US Coins

Coins star on television shows like Dennis the Menace

This is the fourth in a series of articles from Gerald Tebben's cover feature about coins starring in television programs, published in the March 2016 issue of Coin World Monthly. This article is about an episode of Dennis the Menace airing Jan. 17, 1960.

Dennis the Menace, the early 1960s television version of Hank Ketcham’s comic strip, frequently had a numismatic theme. In one episode Dennis (Jay North) can be seen placing cents in a Whitman folder. The writers knew coins, giving a sense of authenticity to the stories.

“Dennis and the Rare Coin” (season 1, episode 15) revolves around a 1907 Indian Head, Rounded Rims, With Periods gold $10 eagle. At the start, Dennis’ long-suffering neighbor, “good old Mr. Wilson (Joseph Kearns),” buys the rare coin from big-time dealer Mr. Hathaway (Michael Fox) for $250. 

Other articles in series:

Meeting at Mr. Wilson’s home, Hathaway baits the hook with a pair of moderately rare coins — a 1909-O Barber quarter dollar and a 1901-S Barber dime in Capitol Plastics holders, but says he has already committed his rarest coin to another collector.

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Mr. Wilson encourages him to pull it out of its velvet bag. Mr. Wilson is ecstatic as he looks at the coin.

“Oh, Great Scott, a 1907 $10 gold piece. Beautiful!” Mr. Wilson says.

Mr. Hathaway says to Mr. Wilson, “Rolled edge. With periods.”

The coin is a notable rarity that comes with a great story, but the Dennis the Menace episode does not go into the coin’s history. Philadelphia Mint Superintendent John Landis said 31,500 were minted but all but about 50 were melted. The coin, an early version of Saint-Gaudens’ design, is a great rarity worth $100,000 and up in Uncirculated condition. 

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The condition of Mr. Wilson’s coin isn’t mentioned, but it gets some rough treatment. Mrs. Wilson inadvertently brushes it onto the floor where Dennis finds it. “Finder’s keepers?” Dennis asks Mrs. Wilson (Sylvia Field). “Loser’s weepers,” she affirms. 

The coin is briefly visible on the floor and is clearly an Indian Head eagle. In a bit of TV discontinuity, the coin turns itself over while it’s on the floor. It falls tails-up, but is face-up when Dennis picks it up.

Dennis puts what he calls his “special penny” in his pocket where it jostles with other coins until he throws it in a wishing fountain. 

When Mr. Wilson and Dennis try to retrieve the coin from the water, they’re arrested and taken to the police station to sort things out. While they’re there, Mr. Hathaway is led in, handcuffed. An officer says coin dealer Hathaway is actually con man John Higgins. “He’s flooding the town with phony old coins,” the officer says.

The episode is online at Hulu and can be viewed at no charge.

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