Found Treasure

March 29, 2010

For more than 30 years now, sharp-eyed New Yorkers have been finding them on ledges, windowsills and store counters — poker-chip-size coins that reveal themselves to be something far more mysterious than loose change.

The inch-wide ceramic discs, painted in iridescent colors, have the rough, weathered feel of ancient treasure. Each is embossed with a short, cryptic message, a year and two humble letters: “bw.”

Those, it turns out, are the initials of Beriah Wall, a Brooklyn artist who estimates he has knocked out hundreds of thousands of these handmade tokens since the late 1970s, quietly dropping them in public places or the hands of bewildered strangers. His latest batch, minted over the last few months, carry the message “Stuck in Brkln.”

The article appeared in the New York Times a few weeks ago, and it left me feeling both somewhat awed by Beriah Wall’s creativity and a little bit miffed. After all, I’m a sharp-eyed New Yorker. I’ve been in Brooklyn for years.  Why haven’t I found — or at least spotted — one of Beriah Wall’s coins?

Of course, the city contains more than 8 million people and Wall has produced, at most, a few hundred thousand clay coins. Odds are that the majority of New Yorkers have never seen or even heard of his tiny artworks. Why should I expect to locate one? And with that, I forgot about the article. Until …

Yesterday I was walking near the entrance to the Clark Street subway station when I noticed something gleaming on a low, shallow window ledge. I thought it might be a metal button, perhaps even a large coin, so I paused and picked it up. It took a moment for me to recognize the object as something I’d recently read about: one of Beriah Wall’s token-like creations. A fragment was missing, chipped off at some point during its travels, but I tucked it securely into my pocket and am now enjoying this little found treasure.

Coin-like treasure found on a window sill

Reverse side of clay coin (note damage)

New York Times: Statements by an Artist, for the Palms of Strangers
Beriah Wall

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