Former sci-fi creperie turned into a site to buy rare currencies


They no longer sell pancakes in the old creperie on Lombard Street in San Francisco.

They sell things that cost $ 1 million. They are round and golden and look like small pancakes, but their price cannot be compared to small pancakes.

The former International House of Crepes has just reopened as a rare coin store, the largest in the Bay Area. The roof is still pointed. The bathroom is still in the same place. The faded sign on the front still says pancakes, but good luck finding one.

“Welcome to Witter Coins,” said Dustin, the armed guard, who doesn’t open the double-locked front door before assessing you, which they never did when the place was a creperie.

Inside are case after case of metal discs. Some are brilliant, but the most valuable are not. Some that you can hold in your hand and flip over, like they do at the start of the Super Bowl. But the most precious, you cannot, because you risk getting oil from your fingers on the coin.

“It wouldn’t be a good idea,” said store owner Seth Chandler, who has been collecting coins since he was in high school and handing out old pennies to children who come into the store, as if he strewn with seeds. You can never tell when a dime might take root and turn that kid into the kind of adult who will pay $ 1 million for the 1855 gold coin on display in the front case.

Chandler sold it to a Bay Area collector a few weeks ago. It is one of 14 gold coins minted by the Kellogg analytical house in San Francisco during the Gold Rush when San Francisco’s new currency could not meet demand. On the back of the coin, it is written “Fifty dolls”. San Francisco was a very busy place back then and they didn’t have time to explain everything.

Chandler said he could keep the piece on display for a while, to celebrate the store’s opening.

The $ 1 million coin is not for sale, but many six-figure coins are.

Pancake House seen on Monday, February 10, 2020 in San Francisco, California.”/>
Witter Coins is now located in the former International Pancake House seen on Monday, February 10, 2020 in San Francisco, California.Photos by Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle

In addition to the free pennies and the $ 1 million gold coin, Chandler got nickels for $ 200, dimes for $ 26, quarters for $ 350, and half dollars for $ 500 and up – most of the time more. None of them are to carry in your pocket and buy stuff with it. Most high-end pieces are “tiled” – professionally classified and enclosed in clear plastic racks, where they can never be smelled, stroked, or turned.

Throwing a coin or carrying one in your pocket is a terrible thing to do, Chandler said, as is making it shiny with a metal cleaner. No serious collector cares whether a coin is shiny. Cleaning a part damages its characteristics. Chandler regularly has to break bad news to widows who bring in for appraisal the old collections of their late husbands, newly rejuvenated, that polishing metal has cut a coin’s value in half.

It was then that Dustin the Guard unlocked the door and walked in, Golden Sanford, owner of the San Francisco hotel, with a briefcase full of albums of coins he had kept from his childhood and which he had decided he wanted. ‘it was time to go our separate ways. Witter’s staff grabbed their magnifying glasses and began to study the heads and tails of Indian Head Tens of Dimes, although they don’t call them heads and tails. They called them the obverse and the reverse.

“You have some really cool pieces,” Chandler said, giving the biggest compliment he gave.

Sanford’s face was shining brightly, even though his pennies weren’t. Sanford said he had been in the building countless times before, for breakfast.

“I miss my pancakes,” he said. “Who thought a rare coin store would end up here?” “

The two men would talk about turkeys later in the back room. In coin shops, the important things happen in the back room.

The coins to buy things may be on the way out, Chandler conceded, as society increasingly becomes cashless. And the new “collectible” coins produced by the US Mint’s millions of dollars are generally bad investments. But old, rare collectible coins, he said, are different.

“With a coin, you hold history in your hand,” he said. “A company puts its highest aspirations and its greatest leaders on its pieces. “

In this regard, rare coins may have an advantage over rare postage stamps. Take the presidents, Chandler said. Guys like Lincoln, Washington, and FDR have been successful in creating coins for a long time – some are worth a small fortune. Guys like Warren G. Harding, Millard Fillmore, and Richard Nixon have been successful in getting short-lived stamps – none are worth much.

Even more valuable than some of its coins, Chandler said, is something else Witter Coins offers. There remains a small car park from the time when the building was a creperie, with 12 spaces. In the Marina district, free parking is almost as rare as an 1855 gold coin.

“It’s only for when you’re in the store,” Chandler said. “Unless you buy a million dollar coin.” Then you can park all day.

Steve Rubenstein is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @SteveRubeSF

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