Seventy-Three Years of Coin Collecting
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by Jay Dare

(Editor’s Note: I received the following written article from Jay when he presented the major portion of it as the program during our June 1996 meeting. I say major portion because he didn’t have time to finish the rest of it during the meeting program – so here it is now in it’s entirety. He had originally titled it “60 Years of…”, which had later been crossed out and replaced with “70 Years” and later still “73 Years”. Perhaps this may tell you how long Jay’s been working on this. Anyway, I always enjoyed hearing Jay talk about his many fascinating experiences and I hope you’ll take as much pleasure from his article as I have.)

My first introduction to coins would be approximately 1923 at the tender age of 12, which would be 73 years ago. To occupy my time while ill, my mother gave me a few shiny new cents dated 1922 suggesting that it would be nice to save a new one coming out each year. Fine idea, but the first hot July day an ice cream cone was more desirable than a few shiny cents. Now I wonder, were any of those cents 1922 plain or were they 1922 D?

Next introduction to coin collecting was around 1925 when my father, who was a street car mechanic, removed forty to fifty year old fare boxes that had been bolted down on wooden platforms at hand level for dropping in five cent car tickets or nickels. Somehow a few half dimes, three cent pieces, and 1882-3 dimes had worked their way under the fare boxes from the wooden platform which extended several inches behind the metal and glass encased fare boxes. I assume through the years conductors in making change for a fare left such coins on the extended platform intending to pocket them at the end of the daily run. Probably the rocking and shaking of those old time street cars jiggled the small thin coins under the bolted down fare boxes and there was no way once could retrieve them until forty years later when Dad unbolted the boxes. The coins were the start of my type collection.

About that time I had an early morning paper route and at the end I sold morning papers at the end of the street car line. There was one conductor who exchanged Lincoln cents for any and all Indian cents I had. He spent his time before the next run looking at Indian cents and Buffalo nickels. I told my father about his peculiar way and Dad said, “Stay clear of him as he is a little off his rocker.” Dad said he knew the conductor and one day asked him why he kept starring at the Buffalo nickels and Indian head cents. The conductor replied that he wanted to see if he could make the buffalo jump. From then on I looked upon the man as being an eccentric nut and avoided the exchanging of Lincoln and Indian cents. Neither I nor my Dad knew the man evidently was a coin collector.

A year or two later while approaching a busy main street corner I hit a tin can setting on a low retaining wall and was surprised to find ten or fifteen Indian cents underneath the can. Since they were of different dates I decided to keep them instead of buying a pack of cigarettes. I guess that was the beginning of my Indian cent collection which twenty or twenty-five years later I traded in as down payment of $45 to a coin dealer toward a complete uncirculated set of Indian heads at a cost of $145. The 1877 was only fine as the dealer told me it was impossible to locate an uncirculated 1877.

Several years later, George Bennett and I, while handling the Los Angeles Coin Club auctions, got into a discussion with Bob Heller, an old time vest pocket dealer, about the price of an uncirculated 1877 against a proof 1877. Bob stated Mr. Sam Koppel, a dealer in the Meritt Building, had a proof 1877 at $35 while an uncirculated would run around $75 to $100. Early next morning I phoned Mr. Koppel to inquire about his proof 1877 Indian head cent. His reply was that, yes he wanted $35 for it and inquired, “What goes on, as you are the third one to call about it this morning?” He followed up with, “First one here gets it.” Not taking time to shower, shave or eat breakfast I headed down town from Hollywood. Fortunately I was first and purchased it. As I was about to leave, Bob Heller came in to buy. “Too late Bob; I beat you to it.” As I got off the elevator on the first floor, who was waiting to go up but George Bennett!

On my way back to Hollywood I stopped to show a friend my latest buy and offered to sell him my fine 1877 for the prevailing price of $18, with a promise that if he did not wish to keep it I would buy it back from him at any time for $18. As the years went on I asked him if he wished to return it to me for $18, and of course the answer was no. Years later he sold it for something like $150 or $200.

I was very proud of my uncirculated Indian head cent collection with the $35 proof 1877. The total cost to me was $145 plus $35 for a total of $180.

By 1951 I had what I considered a rather impressive coin collection cataloguing at around $1,500. In the collection was an 1883 twenty dollar gold piece which I acquired from a lady friend who refused to take more than face value for it. Also had a three dollar gold piece which cost me $18; five and ten, and two and one-half dollar gold pieces, none costing me much over face value. Wrote to several dealers in the east offering to sell the entire collection to them at $1,500. Only one took me up on my offer. In attempting to ship them Railway express they were unable to quote me a shipping and insurance rate because of the gold coins. I happened to be in Pasadena and knew and had bought from Sam Kabelo, a coin dealer on Colorado Boulevard. I stopped in to ask his advice concerning the shipping. He said, “Why go to that trouble and expense?” “I conduct auctions, and why not let me have an auction exclusively of your coins.” I said I had little faith in auctions as one could be low-balled. Sam assured me that with his method of auctioning I’d surely come out about the same as I would if I sent them off to Mr. French in New Hampshire. Same told me the auction would be set up in a month or two. I left the box of coins with him. About a month or so later, members of the Los Angeles Coin Club spoke of my coins coming up the following Sunday. I knew nothing about it. I immediately tried to get in touch with Sam Kabelo. His son-in-law informed me that Sam was on a vacation, but would be back in time for the auction. I informed him I had not received a catalog and he sent me one immediately. Sunday came and probably fifty people attended. When my complete set of Buffalo nickels came up (minus the 1937 three legged which I sold years later) the bidding started at $12, then 13-14-15-16-18. I then bid $20 on my own collection because I considered the collection worth much more, even though I knew I only had $16 tied up in it (year later I sold the set for $250 – still minus the 1937 three legged.) Of course, I had to pay fifteen percent auction commission to get it back. Sam offered the complete set of Indian head cents at a starting price of $400. No bidders. Then he offered it at individual coins. It sold at $465. The 1877 proof brought $64.50. Next was sixty-five silver dollars, circulated and various dates – most of them I had gotten at face value and a few cost me $3-5 each. Big-hearted Sam let the $65 face value go for $65. Later on, when I groaned to Sam about it, he said there was no market for circulated dollars of any date, but to please me he would not charge me the fifteen percent auction commission on the sixty-five dollars. Very considerate of him. When the sale was totaled up I received about $1,400.

Ten years later I met Sam at a coin convention and he inquired whether or not he had sold an 1877 proof Indian head cent of min ten years previous, and if so, what did he sell it for? I informed him, “$64.50.” He then told me that a month before he was the auctioneer of a coin collection in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and an 1877 proof in one of his printed envelopes cam up and did I want to know what he sold it for? I said, “Yes.” The answer was $1,100. Nowadays, I believe an uncirculated set of Indian heads have a price of around $8,000-10,000.

In 1946 I attended my first big auction and was intent on putting together a silver dollar set. A number of uncirculated silver dollars were hammered down to me at $1.50 to $3.50 – common dates. I had my eye on a proof 1895 which had an estimated price of $85 in the catalog. Having never paid more than $5 or $10 for any silver coin previously, I stopped at $50 and it sold for $85. I do not believe you can touch same today at less than $13,000 or more – someone has said more likely $25,000. It was the Adolph Menjou auction. Having worked with him in my movie days, I desired to own some of his collection.

Somewhere around 1960 or so, I came to the conclusion I could never afford a 1794 silver dollar in any condition, so since early 1795’s were the same design as the 1794, I started bidding whenever one was in a catalog at $125. All mail bids as none ever came up in a Los Angeles auction. One day I received a small catalog from a Cleveland Auction Company. Never heard of them, but put in my usual $125 bid and forgot about it. A month later I received a short letter from them and a statement, “please remit $126.50 for Lot #(?).” Since I never heard of them I got on the phone and gave their number to the operator, requesting that I wanted to reverse the charges. A young lady answered and the operator said a Mr. Dare of Los Angeles, California wishes to talk to Mr. So-and-so – reverse charges. I heard his voice saying, “I don’t know any Mr. Dare in Los Angeles and will NOT accept the call!” Quickly I said, “You tell HIM I owe him $126.50.” Quickly he picked up his phone and politely said, “Yes, Mr. Dare, what can I do for you?” I said, “Look, I have your statement that I received lot number so-and-so on your recent auction; now I never heard of you and you never heard of me, but I’ll promise to go to the bank and get a certified check in the sum of $126.50 and mail it today if you will do the same by mailing me that coin today.” “Oh yes, Mr. Dare, I’ll do that,” he replied. “By the way,” he continued, “I have some very nice three dollar gold pieces at bargain prices.” “Don’t talk gold pieces to me,” I finished, “as I’ve never paid $126.50 for any coin till today; so forget the three dollar gold.” A few days later I received the 1795. It grades VG+ and today’s Coin World trends is $1000.

Later on I acquired the 1795 Type II for the sum of $30 and a roll of 1955 half dollars which originally cost me $20. The dealer accepted them at $120 and the $30 cash for the coin. Today the coin is worth $1200.

Somewhere in the 1960’s I acquired at a Los Angeles Coin Club auction an 1893S silver dollar for $12.50. A year or two later a collector inquired if I had one for sale and I sold it to him for $17.50, making myself $5 profit. In 1981 I was bidding on all big auctions a flat $1350 for F or VF 1893S dollars to complete my Morgan dollar collection. At the one and only VIP auction held in Las Vegas by A. Mark of Beverly Hills, one was knocked down to me at $1,100 plus $66 sales tax. That I resented, but was informed that as a California resident and since the company was a California corporation, I had to pay the sales tax. I went to the Beverly Hills office of A. Mark and examined it closely before paying such a price. I estimated it to be in Fine grade and had it slabbed last year. It came back VF which lists in Grey Sheet at $875 bid, $1,000 ask; Coin World trends is $1,350.

In 1980 I only needed five scarce dollars to complete my collection. Four of them I acquired at George Bennett’s monthly auctions at $250 to $375 – all graded by Murray Singer. I was paying 1980 prices. It wasn’t until a few years later when Wayne Miller came out with his encyclopedia on Morgan and Peace dollars I was able to ascertain that Murray was a little generous in his grading. He resented my criticizing him on what I and many others say he gave a higher grade than what the coins were. On today’s market, those four are quoted at half of what I paid.

When I completed the Morgan and Peace dollar collection in 1981, my collection was (according to Coin World and Numismatic News) worth around $25,000. Fifteen were definitely MS-65. Since then, because grading standards have tightened those fifteen are now MS-63. Some of my 1980 MS-63’s are now MS-60-61-62’s. If I put my collection up for auction nowadays, I doubt that it would sell for more than $10,000 to $12,000. I’d still be ahead as I figure I tied up no more than $4,000 on it in the nineteen years it took to complete. All common dates were bought uncirculated from Harry Forman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at $1.10, $1.25 and $1.50. Back at that time the U.S. Treasury was releasing bags at face value. Harry bought twenty or thirty bags at face value. He ran full page ads in Coin World selling three of a date and mint mark at those low prices.

I always desired to own an 1804 silver dollar, but realized I could not afford one. So I decided I’d like to have a replica, or better yet an 1803 which had been altered to 1804 or perhaps a counterfeit. Such things exist, but no dealer will admit having one to sell. Slim Dunbar of Slim Pickens sold me an 1804 replica for $2. It wouldn’t fool anyone as it is of pot metal and poorly stamped. I carried it as a pocket piece in a bezel. One day in a restaurant, two men sitting at the counter next to me were discussing a newspaper article about an 1804 selling for $25,000. It was obvious to me that they knew nothing about coin collecting. As I finished eating and picked up my check I pulled out my replica, handed it to them and said, “Is this the date you’re talking about?” They looked at it, looked at me and said, “How did you get that?” “Oh, my grandfather got it from his father and he decided to give it to me, and in memory of dear old granddad I carry it as a pocket piece,” I replied. I then took back my 1804, paid my check and walked out leaving them aghast at seeing an 1804 they had read about.

When Murray Singer ran a wholesale route of coin supplies, he knew of a dealer on Wilshire Boulevard who stated that he had an 1804 for sale at a certain price. That’s all Murray knew. I phoned the dealer and made the inquiry as to whether it was true. Oh yes, said he. How much, I asked? Five hundred dollars, was his reply. Okay, I’ll come from the San Fernando Valley to see it, I finished. I went, and upon entering his store I saw two customers. The dealer came to me and I told him I had phoned earlier. He went to his big safe, brought out a beautiful plush case, opened it and set it before me, then went back to his customers in the rear of the store. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There before me was the twin of my $2 1804 silver dollar replica. When the dealer was through with his two customers and they left he came forward to me. I said politely, “How much did you say for this 1804?” “Five hundred dollars,” was his answer. I opened my hand and said, “Well, how much will you give me for mine?” He snapped the beautiful plush case shut and said, “Twenty-five cents!”, and walked back to the safe in a huff. I stood up and upon leaving said, “That is more like it!”

In 1934 after four years of being out of work more times than working (due to the depression) the company finally had steady employment for me at $12 a week. Upon receiving my first pay check I went to the nearest bank to cash it. The teller asked how I wanted the cash and I replied, “Eleven in ones – two quarters and one half.” He broke open a half dollar roll and out poured bright shiny half dollars – something I had not seen in several years as the government did not make new half dollars since 1929. I said, “Let’s have one of those brand new ones.” As I recall, he said you can have the whole roll if you wish. My reply was, “What would I do with all those coins weighing down my pocket?” As I left the bank I decided to save the first new half dollar as the beginning of a savings account. I wrapped it in a strip of toilet paper to preserve it in brand new condition. While I do not have the first dollar I ever earned I do have the first half dollar I ever saved – here it is. I put it in a leather pouch with the odd lot of half dimes, dimes and three cent pieces my father gave me years before. In 1936 I came to California leaving my so-called coin collection with my mother for safe keeping, since I did not know when or where or if I’d find a job in California. After establishing myself in a steady job I wrote to my mother to send me my small coin collection. Her reply was she couldn’t remember where she hid it for safe keeping. Seven years later she found it and sent it. In opening the leather pouch, I found the half dollar still wrapped in toilet tissue and when I unwrapped it the half dollar was as black as coal with tarnish and not the so-called toning. I could barely make out the date and mint mark – 1933S. I bought the newly published Redbook to find that an uncirculated 1933S was listed at one and a half million made and now listed at $17. Was I surprised as I did not know that modern day coinage sold at a premium. Upon inquiry I was informed that if one made a solution of baking soda in water one could remove the tarnish. With several dips and rubbing with a soft cloth I finally had a nice brilliant new 1933S half dollar.

I decided to start a half dollar collection. Through the years I saw my lovely 1933S go up to $350. Years later I took some silver dollars to Bowers & Ruddy on Wilshire Boulevard to be appraised as to condition. Showed Bowers my prize 1933S half dollar which was the keystone of my entire collection, and stated it catalogued at $350 in MS-60. Bowers looked closely at it and said slyly, “Jay, what did you use to wipe $300 from this coin?; it is now ‘about uncirculated’, worth $50.” I still have it, even though I acquired over a period of twenty years the entire run from 1916 to 1947 of Walking Liberty half dollars at a cost of about $400. Sold the set, minus the 1933S, close to $5,000. Hannes Tulving paid me $3,350 for the short set of 1941 to 1947. One year later I put up $2,500 on a Hannes Tulving special offer and lost all when he went belly up. That is another story. And I’m now finished with my ups and downs of coin collecting covering neigh on seventy-three years.


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