My grandparents’ old gold coins and Anya’s lucky found money purse

My grandparents’ old gold coins and Anya’s lucky found money purse

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.

The leftover coins and bills in the lucky purse have limited value. The silver JFK quarters and a 1902 Indian Head penny are worth a few dollars. The 1979 Susan P. Anthony dollar and JFK dollars and quarters are worth face value. The French 10 Francs, German Deutsche Mark, 50 Spanish Pesetas, 10 Korun (Czechoslavakis Zechoslovakia Federative Republic 1990, M.R. Stefanik), 10 Greek Dracmas are basically worthless. The 1000 Türkiye Cumhuriyet Merkez Bankası and 10 Sociajalistick Federativna Republika Jugoslavia scrip is beyond worthless.

(left) Louis Kramer as a trainee in the Russian Army; (right) Anya Kramer after moving to Rochester. Ever the entrepreneur , Anya opened Keni Imports and Exports in downtown Rochester.

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.

(see Good Luck continues. And what the Torah says I should do)

As Anna Padua, Anya performed on the Yiddish stage in Moscow during the early years of the Communist Revolution. Anya often talked about her role in דער דִבּוּק‎ (The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds). A Hebrew version was prepared by Hayim Nahman Bialik and staged in Moscow at Habima Theater in 1922.

Must be in the genes. David Kramer finding money outside Temple B’rith Kodesh in Brighton. [Photo: A] From  Good Luck continues. And what the Torah says I should do

After Anya’s death, we slowly chipped away at the coins, deciding that her good luck earned in this life transferred to wherever she is now. Eventually, we stored what was left in an attic drawer. Recently, we looked more closely at the purse and also Anya and Louis’ old gold coins.

(top l – r) Mexican Viente Pesatas (1918), U.S. 20 dollar coins (1894 and 1904); (bottom l – r) Russian 5 roubles (1898), 2 1/2 US dollars (1907, 1911, 1915)

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.

Douglas Scott Musinger, owner of Brighton Tokens & Coins on 1492 Monroe Avenue, offered a fair price we accepted. [Photo: David Kramer]

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.

Eugene Kramer at the Guinness Jazz Festival, Ireland, 1990 From Eugene Kramer publishes “Isaac” sixty-five years later.

Coin Harvey was a buzz kill when confirming that the 20 English Pound bills are no longer legal tender. He believes the 4 Pounds, 154 Pence, 60 New Pence, 1 Shilling, 2 New Penny and 2 Penny coins could be used.

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.

(top l-r) Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Good for One Far, No Cash Value (unknown) , Stargate game token Stargate game token, (middle l-r) Strong International Museum of Play, French telephone booth token, (bottom l-r) Vintage TPA (Travelers Protective Association) Token

“Found this piece at a flea market. Vintage TPA (Travelers Protective Association) Token. Gold metal advertising token marked “The Travelers Protective Association of America St. Louis, MO.” on one side and ‘If owner is insured wire number 738836 to TPA address on other side’ on the other side. There is some tarnish, otherwise in good condition.” (

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.

See Remember, Rochester is a “city of sanctuaries.” and “In a clinic in Paiwas” — Thomas W. Harris (1925 – 1999)

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.

Guess who is the President?

As seen in Leslie pines for her shrines, last November greedy Leslie tried to abscond with the money.

Leslie’s failed attempt at repatriation. From  Leslie pines for her shrines

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!

Albeit wintertime, David Kramer and Audrey Boyce recreate the scene where the coin was found. @2008 [Photo: Leslie Kramer] From 42 years and counting for the Kick Ass Kro-Kay Club of Cobb’s Hill

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.

[Gift from Eugene Kramer to David Kramer]

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.

The vent and the coin. [2/12/20]

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.

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.

(l-r) Sunita Gupta, Eugene Kramer, Lucian Waddell, Lynda Howland at Julie Everitt’s former home in Henrietta, early 2000’s [photo: Carol Kramer]

Also found was The Dybbuk (1974) by S. Ansky, translated by S. Morris Engel given to “Anna P.” [Anya’s stage name] by her brother-law Maurice Kramer on Christmas Day, 1977.


Good Luck continues. And what the Torah says I should do. And the Mystic’s stick

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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