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1776 Continental Dollar Bought for 50 cents at Flea Market Sells for $100k

Ian Harvey
The 1776 coins found at the flea market.

A 1776 Continental currency dollar bought for under a buck in a French flea market has just sold for close to $100,000. It’s a lot of fun to spend an afternoon perusing piles of used goods at antique fairs and flea markets; sometimes you just never know what you’ll find. 

Sometimes nothing turns up that’s worth taking home, but sometimes a treasure is waiting just beneath the surface of soiled, second hand stuff. But a sharp eye and determination is needed to separate the wheat from the chaff, as the saying goes, and patience, an unending amount of patience.

That eagle eye is exactly what one smart, attentive buyer in Europe displayed a couple of years ago, when he was making his way through a jar filled with old coins and medals at a flea market in France. One coin in particular caught his eye, so he handed over 50 cents (US) to the vendor and took it home.

Upon closer examination, he noted “1776” etched on the coin, and the saying “Mind Your Business.” And so, like everyone else on the hunt for information, he Googled “Continental Dollar,” and with a few simple searches he discovered that the coin might be a rare one, a genuine pewter 1776 American colonial coin.

1776 coin

The 1776 Continental Currency Dollar showing both sides of the coin, including the phrase “Mind Your Business”. Photo: PCGS

First, he took it to a coin dealer, but that expert was unsure of the coin’s provenance. So he took the coin to Mint State 62 at Professional Coin Grading Services (PCGS) in Paris and, lo and behold, discovered that the coin he paid less than one buck for was, in actuality, worth $97,500.00 (USD). Now that’s a bargain by any measure.

1776 continental coin

1776 Continental Currency dollar coin obverse

According to a statement released on Feb. 14th by PCGS, it is not uncommon to find these trinkets at yard sales, antique shops and flea markets across Europe. What is unique is finding one that is the real deal, so to speak. PCGS graded and analyzed it, and then sent it to the United States, where its origins were verified. Not surprisingly, the buyer asked to remain anonymous when news about his discovery went public.

1776 continental coin

1776 Continental Currency dollar coin reverse

A telltale sign of the coin’s real heritage were the designs engraved on either side. On one side, there was a sun dial and three rings, along with the words “Continental Currency” inscribed in the pewter. On the other, there were 13 chain links, each of which had the name of one of the 13 colonial states inscribed on it, and in the centre was a circle, symbolizing a unified nation. There were also three words inscribed, “We Are One,” referring, of course, to the “one nation under God” motto of America.

Curiously, where the Continental dollars were made is not clear, experts say, because the country was so new. Nonetheless, the organization said, the coin is “iconic,” and merits the high valuation. “While the origin of these pieces is still under debate,” the statement said, “the 1776 Continental dollars are important early coinage celebrating the birth of a brand new nation — the United States.”

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When PCGS released its statement in mid-February, it did not say whether the buyer planned to sell the rare coin to a collector, but it’s a reasonable assumption that, unless he is a collector himself, he will auction it off to the highest bidder. Perhaps, once he has tucked his profits safely into a savings account, he will spend the coming spring and summer scouring other flea markets and second hand shops, in the hope that maybe, just maybe, good fortune will strike twice.