Flea Market Failure: My Two Cents

When I received a free admission pass to the Victoria Flea Market from Sorensen Books owner Cathy Sorensen, complete with advice of which vendor would be selling the best postcards, I had a mental image of an upscale antiques fair selling vintage and rare items to collectors.  I didn’t expect an actual flea market.

“You DON’T want to be covered in my freaky potions?!”

Nonetheless, I carried on, fighting my way through the throngs of people (tens of people) and past the hippy trying to smear me with some kind of skin oil – who, if she reads this eventually, should not throw an angry face fit when someone refuses to be touched by you – flipping through undated “World War One” photos and rusty old farm equipment bits.

I bought a cookie from a little boy, the only non-scary vendor in the place, to tide me through my journey.

I arrived at the market near the end of its run, around 1:20pm on Sunday.  My first stop in the Leonardo Da Vinci Centre‘s main hall was at a table covered in coins.  The man guarding it, some flippant old arse who was incredibly rude to his customers, was wearing a ratty cravat under his ratty beige leather coat and selling old coins un-priced out of Tupperware containers. He also had a collection of broken pocket watches, some pocket knives, and some costume jewellery.  While waiting for the postcard table to clear, I dove into his coin collection.  [I should mention here that not all the vendors were strange, mean old men, just this one.  I had plenty of really great experiences with vendors including one really awesome guy named Dave who not only explained all about the subject matter but gave me a discount for being a student and because of my interest in history.  The gentleman who sold me the German coins (below) was also very helpful.]

When I was a kid I collected coins, among many other things.  I was fascinated by the different denominations, different faces, different feels of each country’s currency.  I had Japanese exchange students send me money when they made it home, friends would bring me coins from their summer holidays, and I’d accumulated enough Canadian pennies from the 1960’s or earlier to start my own bank.  I am not, however, a collector in the quality sense of the word.

As the customers drifted away from the table I had my eye on across the lane, I decided I’d check how badly people were being swindled by the coin man.  I picked five that I thought were interesting and held them out asking how much (one already had a price of $1.25 and was in a cardboard holder, which he quickly ripped off saying it wasn’t the way he priced things).  He held my five coins in my hand, tossed them around a bit as if weighing both their value and mine, and then said $5 for the lot.  I was shocked.  In a good way.

I know nothing about coin pricing.  I had thought he’d come back at me with a gigantic figure of $5 each, or more, which I would then be able to walk away from with a scoff.  Half those coins were pre-Confederation!  I had to have them, my mind instantly changed tact.  Little did I know even $5 was sky-high for coins out of a grab bin.

Here’s what I got, starting with Canada:

Canadian One Cent: 1910

This coin is the most recent one that I bought.  It features King Edward VII on the face, a clear marking of the date, and it’s 92 years old.  5,146,487 of these mostly copper coins were minted, based on the design by G.W. De Saulles.  Probably worth something you’d think.  Actually I was surprised by how much it is worth.

This coin is pretty beaten up.  While the writing is quite clear and the leaf border is still nice, the N in ONE is rubbed off, there is a whole in “cent,” and Edwards face has almost no detail.  The coin’s edges are warped as well.

According to Coins and Canada, this would be rated a G-4 and would be worth about $2.50 (the examples on eBay reflect just a bit lower than this).  Not bad for a coin pulled out of a bin.

Almost the same as the 1910 version, this 1888 coin features Queen Victoria and is in slightly better shape.

My 1888 One Cent example is in better shape, with better coloration, and less wear, so it must be worth millions, right?  Wrong!  About $6.

Still, that’s a $5 profit I’ve made!  This coin has a decent amount of wear on the image, but all the text is in good condition.  The 1888 coin featured some distinct die issues, including a crack after the final A in Canada, and a “double 888” feature where the date was stamped twice.  These defects more than double the value, especially if in mint condition.  Sadly, mine don’t feature those defects…

Four million 1888 pennies were stamped, designed by Leonard C. Wyon and G. W. DeSaulles.  Source: Coins and Canada.

UK One Penny with Queen Victoria’s “Old Head,” 1898.

This bronze British Pence’s scanning results don’t quite do justice to the fine detail that still remains.  The lines on the shield are still quite visible and all the lettering is crisp and legible.  There is obvious wear on Victoria’s face, but the pearls in her necklace are still visible.

According to Coins of the UK and my interpretation of their value system (which is higher than US coins, I have myself an F to VF rating), this coin could be worth between three and 18 British Pounds!  This example is being auctioned for $9 AUD (Australian Dollars) and is in much worse condition.

Pre-Confederation “Bank Token” from Upper Canada (1854, today’s Ontario).

I was very excited to find this coin, a One Half-Penny Bank Token from Upper Canada struck in 1854.  I was excited to find this because I had never heard about coinage from this period before, let alone held one, and even though it was beaten up a bit, I still liked the look.

I found it very hard to come up with information on this coin, or distinct value references.  There are items on eBay selling anywhere from $2.95 to $134.00, but I don’t trust those estimates nor do I see much difference between them.  Coin Community’s forum has a post asking for more information on the token, although one respondent’s mention of a 750,000 copy mintage is contradictory to Coin Hoarders‘ 1,500,000 total.  The coin’s catalogue or KM number is Tn2 – “Tn” standing for token.  I’d recommend reading Sap’s brief history on these and other Upper Canadian coins here.

1853 French Empire: Dix Centimes (ten cents) with Napoleon III.

This is the jewel in my five-coin collection.  I know both Victoria and Edward were technically heads of an empire (and perhaps the greatest empire at that), but there’s something about the name Napoleon that strikes fear into one’s heart.  Even if it was Napoleon I who was the famous terror of Europe, his nephew and heir would have a similar military leaning, although much less successfully.  Napoleon III was primarily known for being both the first titular president and the last monarch of France, but in that order which is rare.  He dismantled the French monarchy (House of Bourbon) and many of the agreements of the Treaty of Vienna, he was a notorious womanizer, and he established the second version of the French Empire with lands in Asia and Oceania.  To learn more of his fascinating story, and why a French emperor is buried in England, read his Wikipedia page.

It appears that this coin, the A version being minted in Paris, had a mintage of 12.2 million, and the A series is one of the least valuable, so I am not expecting much value for this.  Most sites I could find indicate between $2-5 would be common.  This version is hardly collector’s material either, having distinct scratches and dents and wear on the “tails” side, and the Emperor’s face seems dotted by indentations or other marks.

One thing of interest is that this coin was only demonetized (no longer to be used as currency) in 1935, 80 years after its minting!

Well, with $5 for five coins, I can hardly say I came off too poorly.  I collect things out of my own personal interest, not for the value they hold, but it was very interesting to learn how coins are valued and how much they’d go for.

I don’t think I’ll get too into coins, I’ll stick with my postcards and cameras mainly, but I do like these that I picked up.  Here’s another interesting one to look at that I bought from another vendor that day.  It is a Five Pfennig coin from the Deutsches Reich (Imperial Germany) dated 1900.  I just love the detail and design of the eagle.  I paid $5 for this one.

The point of collecting isn’t always how much rare and unique stuff you own, or even the stories of miraculous finds and total surprises; collecting is about finding what interests you, learning about the subject, and being proud of your collection, even if maybe you did waste five bucks on it!

What about you?  Do you collect coins, or other things?  Have you ever put a price on your collection?  Tell me about your collections in the comments below!

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4 responses to “Flea Market Failure: My Two Cents

    • I did, but it wasn’t as I wanted it. The man selling them had all the postcards unsorted and was selling them all (no matter the quality) for $6, so I didn’t want to go through them all, and I also had spent most of my money by then!

  1. I’m sorry you had a bad experience. I was trying to be helpful and point you in the direction of some potential new post card finds. The dealers change every week and Victoria has never supported any kind of upscale show even once a year let alone once a week. At least your entrance was free.

    • Hi Cathy,
      Yes, it was probably the week I went that was the problem, and the lack of proper mental image. I’ve found some great dealers since who are big fans of you and your store! I think I much prefer picking up postcards from a place like Sorensen Books because I know there isn’t a huge pressure to unload stock and move things for really high prices. YOU and your advice is always great and reliable! It was really the one guy I mentioned at the top who cooked my goose as it were, the other coin and stamp guy was a big help and because of that I did purchase from him. (and the potion lady…)
      And yes, I very much appreciated the ticket!
      Thanks for your comment,
      Ben

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