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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 17, April 26, 2009, Article 20

NUMISMATICS IN STEPHEN KING'S "SKELETON CREW"

Dennis Tucker of Whitman Publishing submitted these thoughts on a walk-on character appearance of several coins in a non-numismatic book. -Editor
I was visiting family in Ocala over Easter weekend, and took the opportunity to explore a local flea market. It was mainly a pastiche of gewgaws and sundry dry goods, but there were a few coin dealers with a selection of popular wares --- Morgan dollars, Buffalo nickels, and other collector coins. My only hobby-related purchase was a Spanish-language state-quarters book and its related coin folder. However, I did buy another book with an interesting numismatic connection: Stephen King's Skeleton Crew.

Like many insatiable readers of a certain age, I remember devouring King's writing throughout middle school and into high school. So when I found his classic collection of short stories on a bookseller's jumbled shelves, I decided to spring the five dollars for a few hours' stroll down Memory Lane.

In the story Word Processor of the Gods, King tells about a henpecked husband who inherits a computer that can alter reality to whatever's typed onto its screen. One of his first experiments is to type MY FLOOR IS BARE EXCEPT FOR TWELVE TWENTY-DOLLAR GOLD PIECES IN A SMALL COTTON SACK.

I didn't remember that part of the story from my first (long-ago) reading, so I was curious to see how King would describe the coins.

He looked at the floor, where there was now a small white cotton sack with a drawstring top. WELLS FARGO was stenciled on the bag in faded black ink." King later goes on to describe the double eagles: "He reached into his pocket and brought out a coin. It was heavy --- heavier than a Rolex watch. An eagle's stern profile was embossed on one side, along with the date 1871.


Hmmm. There appears to be some literary license taken here, since the date is on one side of an 1871 Liberty Head $20, and the eagle on the other. Also, the eagle's "stern profile" is a relatively small part of the reverse design, so it seems incongruous to emphasize it (why not say "An eagle was embossed on one side"?). But you never know what an observer's eye will focus on.

Reading on, I learned this:
That day's paper had listed the current market price of gold at $514 an ounce. The coins had weighed out at an average of 4.5 ounces each on his postal scale. At the current market rate that added up to $27,756. And he guessed that was perhaps only a quarter of what he could realize for those coins if he sold them as coins.


Where to begin! First of all, why would the weight of 12 identical double eagles have to be averaged? Were some oversized, and some under? Second --- well, they must have all been oversized, at four and a half ounces apiece! An actual double eagle weighs a little more than an ounce. Third, even at 4.5 ounces each, they would only contain 4.05 ounces of pure gold each, putting the bullion value around $25,000.

Later in the story, the main character considers various options as he tinkers with the computer's amazing capabilities. Here, King slips in another numismatic faux pas: "[He] was sure he could do it; it would be as easy as creating the Spanish doubloons had been."

It was fun to see coins in the writing of such a popular author, and this is in no way a criticism --- literary license is a fiction writer's prerogative, and from a practical standpoint, it's not like Skeleton Crew is a numismatic reference book. 99% of Mr. King's readers will be none the wiser, and I'm grateful that he used romantic old gold coins as the protagonist's wishful treasure instead of, say, a brand-new car or a generic "bag of money." Maybe some of his millions of fans were intrigued by the mental image of Wild West gold coins in a cotton Wells Fargo sack, and got hooked into the hobby. Stranger things have happened!

My word processing software must not be Of The Gods. I write about rare coins all the time and have yet to have any appear. -Editor




Wayne Homren, Editor

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