HISTORY IN HAND
SPRINGFIELD — Whether a modern quarter displaying a U.S. national park or a rare, hand-hammered Greek denarius dating back to 250 A.D., history is woven throughout the process and story of all coins, tokens and currencies, according to Monte Mensing, president of the Springfield Coin Club.
“Most coin and currency collectors are history freaks. I know I’m a history freak,” Mensing said. “But history is completely connected with the stories and evolution of the world’s money.”
Springfield’s 63rd annual Coin, Currency and Token Show brought collectors and prospective buyers to the Holiday Inn in the Gateway area on Saturday and Sunday, where collectors exhibited their vast treasures of ancient and modern money while engaging and explaining the backstory of each piece.
The history side of the hobby is free, but coin collecting is a little more expensive, Mensing said, referring to the fact that some pieces in the show were selling for $20,000.
“It’s a lot, but true coin collectors do it,” he said.
Mensing, who displayed just a small portion of his lifelong collection, said he began collecting coins at age 9 after hearing about a penny that was worth $90 and decided he needed to “get his hands on it.”
“I liked history already, and when I was looking for that penny I fell into coin collecting,” he said. “And I sold one of those same pennies for $1,900 last week.”
His focus on coin collecting swayed only once.
“There was this horrible time in junior high when we all became interested in girls,” he said with a laugh. “Besides that, I’ve never stopped.”
Among his collection, Mensing displayed a heavy, bronze coin that “was worth a number of people’s lives” when it was created 2,300 years ago in Rome. Now, he has priced the rare piece at $1,000.
“There were so few of these coins, and existing in the time and place that it did, it has to have touched many famous hands,” he said.
He also featured currency from 1899 to 1901 that displayed Native American symbols — a bison, a black eagle and an Indian chief — that were part of an Americana series in which the government was recognizing contributions to the United States by Native Americans.
Phil Fields, another longtime numismatist, displayed a range of pieces that also offered glimpses into Oregon’s history.
Fields, who said he has been collecting coins since 1960, shared an Oregon Trail half-dollar coin featuring a Native American standing in front of a U.S. map on one side and an ox-drawn covered wagon heading toward the setting sun on the other. With the coins made between only 1926 and 1939, the half-dollar piece now is worth at least $150, according to Fields.
Fields and Mensing both displayed fractional currency; with an appearance of miniature dollar bills, the fractional currency bills represent 3, 5, 10, 15, 25 and 50 cents.
“It was the Fractional Currency Act of 1861 that led to these,” Fields said. “During the Civil War, the government needed all of the copper it could get for weaponry and bullets, so they issued these series of fractional currency to use paper instead.”
At other tables, collectors exhibited everything from Eugene-based tokens to a Queen Victoria silver jubilee and a handful of exceedingly rare poker chips. One collector featured iconic Disney dollars.
“I’m definitely one of the few people who specializes in Disney dollars,” said Terry Woodward, who displayed currency featuring numerous Disney characters and themes.
He has a special anniversary edition Disney $50 bill made in 2005 to commemorate Disneyland’s 50th anniversary. The bill, which features confetti and Mickey Mouse looking into a mirror reflecting an original image of himself, is one of only 500 ever made, and one of 100 that were signed by the designer, according to Woodward.
“Now, this is worth $2,500,” he said, adding that Disney has stopped making Disney dollars.
Collecting coins, tokens and currency might seem to be a lost hobby in the age of technology, Mensing said, but collectors and attendees at the show demonstrated passion for the art.
The Springfield Coin Club meets at 7 p.m. the third Monday of each month at Putters, 1156 Highway 99. For more information about the Springfield club as well as others around Oregon, visit oregoncoinclubs.org.
“If you like coins, this is a lifestyle,” Mensing said.