Originally posted August 15, 2008
It was, I think, the summer of 1964, so I would have been ten when I got a phone call from Rose, the lady who lived across the street. She wondered if I could come over for a few minutes.
Rose and her husband, August, were what we now call senior citizens. I think August was already been retired from his career in banking when we moved to Kilian Boulevard in the early part of 1957. So on the day I got the phone call, both of them would have been securely in their seventies, an age that was beyond comprehension to me. I don’t recall knowing them well: They were the older couple who lived across the street. But I’d done a few errands for them. So I was puzzled but unconcerned as I made my way across Eighth Street Southeast and climbed the steps.
Rose was seated at the kitchen table and motioned me inside. There were five blue folders, a red book and a magnifying glass on the table in front of her. I sat down and she showed me the folders. They were coin-collecting folders, two for Lincoln pennies, two for Jefferson nickels and one for Roosevelt dimes. The book was a 1964 guide to American coins.
They were all mine, she said, if I wanted them. She was an avid coin collector, and the folders she was giving me were partly filled with extras from her collection. There were coins dating back to, oh, 1920 in the first of the two folders for Lincoln pennies (first minted in 1909). The earliest Jefferson nickel she had for me was 1939, I think, which would have been a year after the coin was first minted, and the earliest Roosevelt dime she gave me came from 1946, the first year of the coin’s existence.
But there were plenty of gaps for me to fill in the blue folders, if I wanted to become a coin collector myself. For most U.S. coins in those days, there were three different versions every year: Those minted in San Francisco were marked with a small “S,” those minted in Denver had a small “D” and those minted in Philadelphia had no mint mark at all. So there were three slots to fill in the folders for each year. Rose’s extra coins filled a lot of the places but by no means all. I’d have a good start at a collection, but I’d have plenty of coins to find, if I accepted her gift. Which, of course, I did.
I’d never thought of collecting coins before. I’d dabbled in stamps and found that unsatisfying. I couldn’t tell the example of one stamp from the next in the poorly printed album I’d gotten for Christmas a few years earlier. But with coins, it was fairly easy: check the date and then use the magnifying glass to check for a mint mark. I soon got in the habit of checking every coin I got in change when I spent money, and Dad frequently let me go through his change.
Over the course of a few years, I filled gaps in the folders, filling in the pennies all the way back to 1917 or so and up to 1965; I had a few from before 1917, but not many. A couple of those – including the earliest minted penny I ever owned, one from 1912 – came from a coin shop in Chicago, which my dad visited while on a business trip there. Within about five years, I’d not only filled in the penny collection back to 1917, but I had a complete set of Jefferson nickels from 1938 through 1968, and a complete set of Roosevelt dimes from 1946 through 1964 (the last year that dimes were solid silver). Not all of them were in great condition, but they were there. After those five years, though, there came a day when I put the coins in a dresser drawer and thought no more about them.
I took the coins out of the drawer in my old room sometime during the 1990s, taking them home to Minneapolis with the last other bits of my childhood treasures that had stayed in St. Cloud. And the other day, while going through boxes in the process of packing, I came across the red book and the five folders Rose had given me so long ago (and the one folder I added, for Kennedy half-dollars).
One of the goals the Texas Gal and I have as we prepare for our move at the end of this month is to trim where we can. Now, my childhood coin collection wasn’t taking up a lot of space, but I wasn’t using it, either. And I figured that putting the coins back into the collecting world was better than having them sit in a box. None of the coins I had was particularly valuable; I think the most ever paid for one of my coins was about three dollars, for one of those pennies Dad brought back from Chicago. (Of course, three dollars in 1966 would be worth about nineteen dollars now, but still, that’s not a tremendously expensive coin.)
So I took the collection over to the local coin dealer, who runs a pawnshop downtown (located in the building where I used to buy my back-to-school clothes forty-five years ago). He skimmed through the folders, nodding and frowning, and offered me fifty-five dollars. I took it. I hope some collectors find my coins valuable. I’d be especially pleased if some of them end up in the hands of a neophyte collector ten or eleven years old. Of course, I’ll never know, but it’s nice to think about.
As for the money, well, I thought I should spend at least a part of it on something that could stand for the gift Rose gave me so long ago. I’d long had my eye on CD versions of Darden Smith’s first two albums. I have them on vinyl, but they’re not in superb shape, especially 1988’s Darden Smith. (I could have dug further online for better vinyl copies, but I tend to leave my vinyl purchases these days for things that are a little more rare.)
So the coin collection Rose gave me more than forty years ago brought me two CDs: Native Soil and Darden Smith. I shared the first in a rip from vinyl here a while back. Today, I’m posting the other.
Darden Smith was released on Epic in 1988, the first of two major label releases for the Texas-based singer. (Trouble No More, posted here recently, was the second major label released, coming out on Columbia.) It’s very similar to Native Soil, which came out in 1986 on the Watermelon label, in fact sharing three songs with the earlier release: “Two Dollar Novels,” “Little Maggie” and “God’s Will.”
The first two of those are pretty standard country on Darden Smith, as they were on the earlier album. “God’s Will” had a Cajun feel on the first album, and seems to have shifted to straight country, but mid-way through, we’re heading back to the bayou again. I’m not sure the remake works on that one.
The new songs on Darden Smith range from again, pretty standard country – “Place in Time,” “Want You by My Side” and “Love Me Like a Soldier” – to the folk of “Coldest Winter” and “Driving Rain,” the jump blues/Fifties rock ’n’ roll of “Day After Tomorrow” and the unclassifiable catchiness of “Talk to Me.” Roland Denney played bass on the record, with Paul Pearcy handling percussion, and along the way, Smith got some help as well from Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith.
As regular readers know, Smith’s tendency to move from genre to genre and style to style is one of the things that make his music interesting to me. One can say that his songs have become perhaps more complex over the years – the work on his last release, 2005’s Field of Crows, bears witness to that – but that doesn’t mean the earlier work was lacking.
I acknowledge that Smith is one of those artists whose work I like so much that it’s hard to be objective, but I honestly believe that any of his work is worth a listen. Darden Smith might have come out twenty years ago, but it still shines pretty bright today, maybe as bright as a newly minted penny placed in a blue folder.
Two Dollar Novels
Want You by My Side
Love Me Like a Soldier
Day After Tomorrow
Talk to Me
Place in Time
Darden Smith – Darden Smith