Woman finds unusual coin in litter cleanup

For what it's worth, throwaway coin was trash

Staff WriterJune 24, 2011 

Kemila Slade posed April 30 with the farthing that she found that day along Neuse Boulevard in New Bern.

PHOTO COURTESY OF KAY SLADE

  • A farthing was the least valued coin in Britain, worth one-fourth of the old British penny. Farthings date to the 1200s, when one of them could buy a 2-pound loaf of bread or a half-dozen eggs.

    The originals were made of silver until the 1600s, when the copper version was introduced. Inflation made them so worthless that Great Britain stopped minting them in the 1950s and officially declared them no longer legal tender as of Dec. 31, 1960.

Kemila Slade and other members of the Pink Sapphire Ladies Club were picking up trash along Neuse Boulevard in New Bern one day this spring when Slade spotted what she knew right away was a coin.

But it wasn't until she got home and searched the Internet for the words on the coin that Slade realized what she had found: an English farthing, minted during the reign of King George II in 1730 or 1739.

Slade has no idea what her improbable find is worth, but it has already earned her $250. That's the grand prize in the semi-annual "most unusual litter" contest announced this week by the nonprofit organization Keep NC Beautiful.

Slade is president of the Pink Sapphire Ladies, an organization with 15 members that "started out like a little social club, to give our girlfriends something to do outside of the house," she said. The ladies perform all sorts of charity work, including collecting trash along a two-mile stretch of Neuse Boulevard as part of the state DOT's Adopt-A-Highway Program.

The coin that Slade found April 30 was on the edge of the grass, embedded in the dirt so that she needed to use her fingernail to dig it out. It was black, bigger than a quarter, and had a scratch on it that revealed its true copper color.

There was a figure cradling a trident on one side and a bust of what looked to Slade like a woman on the other. That's George, with some sort of garland in his hair, surrounded by the letters "GEORGIVS II REX." The figure on the back is Britannia, the female personification of the British Isles.

The farthing was one of 75 entries in this spring's unusual litter contest, said Heather Thompson, deputy director of Keep NC Beautiful. A boat found along a road in Mount Airy won second place, and someone's paycheck found in Fayetteville won third (it was returned to its owner, Thompson said).

Slade has no idea how the coin she found ended up along Neuse Boulevard, though it's pretty certain it hasn't been sitting there since the 18th century. Perhaps someone threw it out of a passing car, she said.

And beyond determining what it was, Slade hasn't done much to determine if the coin is worth anything.

"I don't know how to look that stuff up," she said. "I don't know if it's valuable or not. I just know it's old."

A 1730 farthing in decent shape is worth from about $10 to $35, though a pristine one might fetch $175 or more, said Doug Mattox of Mattox Coins and Stamps in Raleigh.

"It is a common coin," Mattox said. "There would have been lots of them."

Mattox said hobbyists with metal detectors turn up 18th century coins from time to time in Eastern North Carolina, but he agrees that a busy commercial street in New Bern is an odd place to find one.

Slade will have someone look at her coin to see what it's worth, but she isn't all that worried about it.

"It's wonderful just to be worth anything, given that I just found it," she said.

richard.stradling@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4739

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