By Mike Fuljenz
In 2017, my wife, Karen, and I went to hear Wynonna Judd and the Big Noise in her excellent Christmas show. It got me to thinking about a new way of giving gifts as the holidays approach.
One of her songs was “Grandpa, Tell Me ’Bout the Good Old Days.” That got me thinking about my first interest in rare coins, which was sparked by my grandfather, “Red” Lievens, nicknamed Red for the color of his hair. When I was growing up in Louisiana, beginning about the time I was 7, “Red” began giving me an uncirculated silver dollar for every “A” on my report card and separately for birthdays and holidays. In the early 1960s, he got uncirculated silver dollars at face value from the bank.
I was intrigued by the design on those old Morgan silver dollar coins and set out to learn more about them. This inspired me to pursue the path of a lifetime of pleasure in a hobby and then a career that has been a source of endless satisfaction. As time goes by, I’m more and more impressed by my grandfather’s intuitive understanding that coins made of precious metals carried a certain “heft” that said they could always trump paper money of equal face value. Dollar bills from the 1960s are still worth $1, but uncirculated Morgan silver dollars are worth a whole lot more.
The Judd song, “Grandpa, Tell Me ’Bout the Good Old Days” won a Grammy in 1987 for “Best Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.” It was a number one country and western hit and gave voice to America’s longing for the kinder, gentler way of life they’d known in days gone by. Here’s a sample of the lyrics:
Grandpa, everything is changing fast
We call it progress, but I just don’t know
And grandpa, let’s wander back into the past
And paint me the picture of long ago
(On YouTube, see: https://youtu.be/iCxBswokjMo)
The song simply – and fondly – recalled a time of traditional American values – marriages that usually lasted a lifetime, fathers who were steadfast in supporting their children, and families that bonded by bowing their heads in prayer. The silver dollars I got from my grandfather were part of that value system – old-fashioned coins whose worth was completely real, not just symbolic.
The same sentiment was also part of a Merle Haggard song, “Are the Good Times Really Over?”
I wish a buck was still silver.
It was back when the country was strong.
…Is the best of the free life behind us now,
And are the good times really over for good?
The dollars my grandfather gave me had the desired effect: I studied diligently in order to earn more A’s – and more silver dollars. As a bonus, I discovered a tremendously fulfilling avocation and vocation that has brightened my life ever since. If you have children, grandchildren, or other youngsters who are special to you, I urge you to follow my grandfather’s example by giving them something with intrinsic value next time there’s a reason to celebrate.
You can’t get silver dollars for $1 apiece any more, but they still make great incentives for rewarding “A” grades, and they might well increase in value a lot faster than today’s dollar bills in a bank account.
Come to think of it, Grandpa Red also deserves a great big “A” on the report card of his life!
Thinking back to the 1960s and 1970s, the Franklin Mint sold many kinds of holiday-themed silver bars and greeting cards that were very popular. One example was a Christmas card that encapsulated a themed copper or silver round. Since that time, many popular copper and silver rounds have been minted by private mints with holiday themes for gift-giving.
The U.S. Mint also manufactures proof sets and mint sets that are very popular for gift-giving or for celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. My grandmother especially liked to order them for this purpose. Many of my friends like to give silver American Eagles for birthday or Christmas presents, or even to tip waiters by way of explaining what “real money” is, as opposed to paper money.
One unusual but effective way to wrap a gift is to buy uncut $1 or $2 bills (in sheets of 32 or 64 bills) from the U.S. Mint, and wrap your most precious small gift (such as jewelry or a coin set) in uncut paper money. Nothing says “open me first” better than a gift wrapped in real greenbacks. The U.S. Mint sells uncut sheets of $1, $2, $10, $20, $50, and $100 notes.
Another gift-giving idea is coin supplies, such as quality Bausch & Lomb magnifying loupes, coin books, and subscriptions to coin publications. These have brightened many a Christmas and Hanukkah celebration of mine. They have entertained and impacted me longer than most other gifts. And consider giving a subscription to COINage to someone you love. You will not regret it!