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Coin show offers insight to an interesting hobby

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[June 24, 2014]  LINCOLN - Why do coin collectors collect coins? For Dean Baker of Lincoln the answer is pretty simple, “Coins tell us about history.” Baker was just one of several coin collectors who participated in the Railsplitter Coin Show at Jefferson Street Church on Saturday.

Taking place in the fellowship center, the area was filled with tables of coins, paper money, and unique collectibles. Those who were participating included several members of the local club plus collectors from the Springfield and Bloomington clubs.

Around the room, most of the participants said they collected as a hobby, but there were a couple of interesting businesses there as well.

Mike and Joey Johnson are second generation coin dealers from Rochester. The business was started by their dads who are twins, Pat and Mike Johnson. The family owned, Dollars & Cents Coin Shop, deals in a variety of coins and they also do coin grading.

Mike said he’d been doing grading for about three years, and Joey started about a year ago. He said grading coins is an important part of valuing a coin, and making a mistake can be very costly; so one learns quickly how to do it right.

One of the most expensive coins brought to the show by the Johnson's, an 1813 liberty head, large cent, priced at $3,600. Mike said its value came from the fact that it is a very rare coin on today’s market. The unique thing about this old coin is its size. Few may know that the original one-cent pieces were as large as, or larger, than today’s silver dollars.

Another interesting item the coin shop had on hand was the concave baseball glove issued to commemorate the Baseball Hall of Fame. The special made gold piece was purchased by order. According to the Railsplitter Coin Club newsletter, the demand for the piece is exceeding the mints' ability to supply, so many are still on backorder. With a limited edition coin or commemorative, the value can go up based on its lack of availability. On this particular piece, which is cast in gold, the value will also fluctuate with the price of gold. Mike pointed out this particular piece has a very small amount of gold. For the gold alone, he said the piece is only worth about $400.

Another interesting business at the show was Steve’s Coin Rings of Pawnee. When collectors sell coins, they often put several together in “lots." In the lot, there may be 2, 3 or 4 great coins that have value, but there will be that many or more that are more-or-less junk coins. Dealers do this intentionally, pairing good coins with bad ones knowing that buyers will pay based on the good coins, and the seller will be able to get rid of some of his junk.

Steve Kern has come up with a way to create something out of nothing, by turning his junk coins into rings. He explained that the rings are made by working and shaping the coins while preserving the images on them. He said he doesn’t apply any heat to the coin to form it, so when he’s finished, one can still see what coin the ring used to be. He pointed out the details of one ring, showing that the outside of the ring was the face of the coin while, on the inside of the back, one could still see what would have been the back side.

Around the room, many of the others showing coins said they did it just as a hobby because they like coins. Included among those was Logan County resident Bill Haak, former fire chief with the city of Lincoln. Haak was busy talking with visitors at his booth, but did take time to point out his 2011 Olympics commemorative.

Carl Borngasser and his wife run Carl’s Coins in Fairbury. Borngasser said having a lucky coin in your pocket isn’t always a good idea. Looking at an 1881 cent, he pointed out that over time the ‘lucky’ coin has been worn down, and is now decreased in value. If one wants a coin to carry in their pocket, there is nothing wrong with that, but as a collector, that would never be done.

Mark and Kirk (no last name given) are hobbyists. They collect coins as well as paper. Mark offered up a piece of advice to would-be collectors -- "never, ever, clean a coin."

Kirk is interested in paper money and was happy to show off and explain a silver certificate. Back when paper money was coming into play, many people didn’t want it. They preferred the jingle-jangle of coins in their pockets. So the first bills printed were not dollars; they were silver certificates. When someone was given a silver certificates, it meant they could take it to the bank and exchange it for silver coins. Of course, they could also use the notes to make purchases. Eventually, the practice of exchanging paper for merchandise caught on and the silver notes evolved into dollar bills.

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In addition, “way back when,” banks issued their own currency. Local banks printed bank notes that were dollar equivalent. He pointed out one such bank note he has in his collection that is from a bank in Boston. He said one of the neat things about the bank note is the artistry involved. Each bank designed their own notes, and they were works of art in their own right.

Another collector from Springfield was Sue Wilson. Wilson enjoys collecting pressed coins. Pressed coins are souvenirs that can be purchased at many tourist attractions around the country. Typically the buyer will insert a quarter into a hand operated press. He or she can then crank out their own souvenir penny, which will come out paper thin with an image of the tourist attraction.

Richard Pearce, who is the president of the Railsplitter Club, collects foreign coins. Foreign coins he said are not made out of precious metals like American coins are. Because of this they often feel much lighter than a domestic coin. One of the most interesting aspects of foreign coins is in their unique shapes. While all domestic coins, with the exception of the Susan B. Anthony dollar are round; foreign coins come in a wide variety of shapes.

Pearce also collects old bank bags. Among the items he had on display, and for sale on Saturday was a drawstring bag from the First National Bank in Lincoln. For those who may not know, the bank was located downtown at the corner of Pulaski and Kickapoo Streets, in what is now the burned out remnants of the Oasis Senior Center.

The bag carries an image of the building as it looked when it was first built.

Perhaps the person with the largest collection at the show was Lincolnite Dean Baker. Baker has been collecting and studying money for over 50 years.

He has in his collection some of the modern coins, such as the state quarters. These coins he said are not valuable. He explained the coins were mass produced, and everyone wanted and kept the coins when they got them. Because there is such a high number of them on the market now, none of them are worth a great deal. Only time will tell if the coins will increase in value. What it would take for that to happen would be for several who now hold uncirculated coins to give up and spend them. Circulated coins are not as valuable as uncirculated. Therefore, if over the years the number of uncirculated coins drops, the value will rise.

Sometimes that happens, and sometimes it doesn’t. Baker pointed out that the bicentennial quarters issued in 1976, almost 40 years ago, are still worth very little to a collector.

Baker said that for him the joy of collecting coins is that they show our nation’s history. “It is a great way to learn history, especially when there was a war involved.” He pointed out that in 1943, the penny was made of steel because the copper was needed for the war effort. In 1964 silver money became silver coated with a less expensive metal sandwiched in because the value of silver was higher than the face value of the coin.

The Railsplitter Coin Club in Lincoln has been active since the 1950’s and currently has approximately 40 members. They hold monthly meetings at Friendship Manor and are always ready to welcome new members.

The meetings include coin auctions, a white elephant sale, membership drawings, a 50/50 drawing, and opportunities to buy, sell, and trade coins. The club meets on the third Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m.


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