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Your next treasure could be right in your pocket

The change in your pocket, purse or home jars could be worth much more than the sum of its contents at face value, a fact that residents can put to the test on Sunday during a coin show in Norwich.

There are “absolutely” rare coins in circulation, said John Lauderdale, 56, president of the Pawcatuck Valley Coin Club, organizer of the show, who admitted at a July meeting that the hobby of collecting coins, paper currency, tokens and medals (numismatics) is addicting.

The New London resident shared that he once bought a bag of wheat pennies (wheat stalks on back of coin made before 1959) for about 2.5 cents each.

“I find a 1941 and noticed that ‘In God We Trust’ and ‘Liberty’ are there twice,” which is referred to as a “double dye.”

After sending it off to be evaluated, Lauderdale discovered that it’s “the only one that’s ever been graded in that condition. And it’s worth between $600 and $800.”

Lauderdale said it was like hitting the lottery, because they made almost a billion wheat pennies that particular year, and he found one of about a dozen examples of those that are valuable.

“I have coins that John Adams or Washington himself could have had in their hand. I don’t have the pedigree with the coin that says that. But it’s that history of we were just getting started as a country and this is what we had,” he said.

Lauderdale described a dramatic story that happened two years ago at the club’s last coin show. “A gentleman walks in with a George Clinton token. He didn’t know if it was real or what it was or anything.” A man with a grading services company that was with the club’s show told him, “‘If this is real, it’s very valuable.’” After the gentleman sent it in to be authenticated, he learned it was real and sold it in New York City “for a quarter of a million dollars.”

What is interesting and collected depends on its “rarity and mystique,” Lauderdale said.

Some Roman coins made thousands of years ago “are commonplace and not worth a lot, while some Roman coins are worth a huge amount because of the history behind that particular emperor, or a battle that took place, or the fact that only a couple of those have ever been found,” Lauderdale said.

Lauderdale’s advice for novices is to pick something you can afford and enjoy “and focus just on that, because you can get too overwhelmed by looking at all the different coins that are out there.” He added that “how you handle the coin is just as important” as the condition of the coin and its rarity, which is why they’re packaged in cardboard and cellophane.

Pointing to coins he just purchased, he said, “This is packaged to keep you from putting your fingers on it because a fingerprint is just as damaging, maybe not now, but 10, 15 years from now” due to the oils your skin leaves behind. Also, just like with antique tables, Lauderdale said “cleaning coins is a big no-no.” Even if they look ugly, he said, “Please don’t clean them because a rare coin can become” worth substantially less because you decided to make it look better.

Additionally, he urged people to be cautious about buying rare coins on the Internet and to buy a research book and a small, inexpensive scale, so you know how much coins should weigh.

“Understand what you’re buying. If it looks like a good deal on the Internet, as it’s been said with many things, it’s probably counterfeit.”

He said China is the primary source of counterfeited rare and common coins, but individuals in other countries, including the United States, are also involved in this illegal activity.

Coin club member Verne Pitman, 60, of Preston, said coin collecting is his number one hobby “to learn about history” and serves as “an alternate method of saving money. I don’t buy boats and things that depreciate the minute you get it, but I do buy coins that have some chance of having some value to my heirs when I’m gone someday.”

Pitman was displaying his collection of error coins, which involve some kind of mistake in their manufacture that increases their worth over face value. He said he found a couple of coins when he was given change for a purchase.

“I like the decades and the variation of the denominations and the colors of the coins, particularly commemoratives, which are 50 cent pieces made mostly in 1936. They represent most of the states and they just have very nice designs,” said Grace Barbone of Pawcatuck, who has served as club treasurer, secretary and annual show coordinator.

Club Vice President and former president Larry Erhart of Ledyard displayed during a July meeting obsolete bank notes (paper money) made by New London, Stonington, Colchester, Killingly and Norwich banks many years ago.

“Norwich had seven banks, because it was a big merchant port” with numerous mills, he said. Before 1865 when the U.S. government began producing money, Erhart said “anybody could issue paper money,” but it wasn’t backed by anything.

“In numismatics you can meet the most remarkable, intelligent, well versed individuals” and “the most specialized experts at coin meetings, seminars, and conventions,” Member Doris Duggan said in an email.

Doris and her husband, Mark, of P & D Currency travel from the Greater Hartford Area to attend the club meetings. “A special community is created when you bring caretakers of numismatic treasures together.”

Lauderdale said members/dealers can help people who inherit coins and want to know their value. “The ethics behind it for us is just as important, so that you understand the value of your coins, so that when you go to sell them, somebody doesn’t take advantage of you. Knowledge is power.”

If a family decides they’re not interested in joining the club, members might buy the currency from them, or connect them with someone who might be interested in buying it.

“When I first started (10 years ago) in numismatic I was often one of a few women and the only black woman at the seminars, conventions, or clubs,” said Doris Duggan, a member of the club’s 60th Anniversary Medal Committee. “Rarely did I see a woman of color. Numismatics is a wonderful hobby and I want more women and people of color to enjoy it.

“Women have and do play key roles in numismatics and I want our 60th anniversary medal to reflect reality.”

“Part of collecting is being able to get out and go to shows and find coins you need for your collection,” Lauderdale said. “So it’s bringing in new people, bringing in old people that we just haven’t seen in a while. It’s getting us back to that normalcy of being able to do the show and not worry about the pandemic looming over us.”

The Pawcatuck Valley Coin Club Show will be held on Sunday, Aug. 1, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Hotel’s Chelsea Rose Room, 10 Laura Blvd. in Norwich. There will be raffles; admission and parking is free. Over 30 dealers will be buying, selling and appraising tokens and foreign money, as well as United States coins and currency, which includes Confederate, Obsoletes, MPC (Military Payment Certificates) Commemoratives, Colonial and certified silver and gold coins.

Club members will be available to assist the public with appraisals. Founded in 1962, the club’s monthly meetings are held in Rhode Island on the third Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Westerly Senior Center at 39 State St. The annual membership fee is $10. For more information, go online to www.pawcatuckvalleycoinclub.org.

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