A quick glance at the calendar will create justifiable panic among many. After all, we're just over a month away from Christmas and far less than that for Hanukkah. It's past time to start thinking about cool gifts (translation: anything other than clothes). Finding something that's ideal for either holiday isn't easy but I've got one. And, it's beyond cool. I know this because I have proof.
As regular readers may remember, not long ago I spoke to a class of kids at a Catholic prep school about old coins. At the end, I gave each student a 2,000-year-old coin of their own. To say they were excited is an understatement. They freaked out.
That's the thing about old or ancient coins. To be able to hold something that others held and traded thousands of years ago is pretty amazing. Think about it ... what better gift for anyone than a round-trip ticket back 2,000 years back in time?
Perhaps, the best way to visit the primordial Holy Land is through the one thing every bit as popular and sought after today as it was millenniums ago — money. Many believe all ancient coins are rare, valuable and found only in museums. For a few types of coins, that's true.
Some are so scarce they command tens of thousands of dollars. And it is common to see ancient coins in a museum. But loads of old coins are occasionally uncovered in ancient stashes. Literally, they are dug up. Antiquated as they may be, they still aren't necessarily "rare." Still, when holding an ancient coin you are holding history in your hands. Plus, who's to say — even if the coin type is common — it isn't one from the moneychanger's tables that Jesus tipped over in the temple?
The fascination to own or discover ancient coins is timeless. Of course, given the continued discord in the Middle East, I'd be reticent to travel there and start digging. Alternately, specimens are available from many coin dealers — often at prices as low as a few dollars apiece.
A few years ago, my wife made a discovery of her own. It was a kit containing a coin-cleaning brush, magnifying glass, coin holders, instructions and a DVD with detailed information about coins from Roman, Greek, Byzantine and Judean cultures. The coolest part were the included handful of coins in the kit — each struck by hand by someone thousands of years ago.
The kit had the unassuming name "Dirty Old Coins: The Ancient Coin Cleaning Kit." It detailed the history of coin production in ancient times, cities in which coins were minted and the art of coin preservation and restoration. Best of all, it was assembled in a fashion so it was easy enough to intrigue kids (myself included) and fascinate experienced collectors.
Naturally, it's an unknown as to whether or not any of the random old coins that come in the kits are rare or valuable. Every kit contains different coins. But, value isn't the point. The coins are genuine and older than most people have ever handled. Most importantly, each offers a literal trip back to biblical times.
I haven't seen the kits in stores but they are available from the Dirty Old Coins website. On their site I also noticed that they have a large number of other ancient Roman, Greek and Byzantine coins — both cleaned and uncleaned — for sale should the bug bite and you want to explore further.
The price tag of $99.95 is not cheap, and for those already familiar with how to carefully clean ancient coins it could be more affordable simply to purchase the uncleaned coins. But as a holiday gift all in one package, the kit is a neat option.
In short, for armchair archeologists of any religion, this is a holiday gift definitely worth digging up.
Editor's Note: A JPEG visual of the "Dirty Old Coins" kit has been sent with this column.
To find out more about Peter Rexford visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.