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South Wellington Coin Society sees history in money

by David Meyer

ROCKWOOD - Quips and jibes ricochet around the room, interspersed with good natured insults, one liners and laughter.

The atmosphere is like a convention for stand-up comics, but the 30-plus people tucked into a meeting room at the Rockwood library are members of the South Wellington Coin Society.

Coin collectors? One might think they are serious, and when it comes to their hobby, they are indeed absorbed in coins, paper money, their history and where they can get a deal.

The club will celebrate its 15th anniversary in 2012, and its 40 members may change, there are always people to take their place; and the atmosphere at meetings probably has something to do with that.

Club president Mike Hollingshead of Guelph, said many enjoy the social aspects, and other clubs are no different. He is in a Stratford club and figured half the members had not bought a coin or note in years. They came for the social part of it, “which is fine.”

The meeting format appears to be loosely structured. Members gather the first Wednesday of the month at 7pm. They look over wares of dealers buying and selling paper money, coins, medallions and other collectibles.

Founding president Scott Douglas, of Acton, said Rockwood was chosen for meeting. There was a club in Guelph, but it folded. Some wanted to continue, but driving was a chore in winter. With members from Acton, Arthur, Guelph, Georgetown and even Ancaster, Rockwood was central. They have been meeting there ever since. And Douglas met a man from Acton through the club who had lived around the corner from him for years. That happens in the club.

Douglas said there is a big difference between collecting money and amassing it.

“In the science of numismatics, you don’t just amass money,” he said. “You learn about the history” of coins. That includes the country, social unrest, wars and even technological trends.

Hollingshead said, “The focus of the club is the study of money.”

He can talk about history for hours. One of his favourite items is Cuban cash, including bills issued in 1961, shortly after Fidel Castro took over that county, and later sold to collectors. They are signed by the president of the Bank of Cuba, one Che Guevara.

Douglas noted, too, sweeping a hand at members taking a refreshment break, “They don’t all collect the same things. I started in coins. Now it’s historic medals. [Hollingshead has] always been involved with Canadian Tire money.”

No matter what the denomination, coin or paper, “You can find somebody in this room who knows something,” he said. One member recently returned from China, where there is a lot of counterfeit money from around the world ready for the unwary. That world traveller brought back a number of samples.

Hollingshead remembered someone brought in an old Israeli coin, and there was a club member from the Middle East who could read Hebrew and Arabic, and could explain what it was.

Everybody is a collector

People might not know it, but they often collect coins. Perhaps they see one in their change and their interest is piqued - so they hold onto it. When the Canadian government issued quarters with poppies in them, probably every Legion member in Canada kept a couple. Instant coin collectors - of a sort of coin.

The South Wellington Coin Society provides a community service a couple of times a year prior to its spring and fall coin shows (the next one is at the Guelph Legion on March 24). Members visit a mall, set up displays and people can bring their oddities in.

“We appraise them for nothing,” said Hollingshead. He and Douglas hold little brief for the buyers and sellers of gold who claim to offer fair prices. He noted one had recently been in the area and offered a woman $5 for some old coins that were worth at least five times that amount. He calls such dealers “bandits.”

Douglas remembers telling one elderly lady at a mall display that she was a coin collector, and that good woman vehemently denied it. But, he said with a smile, she moved down a couple of stalls, pointed to a display, and said to her companion, “Oh, I’ve got a couple of those [coins] at home.”

Getting started

Douglas said the society’s spring and fall coin shows attract huge crowds of dealers and visitors, and he reckons about 90% of those who have coins appraised there later attend the coin club shows.

While the club’s members come from all walks of life and professions, many have a common beginning to collecting. They started by delivering newspapers. In those days, kids had to collect for their papers each week, and each was given a blue Whitman coin holder from the paper. It had slots for all manner of coins, including years of mint and denominations.

Douglas said, “You’d push the coin in.” Paperboys could “get the coins out of your change” to put in a Whitman holder. There was a coin holder available in the club’s auction later that night.

That Whitman coin holder even had a slot for a very rare Canadian 50 cent piece from 1921. Hollingshead said, “It’s a $10,000 coin today.”

Douglas explained the mint decided to melt them down rather than issue them, but a handful got into circulation when people visited the mint and bought them before officials made that decision.

Society member Mel Brown helps to knit that particular story together. He was a youngster with a newspaper route in Guelph, and his family operated a sports store. His family and the Whitman got him started collecting coins. He remembers, “My brother gave me a coin with a hole in it. It turned out to be Chinese. My grandfather gave me a silver dollar. A friend of my mother gave me a shinplaster [a paper bill worth 25 cents.] They were only made in 1870, 1900, and 1923.

For Brown, the Whitman folder was decisive. “Once you get a paper route, you get coins,” he said with a smile. When he started collecting, he also placed a small cardboard box near the till at his dad’s and uncle’s store on Carden Street, and staff was asked to put into it any unusual coins that customers spent.

The store began as M.J. Brown Bicycle Service Station, and then changed to Brown’s of Guelph: Specialists in Sports.

Brown said of his dad, “When he found the early monarchs [coin], he kept it.” Brown went to the store one day around 1955, and found a 1921 50 cent piece. It was he who sold it just a decade ago for $10,000.

Brown was a regular bidder in the auction that is part of the finale of the society’s meetings. It offered such things as a roll of Victory nickels from 1947 (some may remember that distinctive large V on one side), a medallion from Toronto Hydro about which auctioneer Hollingshead deadpanned, “50 years of gouging customers,” a California gold rush coin, some Chinese counterfeit (Hollingshead’s “Don’t be afraid to buy counterfeit” drew a large guffaw), and a 2005 Year of the Veteran mint roll of quarters.

Most of the goods sell for remarkably low prices, with anything over $10 a rarity. It is obvious members know the value of the money they are buying. One consistently opened the bidding with $2 for a roll of nickels that hold a face value of, well, $2. He took in stride a lot of good natured jibes for that, but he also got the bidding started.

Hollingshead and Douglas have noted there are some younger people getting interested in collecting, too. They suggest kids are so wired to technology that being able to hold a coin from across the world is fascination in itself. They start asking things like, “Where is Romania?” and “Why does their money look like this?”

As well, they noted that being able to hold something in their hand from a faraway and possibly exotic place is also an attraction to younger people.

But Hollingshead, looking to the future, said he can foresee the day people have virtual coin collections, because there are so many coin images available on the internet.

Douglas and Hollingshead said it does not take a great deal of money to get started collecting, and the auction that night demonstrated their theory ably. As for making money as coin collectors, they are skeptical. Hobbies generally cost people cash, not make it. And such things as gold coins have a great value - today.

But that value changes every day as the price of gold fluctuates. Hollingshead said the collector value can be more important than the simple value of the gold. He is a collector “for the fun of it.”

Douglas concluded, “If you can be a collector for 30 or 40 years and sell it for what you paid for it, you’re ahead of the game.”

The club is now breaking over the winter and will resume meetings in March. For more information, visit

January 6, 2012


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