The business at Century Stamps and Coins is a sign of the times. These days its owner, Dan Trayers, wonders if he is doing more buying than selling.
The simple store on Brandon Avenue in Springfield next to the Chamber of Commerce office doesn't just deal in stamps and coins anymore. It's a last resort for desperate people who know the owner will give them a fair
shake for their valuables.
"Customers bring me their high-end stuff wristwatches, jewelry, rings, five-carat emeralds, anything they think is worth selling," Trayers said. "They're afraid the economy will crumble and the bottom will fall out, and they think they better sell while the selling is good."
On many occasions, older women have come into the store, Trayers said, breaking down in tears at the prospect of departing with objects of little monetary but great sentimental value.
"One lady came in with a watch her husband gave her 50 years ago. It probably hadn't ticked in 20 years and she hated to let it go. I looked it up in the book to see how much it was worth, but I couldn't even find it. But I operate under the golden rule and I gave her a good price for it," he said.
In fact, during the interview, Trayers had to excuse himself to deal with a customer in his office. Returning to the front counter, Trayers said the man wanted to secure the deal to sell 5 kilos of 24-carat Swiss gold.
Market value for a kilo of gold is about $32,000.
"He's been sitting on it 35 years and finally wants to liquidate it. I won't keep it, but I brokered the deal and got the commission," Trayers said.
Despite the multitudes seeking to sell, Trayers is a passionate numismatist, or coin collector, and tells stories of how he considers his little coin and stamp shop to be hallowed ground.
One frequent customer is former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R).
"He comes in here with his aides. They always say, looking at their watch, 'We've got to go!' and I say to them, 'You stand outside!' This is like a sanctuary," Trayers said.
Trayers began working at the store eight years ago, helping out at first, eventually breaking away from his full-time job running the Pain Management Center at George Washington University Hospital. He bought the store two years ago.
Trayers is Century's third owner, and the store is 45 years old.
"Right now coin collecting is hot. Family day is Saturday and people spend hours here," Trayers said.
But they don't come for the stamp collecting, a hobby that has waned in popularity.
"Stamp collectors are a dying breed. Most of them are 55 years old and up," Trayers said, admitting that most of his inventory for stamp collecting is not in stamps, but in stamp collecting materials like storage notebooks and collectors guides.
There are no employees at the store, only volunteers coin fanatics who live and breathe copper, silver, gold and iron. Tommy Morris works every day, and not even for pennies.
The most Morris ever spent on a coin is $900, on a Morgan Silver Dollar. "But that's cheap. I've seen people spend thousands for coins," Morris said. Trayers once spent $45,000 on a set.
The store is full of Confederate money, misstamped money, a few Morgan Dollars, and ancient coins from Rome and other empires dating back to before the Common Era. Some of the most popular coins are those mentioned in the Bible, such as what changed hands on the road to Damascus.
But the oldest aren't always the most valuable. Ancient coins are pretty common. It is the coins hardly in existence that jack up the price. The most valuable coin in the store is an 1893 S Morgan Silver Dollar worth $17,000.
Some Morgan Dollars can sell for up to $125,000.
But don't even think about robbing the store. Two years ago someone tried it, tied up an employee and stole $50,000 worth of coins.
Coin dealers are "a tight-knit circle," Trayers said.
Trayers inventoried what was stolen, faxed out a list, and a little more than a week later, two suspects were locked up after they tried to sell their stolen goods to Capital Coins in Washington, D.C.
"We got everything back except two coins," Trayers said.