US Coins

Practice safe ownership

Keep your treasures in a safe deposit box and enjoy them at the same time! The writer uses an inexpensive scanner to do this. Shown are a $10 note of the Bank of Commerce, Belfast, Maine, circa 1855, and a scanned detail.

Image courtesy of author.

No, I am not a fortune teller. In last week’s column, which I wrote in late April when silver was toying with a $45 per ounce price, I concluded with, “Be careful, please! I do like to watch out for my Coin World readers.”

Well, within a week the price of silver plummeted to $35. I am writing this on May 7. Who knows where it will be by the time you read this.

Very disturbing was an account I read last week — saying that much silver that people have been buying is “paper silver” such as contracts and receipts. Real hard-metal silver is harder to find, it seems. This reminds me to urge you that if you invest in silver or gold bullion, take possession of it. And, if you buy coins, take possession of these too.

Rent a safe deposit box or two for your treasure.

A notice, “You have 1,000 ounces of silver in your account,” would not mean much to me.

In the early 1980s an outfit called International Gold Bullion Exchange, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., ran splashy ads in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, proclaiming they were the best and least expensive place to buy gold. The owners of the firm were indicted for grand larceny and intentional securities fraud. It turned out that most of the firm’s customers who were holding “paper gold” in their accounts lost everything.

In another situation a company came up with the bright idea of setting up a commercial vault in which people could store precious items anonymously. A lot of people signed up. Then one day there was a news article stating that the vault had been mysteriously entered over the weekend and many boxes rifled. “We are cooperating with the police,” the president of the company said. So far as I know, no one ever recovered a thing.

Changing my drift slightly, modern technology makes it easy and convenient for you to enjoy your scarce and rare coins, tokens, medals, and paper money while they are in your safe deposit box.

You might check around for other products, but for less than $250 I bought an Epson Perfection V500 Photo scanner — a desktop device that connects to a PC. I scan the things I find interesting to collect — counterstamped coins, obsolete paper money from Maine and New Hampshire, and other stuff — and in a few keystrokes can study and enjoy any item I own.

In fact, for paper money, I scan at 800 to 1,200 dots per inch resolution and can see more details on my computer screen than I could if I held the same note in my hand!

Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached at his private email,, or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.

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