Saturday, August 27, 2011

Time's Coin

 "Time is the coin of your life," said Carl Sandburg. "It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent."

 My time is often spent looking down at my feet; not just nature resides there. Because people regularly drop coins,  I as regularly pick them up. For years we've had a contest here at Pinehaven: who can find the most coins in a calendar year? We keep a sheet of paper in our top desk drawer and whenever one of us finds a coin, we place it on the ledger below our name.

 So, to preface this story, let me say, that I keep watching where my feet land, hoping I'll find another penny. Mom often laughs. "You'd knock me down for a penny, wouldn't you? Well ...

 Two days ago I was looking down as I got out of the car and began walking across a parking lot. As I opened Mom's door, I saw at the edge of the asphalt, where it meets soil, a blackish coin-like object. I picked it up, turned it in my finger and dismissed it as an old slug.

 "You'd better keep that and see what it is," Mom said. I tossed it onto the floor of the car. Frankly, I forgot about it.

 Today Mom was again sitting in the back seat (I call it "Driving Miss Mary") and she picked up the dark object. "This looks like some sort of coin to me," she said. When we got home, she brought it into the house and handed it to me. There by the kitchen window I turned it in my fingers and, when the light was just right, I saw a profile rise from one side. "It was a coin!"

 Here it is. My "find" is on the left and a reference is on the right (click the picture to magnify):

Time will bring to light whatever is hidden;
it will cover up and conceal what is now shining in splendor"

 I've slightly angled my find so that the light is coming from the upper left. It brings the limited detail into better relief. This coin is called an "8 Maravedis" which was minted from 1816 to 1839. It is a coin of the Spanish monarchy and the portrait on the front is King Ferdinand VII. This particular coin is dated 1818.

 Identifying the coin required a bit of detective work. Without Google it would have been impossible. I initially figured it was a U.S. coin but I looked through every one minted in 1818 and it was clearly not among them. Widening the search (using images) eventually began showing me similar coins. Eventually the proper one was displayed. It was Spanish.

 Ferdinand VII was king of Spain twice, for 48 days in 1808 and again from 1813 - 1829 (when this coin was minted). He was a contemporary of Napoleon Bonaparte. Ferdinand died in 1833 at the age of 48.

 The next question is how did a nearly two hundred year old coin show up beneath my feet here in the Midwestern U.S.? Perhaps someone lost it recently (more likely); perhaps it was dropped a century and a half ago and was stirred to the surface by a recent rain? Perhaps I came upon stolen property.
 The coin system in the United States is partially based on Spanish coinage and it's possible the coin was spent here in the early years of America. The Maravedis was also commonly used in Mexico and I have to remember that local soldiers fought there in the 1846 to 1848 time frame. Perhaps one of them brought home a souvenir of the war? The coin would have been only 28 years old at the start of the war.

 Does the coin have any value? Likely not. Though it seems made of silver to me, I have read where the composition is "probably not precious". An 8 Maravedis in well-preserved condition might bring $40 (2010 figure). A worn one might be worth $10. That's not much for something so old so I assume there were plenty of them minted and plenty still around.

But for one who finds Lincoln cents which have been run over by a car, it's unusual to find a coin that's so old and from so far away. It always pay to keep looking.