The ’76 Goldwater Dime
by John Medaille
I started in 1962, that’s when I became a numismatist. You know what that is? It’s the study of… well, it’s not the study of anything. It’s coin collecting, is what it is.
I was ten in 1962, and Christmas I got my first coin album. I didn’t actually get it. My father gave it to my brother. It was, you know, you’ve seen them, a sturdy cardboard folder with slots punched out that you put the coins in. Behind the slots, the empties, it had a backing of blue felt, I remember that. My dad gave it to my brother, I guess maybe thinking it would straighten him out. But coins, you know, they don’t really have that power. He wasn’t interested. He gave it to me. Me, I was interested.
The album was for Lincoln pennies, 1909 to 1959. I had five cents in the world then and each of the five fit in the slot. It only took me five more days to get the other forty-five. I would do anything for those pennies and slot it in its slot. Anything, anything. When I got my last penny, wow. It was a 1943 steel mint penny, a ‘steelie.’ They had to use steel instead of copper that year cause they needed the copper for all the bombs. I was so proud.
From then on it was just coins for me. My life was coins. I was hooked. They had their hooks in me, boy.
When I was just seventeen I moved by myself down to Washington, DC, cause I got a job there in a coin shop. That was my education. I lived in a one room dungeon in a crumby neighborhood, I loved coins that much.
You know, and I do alright. I made my living. I own my own house. I don’t live in debt like everybody else does. That’s what coins did for me. Coins and specie and spec. I don’t care for paper money, it holds nothing for me.
Me, I’m a specialist. I know generalists, I do business with them, I have to. And speculators, sure. You do what you need to do to survive in the world. But me, I’m a specialist and my friends are specialists. I’ll give an example, I have a friend, he died. But before he died, his specialty was pay toilet tokens. I mean, have you ever seen a pay toilet? In your life? I saw some once in Europe but I don’t even know if they have them there anymore. Anyway, this friend of mine, he spends his life collecting these tokens, these coins, for pay toilets, from around the world and every age. He finds the obscurest pay toilet tokens there are and they’re his. And then he dies alone in his apartment with these thousands of toilet tokens around him. I mean, that’s the way to go. I mean that. To have these objects of joy around you. To you and me, they are not objects of joy, but to him they are. You know, not everybody gets to have that, it’s not something that everyone receives. To have such pleasure from these things, these old things. But he does and I do because, see, we’re specialists. Not everybody understands that.
Other people I know, you know, have their special collections. Any thing you can think of, any given thing and there’s some guy like me out there obsessed with it. I know people, you meet a lot of interesting people in this business, whose specialties are Depression era wooden nickels or peep show tokens, or misprint coins, error coins, or brockage, that’s coins with mirror image stamps on both sides, or obverses or ‘Godless Dollars.’ You ever heard of ‘Godless Dollars?’ Those are dollar coins where the “In God we trust” part got left off. Now, you see, I respect that. Those are people with specialties. They are connoisseurs, like me. Not any old crap will do.
I’ll tell you what I mean. I have a friend, he’s not a friend, he’s a guy I know. And his collection, if you want to call it that, his collection consists of nothing but 1938 pennies. That’s the year he was born, 1938. What I mean is, what is that? Is that a specialty? Not really. It just seems so crude. Do you know how many pennies were minted in 1938? Neither do I, but it’s in the ballpark of two hundred million. This schlub has three million, I think, in his collection. Think of that. Three million 1938 pennies in roles, lying around. That’s no specialty. I mean, I think he also has nickels and dimes and quarters from 1938, but still. I do not consider that a specialty. I consider it some sick fixation. I have no understanding of that. That is not what I do.
My specialty? My specialty is the rarest of the rare, okay? I mean, I have collections and I have collections, but my real collection, the only one that’s not for sale, that’s not in the vault, I’m not even going to tell you where I keep it, guess how many coins I have in my collection. Guess.
I have twelve coins in my collection. That’s twelve. I’ve been doing this for coming up on fifty years and I’ve amassed twelve coins. In my specialty collection. Now you understand my mind.
I brought them here, I got them in my fireproof, waterproof, idiotproof box, just for you. I brought them to show you because I happen to know you will not shoot me and stab me thirty-six times and run off with my pretty little coins. Besides, I paid more money for the lockbox than I paid for all the coins. So, that’s where we are. So allow me to reveal to you, at long last, my specialty.
Okay, this is item number one, this is Exhibit A, okay? I got this in 1981 in my change for a fish sandwich, I kid you not. Don’t smudge it. It’s mint. It’s pristine. It’s almost uncirculated, but in another way, it’s very, extremely circulated. First, before I give this to you, tell me, who’s on the dime?
Very good, FDR’s on the dime. Has been since 1946. Now look at this and tell me, who’s on that dime?
Yes, he’s wearing glasses. FDR wore glasses too but not when posing for coinage. Who is he? No, it’s not Truman. Look closer. Recognize him? That’s Barry Goldwater. Look, that’s him. Yes, I am fully aware that Goldwater was never president. Thank you, Mr. Historian. But that is him and that is a 1976 dime and he’s on it. Now you see. Now you see my specialty.
How did Barry Goldwater get on that dime? I don’t know. That’s not my province. My province is getting that dime in change for my fish sandwich and recognizing it for what it is and keeping it forever. That’s where I come in.
Sure, it could be a hoax. Anything can be a hoax. But I don’t think it is. Because besides me nobody’s looking, besides me nobody cares. That’s a lot of trouble to go to to hoax me, and who’s to benefit? Sure, there are lots of hoax coins, joke coins. It’s an entire industry. Especially in China, but for Chinese coins usually, mind you. You ever heard of a Hobo Nickel? Lots of specialists love those, I deal in them regular. They were big in the twenties and thirties, because of the Buffalo Nickel, you remember that one? Beautiful coin, had a big, fat buffalo on it and on the other side a big indian head with feathers and braids. Replaced the Liberty Head in 1905. Well, what would happen was hobos would get these nickels and, because they have a lot of time on their hands I guess, is they would take these coins and carve them, actually carve into the Nickel. They would give those indians beards, stubble, floppy hobo hats, give them cigars. And some of these things, okay, they’re works of art. So meticulous, these guys, they were true artisans and craftsmen, and these nickels would be little Michaelangelos.
Now, you ask, could somebody have put some glasses on FDR, altered the face a little and put that ’76 back into circulation so I would get it back when ordering a fish sandwich? They certainly could have. But what you have to understand is this: these Hobo nickels, the good ones at least, they take weeks and months of intricate, painstaking work. Scraping and filing and carving. Once you’re done with a thing like that you don’t put it back into the system that wouldn’t appreciate it or know what the hell it was. This is something to be kept and treasured and sold. Plus, the Hobo Nickels always have signs, telltale signs that they’ve been altered. I’ve been staring at coins continuously for half a century, you think I don’t know the signs? Carving the coins like that effects its width, the measurement of the bas relief on the portrait. Believe me, I’ve measured this thing to the micrometer from every angle a thousand times, and it’s spot on, dead set perfect. Nobody’s that good, not even a top of his game counterfeiter. And no counterfeiter would put on a guy who lost the election, either. Not even as political commentary.
No, this is real. I’m convinced of that. I’ve even had it tested and guess what? It’s even radioactive. Calm down, it’s not deadly. It’s in a mylar bag. It’s just more radioactive than the background radioactivity is for such a thing. It’s not fallout, for God’s sake. Don’t worry, it’s not going to mess with your sperm.
What’s it worth? It’s worth ten cents is what it’s worth. It’s worth everything. That’s not the point, is it? It’s only worth something if people want it, and nobody wants it because nobody knows it exists. There’s no market for such a thing. No market but me. Why? Because people aren’t looking for it. You get a numismatist like me, he takes a hard look at every coin he ever gets. He looks at the date stamp, he looks at the quality, the mint mark, the ridges, the condition, the corruption, he looks for errors, misprints, double dies, uncentering, omissions. You know what he doesn’t look at? He doesn’t look at the face of the deceased president, he doesn’t look to see of George Washington’s ponytail has grown in the intervening centuries. He’s seen it a million times. He isn’t interested. Me, I look. Me, I see. So no, nobody else is looking for this, it’s not worth anything. It’s just me. That’s what makes it my specialty.
Okay, okay. Let’s forget that for now. Let’s move to exhibit number two. Take this. Yes, this is a ’72 Kennedy half dollar. Yes, that’s Kennedy on it. But look at that face, look how wrinkly he is. No, that’s not wear, that’s not metal fatigue. Metal doesn’t wear like that, believe me, I know. That’s in the stamp. Which Kennedy is that? That’s not John F Kennedy, that’s Joseph P Kennedy, his father. Look at it. Sure, he ran for president. An anti-Semite, that’s what they said. I’m not going to argue about it now. Give it back. Okay, item three: 1927 penny, Lincoln’s supposed to be on it, but who’s that guy? Look at that beard. That’s John Brown. Number four, 1944 quarter, that guy on it? Eugene V Debs, that commie guy that run for president in 1900. Can you imagine America with a commie president?
Okay, hell with it, look at the rest here:
Huey Long nickel, 1958.
William Randolph Hearst silver dollar, 1969.
Robert E Lee three cent piece from 1888. Don’t be stupid, there was no confederate money in 1888.
1965 dime, that’s Lindbergh on it.
1992 quarter, you know who that guy is on there? Roy Cohn. Took me forever to figure that one out.
1935 penny, Barnum, the circus guy. That one might actually be a forgery, the zinc plating, it’s a little off. Anyway.
1986 nickel, got Herbert Hoover on it. One of the most hated presidents of all time, how’d he get on the nickel?
And lastly, okay, look that this, this is the prize of my collection, 1998 quarter. Who’s on it instead of Washington? That’s Benedict Arnold. I swear before all that is holy. You know, that son of a bitch was a war hero before he turned traitor.
So that’s it. That’s my entire collection right there. Nothing else to show. This is my specialty. You see here my life.
What does it mean? I don’t know the meanings of things. But you know, if you think about these guys who could have been president but weren’t, except for Hoover I mean, that’s their commonality. What I think is that maybe travelers left these coins here. I didn’t say aliens, did I? I said travelers. What I mean is people who travel from other dimensions, alternate histories, that kind of thing. It’s a real thing, with physics and quantum mechanics. I’m a scholar. I read. No, I don’t know exactly how they work, I didn’t say I did. Who am I, Mr. Wizard? But you’re telling me, if you take it as a given that there are such dimensions and that these guys can travel through them, than what? He’s going to check each and every coin he’s got in his pocket for the historical relevancy of the dead, white guy on it? Every time he buys gum or a pair of shoes? People don’t work that way, believe me. That’s the thing with coins, they’re the one thing that everybody gots and nobody sees. Or maybe there are no travelers, maybe the coins themselves are the travelers. Coins get around. Maybe they’re small enough they fall through the cracks on their own. Maybe they plunk down of their own volition onto the sidewalks and in cash registers, world to world to world, I don’t know.
So there you have it. That is my specialty. Alternate reality coins. This is my niche.
What’ll I do with them? What is there to do? I don’t know. I don’t know but I do. I’m going to be buried with them, that’s what I’m going to do. They’re not for anybody else but me. They’re mine now. Thank you, fish sandwich. You know I have no kids, I can’t help thinking the coin thing has some connection with that. Besides, even if I did, do you think they’d be capable of appreciating this? I don’t think they would. They wouldn’t understand.
No, they’re coming with me. Those twelve coins, all in the breast pocket of my best suit with me in the grave in their little mylar bags. That’s where they belong.
These are what I love, everything else can go to hell. I love coins, I’m not ashamed of it. Everybody should be so lucky as this. I don’t feel that I was dealt a bum hand with this…obsession, what you want to call it. I don’t think I was shortchanged in any way. Get it? Not short changed? Anyway, you know, I think that that’s what you’re supposed to do in this life. You find something you love and you never let go. I think that that’s the secret.
by Alasdair Stuart
About the Author
John Medaille is a veteran of Podcastle, Pseudopod, the Dunesteef, Drabblecast, and the “Three-Lobed Burning Eye.”