Oakcrest High School history teacher Doug Cervi for years has used antique coins and paper currency as a teaching aid in the annual economics unit he teaches his U.S. history II and AP U.S. history students.
Last April, Cervi, a member of the coin collectors group Atlantic County Numismatic Society, expanded this lesson by enlisting the group for a well-received showcase.
On Nov. 27, Oakcrest again hosted the society for a coin show he hopes will become an annual institution at this school.
"We did this last April, and it went over so well, I said, 'Why don't we do this during my economics unit, because then my kids can connect it to the history we're studying before we do the Great Depression,'" Cervi said. "That's why we have this today."
Cervi first became interested in numismatology - the study of coins and metals and their place in history - when as a kid with a paper route in Egg Harbor City he was paid in what's known as Morgan silver dollars. His appreciation for the artistry of these hefty coins gave way to a lifelong interest in coin and currency collection, and he has since expanded his collection to include American and international currency dating back to the 19th century.
More than 300 students in Cervi's history classes filtered into the library Nov. 27 to view and handle pieces ranging from ancient Greek coins to American currency dating as far back as the Colonial era. Students were given free gifts courtesy of the society, including a 1943 steel penny and an uncirculated 2010 Lincoln penny.
Mike Demling, a group member who literally wrote the book on Colonial New Jersey currency, said he hoped the presentation opened students' eyes to the rich history of American and world currency.
"It's to open their minds to what's out there as far as coin collecting and what type of coins were produced, and to demonstrate that their state that they live in produced their own coins and own paper money back in the Colonial days," said the author of the recently published book New Jersey Coppers.
Cervi also enlisted the help of some of his students in presenting the currency.
Senior Nick Murphy, who was in Cervi's AP U.S. history class last year and attended the April presentation was one of those who volunteered to help Nov. 27.
Murphy said he enjoys how a nation's currency is often representative of its ideals, explaining how the midcentury Russian Kopek coin's spartan, utilitarian design represented the nation's communist beliefs.
"I've always thought that this kind of stuff was really interesting," Murphy said. "I like the fact that numismatology combined art and utility, it's a way for whole generations to define themselves with the money they use, and it's a reflection of the values of some of the countries they come from."
Senior Schuyler DeVos also volunteered. He has always been interested in coins, he said, but knew little of their history until Cervi's lessons after last year. He has a modest collection, he explained, the centerpiece of which is a Silver Eagle proof coin he won for an essay he wrote after the April demonstration.
DeVos said he was fascinated by the historical significance of pieces on display at the second demonstration, a highlight of which were the well-preserved fractional notes - Civil War-era paper currency used in place of coins due to a shortage of raw materials.
"They have some fractional notes over here, which were made during the Civil War because, basically, they didn't have enough coins left to circulate," DeVos said. "That's not only a piece of currency, it's a piece of history."
Bill Klusaritz, the Numismatic Society's treasurer and one of the event's organizers, said he hopes to partner with other area sch3ools for similar presentations.
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