PITTSBURGH — Most of his customers are getting on in age.
“It’s a hobby that kids are not getting into these days,” says Rich Borland, 72, owner of The Coin Store in Lower Burrell. “I started coin collecting at age 12. I’ve been doing it off and on ever since.”
He sits behind the counter in his quiet, tiny shop. On the glass top before him is a scale, a box of early 20th century Liberty Head nickels that sell for $1 apiece, and another box of small, plastic cylinders containing wheat cents, minted from 1909 to 1958. A sign on the box reads: “You Pick, I Price.”
Borland turns to the register and takes out a handful of quarters.
“See this?” he says. “That’s not money.”
He drops the coins back in the register.
“They’re tokens,” he says. “I know what money is, and we haven’t had any since they stopped putting anything valuable in coins. They haven’t made anything worth collecting in 50 years. No silver, no gold. It has no intrinsic value. Tokens.”
To illustrate his point, he picks up an old Eisenhower silver dollar. It is large, fitting comfortably in the palm of his hand. Then he picks up a Susan B. Anthony silver dollar, which the government started minting in 1979. It is barely larger than a quarter.
He holds them up next to each other.
“They expect you to believe that these two coins are each worth a dollar,” he says, shaking his head.
Above him is a sign with a quote from 17th century French philosopher Jean De La Bruyere:
The exact contrary of what is often believed is often the truth.
The Coin Store opened in 1991. It originally was owned by Tom Greenaway, Borland’s friend. Borland was in the shop often. Then Greenaway fell ill, and in 1998, Borland bought him out.
“I’ve had to cut back the hours over the years because fewer people were coming in,” he says. “It didn’t make any sense to sit here and be lonely.”
A man with wild white hair walks in — Borland’s second potential customer in an hour. He sits down at a table and grabs a magnifying glass and a box of Buffalo nickels. He says nothing to anyone as he begins examining the coins.
Borland is not merely a coin collector.
He is a numismatist — says so on his business cards — which he describes as someone who takes the hobby more passionately than a standard collector.
“For me, I think the real passion is with the ancient coins,” Borland says. “They have such a history — and they’re still around.”
He walks around the counter to a display. He points to a tiny Greek coin, from the ancient city of Miletus. The edges are rough, and the face depicts a lion’s head. It is 2,500 years old.
Borland notes other ancient Greek coins and their designs: a turtle, a flower — the ancient city of Apollonia used a crayfish next to an anchor. It wasn’t until Julius Caesar in the Roman Empire that faces began appearing on coins, Borland says. Now almost every coin has a face on it.
“It’s just a fascinating field,” he says. “It branches off into so many areas. The ancient coins, treasure coins, shipwreck coins that were lost at sea and recovered. I don’t sell a lot of that stuff. It’s not something I’m willing to part with right now. In time, obviously, I will. I’m getting pretty damn old.”
Borland is not merely buying and selling coins.
He is preserving history in the form of flattened pieces of copper and silver and gold, some of which were made hundreds of years before Jesus was born.
They are a huge part of his life. Yet Borland will have held them for a mere fraction of their timelines.
“They’re just passing through my hands,” he said.
He walks back behind the counter and sits down.
He looks around his quiet shop.
The silent man in the corner continues to study the Buffalo nickels.
Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, http://pghtrib.com