dollars grandpa gave me weren’t paper bills bearing George Washington’s portrait. I had no complaints as they were much more special: Grandpa would go to the bank and exchange his dollar bills for silver dollars – something people could still do at that time. He would give me one of these fascinating coins – which I later learned were Morgan dollars – for every “A” on my report card.
I was intrigued by these popular old coins and set out to learn more about them. Were they genuine or were they counterfeit? What were they worth? This started me on the path to a lifetime of pleasure in a hobby that’s a source of endless satisfaction and knowledge.
As time goes by, I’m more and more impressed by my grandfather’s intuitive understanding that precious metal coins always trump paper money of equal face value. The dollar bills he took to the bank are still worth a dollar apiece. But the silver dollars for which he exchanged them are now worth $27 each, even in worn condition.
Thinking about Grandpa Red’s wisdom and kindness fills me with nostalgia for the way things used to be. I find myself remembering that great song by the Judds, “Grandpa, Tell Me ’Bout the Good Old Days.” It won a Grammy in 1986 for Best Vocal Performance by a duo or group, was a No. 1 Country and Western hit and gave voice to Americans’ longing – even then – for the kinder, gentler way of life they’d known in days gone by:
Grandpa, everything is changing fast
We call it progress, but I just don’t know
And grandpa, let’s wander back into the past
And paint me the picture of long ago
“Grandpa,” as this song is sometimes simply – and fondly – recalled, expressed a heartfelt desire to return to traditional American values – marriages that lasted a lifetime, fathers who were steadfast in supporting their children and families that bonded by bowing their heads in prayer. The silver dollars I received from my own grandpa were part of that value system – old-fashioned coins whose worth was completely real, not just symbolic or a fraud.
The dollars grandpa gave me had the desired effect: I studied diligently in order to earn more A’s – and more silver dollars. I studied silver and gold coin values and counterfeit detection. As a bonus, I discovered a tremendously fulfilling avocation and vocation that has brightened my life ever since.
If you have children, grandchildren or other youngsters who are special to you, I urge you to follow my grandfather’s example by giving them something with intrinsic value next time there’s a reason to celebrate. You can’t get silver dollars for a dollar apiece any more, but chances are they’ll still go up in value a lot faster than today’s dollar bills.
Come to think of it, Grandpa Red also deserves a great big “A” on the report card of his life!