Though Aristophanes’ and Shakespeare’s plays have been staged for centuries, they never had the reach of television in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. In the days before cable, the three main television channels pretty much split the nation. If a person wasn’t watching NBC, he was watching CBS or ABC. The most popular shows in the era drew as many as 100 million viewers. Today popular shows are happy to hit 20 percent of that number.
For the next five weeks, I’m going to highlight shows from the golden age of television that featured coins in pivotal roles.
No. 1: The Mickey Mouse Club, Oct. 1, 1956
The Mickey Mouse Club was must-see TV for baby boomers in the 1950s. Every school day afternoon Walt Disney’s mouse led a parade to start the show, which featured dancing and singing Mouseketeers, words of wisdom from Head Mouseketeer Jimmie Dodd and a really old cartoon or a serial adventure.
One of the serials, The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure, revolved around a missing pirate treasure and enthralled a generation of budding collectors.
Each of the 19 10-minute episodes began with a pirate-ish theme song backing bony hands ruffling through a treasure chest filled with coins.
The theme song jauntily stated the serial’s premise: a pirate treasure that had been handed down to Bayport’s Silas Applegate had gone missing.
“Gold doubloons and pieces of eight, handed down to Applegate? From buccaneers who fought for years for gold doubloons and pieces of eight. Handed down in a pirate chest, the gold they sailed for east and west. The treasure bright that made men fight, till none were left to bury the chest. So now the gold and pieces of eight all belong to Applegate. The chest is here but wait ... now where are those gold doubloons and pieces of eight?”
The story is a reimagining of the Hardy Boys mystery, The Tower Treasure. Applegate’s pirate chest has been missing for a decade when Frank and Joe Hardy stumble across a gold doubloon. Over the next few weeks, the boys follow red herrings and real clues to eventually end up in an old water tower with a couple villains. After a fight in which the bad guys fall through the tower’s rotten floor, the boys celebrate the discovery of the treasure chest.
The treasure chest appears to be filled with stage coins showing a portrait surrounded by stars on the obverse and a sold line on the back. The one real coin shown – the one the boys stumble across - is a lustrous 1808 Mexico City gold 8 escudos showing Ferdinand VII on the obverse and the Spanish coat of arms on the reverse. A common coin, the piece retails for about $2,250 in Extra Fine condition.
Next: Dennis the Menace