Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mysteries from Canada

Recently, a family in the southern U.S. whose house was in foreclosure was cleaning out their basement to move when they found something remarkable. It was the first issue of the Superman comic from 1938. It was valued at a quarter of a million dollars—and saved their home. In Fresno, California, a grandmother, rummaging through a box of antiques, found an early collector's card of the 1869 Cincinnati Reds, the first professional baseball team. It sold it for nearly $65,000 and she got to tell her story on Jay Leno.

Stories like these abound in the news and are wonderful because they happen to people like you and me. They are feel-good tales of rags to riches. So when our family recently discovered something in an accidental time capsule from almost 90 years ago in our home, it naturally sparked the treasure-hunting fantasy of easy money. Here's how it happened:

I was helping my daughter clean out her belongings from our house because she has graduated from college and is moving into her own apartment. To say that she has piled up a mountain of junk would be an understatement. Hers is the K2 of materialism. As we scaled this monumental undertaking one of our final tasks was to sort through my late mother-in-law’s jewelry box, which was left to my daughter. I lifted up the cotton padding in an empty box she was going to discard to find two old Canadian dollars neatly tucked beneath. One was from 1917 and the other was from 1923.

Would these old Canadian dollars mean early retirement?
My mother-in-law had lived her entire life in Cincinnati, Ohio and rarely traveled. She and her husband once won a free trip to Hawaii in a national sweepstakes and they refused to take it. So how she came upon these old Canadian one-dollar bills was a mystery. We did not know how rare the bills were, but we were intrigued to find out. Two television sources of valuation—Pawn Stars in Las Vegas and the Antique Roadshow located who-knows-where, seemed a bit distant to be useful. We needed to draw on something closer to home—the Internet. This would be our magic portal to Canada. We agreed that if the old Canadian currency ended up being worth a fortune, we would split the spoils with everyone in the family.

I immediately began searching the web, and to my surprise, found a group called the Canadian Paper Money Forum where you can ask members to evaluate the worth of your money for free. Unfortunately, technology was not on my side. I had problems getting my scans to load onto the site, so one of the members gave me his email and was kind enough to load it onto the site for me. I would expect nothing less from our gracious neighbors to the North.

Within a day or so, two people offered estimates. The highest quote found that, collectively, they could reap about $200 Canadian dollars. While this is an impressive amount for two $1 bills, it would not underwrite my fantasies of retirement and a world cruise on the Queen Mary 2. My dreams shattered, it was back to work. Curses, decadent leisure, you evade me once more!

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