Thursday, November 22, 2001

Rare gifts

Not just a matter of dollars

        The King of Coins will soon serve the King of Kings.

        That is how Phil Flannagan gives thanks.

        On this day of Thanksgiving, he plans to count his blessings as he prepares to give them away.

        A week from Friday, his unique collection of silver dollars goes on the auction block in Baltimore. He's donating the proceeds to help build a planned $7 million expansion for Warren County's Middletown Christian School.

        The Flannagan Collection includes the King of Coins, a rare 1804 silver dollar. Only 15 exist.

        Three years after he bought the coin, he's putting it up for auction. Bidding starts at $500,000. The last time one of these coins was sold at auction, in 1997, it went for $4.1 million.

        How Phil Flannagan amassed a fortune in coins and decided to give it away is a Thanksgiving story of faith, admiration and wonder.

        This 48-year-old man's faith is so strong he's donating his earthly possessions “to do good and further the cause of Christ.”

        His firm beliefs are to be admired. They make you wonder how you would give thanks if you were in his shoes.

        Phil Flannagan does not come from wealth. “I'm a Lebanon boy.” Born and raised. Still lives there. Graduated from Lebanon High School. Went to work at Kroger as a bagger.

        His dad worked on the assembly line at the Frigidaire plant. His mom was a housewife.

        Phil stayed on at Kroger. Moved up to head dairy clerk before taking an early retirement. He was making more money — a small fortune — and having more fun at his second job, selling guns and owning a firearms distributor.

        Collecting coins made him happiest. He started early. At age 5.

        Pennies, nickels, dimes caught his eye.

1804 silver dollar
        “They're pretty. But to enjoy them you have to have a magnifying glass. I wanted something big to look at.”

        He thanks his Uncle Ralph for starting his collection of silver dollars.

        “My uncle carried a pocket piece, a special coin. It was a worn, 1922 silver dollar. Many, many times I'd ask him to show it to me.

        “One day, when I was 7 or 8, I asked to see it. He took it out of his pocket and said, "You can have it.' At the time, I thought it was worth more than anything in the world.”

        Forty years later, Phil Flannagan will sell silver dollars worth millions and donate the proceeds.

        “Ownership of these coins is not what it's all about,” he said. “Giving them away, doing good with them is what matters.”

        He kept one silver dollar from his collection. It's worn. And dated 1922.

        To a coin dealer, it's worth $4. To Phil Flannagan, it's priceless.

        That silver dollar belonged to his Uncle Ralph.

        “I'll have that forever,” Phil said.

        He keeps it as a reminder. Of what gifts can do. And whom to thank.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340; e-mail


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