by: Travis Schlepp
Having more money than you know what to do with is usually a good thing, but for one California family, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.
John Reyes, a realtor from the Inland Empire, is trying to figure out what to do with more than 1 million pennies he and his wife discovered in her father’s former home in the Pico-Union neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The pennies were found in a crawlspace way back in the basement of the home last year while the family was cleaning out the home that once belonged to John’s father-in-law, Fritz.
The home was built in the early 1900s, and the family believes it was once used as a bed and breakfast.
Fritz and his brother, both German immigrants, lived in the home for decades until Fritz passed and his brother moved away.
In the years since, John, his wife, Elizabeth, her sister, her cousin and their spouses, have been cleaning out the historic home with plans to renovate it for the next generation.
John recalls the arduous task of cleaning out the family home, which was filled to the brim with items of various levels of importance.
“They kept everything,” Reyes told KTLA, adding that it’s taken several years with their busy schedules to get the place clean and ready for renovations.
He says their cleaning job became a rescue mission one day last year while cleaning out the home’s basement. The crawlspace was tight, literally requiring members of the family to get on their knees to reach the deepest corners.
“We were trying to do a thorough job,” Reyes said, their attention to detail eventually leading them down a rabbit hole in which they never expected to find themselves.
At first, they stumbled upon some loose pennies, the paper rolls disintegrated from years of basement dwelling. Loose pennies led to crates, which led to boxes, which eventually led to the discovery of dozens of bank bags filled with an undetermined amount of pennies from decades ago.
“Some of the banks don’t even exist anymore,” Reyes said.
The discovery was exciting, but also led to the realization that they were stuck with hundreds of thousands of pennies, each bag weighing several pounds and needing to be pulled from the crawlspace and brought into the light for the first time in years.
They randomly selected three bags, grabbed multiple handfuls, and confirmed that the pennies were copper, not zinc, which the United States switched to in the 1980s.
They did some rough mathematics, weighing the bags of pennies and determining how much each bag held, and then stopped once they felt comfortable with an estimate: at least 1 million.
Next came the question that still rings true for Reyes and his wife’s family — what exactly do you do with a million pennies?
The immediate thought: cash out and be done with it.
“‘We’ve got to take these to Coinstar,’” Reyes recalled thinking at the time, but they quickly changed their minds. “We didn’t want to pay 8%, and there’s no way we can take these all the way [home] to Ontario.”
They began calling around banks in L.A. to see if any of them were interested.
One Wells Fargo branch said it was just too many pennies for them to take in. “‘I don’t even have the room in my vault,’” Reyes recalled a bank manager telling him. “‘Don’t bring them here.’”
So they were forced to pivot, hoping that their local bank in San Bernardino County would be more willing to work with them.
But first, they needed to get the pennies out of the basement and back to Ontario.
“Literally bag-by-bag, we had to take them out of the basement, up the stairs, and into the trucks … it took hours,” Reyes said. “It took a whole day just to get them out of the crawlspace.”
They used two trucks, one a Dodge Heavy Duty, loaded the pennies onto the axles of the truck beds, and watched as thousands of pounds of copper pennies exerted their weight on the trucks’ suspensions. They drove the sinking trucks in the slow lane all the way to Ontario, where the coins sat as they tried to figure out what to do next.
Again, they ran into a roadblock. Their local bank didn’t want to take the pennies either, urging Reyes and his extended family to go through them and search for any rarities.
Reyes begrudgingly agreed. “You see all these stories of people finding pennies worth $2 million,” he said. It only takes one rare coin to change everything, and they had ample opportunity to get lucky.
But they’ve already invested years into cleaning out Fritz and his brother’s old home and they’ve spent months dealing with the pennies. The family is ready for someone else to finish the journey, but they want to get a fair value for the possibility the pennies promise.
Reyes listed the coins on OfferUp, a popular resale app and website, asking for $25,000. If their estimate of 1 million pennies is accurate, that’s more than double the $10,000 value in normal currency.
They’ve received piecemeal offers from people interested in a portion of what treasures may be found in the depths of the bank bags, but no offers to take them completely out of their hands. One person offered the copper value, but that proved to be impractical and resource-heavy.
“The value is in the uniqueness,” Reyes said, and taking less than their full value would go against the ideals of his strong-willed father-in-law.
Fritz and his brother were German immigrants who Reyes described as “war babies,” who understood the importance of metals and materials.
When the nation switched from copper to zinc to press its pennies, Fritz saw an opportunity to help build generational wealth for his family.
Fritz, a well-known butcher who worked in Hollywood for years, would take his paychecks to the bank and purchase copper pennies, knowing their value would only go up in time.
He was “always worrying and best trying to position himself,” Reyes recalled.
Years after his death, Fritz and his brother are still looking out for his family, and Reyes intends to make sure their hard work pays off — even if it’s a headache in the meantime.
If you have the means, the desire, and an optimistic spirit, Reyes and his family are listening to offers. Although, you’ll probably have to figure out how to transport them yourself.