I am nearing – slowly, but surely – the end of the stuff that I can organize/purge. There are still areas that need to be sorted, and some bins and the like, but they’re filled with things that belong to my husband or that are under his purview. I won’t pretend that I don’t benefit from his assorted computer hardware, but I’m sure as hell not going to attempt to sort it and toss out things that, to me, aren’t necessary to keep.

It’s sort of awesome to consider how much stuff I’ve gotten rid of over the past few years. There have been many items that I’ve had to emotionally purge, first, before moving them out of the house. I’ve had to accept that my father is not likely to come back from the dead and demand that I retrieve his chipped coffee mug from Goodwill. I’ve had to admit that holding on to his clothes, in a bin in the basement, does not serve any purpose whatsoever. I’ve tossed out old books (I won’t need to learn the 1970s style of mig welding, I suspect) and I’ve flung too-small shoes. I’ve gotten rid of other people’s mementos and I’ve tossed out things that I couldn’t recognize at all – slips of paper with numbers on them and old keys to cars and pens that had long-since dried out.

The last few bits and pieces of my ‘stuff’ with which I am faced seem to be related, mostly, to my grandfather.

My (paternal) grandfather died when I was in my early 20s; I have written, and pondered, the story of his death many times over the years. There are many gaps in my knowledge of him and, with my father having died, there’s no one to ask. The bits and pieces that I remember him telling me are one thing – but some of them don’t add up – and the papers and items left behind don’t fill in much of anything.

Before he died, and after, I knew about his obsessive lottery number tracking – he had charts and graphs dating back years (decades). I knew that he collected tomato seeds from his garden and tracked them, too, in complicated notes and drawings. He collected stamps from Poland – not in a book, but torn from envelopes and stuffed haphazardly into folders in drawers. He also had an extensive canned goods collection in the basement of the house.

After he died, all of these things were easily purged. My father and I had no interest in tracking the winning lottery numbers, past or future, so the papers were quickly recycled. The seeds were initially kept and ultimately tossed (they may have been heirloom seeds, but perhaps not). The stamps were flung in the bin next to the lottery numbers. The canned goods were donated or put in the garbage, depending on vintage.

But the other thing my grandfather had was a very large coin collection.

On two or three occasions that I can recall, he emerged from somewhere in his house with a box under his arm, placed it on the table, and opened it to show me some of the coins that he treasured the most. I, admittedly, had no interest whatsoever.

In fact, I still have very little interest in coins.

Paranoia, it could be said, ran in a leaky little stream throughout my paternal lineage; I could probably fill a blog with stories from every member of that side of my family, and include a few of my own. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that, when my grandfather died, we found coins all over the house – in coffee cans and plastic medicine bottles and in cough drop tins and in cookie boxes. There were ziploc bags filled with pennies, tiny coins wrapped in saran wrap and shoved underneath a subway token inside a ring box, and little brown envelopes full of nickels.

A penny from 1797 mixed in with a hand-full of quarters from 1989. A lot of early 1800s pennies mixed in with subway tokens and manky dimes and a torn-up $1 bill from 1980-something.

I suspect he was protecting the valuable items by mixing them in with the completely worthless (except, say, to thieves who needed to use a laundromat, I suppose). But the decoys were excessive.

Since the day my grandfather died, and then my father, I have relocated several times and, every time, I have brought all of those containers of coins along with me and shoved them in the basement. I haven’t had the slightest clue how to handle the thousands of coins. There was no chance I was going to sit down with coin collecting books and try to discern why he kept specific coins – I vaguely remembered hearing something about “a backwards crown on the Queen on that one!” and became somewhat concerned that I’d judge something as worthless when it was really worth millions. (Apparently the paranoia made it to me, too.)

Recently, stumbling across the collection again, something snapped and I grabbed a box of coins and took them to a local coin dealer. He sorted out the normal money (“Here, take this and go shopping!”) and the interesting-but-not-to-him stuff (“You might be able to sell this to a foreign currency collector” and “hold this for a few more years and it’ll be worth something”) and he made a tiny stack of coins that he agreed to buy from me.

I made $170 from about 30 coins.

Some of the coins were rather pretty and, briefly, I considered that perhaps I could hold on to them a bit longer. Except that they’d just be shoved back into a container, in the basement. I have no interest in displaying coins. I have no interest in keeping a box of coins in a drawer that I never, ever open. In over a decade, I haven’t even looked at the coins.

And someone out there might actually want that pretty coin for their collection – a collection that’s active and valued.

But here’s the thing that gets to me: most of the coins in the collection were worthless and I can’t believe all of them were for decoy purposes. I’d love to ask my grandfather why he had them. Was it based on something he read, somewhere? Was it for the price of copper (or silver, or nickel)? Was there a specific sentimental meaning to 1982 pennies or quarters from 1987?

I’ll never know.

So, I purge. I let go.


  1. Wow, I can so relate. In spite of all my purges and moves, I still tote a box of my late father’s stamps from city to city, home to home. But I’ve never made it to an appraiser to see if there is anything valuable there. Still I’m afraid to give them away for fear that the one very collectible stamp is in there and will buy me a new spotting scope. Ha! Too bad your grandfather didn’t leave a note. “Dear descendants, in case you were wondering why…”

  2. If you have any 1973 quarters (RCMP centennial) I would be glad to take them off your hands at some appraised value. I have a folder that holds 100 somewhere. Maybe Bronwyn has it? the kids gave it to me for my 50th with 50 of the RCMP centennial quarters in it. I saved a few more but would like to fill it. For no good reason.
    Someone said the rabbit nickels were worth $20?

  3. Sylvain says:

    I would have loved that collection. Even just to look at before you got rid of it. Kelly would have killed you for giving to me however, so it’s best that you didn’t.
    I have a small coin collection, a small stamp collection, and rather large hockey card collection. I have complete sets from the 70’s right through to the 90’s. Including several notable rookie cards. There is also a special focus on extra Red Wings cards.
    I could part with it. Some day I will. It’s worth a fair amount of money, but my interest in it is limited now and it just takes up space. Collecting is a weird hobby. I was obsessed with it for while and then it just stopped.

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