URSULA REBURN is a nice widow lady who used to teach the third grade. She has five children, 10 grandchildren and a large collection of Franklin Mint silver and other objects.
Reburn is one of the people who didn't melt down her Franklin Mint silver plates and medallions back in 1978 and some newspapers and CBS critized the "instant collectibles" craze. She and other like her who held on to their silver so-called "limited editions" may have the last laugh on those who though them unsophisticated in investing.
Franklin Mint silver ingots, which sold for roughly $5 an ounce in 1970, are now worth somewhere between $35 and $40, depending on the current silver fluctations. Thus the ingotset that sold for $515 in 1970 for 104 ounces of silver now could bring somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000.
About a year or so ago, in some circles it was popular to poke fun at people who signed up for the Silver plates and coin series of Franklin Mint and the other commercialmints. Critics sneered at "instant collectibles." And the "limited editions" always were written with quotation marks, with the thought that the editions were often limited by how many could be sold.
The criticism was that people were buying the series for investments, after reading about the large increases in values of antiques, rare coins and one-of-a-kind art works. The commercial mint objects were usually mass-produced items. And many critics questioned their artistic value. Some art and antique collectors still turn up their noses at mass manufactured so-called "art objects." The major auction houses and antique dealers still do not sell the current crop. There are, of course, some dealers who sell nothing but contemporary "limited edition" plates and collectables. Some people collect comic books and fence wire.
Now, regardless of what you think of the objects as art, the sterling pieces are worth five or six times what the buyers paid for them because of their bullion value. Obviously, if you'd bought silver tablewear at the same time, it would have gone up in value equally -- and you could have eaten with it.
In 1978, the Franklin Mint sales of numismatic products sagged after a barrage of what they considered unjustifiable criticism. So last year the Franklin Mint began to diversify. Whereas three or so years ago the business was 80 percent coins and medals, today are 20 percent of the sales are numismatic. Charles L. Andes, chairman of the board, said: "It's not so much that we are deemphasizing coins and medals as we are emphasizing other things."
An exception has been Franklin Mint's new gold coin. The 1-ounce, 1/2- ounce and 1/4-ounce 24-carat coins are sold not for their collectible value but for their bullion content. They are designed to compete with the better-known krugerrand, a South Africian coin, and the Gold Maple Leaf coin sold by the Canadian government.
Instead, of selling her silver to be melted down in late 78, as some people did and are doing still, Ursula Reburn said, "I could have cried to see those pretty things melted down on the CBS show. I wanted to go through the barrels and get those beautiful things."
Instead she signed up for more Franklin Mint issues.
The first series she bought was the bird plates, "because my husband liked to watch the birds so much." Then she bought silver ingots and medals. She gave her daughter silver Mother's Day medallions. She started the state medals, but didn't finish the series. She certainly had to have the love-rose medal for Valentines because she's sure her husband would have bought it for her if he'd been alive. And the St. Patrick's Day medal made sense because her grandparents were from Ireland. The Christmas medals she bought to give to her children and grandchildren.
Ursula Reburn talked about her collection in her pleasant house where everything look brand new and spotlessly kept. The grandchildren's pictures are the principal personal hit of decoration.
She is a sweet-faced woman, one of 11 children herself. After she finished high school, she was in a convent for 6 1/2 years. But she decided not to take the vows." After I came out of the convent, my husband-to-be was the only man I ever had a date with."
She offered coffee and cookies, saying that after the years at home with her own children "I miss having to keep the cookie jar full." After the death of her husband, a funeral-home owner, a few years ago, she gave away most of her old furniture and sold the eight-acre farm where she and her husband raised beef and children and moved into a planned development with an active community program.
In her living room, a display cabinet is full of Franklin Mint editions: miniature silver spoons, medallions on chains in elaborate jewelry-type boxes, silver bird plates set in stand-up holders, medallions mounted on felt, porcelain figures of children and medals set in lucite cases.
She especially enjoyed buying the ingots marked with the ships she's been on. "The trips are fun. A number of the Franklin sculptors and artists are on the trips. That makes you appreciate their work more. Every Christmas I get a card with a medallion from Franklin photographer Ed Trautman and his family. You get to meet so many other people who are regulars on the trips. So I always feel comfortable.
"I actually started with Franklin Mint because my hairdresser asked me to go on one of their tours with her. I'd always liked to travel, but didn't have much opportunity when my husband was alive and my children small. He never would have traveled. But I've always like to read the National Geographic. After his death, it seemed like travel would be good for me. I missed baking cookies for the cookie jar. Some widows are so alone. I have the trips to look forward to. Sine then she's been on eight Franklin Mint trips.
In all Ursula Reburn figures she's probably spent $5,000 on Franklin Mint objects.
The pleasant, dark-haired, 65-year-old woman said one reason she thinks she likes to buy the Franklin Mint pieces is the glossy mail brochures and magazine the Franklin Mint sends out. When she went over to the experimental Franklin Mint store in White Flint, she was pre-sold. "I wanted to buy the gallery out."
I guess it's been years since I was in a museum or an art gallery. We only went when we had somebody here from out of town. I think now if I could start earlier, I'd like to study antique silver. I never thought of collecting before. Iwas always busy raising my children and teaching. Of course, I only taught when my children were in school.
"I never was interested in antiques. I used to look at old platform rockers and think what junk. I gave away most of my family's old stuff. I did keep this carnival glass bowl. You know they used to give that away with soap coupons."