The sign outside Smitty's Gulf in Wayson's Corner seemed too good to be true: GAS 10 CENTS A GALLON.
But while customers screeching to a halt will find the sign to be true, the price may not be all that good. Upon closer inspection, the eye-catching sign states that the gasoline must be paid for in silver coins "dated 1964 and before."
"The dollar ain't worth anything anymore," said owner H. M. (Smithy Smith, an avid coin collector.
Since gasoline from Smitty's six pumps is currently selling for $1.17 per gallon, at first glance the 10-cent price tag is a bargain. But that silver is actually worth more than a gallon of gasoline. In fact, coin collectors will pay more than $2 for a 10-cent piece minted before 1965.
Still, the dime-a-gallon gimmick is working.
Smith says his offer draws about half a dozen customers a week to his station on Rte. 4 east of Upper Marlboro. The ones who see his sign for the first time are usually pleasantly surprised, and pick through their change for silver coins. One driver wanted to take a picture of the sign offering gasoline for 10 cents a gallon to put in his nostalgia collection.
His best customer, a man who regularly bought 10 gallons of gas with 10 silver coins, has since disappeared. "I got the feeling of late that he ran out of coins," Smith said.
Smith only accepts coins minted before 1965, when the government eliminated silver from dimes and quarters and reduced the silver content of half-dollars.
He keeps the coins for his collection, and says he doesn't sell any to dealers. As a collector, he said, he would purchase rolls of coins at the bank, take out the silver ones, then return the rest. "But I couldn't get enough that way," he said.
So he began his "gas for silver" promotion last spring. He originally offered the gasoline at 25 cents a gallon, payable in silver coins. Several weeks ago he lowered the price to 10 cents a gallon after the price of silver continued to skyrocket.
His promotion has quite turned the station into a local branch of the silver futures market, but it has made some drivers happy, and Smith is adding the coins to his collection.
"No one with $200 or $300 worth of silver coins is going to come in here and turn it into gas," Smith said. "It is designed for the guy with five dimes. He is making a 100 percent profit."
Local silver dealers report they are offering more than 20 times the face value for silver coins, so Smitty's Gulf is not really the place to invest for long-term growth. But Smith maintains the promotion is designed for people with a handful of silver coins who would just as easily turn it into change at the supermarket or a phone booth.
"It doesn't pay them to drive into town to get the difference," Smith said.