DANVILLE — If you have old silver dollars, don’t even think about polishing them.
In fact, you should take them — and any other collectible currency you have lying around — to your bank safe deposit box.
Then, go through any change you have and look for quarters, half dollars or dimes that pre-date 1964, because the coins contain more silver than modern ones.
Sound like some last-ditch defenses against a pending economic apocalypse?
Maybe for some.
But for coin collectors, this is just what they do.
Numismatics is the study of coins and other currency. The passion for the study began organizing locally a half century ago.
The local group of numismatic fanatics, the Danville Coin Club, celebrates its 50th anniversary this fall.
President Barbara Russian’s first piece of advice for anyone who has some old coins is to leave them alone — because their value goes down if their patina is polished off.
“Dealers are very particular,” Russian said. “Reproductions are everywhere.”
The club now has a record number of members — about 30, who meet once a month every month except August and October.
Much of the renewed popularity in coin collecting has come from the issuance of the state quarters.
The youngest member of the club is six years old. The oldest and last founding club member, Ray Vanbuskirk, is 93.
Russian joined the club about 20 years ago, and has been president for nearly as long.
Among her favorite parts of her collection include a gold certificate from the 1800s, which she paid about $20 for.
The auctioneers she purchased it from didn’t realize its true value.
“They thought it was play money,” she said.
But the un-circulated certificate, which is real, is now valued at $700.
Russian’s collection also contains Confederacy paper money and an 1863 Civil War token.
She’s got several un-circulated proof set collections of coins, including a collection of every minted coin that was released in the 20th century.
She also has several large pennies.
The coins, which are bigger than today’s quarters, were used in the early 19th century.
Her knowledge of the one-cent pieces doesn’t end there.
She also has Indian head pennies, which stopped circulation in 1905 and steel pennies from the World War II era, as well as the 1909 wheat pennies.
Russian, like the founding members, collects because she loves the history behind the coins.
“There’s so much we don’t know,” she said.
Often when she looks over her collection, she wonders who held the money and what they did with it — did they save it or spend it? she asks.
Some collectors collect because they want to profit from the older coins and take advantage of precious metal prices, she said.
Many people give proof sets — un-circulated coins — as graduation, birthday or wedding gifts, because they commemorate a special year in a person’s life.
But Russian advises people against believing television commercials that claim the U.S. mint opened a vault and is offering a limited number of valuable coins: “If it sounds too good to be true, it is,” she said.
You’re much more likely to find valuables at pawn shops or coin shows, she added.
Coin collecting includes currency of any kind, which can be from other countries, or even tokens such as those from the Chicago World’s Fair or common milk tokens.
“Those are all considered numismatics,” Russian said.
She encourages anyone who wants to learn about collecting to come to a club meeting, or do some research at the library.
Collectors should have honest information about what their coins are worth, she said.
The club began in October 1958 when founding members including Art Nichols, then a Steak N Shake restaurant manager and Doug Six, who was the Danville postmaster, decided to formally join together area coin collectors.
The Danville numismatists formed their bylaws, which were drawn up by member Adrian L. Lawwill, an attorney.
The purpose of the club, according to the document, “is to encourage and promote the science of numismatics.”
In the early days, their connections weren’t limited to legal advice.
Six knew some friendly bankers in Indianapolis who let local coin club members raid their silver dollar collections.
Six and Nichols were allowed to fill a canvas bank bag with $1,000 worth of silver dollars they purchased, take them home, go through their treasure to find the best silver dollars — which at that time were 90 percent silver — and sell back the dollars they didn’t want at face value to the bank.
Six and Nichols would sell the highest grade silver dollars at coin shows for a profit.
And so it began.
Every month, the club would meet on the third Monday of every month. Members continue the tradition today. The club doesn’t meet in August or October.
October is reserved for an annual coin show held the first Sunday of the month annually.
Last Sunday, the show, which was at the American Legion, featured 10 dealers and more than 100 attendees.
JoAnn Nichols, Art’s wife, said the original group was all men.
Women didn’t join at that time, she said.
Today, many women are a big part of the club’s membership.
JoAnn is still a supporter.
Both women are proud they’ve continued the tradition the founding members started so long ago.
“I think they’d be pleased that we’ve continued,” Russian said.
COME AS YOU ARE — WITH YOUR COINS
The next meeting of the Danville Coin Club will be at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Danville Public Library. Anyone interested in joining the club or learning about coin collecting is welcome to attend. New members attend one meeting, and may become members at the next meeting. For additional information, see http://www.danvillecoinclub.org.
DANVILLE — If you have old silver dollars, don’t even think about polishing them.
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