This week I found myself worrying about Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, China, North Korea and Russia. I fretted about President Trump and tried to figure out whether firing John Bolton was a good thing (one less crazed interventionist in the administration) or a bad thing (surrender monkeys hand over Afghanistan to the Taliban). I also worried about a dark mole on my arm (turned out to be a bruise, not melanoma) and the lethargic behavior of our 10-year-old dogs (though they morphed into snarling wolf-dogs when a couple of dog walkers had the temerity to pass our house).
War, disease, death — why worry? Best to concentrate on money; how to make more, spend less and figure out how to invest for the future. Unfortunately, it may be too late to make any difference. We may be stuck with our present lives, but it’s still fun to make new plans.
This may come as a shock to those who know me well. But here it is: I collect money. No, not real money, as in a comforting balance sheet with plenty of cash, liquid investments and income property. What I collect are monetary artifacts, pieces of paper and lumps of metal that were once backed by the full faith and credit of nations that endure to this day. Some are worthless, some still retain value — all have lessons to teach.
Lesson #1: a $4 bill (yes, 4!) authorized by the Continental Congress and issued in 1776. Signed by my triple great-uncle Robert Hazlehurst, a Philadelphia banker and patriot, the bill “entitles the bearer to receive four Spanish milled dollars or the value thereof in gold or silver, according to a resolution of Congress passed in Philadelphia February 17, 1776.”
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Alas, by the time the war ended, Continental currency was valueless and the new republic refused to honor Uncle Robert’s promise. Neither did he — he was merely expressing confidence in the future government, not guaranteeing the note. The government finally redeemed the notes years later, offering holders about 1 cent on the dollar.
Judging from eBay offerings, my little bequest is worth about $300 to collectors. Not bad, but suppose Uncle Bob had taken the four pennies and passed them down instead? Uncirculated, each 1793 “Liberty with flowing hair” penny would be worth more than $100,000.
Lesson #2: a 50,000 peso note from El Banco de Mexico, dated May 12, 1986. At today’s exchange rate of .05 to the dollar, that’d be $2,500 — Puerto Vallarta, here we come! Better bring some real money, though — the currency was demonetized in the late ’80s, and the Banco de Mexico will honor it at one to 1,000. That would be $2.50.
By contrast, if you had 50,000 silver pesos from 1948, each containing .225 ounces of silver, your little hoard would be worth $204,412.50.
Lesson #3: sixteen stock certificates, expensively printed on heavy stock, some beautifully designed and illustrated, representing hundreds of thousands of shares in Cripple Creek mining ventures promoted by my maternal grandfather. None panned out and Grandpa died broke at 36, leaving little for his wife and four kids. She remarried, the kids thrived and I ended up with the stock. The certificates have some value, so I guess I could sell ’em and spend a week in Mexico, but I have other plans. I’ll give one to each of my grandkids and great-grandchildren, hoping that they’ll learn from his and my mistakes. One of his promotions was the Flying Cloud Gold Mining Company, whose name alone may have deterred potential investors.
Lesson #4: a 1906 bronze medallion coined by the Denver Manufacturers and Merchants Association, featuring the Colorado State Seal on the obverse and this message on the reverse: “Keep Your Money In Colorado.” The flyers, newspaper ads, editorials and letters of the day have vanished, but the medallion remains, and its message is still relevant. Support your city, your state, and your local businesses, entrepreneurs and neighbors. Don’t worry about the apocalypse, and don’t expect to hit it big in Cripple Creek. And if you go anyway and hit a jackpot, I can help you invest the proceeds!
I have a little gold mining venture that I’m offering to a favored few. Believe me, your grandchildren will be grateful…