Jim Bisognani: Coin Culture Will Find You

Posted on 6/8/2023

No matter where you are, you can nearly always find an opportunity to talk about numismatics.

Well, my fellow coindexters, the end of May and beginning of June has greeted New Hampshire with record blistering heat. Temperatures outside are in the upper 90s and inside temperatures are just below 90 degrees. Unfortunately, these extreme conditions were too taxing for our old central air unit, which was on its last legs anyway. The heat and lack of A/C has made it hard to function at home.

So, I put an SOS in to my favored HVAC company. The owner said that he would be out the next morning to see if the old unit could be resuscitated or if a new replacement was necessary. Steve S. greeted me around 8 a.m. the next morning and, after a brief examination, deemed that the 22-year-old unit did indeed need to be replaced. Steve said he had another stop to make, but he would get back to me within an hour or so with the estimate.

Then, invariably, I initiated a conversation about coins. That’s right: No matter what the conversation, I endeavor to get coins into the equation. “So, you’re a coin guy,” Steve replied. I answered, “Yes, nearly all of my life.” Then, after briefly hobnobbing, this interesting numismatic tidbit surfaced.

Steve S. said, “So when my dad passed, I inherited a coin. I have a Spanish silver coin. It’s from around the time of Christopher Columbus — late 1400s to early 1500s, I was told. I have looked online, but I can’t find anything on it.”

I asked him if he could describe the coin. He replied, “It has a shield on it, and you can make out the name “Ferdinand” around the edge. It’s also about the size of a quarter…”

I told him, “It sounds like a 2 Reales coin.”

A Spain (1474-1504) 2 Reales graded NGC MS 62

Then Steve relayed the story of how the coin came to his family.

Steve’s dad was in the Navy and, in 1969, while stationed in Rota, Spain, Steve’s sister was born. It was at that time one of his parents’ neighbors gave that silver coin to them as a gift.

“It was in celebration of my sister’s birth; it was such a great gesture. I mean, I would never part with the coin. I am looking for the history of it... The coin belongs to all four of us kids but I just keep it in my safe for safekeeping.” I asked Steve to please send me a few photos and I would be happy to research it for him.

As promised, Steve got to me later that morning and, within 24 hours, the new central air was installed. Not a moment too soon, as it was 90 in the house!

An interview in the rain

Now flash-forward to the next day, Saturday. Guess what — rainy and cool weather greeted Beth and I at dawn, with temperatures only registering in the upper 40s. Typical New England nonsense — a massive 50-degree swing in less than 24 hours!

Regardless, we had a community yard sale to attend. It was downright chilly as we were setting up our table round 6:30 a.m. Obviously, with drizzle and showers and windy conditions, no one was expecting a sizable turnout by the public. Folks did show up, albeit not a steady throng.

Of course, I was able to sniff out another coin collector in attendance: a gentleman by the name of Mark, hailing from Manchester, New Hampshire. Once we established our mutual interest in coins, Mark said, “I love Carson City, etc.” I told him, “That’s great! I work for NGC.” He replied, “Wow, really? I have Registry sets.” And thus, this brief interview in the rain ensued:

Jim: So, Mark, you’re a Carson City collector. How long have you been collecting?

Mark: Since the early 1970s.

Jim: So, what got you started with coins?

Mark: I inherited a penny collection from my great-grandfather. So, that started things off, and my grandmother kept me going. Then, my mom kept me going, and my brother and I eventually got into type coins.

Jim: What was the first Carson City coin you acquired?

Mark: It was an 1883-CC Morgan from the GSA (General Services Administration) sale. Around that time, I read an article from Liberty Seated Club member Dennis Fortier. He had written an article about building a 10-piece Carson City Half Dollar set. He was big on Half Dollars. I read that article, and it just set me off on collecting Half Dollars. I really love Half Dollars.

1883-CC Morgan Dollar from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

Jim: So that was the catalyst?

Mark: Right, from that point my first Carson City Half Dollar was an 1870-CC graded NGC G 6, and I built the 10-piece set around that. Then I built a date set and expanded on that with different size mintmarks for the 1873 Half Dollars. I then went into collecting by die marriage. Now I just need four half dollars from 1877 to complete my die marriage set.

From there, I’ve just continued to collect for fun. I also collect memorabilia from the Carson City mint — mint items, documents; I even have a die request document from the coiner to the superintendent to get half dollar bags. I also have a letter from the cashier from somebody who sold a silver bar to be assayed. I have a letter on the superintendent’s letterhead to one of the mine owners in Virginia City. I just love the Comstock Lode.

Jim: So, if you could have one Carson City coin, which one would you like to have if price were not an object?

Mark: It would be an 1870-CC gold coin — either a Half Eagle or Eagle, if the Double Eagle is out of my price range. I know several people who have Double Eagles, though!

1870-CC Half Eagle from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

You just never know. Hot or cold, rain or shine, coin culture will find you.

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

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