“Wow. This place is like the IKEA of coin shows.”
Cole dipped his chin in that keep-it-cool, pre-teen half-nod. His eyes roamed the enormous room, probably the very same one in which the Republican National Convention was held four years ago.
We were at the Florida United Numismatics (FUN) coin show, held in the Tampa Convention Center. 1500 dealers and 15,000 of the most avid collectors graced the never-ending concrete floor.
It was by far the largest venue my eleven-year-old had stepped into yet for his coin collecting hobby. Twice a year we’ve attended a local coin show in an Elk’s Lodge, where mounted deer (Elk) heads stand guard and grinning older gentlemen wave us over for chocolate and free coins.
I sucked in a gulp of pizza-scented air and followed him into the massive room.
Cole’s steps were slow and steady as he perused table after table of Civil War bills, boxes of wheat pennies, Walking Liberty half dollars, and various other coins as innumerable as the stars.
He was looking specifically for Indian Head Cents, in order to complete a portion of his collection.
Unfamiliar face after face looked up, some busy, some bored, a few women but mostly men of varying age, sipping drinks and eating something.
The crowd flowed like a confused ant pile, the noise humming all around.
As we paced the floor and passed table after table, a pang of longing hit for a familiar face–specifically, the friendly coin dealer always in attendance at the smaller shows.
We met Harry and his wife three years ago, and the thoughtful coin dealer faithfully emails reminders a week before each Elk’s Lodge coin show.
Harry has kindly taken Cole under his wing, sharing the in-and-outs of coin collecting, the best handbooks to have, some of his favorite coins, and how to find the best prices.
Pretty much anything Cole wants to know, Harry has answers for.
Though they live over an hour away, Harry and his wife came to our house one rainy day last summer to go over Cole’s budding collection and advise him about what to keep and what to part with. We shared brownies and family stories, and they even rooted me on in my writing endeavors.
Of all the coin dealers Cole has come across, Harry’s the real deal, and we’re blessed to call him and his family friends.
But…that’s not always the case at the coin shows.
Often the dealers will glance at Cole as he approaches, realizing he won’t be making any large purchases. They’ll settle back into whatever they were doing without a second look his way.
Rarely have any been rude, but these gentle brush-offs make me so appreciative of the kindly older gentlemen who see past dollar bills and making a buck to a budding numismatic with fresh enthusiasm–a youngster who shares their love of coins and coin history.
As we made our way down the aisles at the FUN show that day, we came across an older gentleman from Maryland with a well-organized, reasonably-priced collection of Indian Head cents. His face was partly covered in a scruffy Santa beard and his eyes friendly.
He nodded to Cole and pointed out where to look for the Indian Head cents. Cole settled into a chair, eventually choosing two coins he needed for his collection. The dealer was very fair with his prices, since coins are to be sold cheaper to children under eighteen.
We thanked him and moved on. But an hour later, after wandering through display after display, we ended up back at Santa’s booth. He welcomed us with a bushy smile and tired wink.
“This is the coin that started it all for me. And I was about his age when I got it.”
One weathered hand set down a wheat penny in a sealed protective container. I’m by no means a coin expert, but immediately I gasped.
It was a 1955 double struck wheat, which meant it had been hit by the machine two times. The coin was quite special and certainly worth a great deal more than one cent.
Cole picked it up carefully, eyes widening and mouth shaping into an ‘O’. Santa proceeded to share how his grandfather had given him the coin, along with a handful more, after he’d helped shovel snow from his driveway that cold winter.
A few pennies for a simple task had turned into a lucrative, lifelong hobby.
Worth more value to me were his patient questions and words of encouragement to Cole. He reminded me of Harry–in no hurry, not focused on Number 1, and glad to see the younger generation with an interest in coins.
Cole with his Great-Grandma Johnson in 2015, inspecting her coin collection.
After the Tampa FUN coin show, I was reminded of a verse in Titus about older men. “…that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience” (2:2).
I’m thankful for Harry and the other coin dealers who’ve given my son a much more important commodity than a good deal on coins–they’ve given him their time and shared their stories and wisdom, and in doing so, have passed on a piece of themselves to the next generation.
Lord, help us do this with our faith and in our lives.