EASLEY — Sam Norris is mostly known around town for his shop in downtown Easley, Uncle Sam’s Antiques. But for the past 60 years, Norris’ real passion has been regulated to a small corner of his shop — his coins.
“I don’t think there was ever a time I wasn’t interested in coins,” Norris said. “I tell people sometimes that I think I might have been born with a few of them in my hands. They’ve always fascinated me.”
Before he was known as “Uncle Sam,” Norris was known by another name: Abe Lincoln.
“If there was a roll of pennies available here or in Greenville, I bought them and I used to sit in the wintertime watching football and sort them by date and mint mark,” he said. “So then I decided — after about 30 ammo boxes full of rolled coins — that I might count them to see how many there was there.
“I stopped when I got to 20,000 rolls — which would be a million coins — and then I started taking my interest in paper money and I sold a lot of that (the coins) off to feed this (paper) addiction,” he added. “And it is an addiction.”
Norris said his interest began to shift from coins to paper around 20 years ago.
“Most of us tend to stick to either coins or paper — but there are a few of us out there who overlap,” he said.
Although Norris’ collection is vast, for security reasons he keeps his most valuable notes and coins off site and under lock and key. Still, he’s happy to share plenty of history and the stories behind the bills he keeps in the shop.
“Every day I have people come in with some coin or bill they’ve come across and want to know how much it’s worth,” he said. “And I tell them what it is, what it’s worth and what I’ll give them for it. Sometimes they sell it, sometimes they want to keep it — either is fine. A lot of times I have cashiers at gas stations and convenience stores come in. Bank tellers too. They’ll have a customer use it and then they’ll ‘buy’ it out of their drawer.”
In addition to the “standard” notes and coins in his collection, Norris has a few oddballs too.
“Prior to 1923, this here was everyday money,” said Norris holding up several oversized bills. “This is what people carried around in their wallets. It’s two-thirds larger than the bills we use today. Now these (he gestured to another stack) were the first one dollar bills produced in the ‘smaller’ size.”
The backs of the bills were printed with a vibrant green ink.
“People thought they looked too much like play money,” said Norris holding up the bills. “You see, green ink was very plentiful, it was readily available and photography was still in its infancy and could not reproduce color so they couldn’t counterfeit it.”
Out of all the coins in his collection, Norris insists he doesn’t have a favorite although he admits to being partial to the American Eagle silver dollar.
“The ‘holy grail’ of coins, the one pretty much anyone would kill to get their hands on would have to be the 1913 Liberty nickel,” said Norris. “There are only five of them, all of them proofs. Two are in the Smithsonian Institute, one is in the American Numismatic Association’s National Library of Coins and two are in private hands.
“The last one was bought at auction about eight years ago and the man paid $7.9 million dollars for it — for a nickel,” he said.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.