Collecting for the love of old money; Rarity: Philip Silberberg says greed also drove him to begin his collection of coins and paper money from the year 1776, now on display at the Pratt Library.


Philip Silberberg of Baltimore didn't become interested in coin collecting until 1997. When asked why he started collecting, Silberberg replied: "Greed."

"I wanted to see what kind of appreciation could be built from an extensive collection," said Silberberg, 78. His desire to start a collection of money from 1776, the year the Colonies declared their independence from Britain, developed only three months ago.

"I work with a broker in New York, and he suggested we take a look at the currencies for the 13 [original] states," said Silberberg, who at that point owned only a few pieces from 1776. The broker thought such a collection would be unique, so Silberberg began accumulating 18th century money and artifacts. His collection is now on display on the second floor of the Enoch Pratt Free Central Library.

Bills in the Colonies were printed at values ranging from 10 shillings (Pennsylvania) to six Spanish milled dollars (Virginia). Each colony had its own currency; even some foreign currency was used in the early years of the United States, according to Silberberg.

Also on display are two letters, one from Gen. George Washington dismissing an officer of the 2nd New York Regiment during the Revolution and another, dated Nov. 8, 1823, from the Marquis de Lafayette, the French soldier who did much to aid the American cause.

Silberberg, a Yale graduate who works as a research analyst at the University of Maryland Baltimore, would not disclose the value of his collection. "The whole thing is purely subjective," he emphasized. For him, only a broker can establish a definite price.

Milton Lynn, owner of Harford Coins on Joppa Road, has been working with collectibles for 35 years. In his estimate, currency from each of the original 13 Colonies could be valued anywhere from $700 to $800. Money from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia was pretty common, he said, because those Colonies were major centers of trade and commerce. Bills from Rhode Island, New Hampshire, the Carolinas and Georgia were rare. Some Colonial bills are worth only $20 while others may reach a couple hundred dollars, Lynn said.

Silberberg's collection will be on display through November at the Pratt.

Its next destination is uncertain. The collection may be auctioned off, Silberberg said, but he added: "I will try to get it displayed in other museums as well."

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