By John Dale Beety

Love. Money. Wrong place, wrong time.

Read enough murder mysteries and the same three reasons for the crime get burned into the memory. (One could allow for a fourth, “ideology,” though this is usually a claimed motive rather than the real one.) Naturally enough for a coin geek, money interests me the most, though I have a slightly different take on it compared to the usual.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

When Heritage recently sold an original 1787 Brasher doubloon for more than $4.5 million, among the points of interest mentioned in the coin’s history was the use of a Brasher doubloon as a plot device in a classic Raymond Chandler detective novel, The High Window. When The High Window received its second movie adaptation in 1947, that film noir even went by the title The Brasher Doubloon.

Collecting coins because they’ve had high-profile media appearances would be mighty expensive. The 1913 Liberty nickel known as “The $100,000 Nickel” on a 1973 episode of Hawaii Five-O cost its most recent owner more than $3 million when it sold at the same auction as the Brasher doubloon. Luckily there are far more affordable ways to combine one’s love of coins and mystery novels.

Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Went into the Closet uses Confederate money as a minor plot point, though its cover with bloody paw-prints right on the bills might give numismatists a shudder. If you’re a fan of the Siamese cat sleuths Koko and Yum-Yum, one of the less-expensive Confederate notes in Heritage’s Tuesday Internet Currency Auctions would make a fun tie-in.

Stephen (1135-54) Penny c.1136-45

Perhaps your taste in mysteries has a more historical bent. The Cadfael Chronicles by Edith Pargeter (as Ellis Peters) follow Brother Cadfael, a Welsh-born former Crusader turned Benedictine monk and herbalist, as he solves fictional crimes near the real Shrewsbury Abbey. The Cadfael mysteries are set during “The Anarchy,” a civil war that defined the reign of King Stephen, and a silver penny of the time, like this one from the Eric P. Newman Collection, reflects the secular side of Cadfael’s world.

When a collector has enough knowledge about a coin or a banknote, just seeing or holding it is enough to trigger thoughts of the past. With enough imagination, even fictional settings—a private eye’s office, a small-town billionaire’s barn, or a medieval Benedictine’s garden—can come to life.

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