A Treasure Trove
Of Sand Dollars
I was a kid in the 1950s. I spent my summers on a Maine beach. My allowance was 25¢ a week. If I wanted or needed more spending money, I had to mow lawns or find bottles on the beach to take back for the deposit. All were options. One of the best opportunities came one summer, when the beach gift shop was selling sand dollars for 10¢ each and would pay kids 5¢ to find whole sand dollars that the shop would buy. As a local, I had the opportunity to follow the tide line and pick up a dozen or so every week or two. It was good.
Then one day, our family was out on an off-shore island (my dad had a boat) and we were on the island’s north-side sand beach. My dad had been out swimming and came back and dropped six dark circles in my hand.
He said, “What do you think?”
“Where did you get these?” I asked.
He pointed and said, “Out there.”
“These are sand dollars,” I said.
He said, “There are hundreds, maybe thousands out there.”
I did quick math 100 x 5¢ is $5.00…is 20 weeks of allowance. An astonishing sum of money for a 7-year-old in 1956. Dad said, Come with me, I’ll show you.”
We walked out, I chest deep, and there on the sea floor, in the clear water were dozens, hundreds, of sand dollars. My dad, who had been further out and had dived to reach them, took his toe, caught one on its under edge, flipped it up along with some sand. It spun through the water. He reached out, caught it, and dropped it in my hand. I spent the next hour flipping and catching, and yes, I had something over 100 when I was done. A few days later I cashed in at the gift shop.
“Baby Seagulls” found inside a broken sand dollar
Sand Dollar Magic
As a sand dollar entrepreneur, I learned a lot about sand dollars over the years. In the beginning, to collect a sand dollar and sell it intact for 5¢ was a solid return. If a tourist kid wanted one, I would do the pre-selling, show the seagull magic and send them to the gift shop. Showing sand dollar magic to a tourist kid was fun. It was always preferable that it was a broken sand dollar. Shake the sand dollar and hear the rattle inside. We’d tell the tourist kid there were five baby seagulls in every intact sand dollar. We never broke an intact sand dollar because each one was worth a bag of M&Ms, a Hershey bar, or a box of Junior Mints. Two sand dollars would buy a lemon sherbet ice cream cone at the ice cream shop. Break a whole one and all you got was an amazed tourist kid, so we kept them intact.
If a tourist kid picked up a broken sand dollar, we’d perform our magic act and show them the baby sea gulls inside.
Sand Dollar Necklace
Perfect circle of nature,
hinting at the magic of the sea;
the simple sand dollar, dried, bleached,
found this day in the sand dunes.