AUGUSTA — It doesn’t take much for a lowly piece of loose change to accrue value over the years.

That’s one of the reasons a couple of dozen coin collectors and traders from Maine and across the rest of New England came to the Elks Lodge on Sunday morning for the Capital City Coin Show, held there twice a year.

One of its organizers, Mark Bradstreet, of Searsport, was handing out raffle tickets at the front of banquet space for door prizes that were awarded every hour.

One of the prizes was a nickel produced in 1936. Nickels from that era usually featured a buffalo on one side and a Native American on the other, but this one was “a hobo nickel,” Bradstreet said.

That meant someone — usually homeless — had altered the image of the Native American to make it look like someone else and sell it as a novelty item for a slight markup. In this case, a bowl-shaped hat had been engraved over the Native American’s headdress, given it the vague appearance of a Vietnam-era soldier wearing a helmet.

“That’s pretty good for some guy working in a railroad car,” remarked Bradstreet, estimating the coin’s present worth to be $10 or $15.


But Bradstreet, an auctioneer by training, wasn’t so bullish about the nickel issued in 2000 that a reporter proceeded to remove from his right pocket.

“I’d say it’s worth 5 cents,” he said of the coin bearing Thomas Jefferson’s profile.

The Sunday coin show was co-sponsored by the Knox County Coin Club and the Penobscot Bay Coin Club.

A number of traders who participated first got into coin collecting for kicks. Then as retirement age neared, they realized they could make a living off the proceeds.

“I got to turn my hobby into a vocation,” said Howard Barron, 69, a retired ceramic tile worker who lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and attends about two shows a month.

“I like this better,” added Barron, who was wearing a Hawaiian-themed shirt and was returning from a trip to northern Maine.


Laid out in several display cases, Barron’s collection included a Canadian railway token made of copper in 1847 and a silver replica made in 1947, the pair of which he was selling for $1,450. Slightly bigger than silver dollars, the tokens featured small circular holes in their centers and engravings of a steam engine on one side and a beaver on the other.

Barron also has coins from Scandinavia, north and central Africa, east Asia, Latin America and other corners of the world.

One of his prized offerings Sunday morning was a silver coin about the size of a dime, which he said was from the first batch of coins ever used as currency in Costa Rica. A flower was engraved on one side of the coin, which was issued in 1842. Barron marked its price as $1,850 but said he’d “sell it a little cheaper than that.”

Frank Trask, an 85-year-old collector and trader of bank notes who now lives in Farmingdale, had a similar outlook on the lifestyle.

“If you can make a living on your hobby, why wouldn’t you?” he wondered. “This is history, and it’s old history, and I’m saving it.”

But the fact that it’s old doesn’t mean it has lost value.


“Most of this is still legal tender,” Trask added, gesturing at a $10 note issued from Camden National Bank in 1875. He estimated its present worth to be $4,000.

Trask also pointed out a $10 bill issued from Megunticook National Bank of Camden in 1882. The note features artwork of the explorer Hernando de Soto finding the Mississippi River, and Trask said it’s one of just three such notes that are still accounted for. He estimated it’s now worth $5,000.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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