It’s the thrill of the hunt for Hughes

A Hermitage lawn care biz owner by trade, Jason Hughes took a shine to copper, nickel and silver as a sideline hobby recently. This off-season wild hair stoked his imagination and nudged his history-buff, storytelling tendencies.

Now a bonfire advanced amateur coin collector, Hughes finds himself happily knee deep in beginner numismatics.

Numismatics is a fancy word for the study or collection of coins, tokens and paper money.

“It started out as a hobby to get me through this past winter in off season,” said Hughes, who owns Hughes Lawn and Garden Solutions. “I like to hunt for rare coins, tell their story and admit I love all the attention I get with my posts. Mostly, I love the history of an old coin and imagine where it’s been. I feel like it’s a win-win for everyone.”

And, when you think about it, coin collecting is not like building a fleet of antique automobiles. Ironically, it’s a less monetarily demanding hobby, and whatever is invested in coins will at least return its original face value. When a streak of luck lands, the original investment is increased a 1,000-fold or more.

Searching through coffee cans, water bottles and buckets of coins for that rare find can be a bit off-putting at times.

“You would not believe what I’ve run across,” Hughes said. “Think screws, paper clips, candy wrappers and even broken fingernails.”

But it’s all worth it to this history buff and coin collector.

“My interest in coins started this past winter when my lawn business came to a screeching halt,” Hughes said. “It’s just part of the business. I had nothing else to do, so I started this hobby.”

Hughes is a divorced father with a girlfriend who lives in Hermitage. He moved to Mt. Juliet when he was 11 years old. He’s also lived in Donelson in the past. This is his 10th year in a successful lawn care business.

His side hobby started in today’s general way of exploration – through YouTube consumption.

“I saw this guy buying silver bullion,” said Hughes.

He did a few searches and stumbled on J.M. Bullion, a U.S.-based online precious metal retailer. The bug gave him a little bite, and he went for broke and busted out $200 to buy three coins and a silver bar.

“Certainly, I didn’t buy these to get rich,” he said. “Believe me, I’m not rich. Of course, rich people buy precious metals to protect their fortunes. But, it was fun, and I figured I could always sell it.”

His love of history morphed his interest in the hobby, and he subsequently made four bullion buys. The coin-collecting forays found him in New York when the market fell and he bought a 5-ounce silver bar and four quarters. And, a little Michigan jewelry store enticed him to see if they sold silver, and he bought four quarters for $22.

“I found out they were 90% silver,” he said.

In 1964, the country started circulating non-silver money. So, a coin collector is into finding pre-1964 coins.

Hughes believes he turned into a true coin collector when he started stopping by his and other banks to buy rolled half dollars.

“I was hoping to find a rarity but really didn’t at first,” he said. “But in the end, it is money, and I can turn it back in.”

Hughes hit the silver load when he bought several rolls of half dollars at face value and brought them home to crack open.

“Every single one was pre-1965,” he said. “I was so excited. I figure it was beginner’s luck.”

And while this little transaction and unveiling at his home desk weren’t like scratching off a $1 million lotto ticket, it spurred his hobby.

At one point, he bought $80 worth of silver coins and found out they were worth $1,100.

“I figured a kid took them to the bank and cashed them in for face value,” said Hughes. “I really felt guilty. I figured some kid stole his grandpa’s silver coin collection and turned it around.”

He went on Facebook to see if anyone knew the origin.

Hughes’ sister works at a bank and informed him there was a surge in people who buy pennies. Seems they hold some value.

Lincoln wheat pennies were introduced in 1909 in the U.S. and were minted. They replaced Indian head pennies, which were minted from 1859 through 1909. Production of wheat pennies stopped in 1958. Today, it’s a classic iconic early 21st century American cent. Wheat pennies are still readily found in circulation and can be worth $25 a piece. They feature two wheat stalks that frame the lettering on the reverse side.

According to S.D. Bullion, only a few 1944 steel wheat pennies were minted, and those released into circulation were done so in error. For anyone lucky enough to land one in average condition, the coin is worth about $77,000 and as much as $110,000 if certified mint-state condition at the auction.

Hughes bought a box of 2,500 wheat cents at $25. Two were real keepers.

Hughes recently started rolling pennies and coins for people. He does it for free, but with the agreement if he finds a rare coin, he keeps it and replaces it with another one. He also agrees with some that they split the value of the rare coin.

He has on average 120 lawn care customers. They are his friends, as well.

“They will give me a bucket of coins to roll,” he said. “I had nothing else to do, so I would sit and roll them.”

He’s yet to find anything of value from these thus far, with a pre-1965 half dollar worth $10 a fun find.

Soon, Hughes had an ego boost when he started the Coin Collectors Facebook page and also began posting some of his finds on his personal page.

“My little group of 20 or so friends turned into 400 and more,” he said.

His likes skyrocketed.

“Seems people like a picture of a penny,” he said.

The first coin Hughes found that intrigued him before this fun journey was a 1937 penny. The second was a 1933 penny he discovered in a box of pennies. And, someone gave him an 1896 dime he treasures.

He said a 1894 quarter made in New Orleans ended up in Michigan.

“How did it get from New Orleans to Michigan?” he said. “Did it go to a loaf of bread? Was it in someone’s pocket for weeks? Who knows what hands that quarter passed through in all these years. And, it’s still here.”

In March, Hughes found a 1943 D walking liberty half dollar. When he posts such finds on his Facebook page, he weaves a historical marker for that year.

“Franklin D. Roosevelt was in his third term as POTUS. He would be elected to a fourth term but died shortly after that. World War II was ravaging the entire planet. The All American Girls Professional Baseball League was created. (Did anyone see the movie, “A League of Their Own?”) The Pentagon was completed, and a gallon of gas cost 15 cents.

“Country, jazz and musicals were the top three genres of music with three of the top hits of the year coming from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma.” Also that year, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Lena Horne were hitting it big.”

He said the coin, minted from 1916-1947 and made of 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper, is “the most beautiful coin ever made.”

The stories he weaves about his coins are as intriguing as seeing the relics of the past in a world where use of coins is disappearing.

The highest amount of rolled coins Hughes tackled in the short time he’s collected was $552 worth. It was hundreds of rolls. It took him two weeks.

Last year’s coin shortage in the middle of the pandemic didn’t really affect his hobby, said Hughes.

Last week, Hughes’s lawn care season officially began, and he’s sad to admit his growing side hobby will be sidelined for a bit while he works 10-12-hour days. But, he’ll dabble when he can and turn it on full force again in the fall.

Out of the gazillion coins he’s encountered in the past several months, Hughes said he has about 82 interesting coins – all logged and appraised.

Who knows? Hughes’ hobby may eventually lead to a second coin career as an appraiser.

Meanwhile, this coin collector balks at displaying his coin collection in frames or shadowboxes. He rather keeps them hidden in bags.

“If you shut them in a display, that means they can’t be touched and admired anymore,” said Hughes. “That would be a shame.”