Coin, currency collectors love money for what it is, not what it buys

Jim Everett and his customers at Tiah's expect 2004 to be a big year for coin and currency collectors.

New nickels will be issued, along with colorized $50 bills similar to the $20s that are now in circulation.

The nickels will lose the Monticello -- the building on the tails side of the coin. And the building won't reappear on U.S. coins until perhaps 2006, Everett said. But even then, the building will look different. Beginning this year, the back of the coin will feature a replica of the Jefferson Peace Medal -- a handshake, a peace pipe and a hatchet. Later the nickel will commemorate Lewis & Clark's famous expedition.

Everett is predicting the old nickels will rise in value like buffalo nickels. In anticipation, he bought several bags and rolls of uncirculated nickels in 2003, which is the last year they will be minted with the Monticello as we know it, Everett said.

"These coins are now going to be collectible in uncirculated condition," Everett said.

"Uncirculated" is a pet term with collectors. It doesn't mean fresh from a roll one collected from the bank, because those usually aren't in mint condition anymore. A true uncirculated coin is collected straight from the mint, or from dealers who deal directly with mints. "Business strike" coins -- the ones that are commonly circulated -- can be purchased in mint condition from the mint or coin dealers like Everett. They come wrapped in special in paper only the mints are authorized to use. The coins are guaranteed not to have been used. They'll be free of scratches, oily residue left by human handling and "bag marks," which are nicks and grooves left when the edges of coins deflect off the faces of others.

Everett still has one bag each of 2003 nickels from the Philadelphia and Denver mints. He said he'll sell them only as a set.

Elmer Hering is one of Tiah's most loyal customers. He frequents the shop so regularly that he even has a stool with his name on it. It sits right beside the coin case, where Hering and Everett spend hours talking about coins and collecting.

Hering is one of Everett's proteges.

When asked why he collects, Hering turned to glance at his teacher before he answered.

And Everett stared at him with intense blue eyes, a knowing grin and said, "What's the first rule?"

"The first rule of collecting," Hering said obediently, "is having fun. I'm having fun doing it but in the long run, I'm looking for a long-term investment."

On Sunday, Hering had just returned from a local auction, where he was looking to get some old coins of value. Most of the prices were too high for his taste, but he did return with a couch for Everett's shop.

It's been a goal of Everett's to establish a comfortable environment, where friends and family of avid collectors can wait while the hobbyists peruse Tiah's collection.

Hering is mostly interested in collecting star notes. The sought-after bills feature a green star following the serial number. They are also referred to as replacement notes.

A star note is issued when a sheet of currency is misprinted, has bent corners, or is otherwise unsuitable for circulation. The mint makes another sheet with the same numbers, but with stars after the serial numbers to indicate that the numbers are being reissued.

"At this point, I'm just collecting any and all star notes," Hering said.

He also bought some rolls of the 2003 nickels Everett is fond of. And he collects silver proof sets, too.

Despite Everett's enthusiasm for 2004 as a big year, it seems any year can spawn lucrative collections or interesting issues for numismatists like Everett.

Take 1999 for instance. The U.S. debuted the first round of new statehood quarters and Everett urged people to buy silver proof sets of that year's collection.

Collectors who purchased mirrored, silver proof editions of that year's collection would have paid $31.95. The same set is now selling for $285. Everett thinks it may hit $500 in the years to come. It's the most expensive recent proof set Everett can think of.

The 1995 uncirculated penny in mint condition is worth $93.50.

Those are just a couple of notables from the last 10 years. Customers with a few hours on their hands could find out about any number of collectible coins listening to Everett, who is a member of the American Numismatic Association.

He holds the association's ethics in high regards. He considers himself a teacher as much as a businessman.

Hering's wife, Lynnd, agrees.

"The thing I like about Jim is he lets you know everything, he doesn't hold anything back," Lynnd says.

He teaches customers how to handle coins of value. He cringes when someone walks in with a crumpled up star note or other collectible currency in bad condition. But he'll joke with them and remind them that "condition is everything."

He especially deplores television shopping channels that have been known to sell overpriced sets of coins in less-than-mint condition.

He remembers one show that sold a $50 set for $259, and touted it as an investment.

"We (certified dealers) would be publicized in a national publication as bad dealers if we did something like that," Everett said.

Instead of promising quick riches, Everett said he wants his customers to keep in mind the big picture.

"I want them to take it easy," Everett said. "It's a long-term hobby. I want people to take their time doing it and do it right. If they do it right, that's where they'll get their best investments."

And people don't necessarily need to deal directly with the mints to do it. Wooden coins, coins from the 1800s, and other gems are still found in circulation by people who keep their eyes out for quaint coins.

"It happens all the time, every week, all across the country," Everett said.

Everett opened the local coin shop in October 2003, when he decided to try to turn his longtime hobby into a business.

Tiah's will be closed a few days this week because Everett and his wife Erika are due to have their third baby.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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