The Value is in the Telling
September 27th, 2016 by Jean Bilodeaux
Cheryl Tierney and her husband, Bill, stand outside the vault where they keep a rare coin Cheryl inherited on behalf of her children from her father, Gordon Ash.

Cheryl Tierney and her husband, Bill, stand outside the vault where they keep a rare coin Cheryl inherited on behalf of her children from her father, Gordon Ash.

It was a perfect day in 1945 when Gordon Ash and a high school friend set out to go fishing. The sky was blue, the ice-cold stream rushed down the mountainside and, best of all, the fish were biting.

Fishing the creek upstream toward Lost Lake in the Warner Mountains, Gordon ran out of worms. Kicking the duff near the water’s edge, he unearthed not a worm, but a coin. As he stooped to pick it up, he knew that even if he did not catch a fish, he would at least be a little richer.

He does not remember if he caught a fish that day, but as he slipped the coin in his pocket, little did he realize how important it would become.

When he got home, Gordon washed the dirt off the coin. It didn’t look like a regular quarter. When he saw the date of 1871 on it, he thought it was just an old coin. Gordon put it on his bookcase, where it became a reminder of a great day fishing with a friend.

The year passed. Gordon finished high school, joined the military, earned a college degree and got a job back in Modoc County. All the while, the quarter remained on his bookcase, a keepsake reminder of his youth.

Gordon loved telling people about the old coin he found on a fishing trip. The coin became “bait” for the start of many lively conversations.

About 30 years later, he scheduled a trip to Reno and decided to take the quarter to a coin dealer to see if it was worth anything.

“He walked into the coin dealer’s shop and handed the man his quarter,” recalls Bill Tierney, Gordon’s son-in-law. “The man looked it over and hastily got out his loupe. After examining the coin, he looked at Gordon and asked, ‘Do you know what this quarter is worth?’”

Gordon answered, “No, I was hoping you could tell me.”

The clerk went on, “Well, first off, I just wrote a book on rare coins. In it I wrote that only 35 of these quarters were known to exist. Now you’ve shown up with the 36th one. I will have to rewrite that part. I am a dealer and can’t give you full price, but I’ll give you 17 for it.”

Gordon took the coin back and looked at it again, then hesitated.

The coin dealer rephrased his offer, “That’s $17,000.”

Gordon took a closer look at the coin, then said, “I’ve had this coin a lot of years. It holds lots of good memories, and I don’t need the money. I guess I’ll just keep it.”

He slipped the quarter into his pocket, thanked the man for his time and left.

This time when he got home he did not just lay the coin on the bookcase, he placed it alongside other treasured mementoes from his youth in a locked glass case sitting on top of the bookcase.

He loved setting the bait to friends: “Let me show you this old quarter I found.”

It never was long before the “fish” took the bait and Gordon was reeling them in with his story of the coin.

Sometimes he would go to buy an expensive tractor part and then ask the salesman if he would take a quarter for it. As time went by, it turned out that he could have bought the whole tractor with his quarter.

The coin sat in the locked glass case in the hall for another 30 years until Gordon decided to get it appraised again and encased in plastic before he accidentally spent it. He sent it to one of the major coin dealers in the U.S., and it appraised at $54,000.

“To him it was worth more as conversation bait than its monetary value,” says Gordon’s daughter, Cheryl Tierney. “We would shudder when he’d dig out that coin, show it to complete strangers and tell his story. When finished he’d just lay it back in the glass case, in plain sight. We worried that someone would come back and take it. But no one ever did.”

The seated Liberty quarter was minted in Carson City in 1871. The mint produced gold and silver coins from 1870 to 1893. It was built at the height of the silver boom in Nevada. Gordon’s coin is 90 percent silver, with the metal valued at approximately $3.21. The collector’s value of an 1871 quarter ranges from $2,000 for a coin in poor condition to $115,000 for one in perfect condition. Gordon’s coin is in good condition. A “CC” can be seen under the eagle on the back of the coins minted in Carson City.

For obvious reasons, the tale of that perfect fishing trip could never be published for fear of someone breaking in and taking the coin. Gordon would joke that when he died, his story could be told to the public.

Sadly, in 2014, he and the coin parted company forever. His daughter Cheryl inherited the coin on behalf of her children.

Today, when Cheryl and Bill take the coin out of their safe deposit box at the bank, they and all who know the story, cannot help but remember Gordon with his crooked smile and a twinkle in his eye, holding out his bait for all to see and saying, “Hey, let me tell you about this old coin I found a long time ago”