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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Gray Matter: A priceless penny for your thoughts

Monday, October 17, 2005

In my constant rummaging and sorting, I have unearthed coins and some paper currency saved by both my mother and my husband.  I decided I should have it all appraised.  A trustworthy and competent collector, who had been highly recommended, was examining these things recently and not finding much of remarkable value.  Oh, there were a few "Morgan" dollars and a "Peace" dollar or two, but little else of note. 

Then he picked up the 1863 Indian Head penny which I thought might have some value. His eyes got big and so did my hopes.  When he turned it over and peered through his magnifier, his face fell.  "Who was 'WA'?" he asked.  I drew a total blank and told him I had no idea. Right at that moment, I hadn't.  It was not detectable to the naked eye, but someone, had taken something sharp and scratched those initials on the back of the coin, immediately reducing it's worth to $3.00, the going rate for all but the rarest of Indian Heads. Thinking about all of this set some wheels turning and I started to recall  some tales from long ago.

My mother was raised in western Nebraska, but most of her family's relatives lived in Illinois.  Grandfather's brother had two daughters who were close to Mother, in  age.  Most every summer their parents would send Mom and her sisters back to Illinois for an extended visit.  (I used to listen to those stories, green with envy.  If we got as far as Fort Dodge, 20 miles away, in my depression-era childhood, we were lucky.)

The girls boarded a mainline train in their home town and  rode to a city in Illinois where the east-west Burlington intersected the north-south Illinois Central.  There, they changed trains and were soon met by the Armstrong relatives in Lincoln, IL.

You know how I hate sounding like an "old timer", but here I find myself turning a bit nostalgic.  Compare that time with this. There was never the least  fear or trepidation on the part of those young ladies or their parents. It was a given that the trainmen would take care of the girls as they would their own children.  Doesn't this, somehow, leave us all with an increased sense of appreciation for the "good old days"?      

Most of  their time in Illinois was spent at Uncle Andy's gracious Victorian farm home, but each year they would all go to their cottage at the local Chautauqua Park for a week  What cultural and educational experiences that must have provided for those young minds!  Someday I hope  to devote a Gray Matter to that remarkable institution. .But I'm getting far afield. 

The two girl cousins had a younger brother who was just at the right age to be a bit of a pest.  Mother's only brother was older than she.  He was the one who taught her to ride a bike, ice-skate and do all the things a caring big brother might teach.  Little brothers were another matter. 

There, in true Lincoln Country,  I expect everyone was unusually conscious of things relating to the Civil War.  Now can't you just imagine, if this 1863 coin surfaced during one of those summers, how it might  have become a most sought-after memento for  them all?  Am I going too far when I envision that pesky little kid scratching his initials on it to secure his ownership?  His name, by the way, was Willard Armstrong !

How his cousin, my mom, managed to gain possession of the disfigured coin, is still open to conjecture.  The minimal appraisal price is of little consequence, as it is  too valuable a family treasure for us to consider selling it,  but doesn't  it make a "priceless" story?