Anya and Louis Kramer on their honeymoon at Niagara Falls, 1927
In the mid-1920s, my grandmother Anya Kramer came to America from Russia via Palestine, eventually living in Manhattan and other boroughs for about 40 years.
As she walked or took the subway to and from her husband’s jewelry store or her job as a nurse, Anya often found coins, small bills, telephone and subway tokens on sidewalks or park grass. She always took the money home, placing the lucre in a large black multiple-pouch purse. As the bulging purse filled, she bought a second, a third, and finally a fourth red velvet one.
Anya never spent a dime of what she called her “found money.” Perhaps drawing upon folklore from the Ukranian homeland, for Anya, unspent found money brought good luck. And a lucky life she had.
Anya was an actress in Moscow during the Russian Revolution, missed the reign of Stalin, lived in Manhattan during its heyday, befriended hippies in her Woodstock summer place, and even in her 70s took creative writing courses at Monroe Community College, including once sharing — with dramatic flair in its retelling — a joint with fellow creative writing students fifty years younger.¹ Without doubt, had Anya not saved that lucky found money, I would not be typing these lines.
We don’t remember exactly when the Kramers acquired the coins. As Louis was a jeweler, maybe he bought them from a customer or another store owner. Nonetheless, Louis kept the coins in fine — though not quite pristine — condition.
My first instinct was to consult my numismatic friend, aka “Coin Harvey.” Unlike The Antique Road Show, Coin Harvey makes house calls. Equipped with gold-weighing-scale and one-eyed magnifying lens, he darted over for a diagnosis.
Using his trained eye and judicious use of the internet, my numismatic friend determined the two U.S. gold 20 dollar coins (1894 and 1904), Mexican Viente Pesatas (1918), three 2 1/2 US dollars (1907, 1911, 1915) and Russian 5 roubles (1898) indeed had hefty value.Leftover in the purse were some bills, coins and tokens, some from Anya’s era and some more recent. In 1990, Eugene and Carol Kramer traveled to Europe just before the final fall of the Soviet Union. Along with western European currency, they brought back money from Turkey, now-gone Yugoslavia and then-just-born Czech Republic.
My friend was a bummer, confirming that English pound bills from 1990 could no longer be exhanged for the current version.
Also in the purse were various tokens including from the Strong Museum of Play, a French Gettone Telefonico outmoded by mobile phones, a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority outmoded by automated payment, and a Stargate game token from unknown video arcade. My friend saw value in the Vintage TPA (Travelers Protective Association) Token, and indeed one sold on etsy.
A 10,000 Nicaraguan note from 1985 was in the purse. On the reverse side, a marching Sandanista popular militia is pictured. The bill was brought back to Rochester from Tom Harris who took many trips to Nicaragua with Project Bueno, then supporting clinics and a Women’s Furniture Cooperative.
There are other bills and coins in the Kramer household. On a porch wall is thumb-tacked a French language project Leslie made in middle school with an attached U.S. $20 gold certificate given to Leslie by Grandma Anya as a birthday present.
As seen in Leslie pines for her shrines, last November greedy Leslie tried to abscond with the money.
In childhood, once during a croquet match in the backyard, my ball landed in the garden. When retrieving the ball, I discovered a dirty, very old looking coin. After a cleaning, the coin looked like something from the ancient world. Exultant, I imagined we had proof that Phoenicians or Romans arrived in Brighton more than a century and a half before Columbus landed in the Caribbean!Without the internet or coin history books, we had to wait out the weekend for the answer. On Monday, my father visited a coin dealer. Heartbroken, I had to hear, while the coin was real, its existence was not evidence of early contact and early discovery. Nonetheless, I loved the coin which I often fondled. Alas, once when playing with the bust of Constantius II, the coin fell into a heating vent. Horrifically, it didn’t just plop down on the the base below, but somehow landed upright and began to roll! The coin ended up falling into the heat pipe beneath the grate. Constantius was irretrievably gone. Sensing my anguish, my father bought me a very similar Constantius II coin, soothing the loss of my friend imprisoned as in hell in a furnace duct.
¹ Monroe Community College Professor emeritus Lucian Waddell taught Anya in 1976, befriending both her and the Kramer family.
FINDING MONEY RUNS IN THE KRAMER GENES
On the first evening of my evening MCC creative writing course in September of 1976, I was not sure of what to make of Anya Kramer, a septuagenarian who, it turned out, had lived through the Russian revolution of 1917, had studied acting with Stanislavsky, and later acted with Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv. I was a little concerned about how the other students, most in their early twenties, would respond to her outspoken presence.
I need not have worried. They listened thoughtfully to her responses to their work, and organized an end-of semester party in her honor. She got an A, of course, became a good friend, and even my partner in a small real estate venture in the South Wedge.
And one of my best friends ever.