Posted on April 14, 2011 by Don Willis
Back in the late 1950s I was growing up in Binghamton, NY. That’s considered Upstate if you’re living in the NYC area but it’s only about three hours north of the City. When I look back on those years I can’t imagine anything more idyllic. We didn’t have to worry about all the things young kids do today. We never heard of child molesters or kidnappers. No one ever tried to hurt you or take your stuff. Besides, there were too many adults around that simply wouldn’t let that happen. Police didn’t arrest people – at least we never heard of it happening. The worst thing that could happen was getting in trouble with your parents.
After a quick breakfast the door would slam and I would be on my bike headed off for a day of adventure. Often times I would slide my baseball glove over my handlebars and head for the ball field where we would play all day. It was a simple little field where we would play Little League on the days we played organized ball. Somehow a few of us would congregate until there were enough for two teams. Then the fun would begin.
Binghamton was part of what was called the “Tri-City” area. I think the Tri-Cities consisted of Binghamton, Endicott and Johnson City. Back in 1960 or 1961 my dad got me started on collecting coins. We approached collecting like most others back then. We bought several blue Whitman folders and diligently worked to fill them. Everything we collected we found in circulation. In the early 60s there were a lot of older coins that were still in circulation. Silver coins were still the standard and the only people with any reason to take coins out of circulation were collectors. On many an occasion my mother would give me a 50c piece and tell me to go to the Grand Union and get a loaf of bread. These were usually Franklins or Walkers, and I’m not sure if my memory is playing tricks on me, but I seem to remember some Barbers as well.
One night I was sitting in front of the TV and the local news was on. The news team was quite excited about some local young man who had just spent a king’s ransom on a coin – a dime at that. They actually interviewed the youngster and you could tell they were flabbergasted. That young man’s name was Q. David Bowers. I think he was a teenager at the time. The coin was an 1894-S 10c that I think he paid $10,000 for. That was probably more than most of those news people made in a year. It caused quite a stir! QDB’s Empire Coins was located in the Tri-City area.
Money was pretty tight back in those days. We could go to the movies for 65c, and a candy bar was only a nickel. One of our entrepreneurial ways of making money was to pedal our bikes around town looking for soda bottles that had been tossed to the side of the road. We could redeem most of them for 2c each. Finding 3 or 4 bottles made you rich! (BTW – tossing a soda bottle out your car window was standard operating procedure in those days. We hadn’t heard of littering yet.)
On the corner next to the ballpark was a little corner store called Sammy’s. It was quite the hangout for the pre-teen crowd. Sammy had this great big wooden counter that he always stood behind. It was surrounded by all kinds of candy and enough other enticements to make sure that we never left with any money. Sammy was a wily old guy with a sense of humor. He had glued a buffalo nickel on the wooden counter and would deliberately turn his back to anyone standing in front of it. There was a little mirror that he would use to watch that person struggle to pick that nickel off the counter. It was his way of having fun with any new person that came in.
One day, after cashing in a couple empty bottles, my friend Richard and I were trying to decide what to buy when I noticed that one of the pennies I had just received looked funny. All the lettering and the date were doubled! I remember saying something about it, like “boy they really messed up when they made this coin”, but I didn’t know anything about 1955 double dies. I went ahead and bought my candy and spent my penny. Little did I know that the Tri-City area was ground zero for the distribution of the 1955 double die cents. I never saw another in circulation.
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