Coins' starring roles in TV shows a pleasant recollection

Published : 05/13/11
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"The $100,000 Nickel," a 1973 episode of Hawaii Five-O featuring a rare 1913 Liberty 5-cent coin, has been mentioned many times in Coin World. But I recall coin-related episodes of other television shows as well, especially from the 1960s.

Coin World readers might enjoy seeing how many of these they remember.

In My Three Sons, youngest son Ernie accuses his brother Chip of taking a 1914-D “penny” from his collection and spending it. He remarks that the coin is worth $37.50.

Don’t you wish you could buy a 1914-D Lincoln cent for that price today, even in low grade? By the end of the program, the coin is found and Chip is exonerated.

Probably more familiar because of frequent reruns is an episode of The Andy Griffith Show. Andy uses an Indian Head 5-cent coin pulled from his desk drawer to teach Barney how easily he can be swindled. Andy says that due to a mistake at the Mint, the buffalo on this particular coin faces the wrong direction, making it a valuable investment. Barney agrees to buy the “error” for $75, but then compares it to a “Buffalo nickel” from his own change and realizes he has been taken.

Interestingly, this show indicates that Indian Head 5-cent coins were still a normal part of pocket change in the early 1960s. I know from personal experience with my school lunch money that by the end of the decade they were seldom encountered.

In Dennis The Menace, one of Dennis’ friends takes a rare “1919-D” dime from Mr. Wilson’s coin collection and puts it into a vending machine for candy. A horrified Mr. Wilson says the dime is worth $100, and attempts to retrieve it by breaking into the machine. He is arrested when a policeman walks up just as he pries the machine open and coins spill out all over the floor.

As a young collector, the numismatic errors in this program disturbed me. I knew the Barber dime shown in a close-up could not possibly be dated 1919. Nor would a 1919-D Winged Liberty Head dime be considered rare or worth $100. I remember thinking that if the show’s creators had consulted anyone who knew about coins, they would have called the dime a 1916-D and shown it as a “Mercury” or Winged Liberty Head type instead of a Barber dime. The story would have seemed much more believable.

One episode of Bonanza is about an armed takeover and attempted robbery of the Carson City Mint. Having toured the real Mint (something I highly recommend for any coin collector), I would say the program’s representation of the building’s exterior, though not entirely accurate, is reasonable. But the interior in the episode was depicted more like a bank than a working Mint. The robbers had to blast open a vault to get to the gold. I don’t recall any mention of silver. Still, it’s fun to imagine all the CC Mint marked coins that Hoss and Little Joe help defend.

A Perry Mason episode involves an 1861 Confederate half dollar, one of four struck. I had some difficulty following the convoluted plot. It involves a coin dealer making counterfeits of rare coins, clandestine exchanges of a fake Confederate half for the real one, and a murder in a coin shop. At one point, detective Paul Drake accidentally uses the rare half dollar (or is it the fake?) when buying cigarettes, but luckily the cigarette girl brings it back for a replacement when she notices it’s not a normal 50-cent piece.

Perhaps Coin World readers can remember more numismatic-themed television episodes.

Dale B. Tuegel of Missouri has been a coin collector for about 45 years. He began collecting in order to have a hobby, to satisfy a requirement for earning a Cub Scout award.

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