Heads or Tails

Coin collecting is known as the "Hobby of Kings," while individuals who take the pastime to scientific levels are called "numismatists." They study not only currency but also the intricacies of payment and debt throughout time.

Judging by a recent police report, it's unclear into which category the suspect it focuses upon would fall. What is evident is that a certain 57-year-old man attended the 2006 World's Fair of Money at the Denver Convention Center with the intent of purchasing very rare coins. The mid-August event featured lectures, workshops and vendors from around the country such as Iowa-based J&J Coins and Collectibles, from which the suspect bought an $850 coin. He paid by personal check, as he did with the five other vendors that day. The most expensive coin he bought was $23,500, bringing the total amount he spent to approximately $60,000. Later, when the individual merchants attempted to deposit the payment, the checks were returned for non-sufficient funds.

According to law enforcement documents, the suspect -- described as a heavyset Caucasian with grey hair and brown eyes -- lives in Weston, a sleepy town at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado. In 2002, he registered a company called Liberty Numismatics, listing only a post office box as an address.

Numismatists may be experts on the history of money, but that doesn't mean they are adept at the management of money: Records show the suspect declared bankruptcy last fall. So is he an avid hobbyist whose love of coins drove him beyond his means? Or is he more interested in money for its own crude barter value? Detective Kathy Castro with the Denver Check Fraud Unit found that the suspect's account at the International Bank in Trinidad had deposits in excess of $78,500, "but the funds needed to clear the victim's checks were not present in [the suspect's] account when they were processed," she wrote.

A look into the suspect's criminal history may shed some light on intent. In 1985, he was arrested in Lakewood for larceny. The same charge was leveled against him ten years later in Commerce City, when he was again jailed for this offense. Whether the suspect will face criminal charges for his most recent misstep is unlikely, however. The police report notes that the Denver District Attorney's office has refused the case as "primarily civil in nature."

But while any numismatist can explain how every civilization created money as a means to exchange goods and services, there is nothing inherently civil about money. -- Jared Jacang Maher

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts