TEXT OF STORY
TESS VIGELAND: If there’s one thing we all learned over the last 12 to 15 months, it’s that cash truly is king. Cash serves you better than any credit card will, and cash in the bank is safer than any stock pick. But can you take a love of cash too far? By, say, hoarding coins?
We decided to send Cash Peters to The World’s Fair of Money, for a better look at the fascination with pocketing more than a fair share of change.
Cash Peters: You wouldn’t think there’d be much interest in a money show, would you, really? Not now, we’re switching to debit cards. Unsurprisingly, their PR guy Jay Beeton disagrees.
Jay Beeton: Money’s 2,600 years old. We can trace our entire history through money. Everything about our society and our culture, we can trace through our money.
Peters: But it’s dying out. So how do you feel about that?
Beeton: I don’t know if it’s dying out.
Peters: I’m predicting the end of your show here.
Beeton: Oh, I don’t think so.
He may be right too, because the hall was teeming with numismatists. That is to say, coin collectors buzzing around a vast acreage of display cases filled with exciting things like Estonian kroons and Filipino Treasury Certificates. Or how about a bunch of rare American coins?
Beeton: The value of coins is based on, first of all, how rare are they? The better the condition they’re in and the rarer they are, combined with other market forces to determine a value.
Peters: So if we were to break this case now and just run off…
Beeton: We’d be shot.
Then I won’t be doing that. But because world currencies are constantly changing, they attract hordes of collectors. They have three characteristics: a. most of them are men, b. a lot of them have pony tails and c. what they do seems incredibly boring to the rest of us.
Dealer Sandra Baymer.
Sandra Baymer: A lot of them are not boring, but they are quiet and introverted. They’re usually very smart.
Peters: Do they have problems getting a date?
Baymer: Mmm, some of them. Some of them. Some of them don’t have any problem with that.
Peters: It’s the pony-tail, isn’t it? That’s the turn on.
Course it is. The show had several high points. The British Royal Mint had brought along its new range of coins. They’re in color; it’s the latest thing. Meanwhile, the Canadian Mint was bashing out commemorative tokens that were cute, but worthless, and not just because they’re Canadian
Peters: See in my head, this is how Canadians make all their money. They make it coin by coin, one at a time.
Man: I think the Winnipeg Mint can strike 1 million coins a minute or some crazy number like that.
Geez. There was also a huge display case filled with millions of bucks in old currency. Jay again.
Beeton: These are $100,000 notes. These were never made for general circulation, but they were made for bank transfers back in the day when you would hire a runner on a bicycle and he’d uh…
Ah, now the reason he stopped talking was because, all of a sudden, this huge guy walks up with a security guard, removes a million dollars from the display case and starts posing for photos with it. Hello.
Peters: Who is this guy?
Beeton: That’s Hillbilly Jim, the wrestler.
Peters: Hillbilly Jim the wrestler?
Beeton: He was a wrestler in the WWF for years and what have you.
Oh, that Hillbilly Jim, always kidding around. Turns out he’s also a serious coin collector. He has the pony-tail and everything.
Hillbilly Jim: It’s just something about it. It’s like years ago when people used to collect stamps when we were kids. It’s like a bug, it bites you, and you just can’t help yourself.
Is that right. Jim though was quick with a warning: if you’re into collecting coins, do your research. There are rogue dealers out there who will skin you alive. The kind who give numismatists a bad name. And numismatist’s a pretty bad name to begin with.
Hillbilly Jim: Every once in a while, you hear a story about somebody coming in with something, “Oh, I dunno if that thing’s worth much in the system.” And it’s a one-of-a-kind coin. And, of course, sometimes, there have been stories of people who’ll let it slip out of their hands for a little bit of nothing.
Oh you see that’s the danger. I was going to ask him a lot more, but the next thing I knew he was wrestling with some guy from the U.S. Treasury.
Tsk, boys. So I instead I went up to one of the dealers and asked, “Are you a crook?” Jack Baymer.
Jack Baymer: If you polled 10 dealers, and you would find, maybe five out of 10 might try to pull a fast one.
Peters: Is this industry riddled with sharks?
Baymer: Of course! Is the used car business riddled with sharks?
Peters: Yeah, but I think these people kinda look like they might be too educated, too intelligent.
Baymer: I wouldn’t say that you’re a very good judge of character.
Story of my life.
In Los Angeles, I’m Cash Peters for Marketplace.
We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.
Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.
In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.
Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.