Executive Director of the American Numismatic
Society Ute Wartenberg Kagan forwarded this story about the coins
fished from the fountain in New York's landmark Bryant Park.
Every day countless stories, in the
form of coins, are deposited into Bryant Park’s pink granite
fountain in the heart of Manhattan. Some are wishes, some are a
personal mark, and others are a promise to return.
What happens to the coins after that is another story.
The fountain’s clear, bubbling waters are just blocks away
from Times Square, and a favorite place for visitors and
residents alike to throw coins. Nobody is counting the exact
number, but they add up to roughly $3,000 to $4,000 a year.
Last year, coins from 76 countries, including the United
States, were tossed in. Whether they’re then picked out by
scavengers (as is common in the summer) or retrieved by the park
staff, they become a living, breathing part of the city.
"I like throwing coins in the fountain and sometimes my wish
comes true," said Soleil Skjorsammer, 7, during a recent sunny
spring afternoon in the park with her mother and sister. "Before,
my wish was I could be a good tennis player, and my mom told me I
got better. This time, I wished I could play soccer."
The Bryant Park Corporation (BPC), which manages the park, has
embraced the custom that transcends many cultures. From its
offices across the street, the nonprofit entity has devised an
intricate system to process the piles of coins it fishes out of
the fountain each month when it undergoes cleaning and
To say the least, it’s a complicated operation. But one that
Jerome Barth, BPC’s vice president of business affairs,
approaches with a smile.
"There’s no practical way to deal with it, so we just have
fun," said Barth at the BPC office last week. "I think of it as a
team building exercise."
The "fun" includes
painstakingly sorting piles of grimy coins from a huge bucket
using a gold-mining pan in the office kitchen sink. The work of
donning pink rubber gloves to pick out rocks, debris, chewed gum,
and cigarette butts before the coins are washed with Dawn soap is
voluntary. Once washed, the coins dry in bowls on office
"It doesn’t smell like crisp, twenty dollar bills," said
Once in a while something truly rare and unusual turns up, a
curious testament to the value people place on putting something
in the fountain. At the BPC office, a 50 centimes 1936 silver
coin from French Indochina is estimated to be worth about $50.
Another unique find was a 1955 all-silver U.K. shilling.
The U.S. coins are deposited at TD Bank, because of its
coin-counting machine. Though the BPC staffers admit they’ve
accidentally broken the bank’s machine a few times with errant
pieces of debris or dirty currency, they continue to go back.
Then there are the coins they can’t spend.
Whether from tourists or
foreign-born residents—it’s impossible to tell which—last year
park staff retrieved over 700 coins from 76 countries from the
fountain. Those unique coins are sent to the American Numismatic
Society (ANS) for study and research.
Among some of the more far-flung countries represented are
Albania, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Zambia, Ghana, Iceland,
Brunei, Aruba, and Vietnam. More commonly occurring pieces come
from the eurozone (European countries using the euro), Australia,
Japan, and Canada.
To read the complete article, see:
If the Coins in Bryant Park’s Fountain Could Speak
Wayne Homren, Editor
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