A few months after becoming editor of Coin World in 1985,
I answered my phone at work one morning and heard a woman’s voice
proclaiming, almost in a demanding voice: “I need to know what to do
with these coins.”
Occasionally in the editorial offices we would receive phone calls
from people mistakenly believing Coin World to be the name of
a coin shop, so we had a standard reply suggesting that would-be
buyers or sellers contact our advertisers.
Before I could finish, “Coin World is a weekly publication. We do
not buy or sell, …” she cut me off.
“I KNOW Coin World is a publication,” she said. “And you’re the
A little stunned, and certainly intrigued, I acknowledged that,
yes, I was the editor. And then asked, “So how can I help you?”
“Well, I certainly need help,” she said. But this time her voice
was mellow, almost apologetic. “You probably think I’m crazy. But I
just didn’t know who else to call.” And then she began to share her story.
Her husband of 28 years had died quite suddenly about a year
earlier. He had been a coin collector and started subscribing to
Coin World in 1962. He read every issue the day it arrived
in his mailbox and would never let her discard a single issue. They
had had a modest, but good life. He had worked for the same company
all of his working years. She had worked two jobs in recent years to
help pay off their mortgage.
After her husband died, she had found some silver dollars and some
Wheat cents in a small safe in their home and assumed that was his
collection. She had never been interested in coins and had never
really talked about coins with him. Within the past month payment due
notices for safety deposit boxes addressed to her husband had arrived
in the mail. There were seven in total, all from banks within an
hour’s drive of their home. She began to search her house and to her
surprise found an envelope containing seven keys identified by bank.
Visits to each bank revealed safety deposit boxes filled with gold coins.
“I don’t know a thing about coins. I don’t know who to talk to. In
fact, I’m scared to tell anybody that I even have these gold coins!”
The world technologically was much different then. Professional
third-party grading services were in their infancy. The Internet was
just a few years old and creation of the World Wide Web was a few
years away. The most readily available tool was the venerable “Red
Book,” which I suggested she use to identify the coins and create an
inventory list; then use Coin World Trends to estimate
values. Several years later the coins were sold at auction and she
received enough for a very comfortable retirement.
While not everyone who has reached out to me has learned the coins
they have inherited are of great value, their stories were remarkably
similar. They knew very little about the coins and they were
apprehensive about selling them, fearing that they would be “taken” by buyers.
Ironically, as more information becomes available via books and
the Web, the more isolated and secretive many collectors tend to be,
and the pattern repeats. They enjoy collecting and don’t want to think
about the “what ifs” of life.
I wrote Cash in Your Coins: Selling the Rare Coins You’ve
Inherited especially for those who have inherited a collection or
have been the recipient of some numismatic collectibles. Hopefully it
will help them to confidently make good decisions and reap the
benefits their loved ones intended. (The book is available at www.whitman.com.)
Beth Deisher was editor of Coin World from 1985 to April
2012. She received the American Numismatic Association’s Farran Zerbe
Memorial Award in 2010.