HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY – When Sun City Center resident Richard Fee was 13 years old his mother was afraid he would spend the money people paid him for their newspapers to buy coins.
Fee, who then earned $3 a week on his newspaper route, has now been a coin collector for more than 50 years, after receiving a tip from a delivery in coins he didn’t recognize.
“I thought it was foreign money,” Fee said in an interview Sept. 22. “But it was a ‘flying eagle cent,’ dated 1857. I kept it 30 years before I sold it for $3.50.”
That coin piqued his interest and he began to study money; the history of the Federal Reserve; and how Andrew Jackson had made sure there was always enough silver and gold in the First National Bank of the United States to keep the country out of debt.
Fee’s interest in coins, like many other members of the Brandon Coin Club, is not about investment. He still collects because of a love of history.
Now an expert, he speaks to groups and is a registered counselor for the Gulf Ridge Council of Boy Scouts of America. In this capacity he teaches classes on coins so the scouts can earn merit badges.
“I like to give them a coin or two to start their collections,” he said. “Coins have sentimental value as well as monetary value.”
One coin he has in his possession was given only to survivors of the Battle of Verdun in France in World War I.
“There were over a million casualties and the few survivors of that historic battle were issued this particular coin. I would never sell it,” he said.
Most of the members have a passion for the history behind the coins as well as searching for coins of value, said club founder, Bloomingdale resident Mark Palermo.
“I started mugging my dad for coins when I was 8 or 9 years old,” Palermo said. “I had my first show at 16. I later got into it for investment but in April 1980 when the government cracked down (because of some who were not practicing ethically) I lost more than a hundred thousand dollars. Silver suddenly went from $50 an ounce to $8.”
So in 1982 Palermo came to Florida from New York City and became a contractor.
Eventually, his love of coins surfaced and he opened a small store in Seffner that bought and sold. It was while he had that store that he found out from regular customers there had been an active Brandon coin club since the 1950s that had disbanded sometime earlier.
He checked and found out that there were coin clubs in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Pasco County but nothing active nearby.
“There was a Tampa Coin Club in South Tampa that we’re just now trying to help revitalize,” he said. “We’re helping them get their 501(c)7 and bylaws. The demographics in South Tampa changed and the older members just moved away.”
A 501(c)7 club is tax-exempt but people who donate to it cannot take those donations off their income tax like with a 501(c)3, he explained.
Now the group from the Brandon club has got the Tampa Bay Coin Club up and running, meeting the first Wednesday of every month at the Land of Lakes Community Center. “That area proved to be a better venue (than South Tampa) with all the demographic changes in the county,” he explained.
The Brandon club, however, has grown to 100 members and now outgrown two meeting places; the American Legion on the corner of Hannaway Drive and U.S. 301 in Riverview and the Brandon Community Center.
“They were both just great to us but we got too big for them,” Palermo said.
Now the group meets the third Tuesday of each month at the Brandon Elks Club, 800 Centennial Lodge Drive, Brandon, with an informal talk-time beginning about 6:15 and a short business meeting about a half hour later.
The club is currently under the supervision of President Sid Dyson who has been in Florida since 1970, having come from South Carolina.
Sid started his love affair with coins in the seventh grade when his teacher brought in a book to class. “At that age, our attention span is about 15 minutes,” Dyson said. “But this held my interest for days.”
He still remembers the first coins he learned about were the wheat penny and the buffalo nickel.
Past President Bill Hatfield and his wife Mary say it is something the two can enjoy together.
“Mary is in charge of setting up coin shows, keeping track of members, greeting everyone. We’d have a really hard time operating without her,” Hatfield said.
Mary Hatfield’s interest is as much in the members as in the coins.
“We have members from 13 into their 90s,” Mary Hatfield said. “We’re intergenerational. And the older members never refer to the young ones as ‘children.’ Sometimes, when the older members don’t show up, I send a card. If I get no response, I call. If I still don’t get a response, I go and check on them to be sure they’re OK.”
Bill Hatfield is especially interested in collecting the special “state quarters” that began coming out in 1999.
“They all have something special on them about their state, like the Statue of Liberty for New York, astronaut John Glenn for Ohio.”
He says he has a Sacagawea golden dollar – which is only gold in color, not precious metal- of which he is proud. “Sacagawea was the Indian guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition,” he explained.
The local clubs are part of FUN- the Florida United Numismatists- which is the proper name for “coin collector.” FUN is a member of the ANA, or American Numismatist Association.
The ANA is the only private club chartered by Congress, according to Palermo. You can find out all about the ANA by visiting www.money.org.
Any money the club makes is used for education. In the summer, a 16-year old member was sent to the annual ANA convention in Colorado Springs.
“This year, we’re having an essay contest to decide which member gets to go,” Palermo said. Many things are learned at the national seminars that can be brought back and shared with the club, and at school and library ‘teach-ins,’ he added.
The Brandon club accepts members from all over the county and wants to obtain more members from South County. It is currently getting ready for a coin show at the Brandon Elks Lodge Oct. 20 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
To find out more about the club, call Palermo at (813) 361-0740.