By Luke Baynes
The one-cent coin, commonly known as the penny, is a neglected denomination of American currency.
How many times have you told a gas station clerk to keep the change on a $1.99 purchase, or superstitiously declined to pick up a shiny Lincoln from the pavement because it had the misfortune of landing tails side up?
But as numismatist Jon Milizia observes, one red cent could potentially be worth big bucks.
“A coin, to be valuable, it has to be rare … or it has some kind of major error,” Milizia said. “A good example of that would be a 1969-S penny. If it’s doubled—meaning you can see everything twice—there’s only a few of those. It would be worth like $150,000.”
Milizia, who owns the Williston-based Attic Treasures Coin & Jewelry with his partner, Kiersten Olivetti, is certified by the Colorado Springs-based American Numismatic Association, a group dedicated to the collection and study of coins, paper money, tokens and medals. He said that while there is a decent coin collector’s market in Vermont, the bulk of his coin business involves the reselling of silver coinage to refineries.
“The U.S. mint coins had a 90 percent silver (ratio) until 1964, and then they continued making the Kennedy half (dollar) from 1965 to 1970 in 40 percent silver, and that was actually the last U.S. coin that had any silver in it,” Milizia explained. “Based on the current price per ounce, which is about $34 for an ounce of pure silver, we usually offer somewhere around 25 times the face value, so if it’s a half dollar that’s silver, pre-’64, we would offer $12.50 each.”
Despite the often grimy appearance of an old coin, Milizia said owners should avoid cleaning or polishing currency on the odd chance that it might be a rare treasure.
“There’s been some examples right off the top of my head where people would have had very valuable items had they not cleaned them,” he said. “When an item’s been cleaned, oftentimes a chemical is involved which removes the luster, and luster and eye appeal are two major factors when it comes to coin grading.”
Milizia founded a landscaping company called Landscape Design Associates in 2004. Although he still maintains the business on a seasonal basis, he said the ongoing economic recession has had the effect of decreasing his horticulture work while increasing his numismatic client base.
“I think the growing fear about the economy with the public has encouraged, or at least brought to their attention, the options of silver and gold,” Milizia said.
Located at 4626 Williston Road near the corner of Industrial Avenue, Attic Treasures also buys and sells jewelry, antiques and even the occasional guitar. Milizia said that regardless of the item being bought or sold, his business model is based on giving the customer a square deal.
“With this business, to me it’s all about taking the mystery out of selling your items,” he said. “One of the things I learned out at the ANA (American Numismatic Association) is that 90 percent of the people in the general public who own coins or jewelry have inherited them, and they know little to nothing about them. So instead of using that against the potential seller, we try to help them and inform them about what they have.”