Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Kent Coin Show

So, today I got to go to the Coin Show being put on down at the Kent Commons, hosted by 'the Boeings Employees Coin Club'. I've gotten to go two or three times before in years past -- a few years back I picked up a spare copy of my lucky coin (a 100-mon piece bought for me by my father when I was in second grade) and two coins from the Belgium Congo as a gift for a relative of mine who was born there (his father having been a Presbyterian missionary stationed there for forty-five years) -- but usually I don't find out about it in time and either miss it or can only squeeze in a cursory visit. This time, forewarned by the local paper, I was able to go and have a good, long poke.

And a thoroughly rewarding time it was, too. As someone who used to be an avid collector in my youth but whose hobby has lain mostly dormant for a long time now, it was amazing to see the things available at the various booths. In fact, it reminded me of going to the Antiquarian Book Fair and seeing a first edition Poe, a Kelmscott Chaucer, a Tolkien letter, and similar treasures, not in a library or museum collection but available for purchase for those with deep enough pockets. That's pretty much how I felt today seeing a dealer with five early silver dollars --beautiful coins, all from the 1790s, and all selling for from $4,000 to $5,000 each. Or the guy with twenty St. Gaudens double eagles spread in a row. Or the booth with a wide array of coins from the Roman Republic. Or the Colonial U.S. coinage, when the colonies or newly independent states were minting their own money. Or . . .

My own purchases were far more modest: three farthings (one each from Victoria, Edward VII, and George V), an ounce of silver cast in the shape of a silver-dollar-sized Buffalo Nickel (rightly one of the most popular US coins), and two coins from Kurdistan. Yes, Kurdistan, both dated 2006. I was not aware Kurdistan was a country, let alone minting its own money -- do the Iraqis, Turks, and Iranians know about this? But putting that aside, I got them because they were so striking in appearance. The twenty-five hundred dinar piece is an unusual example of bimetallism, having a small circular yellow-brass center surrounded by a large square copper frame (rather than the usual copper/nickel pairing). One side shows an oil refinery, while both it and the smaller (round, brass) fifty dinar piece, which shows a grey heron on one side, have on the other side what at first I took to be pyramids but turn out to be mountains, with a rayed sun above them.

In addition, I made several non-coin purchases. These ranged from a book on Celtic coinage (which I figured wd be a gd way to educate myself on the Celtic kingdoms as they were just before they were overrun by the Romans), a Roman key (only about an inch long), and two Billy-&-Charleys (mid-Victorian fakes of medieval artifacts). I wasn't familiar with the story behind Billy & Charley but was much taken with the two art pieces, beautiful bronze medallions, one of which shows a saint in his coracle (Brendan, perhaps?), the other a bearded king with a five-horned crown.

Turns out Billy (Wm Smith) and his partner Charley (Charles Eaton) started out as do-it-yourself amateur archeologists who dug up odds and ends to sell to antique stores for the antiquarian trade. They soon ran out of genuine artifacts and so started producing their own, which they succeeded in selling for years. Like so many famous forgeries, some people cried foul almost at once, while others defended their authenticity for years (largely, it seems, out of disbelief that two illiterate Londoners cd produce such beautiful work on their own). For a quick precise of the Billy & Charley story, check here ( For a longer, more detailed account, try here ( And to get some idea what their pieces actually look like, check out this site which shows images of all the known items ( If you click on 'Badges' and then the year '1012', mine turn out to be the second and fifth items there, #54br and #76, though they're much more appealing in person than these photos convey.

So, a pleasant afternoon poking about, during which I saw a lot of things, learned a lot of things, and brought home a few interesting things. This didn't include a Zachary Taylor dollar (I find I'm too cheap to pay $3.00 for a $1.00 coin that's supposedly in circulation), but I'm hoping to go back tomorrow to see if one coin I passed on is still there. If you're a coin collector, or just want to see the amazing stuff that's out there, their hours tomorrow are 10 am to 4 pm -- but be warned that, as I discovered last year, folks start to pack up their booths at least an hour before closing time.

--John R.

current reading: THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman [2008]

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