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Contractor’s honesty sounder than a silver dollar

By Staff | Mar 3, 2016

RUTH FRY/The Luminary These coins were discovered in a dig last fall in Hughesville, and proved to be counterfeit. However, the contractor's honesty is genuine, and the history of the loot makes the find a local story.

HUGHESVILLE – ‘Lock, Stock and Barrel’ is a term used for those purchasing properties. Another is ‘Buyer Beware’, or in this case, the buyer was unaware of all items on a Hughesville property.

Early last fall, in an effort to rehab a building, Rodney Phillips of Muncy was contracted for the job. The work required a base be dug to shore the foundation of a garage now more than a century old. PA-1 call was contacted to assure underground lines would remain untouched. No one had any idea what might be unearthed.

Not long into the project, the metal detector Phillips used happened upon a find. Buried not far beneath the soil, several silver dollars were found with mint dates ranging from 1880 up to and including 1890.

Time had taken a toll, the contractor speculated, “I think some battery acid was dropped on or near their location.” A large percentage of the coins were partly eaten away. One had a hole in it, perhaps fashioned as a necklace.

Phillips carried the coins to the landowner. Some remained wrapped in newspaper, cut to size used as discs dividing each one. It was through these few scraps and larger pieces used as wrappings, that an approximate date of burial was determined. The papers were cut from the Philadelphia Inquirer, however, only the month of July was visible with 19 as the first digits noting the year.

With magnifying glass in hand, the landowner read part of a proclamation issued by President William McKinley. The 25th president was assassinated during his second term in office in September, 1901. The newspaper’s print date was approximately two months before McKinley’s death.

Getting the coins appraised was the next step. A few were taken to experts at Beiter’s in Williamsport, then Sheila’s Jewelry Shop in Hughesville. Both determined the coins were fake as a real minted dollar contains 70 percent silver. It remains to be determined what metal was used in producing the coins.

Research into the past revealed that a depression hit in the 1880’s. At that time paper money was backed only by gold. From the Democratic Party came the idea to also use silver to back paper currency. The Democrat’s presidential nominee of choice was William Jennings Bryan. However, the Republicans opposed the idea and William McKinley was again elected. Thus the gold standard remained in place.

In the meantime, tens of thousands of counterfeit Morgan silver dollars had been made. Even t today, collectors remain vigilant when making purchases.

And so the mystery continues. Was the bogus booty buried by the land owner, a family member or neighbor? Did that individual think the coins real and hid them for safe keeping, or knowing they were counterfeit, stash them away from the eyes of Revenuers?

And now to the hole in the earth. The landowner had previous appraisals for the job, and was unhappy none seemed to have the time. “Perhaps the wait was until an honest man came along, one with a reputation sounder than these silver dollars,” the landowner said.

The contractor was rewarded with a gift card. On Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, the congregation applauded when a donation was given in Phillips’ name to the United Methodist Church in Clarkstown.

Pastor Waugh read a citation saying, “Although the coins are fake, Phillips honesty is genuine.” At the end of the presentation, the following scripture was read: ” Lay up your treasurers in heaven where moths and rust cannot destroy.” Matthew 6:19.

As a sidebar to the story, the landowner had on several occasions, visited President McKinley’s Monument in Canton, Ohio. In 1927, an aunt, her husband and first child moved from this area to Canton. From the aunt’s residence along Perkins Avenue, the rounded top of the McKinley Monument remains part of the view.