“I just spent $25,000 and another $16,000 with a lady today and went broke,” George Brower laughed as he looks at trays upon trays of coins, stacked one on top of the other. “But I got some surprises, some special prizes.”
George and his brother Harold have a trove of special prizes in the musty corridors of Brower Stamp & Coin, an establishment they’ve run since 1983.
Looking at their unassuming building on the corner of Rhododendron Drive and Highway 101, one could be forgiven for not knowing the treasures hidden inside.
Many of those treasures will be on display at the 20th annual Florence Coin Show, running Aug. 19 and 20 at the Florence Events Center (FEC). In fact, it’s the second longest running show at the FEC, just a few months shy of the Home and Garden Show.
George helped start the coin show with Dennis Hankins.
“When they were talking about building the FEC, people were trying to come up with ideas for it. I volunteered without thinking,” he said.
20 years later, it’s still going strong.
(From left) Terry Woodward, Harold Brower and George Brower
(photos by Jared Anderson)
The seminal coin show is considered by most numismatics — the official term for coin collectors — to be in the top three Oregon has to offer.
At least, that’s what George humbly said.
Harold was a bit more boastful, saying, “We’re the best.”
After many years, George sold his stake in the coin show to his longtime friend and fellow numismatic Terry Woodward, but he’s still heavily involved.
The three men showed off some of the types of coins that make the annual event, and the hobby, so special.
For instance, they have one of the first quarters ever made, minted in 1796. Small potatoes, though; the quality is shoddy and it’s only worth a measly $6,000.
The créme de la créme right now is a long sheet of six uncut $10 National Bank Notes from the Burns National Bank of Durango, Colo. The big deal? Printed numbers one through six.
George pulled out the long sheet of bills encased in a clear plastic folder, his eyes gleaming as he ran his fingers across them.
“Unique,” he said with awe.
In the past, the Federal Reserve would print sheets of six bills and send them to a bank, which would then cut them up and push them into circulation.
The bank president would usually keep number one for themselves, framing it on their wall or giving it to family members. But the Durango bank never cut the hallowed sheet the Browers own.
“Getting a note number one off a bank is highly collectible. A sheet like this is very scarce. There’s only one of those sheets out there,” Woodward said.
Although they are not sure who received the bills initially, George said the sheet came from the first female president of the Durango bank.
It’s not the only treasure the Browers hold in their collection.
“The coins are intriguing because there’s always something new showing up,” said George. “I just bought two Chinese coins that were made 2,000 years before Christ. I also bought some ancient Roman coins.”
These treasures are best left hidden, at least for a little while, as they end up in the Brower safe.
“Someone might buy it,” George joked.
Most coins eventually do make their way out to a display case or to the Florence Coin Show. After all, the Browers can’t afford to keep them all to themselves.
For them, it is a sense of pride to pass them on.
“I just hope I find someone who likes them as much as I do,” George said.
“Hopefully they’ll like them a little bit more,” joked Woodward.
They do have to make a profit, but monetary gain really isn’t the Browers’ end-game. They avoid the internet and try to stay away from mail. They prefer face to face. However, that has not shrunk their clientele.
“George has built up a reputation over the years,” Woodward explained. “People from all over the world come here on vacation, making sure they make a stop at the Browers’.”
George also provides a financial service to those in need.
“This is going to sound strange, but the biggest service I render is not to my customers, but to the people who have decided they have something to liquidate. They need somebody here with knowledge and a fair price,” he said.
That knowledge takes years of study to accumulate.
Take the sheet of National Bank Notes. To get them, banks would have to issue a bond or gold currency to have their name on it. The bills were an attempt to bolster struggling banks, but they were scrapped when the Great Depression hit.
Currency split into three main sections: A United States Note, the now defunct “greenbacks;” Federal Reserve Notes, which is the main cash currency used today; and silver certificates.
It’s the silver certificates that really mattered.
In 1933, Roosevelt declared them illegal. In fact, you could get arrested if you tried to spend one.
“He was trying to get off the gold standard,” George explained. “He devalued it and that money is how he financed the Civilian Conservation Corps.”
If any of this sounds overly complex, it’s because it is. That’s the appeal for numismatics.
Add in thousands of years of trade in currency and the head spins. Once you go down that history rabbit hole, there’s no going back.
History, art and a financial investment in the future makes the collection of money so appealing.
And the Browers will keep doing it until they die.
“I’m 73, my brother is 85, and we both feel like we’re going to work till we drop,” Harold said. “We work six days a week and this is very fulfilling.”
It’s a world the Browers and Woodward hope that people will come and see at the Florence Coin Show, where visitors will receive one of 500 flattened pennies with a commemorative Florence stamp.
For the very first time, the organizers will also have a major grading service attend that can take rare coins and officially authenticate them. The grading is done off-site, but people get to save on postage at the show.
According to the Browers and Woodward, there will be thousands of coins and paper money to browse, buy and trade, along with plenty of knowledgeable dealers at the 63 booths covering the FEC floor, 715 Quince St.
And, of course, the extraordinarily rare Durango sheet of National Bank Notes will make an appearance.
The show will run on Saturday, Aug. 19 from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.