Book Heaven

Where the world of books and life intersect

Location: South Amboy, New Jersey

I am deeply involved in trying to solve the discrepancy between being interested in zen and trying to acquire all the things I've been accumulating

Thursday, October 14, 2004

AndySez: Too BOLD!

I can probably trace my collecting obsession back to the late 50s when I started collecting coins. At that idyllic time, coin collecting was considered a worthwhile pursuit for a young child and you could walk into a bank and get a $50 bag of pennies which you could go through and they wouldn't even flinch when you came back in a day or two and wanted to swap them for some silver dollars which you would breathlessly search in hopes of finding some with that impossibly exotic Carson City mint mark. Today, if you tried this, they'd look at you like you were some pint-sized terrorist.

I even enlisted the local grocer who even in the late 50s and early 60s would have some old timers come in with the occasional Liberty head nickel or Barber dime or quarter. There was still an occasional coin from the late 1800s floating around from time to time, and this was the great appeal of coin collecting over the more staid (read boring) world of stamp collecting. Coin collecting presented a sense of adventure and possibility that stamp collecting lacked. Of course, coin collecting's allure ended when the chance of finding something interesting in circulation ended, much like the longshot of finding collectible paperbacks at flea markets today.

And so with this history, it wasn't at all surprising when I hit page 47 in the October 4, 2004 New Yorker and immediately froze. On that page was an ad for a book, Illegal Tender: Gold, Greed and the Mystery of the Lost 1933 Double Eagle by David Tripp. This is the tale of the ultimate numismatic treasure hunt, a search for a coin that is so rare that only one was believed to be in circulation. In 1933, in the midst of the Depression with the economy near collapse, FDR recalled all the gold in circulation and banned private ownership of it. In the numismatic equivalent of Fahrenheit 451, untold millions of gold coins were ordered melted down and made into gold bars. To the slag heap of destruction also went nearly half a million 1933 double eagles ($20 gold pieces) that were minted but never put in circulation. As often happens with things of this nature, a few coins slipped out the back door into the world of collectors. Amazingly, the Secret Service devoted considerable time and resources to tracking down these escaped coins and were still on the job as late as 1996 when what is believed to be the last coin was tracked down. If indeed it really was the last coin. It is still a highly desirable item though because this particular coin was not melted down, but was instead sold at auction for 7.5 million dollars!

The New Yorker ad even contained a blurb from the estimable Simon Winchester and by now I needed no prompting. Even though I knew this book would probably turn up in one of the three libraries that I frequent, I still ran right out to buy a copy. My initial excitement turned to disappointment though when I cracked the book open to find it printed in that particularly irritating bold type which I consider the literary equivalent of the equally offensive orange instrument panel lights (which you can at least dim). Am I the only one who considers bold type difficult to read? I could possibly understand bold type in a book intended for a youthful market but that is not the audience for this book or for the new Bob Dylan bio, Chronicles Volume 1, which is also printed in bold type. By the way, you can read an excerpt from Illegal Tender at and it's not in bold type.


Blogger Treasuredstocks said...

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8:40 PM  

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