Micro O Discovery: a “secret treasure” to me
My first memory of looking for certain dates on Barr’s coins or banknotes was with my father when I was young. My mom was a waitress and we often helped count and roll tips that she brought home. Whenever we found something remarkable (pardon the pun), my father – a collector of knickknacks and oddities of all kinds – would ceremoniously hide it to keep it safe. I was fascinated by the idea of finding secret treasures in something as mundane as coins. My interest in coins took a back seat as bikes, motorcycles, fishing, and a long list of other things occupied my interests as a young boy in the 1970s.
When my father passed away in 2003, I volunteered to lead the sharing of his coin and currency collection with my brother. I bought a red book and several other books to help me understand the value of the collection. Although my father’s collection was nothing very valuable, the occasion rekindled my fascination with “secret treasures” and I quickly developed a full-fledged passion for coin collecting. I started attending auctions and visiting local coin shops, adding to my own collection and educating myself on the subject. As I’m sure many coin collectors have experienced, over the years I’ve had quite a few friends and family who have asked me about the value of something they own. From one-off pieces to entire collections (and once, even a five-gallon bucket of silver halves!), I have become known as the local coin man.
I’m currently semi-retired from the aviation industry, like many of my neighbors, so we have plenty of time to talk about all kinds of hobbies and interests. Last month I showed one of my retired neighbors a recent purchase of an NGC rated Saint-Gaudens and also grabbed the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Silver Dollar for him. to show. He mentioned that his wife had pieces that might be of interest. She walked over and shortly after I showed her the parts I had shown her husband, she went inside to retrieve a used plastic bag which she said was in her closet. since around 1974. At a glance, it was a respectable collection. His bag contained a variety of coins with nine silver dollars, five or six halves, a few quarters, half a dozen dimes, then an assortment of nickel and 1 cent coins. The bag also contained six small circular flat glass pieces in plastic sleeves that have numbers and scales as well as circles and radii with values given to them. I was able to take a quick peek at the dollar coins as we spoke in the courtyard, but told him I would need to do more research to assess the others. She smiled and said, “I trust you.”
My wife and I had a few errands to do right after visiting them, so I didn’t get back to looking at the pieces again until the next day. There was a variety of silver and plated coins, most of which were widely distributed, but there was one coin that really caught my eye. His collection contained an 1892-O Barber half dollar. Since 1892 was the first year of the Barber semi-series, this is a good date, although the coin has circulated a lot. The obverse is in better shape than the reverse, as is typical on Barber halves. I was on the fence on this coin denoted AG-3 or G-4. Looking in my 2021 red book, I saw that there was a “Micro O” variety for the year 1892 valued at $ 3,650 for a part in G-4 condition. After a little more research, I learned that there are just over 50 known and certified Micro O’s.
I thought, “Wow! Wouldn’t it be cool if it’s a Micro O? The rarity and value of the Micro O made me doubt it, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to investigate the possibility. I turned the coin around and saw a little “O” but didn’t know what a Micro O looked like. I was pretty sure I didn’t have a Barber 1892-O half in my collection, but I quickly found out that I had an 1893-O half to compare and was surprised to see my coin have a mintmark noticeably larger than its coin. Could it really be? I quickly went to the PCGS and NGC websites for information, as well as Google for mint mark information. I lowered my stereo microscope to get the best view of the parts. I remembered the pieces of glass in the bag and decided to use them to help compare the two mint marks. I later found out that the six pieces of glass are called reticles and used to measure under magnification: exactly what I was doing with them. After looking and rubbing my eyes several times in disbelief, I realized that his coin was indeed a Micro O Barber half dollar from 1892. I almost climbed two flights of stairs to announce this incredible discovery to my wife: I found a spectacular secret treasure! Unfortunately, it was too late to let my neighbors know about the room. It was hard to fall asleep that night. When I saw my neighbors in the driveway the next day, I found it hard to contain my excitement to rush out and share the news.
They could almost see me dancing as I explained that the die makers had mistakenly used the mintmark “O” which was for the quarter and less than 100 of them would have been struck. After everything this world has been through in the past year and a half, the energy and excitement that this piece has brought me has uplifted me in ways I never thought I needed.
I returned their collection and explained to them all the information I had on the other pieces. I also told them that I strongly suggest that the Barber piece be sent and filed. I asked if I could do it for them, and they agreed. She works at a local business in town but her husband is retired from airplanes and I asked if he would like to go with me to my local coin store to have the coin sent to be authenticated. He agreed and we made it an event, even stopping for breakfast on the way to the store. The guys at the parts store took a thorough look at the part and agreed to send it to me.
After receiving the email stating that the part was back, I eagerly went to pick it up. It was official! PCGS rated it AG-03 Micro O, as we expected. I discussed with my wife the importance of this piece and how I feel almost emotionally attached to it: I may never remember another one again. She knew the conversation was coming and agreed that we could save the money to buy the room from the owners if they were willing to sell it.
I told the owners their room came back after it was listed, and after asking if they were interested in selling it, we all sat down at our large dining table to discuss a deal. I went to the bank to get some money, because I think it’s always more satisfying than a check. After some discussion, we came up with a fair price for each of us.
I could make a few bucks on this coin someday if I ever sold it, but I didn’t buy the coin to make money on it. I bought the coin because of the excitement it brought me in making my numismatic dream come true: to discover a real secret treasure in the little bag of tattered coins at the back of a cupboard.