"At first glance the coin collection seemed unremarkable. The coins were from random countries all over the world and weren’t old, but neatly organized into coin sleeves." Photo from Coininvest/Wikicommons

Coin donation sets off treasure hunt with surprise ending

By  Quentin Schesnuik, Catholic Register Special
  • November 3, 2017
“Come down right now and I’ll give you $1,500 an ounce for the gold. Pick up your cash!” said the gold dealer over the phone in an unusually direct manner. His voice reminded me of Danny DeVito from the 1970’s hit TV sitcom, Taxi.

I politely thanked him, hung up the phone and imagined him muttering something unflattering as he squashed out a burning cigarette into a half full ashtray. I had originally found his name in a list at the Royal Canadian Mint’s website of dealers. There was nothing royal sounding about him. 

As the Manager of Planned Giving and Personal Gifts for the Archdiocese of Toronto, I frequently come in contact with interesting donations on behalf of our 225 parishes and various archdiocesan charities. In this instance, I had been called by a parish to help them with a collection of coins from a deceased parishioner. The parish had no idea how to handle the gift so I had taken possession of the coins and was trying to determine their worth and liquidate them so the parish could use the much needed funds in their ministry. 

At first glance the coin collection seemed unremarkable. The coins were from random countries all over the world and weren’t old, but neatly organized into coin sleeves. Initially, I thought there may have been souvenirs from all the different countries the donor had visited during their lifetime. 

What had prompted my call to the dealer was a Canadian Maple Leaf gold coin that was packaged separately from the binder in a small wooden box. I knew from experience that these types of coins are made by the Royal Canadian Mint and are among some of the purest gold coins in the world at .9999 pure gold.    

I called three more dealers from the Royal Canadian Mint’s website list, found one with a storefront in the GTA that was very professional and made my way there with the collection. When I arrived, I knew there was something special about the collection when three employees immediately stopped what they were doing and began to sort the coins. 

Over the course of two hours, I discovered that almost the entire collection was gold and silver coins from mints all over the world. There were gold Krugerrand coins from South Africa, gold pesos from Mexico, gold sovereigns from England, gold francs, liras, koronas, and even gold coins from Saudi Arabia and Jamaica.

The dealers put the coins through a spectrometer, a machine that can test the amount of gold in any item. They then checked this reading to the level of gold that the country’s mint, who originally made the coin, said it contained. For example: 24-karat gold is considered to be 100 per cent pure. If a gold coin is 22-karat gold and you want to calculate the percentage of gold in it, you simply take 22 and divide it into 24 to determine the level of purity. In this case, a 22-karat gold coin is 0.9167 pure. If this matched the purity the mint of the country which made the coin said it should contain (and the coin did not have any glaring defects), it was considered authentic.

Out of the entire collection, three Krugerrand gold coins from South Africa were found to be counterfeit, but were still made of gold. One of the counterfeits had even more gold in it than the real thing! It was .95 pure gold when a Krugerrand coin should only have .9167 gold. I asked the dealers why someone would make a counterfeit coin with more gold in it than the original.     

The dealers told me that during wars in the Middle East in the 1970s and 1980s a lot of counterfeit gold coins were made in Lebanon. Jewellers were melting down gold and using fake coin presses. The reason was that while many governments had made it illegal to take gold out of the country, this rule did not apply to coins. 

Since gold Krugerrand coins from South Africa are among the most popular in the world, these were the coins of choice for counterfeiters. And while the three coins were fakes, their gold content still made them worth over $500.

In the end, we received over $15,000 for the collection. The best part of the gift was that a parish received an unexpected windfall and much needed funds. The parish secretary almost fell over when I called her with the news.

(If you would like to make a special donation to your parish or favourite archdiocesan charity, please call Quentin Schesnuik at the Archdiocese of Toronto. He can be reached at 416-934-3400, ext. 561 or by email: development@archtoronto.org.)

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