The collection includes 55 coins, the oldest of which date to 221-203 B.C.

By Meghan Overdeep
January 07, 2021
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For 70 years, the late William Sell and his wife Catherine spent their vacations walking Outer Banks beaches and picking up whatever treasures caught their eye. Between 1939 and 2001, the Pennsylvania couple amassed a collection of rare coins that spans centuries.

The William E. and Catherine F. Sell Coin Collection was donated to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras, North Carolina, in 2006. It includes 55 coins, the oldest of which date to 221-203 B.C. The newest, a five sucres coin from Ecuador, was minted in 1943.

The collection includes coins from China, Ecuador, England, France, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. Even long-gone civilizations like the Byzantine Empire are represented in the historically significant treasure trove.  

All that on the Outer Banks? Experts believe that the vast array of coins is likely tied to the number of shipwrecks off the state's coast.

"That doesn't necessarily mean that there were Greek and Roman sailors traversing the coast," an N.C. Maritime Museums spokesperson explained to Southern Living. "Instead, the oldest of the coins were conceivably scooped up with ballast from the bottom of harbors overseas and then washed ashore in North Carolina as ships broke up alongside the state's treacherous shoals."

There may also be some pirate loot in the haul.

"Since pirates would not have cared where a coin came from but would care about the material used to make them, the oldest silver coins could possibly have been carried here as 'treasure,'" the spokesperson added.  

Coins are notoriously hard to display in a format that allows visitors to see detail, as well as both sides, clearly. As such, the collection is not currently on public display at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.

The nonprofit museum is currently seeking funding to move forward with plans to create an exhibit that appropriately showcases the collection. That exhibit, as conceived, would include each coin displayed in a traditional case with a moveable magnifier to enlarge details. An accompanying electronic display would allow visitors to further explore each coin's history and significance.

For more information or to make a donation, visit GraveyardOfTheAatlantic.com.