Coin show reveals the true value of money

Thousands attend event held twice a year in city

March 19, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Need a shave and a haircut but can't find two bits?

Unless you were one of the approximately 10,000 visitors to the three-day Suburban Washington/Baltimore Coin and Currency Convention, you'll probably have to wait until November to pick up that ancient quarter-dollar.

That's when the biannual show and sale -- one of the largest in this hemisphere -- will return to the Baltimore Convention Center, bringing thousands of collectors, dealers and coin enthusiasts from across the United States to locate, buy and trade rare and valuable coins from throughout the world.(Among them, the eight reales coin, or Spanish dollar, which, when sliced into eight pieces of 12 1/2 cents each, gave rise to the term "bit" 200 years ago).

Yesterday marked the close of the spring show, which co-owner Edward Kuszmar, who has been putting on shows for 29 years, called one of the most successful in recent history. "We had a tremendous crowd [Saturday]," he said.

The convention usually draws large crowds, Kuszmar said, but turnout this time might have been greater because many novice numismatists have been born since commemorative state quarters were minted.

"The U.S. Mint estimated that there are over 100 million new collectors since the coins were introduced in 1999," Kuszmar said.

"Whoooaa! I don't have this one yet," said 6-year-old Benjamin Granger, when Kuszmar handed him the newest collector's item -- the week-old North Carolina quarter. "I have South Carolina. I have Delaware. I have ... what's the one with the ship? Massachusetts! And the one with the tree? Georgia? Hmmm. I know I have a lot."

Benjamin's grandparents started him collecting when the new quarters were issued, and now, said his father Morgan Granger of Towson, Benjamin is on a roll.

Others, like 62-year-old Joe Badaracco, became rejuvenated collectors because of the state quarters.

Badaracco of Parkton collected stamps and coins as a youngster, but dropped the hobby some years back. Now, as the grandfather of an 8-year-old, Greer, Badaracco's back in the bartering business.

"These state quarters came out and knocked me over," he said. "I couldn't believe how beautiful they are. I'm putting them all away for my granddaughter. It's fun to get back into it."

A stroll through the convention, however, shows that coin collecting is more than a fun hobby. It's also educational, teaching young and old about history, geography and culture.

Artwork on pre-Civil War state-issued money gives insight into our ancestors, Kuszmar said. A 50-cent note issued by the mayor and City Council of Baltimore in 1837, for example, with images of tall-masted boats and manual plows, suggests that officials valued shipping and agriculture, not Ravens and digital downtowns.

But ultimately, coin collecting and dealing is lucrative; even an amateur collector can make a dollar out of 15 cents -- or sometimes much less.

One gold $10 coin from 1796 was selling for $50,000. A 2001 platinum $100 coin was offered for $635 at Jim Pappas' booth. Christian Blom of Arlington, Va., wanted $375 for a misshapen Roman coin with the visage of Marcus Aurelius (circa A.D. 161-180). And Badaracco bought old pennies for his granddaughter at 12 cents each.

Currency with mistakes is extremely valuable, said Kuszmar, who offered a dealer $100 for a $1 bill with the seals and serial numbers printed upside down.

More than money, Kuszmar said, he is most proud of what his show offers for children.

"The average age of the participants is getting to the point where we're losing a lot of our friends," Kuszmar said. "That's why we really go out of our way to get youngsters here and introduce them to the hobby. People have been collecting coins for 2,500 years, perhaps more than that. We want it go on for much longer."

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