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Fun on Friday: Finding Real Money

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I had a friend in high school who was always finding money. He’d frequently be walking along, look down, and spot a quarter or a dime at his feet. And it wasn’t just pocket change. He’d frequently find paper money too. I was with him when he picked up a $100 bill lying on the ground in the mall parking lot.

I’ve never really had that kind of luck. At best, I spot pennies. But I’m more likely to step on chewed bubble gum than find a monetary windfall at my feet.

Well, a guy in Jerusalem has my friend beat. He recently found an ancient “piggy bank” holding four gold coins.

Now, I can’t chalk up Yevgenia Kapil’s find to pure luck. After all, he’s a professional finder. He works as the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) inspector. That’s a fancy term for archeologist.

Kapil unearthed the clay vessel last month in the Israeli capital’s Jewish Quarter. According to LiveScience, archeologists were surveying the area prior to the construction of an elevator to the Western Wall Plaza, a historic public square in Jerusalem’s Old City. The earthen vessel wasn’t much bigger than a coffee cup.

A few weeks later, another archeologist working on the project upended the jug and the four coins tumbled out into his hand. David Gellman said he was shocked to be holding gold.

“This is the first time in my career as an archaeologist that I have discovered gold, and it is tremendously exciting,” he said in a statement.

Exciting seems like an understatement. Can you imagine finding gold coins?? I mean, I’d be pumped just because they were gold. But for an archeologist, this is nirvana!

The coins date back to between 940 and 970 AD. Two were minted in Cairo and the other two were minted in the city of Ramla in central Israel.

I know what you really want to know is how much this little treasure is worth. Well, that’s a good question. None of the news sources I read gave a value. The coins look like they are probably less than an ounce of gold each. Even so, I would guess the metal value at about $4,000. Of course, the historical value is much greater.

Four dinars was a considerable sum of money in its time. The coins in the jug may well have been a family’s entire life savings. It was equal to the monthly salary of a minor official, or four months’ salary for a common laborer, according to IAA’s coin expert Dr. Robert Kool.

But there were wealthy people in that ancient society who wouldn’t think twice about four piddly gold coins.

“Compared with those people, the small handful of wealthy officials and merchants in the city earned huge salaries and amassed vast wealth,” Kool said. “A senior treasury official could earn 7,000 gold dinars a month, and also receive additional incomes from his rural estates amounting to hundreds of thousands of gold dinars a year.”

I’ll tell you this – in this day and age, I would gladly take four gold coins. I mean, four American Gold Eagles are worth about $7,500.

The find is a reminder that gold is money. As economist Rafi Farber put it recently, “gold is literally money.”

When you buy a carton of milk at the supermarket, you are not buying it with dollars or euros or yen or whatever. You are buying it with a gold intermediary called a ‘dollar.’ Dollars only have value right now precisely because they can still be exchanged for some (ever smaller) amount of gold.”

So, finding dollars on the sidewalk – sure that doesn’t suck. But finding gold – that’s real money.

Fun on Friday is a weekly SchiffGold feature. We dig up some of the off-the-wall and off-beat stories relating to precious metals and share them with you – with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Click here to read other posts in this series.

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Photo: Dafna Gazit/Israel Antiquities Authority

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About The Author

Michael Maharrey is the managing editor of the SchiffGold blog, and the host of the Friday Gold Wrap Podcast and It's Your Dime interview series.
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