Finding the True Value in Coins of Any Realm

Photo Credit of Paul Raine by Barbara McMichael

From dentalium to tea bricks, from paper checks to wire transfers to plastic cards to cryptocurrency – over time, people have come up with many different methods of paying for goods and services. Not all of these have held up to the test of time, but metal coinage, used since before the Common Era, has earned a reputation for longevity.

To take a look at some of those coins from throughout history, I visited a strip mall along a busy thoroughfare south of Seattle. Tucked in amidst a landscape supply business, a Thai restaurant, and an insurance agency, LJR Coins maintains a low profile. Proprietors Paul and Laurie Raine don’t really have to toot their horn – they launched an EBay store back in 2003 and succeeded in developing a national customer base before ever opening a bricks-and-mortar location seven years later. 

Their shop carries a large inventory of both American coins and coins from around the world. The couple specializes in locating hard-to-find and professionally graded and authenticated coins.

But the Raines also make time for what might be called the “coin-curious.” They are generous is sharing their 45+ years of coin collecting experience with newcomers, performing complimentary appraisals and purchasing small as well as large collections. They take time to explain what goes into the valuation of each piece when newbie numismatists (that’s the two-buck word for coin collectors) are disappointed to learn that the coin collection they inherited from their great uncle Ed is not anywhere near the jackpot they were hoping in might be.

And Paul does, in fact, have an appreciation for old pennies. That’s how he got into collecting coins in the first place. Born in England, Paul from an early age kept an eye out for the elusive Queen Victoria pennies.

When he immigrated to America as a young man in search of better work opportunities, he settled into a career at Caterpillar, Inc. But the move also gave him a chance to become well-acquainted with a different national currency.

 “I’m especially partial to 17th through 19th century silver,” he says now. “The skill of the die-making was incredible.”

Despite the wide array of new quarter designs that are being produced by the U.S. Mint in the 21st century, however, he’s not enamored with the artwork and he feels the attention to craftsmanship has suffered because “they make dies with computers now.”

Laurie abides by a somewhat different set of standards. She looks for the “bizarre” and the novelty collectables. There’s the 2008 non-circulating dollar in Australia’s Lunar Series, for example. It displays the imperturbable profile of Queen Elizabeth II on one side of the coin, while the other side features a rat standing on its hind legs – in honor of the Chinese Year of the Rat.

Laurie’s also proud of the opium dollar in her collection. Also known as a sweetheart dollar, the coin is actually a hinged locket with a secret compartment made from trade dollars generated by the U.S. Mint in the 1870s to facilitate trade with China. Whether or not those opium dollars were ever used for concealing an illicit drug stash or the portrait of a secret lover, they do suggest a racier use than the design on the obverse side, of Liberty extending an olive branch over the sea, might have you believe.

In any event, it’s easy to spend more than an hour in LJR Coins, learning about chop marks and proof sets and how monetary policies and resource extraction and international politics have affected the minting of coins, and the location of mints.

And it’s easy to spend another hour peering into the display cases and admiring the Endangered Wildlife gold coins issued by Gambia, the enameled silver guitar-shaped coins of Somalia, and a dazzling bullseye-toned Lincoln penny.

But even for all of the coins on display, the proprietors advise that coin collecting should be more about pleasure than a path to getting rich quick.

Laurie tempers expectations this way: “We don’t have a pool, and we don’t look out over a lake.”

“The only pool we had was when the sewer system failed,” Paul chimes in.  “But,” he adds, “coin collecting is a great hobby.”

Even more, it can be a profound one. These bits of silver, copper, nickel and gold, when passed from one person to the next, give each individual along the way a chance to contemplate how he or she is holding realms of history, geography and artistry – right in the palm of one’s hand.


Barbara Lloyd McMichael is a freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest.


Barbara McMichael

Barbara Lloyd McMichael is based in the Pacific Northwest and writes about books and culture. She writes a syndicated weekly book review column called  “The Bookmonger” that focuses on Northwest books and authors. Her PR for People® Book Review is written exclusively for The Connector. 

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