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Bill Gibbs

Bill’s Corner

Bill Gibbs

William T. Gibbs, senior editor, news, joined the Coin World editorial staff in 1976 and serves as chief copy editor for all Coin World publications while directing weekly editorial production aspects. The collector of numismatic items relating to Adm. George Dewy of Spanish-American War fame has served as lead copy editor for all Coin World books since 1985 and is principal author of the cover topic for Coin World's Guide to U.S. Coins, Prices & Value Trends.

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    ​My Martian Odyssey, or how a young boy fell in love

    August 5, 2014 8:37 AM by

    I fell in love with aliens and robots and space ships as a young boy growing up in the mid-1960s when I discovered science fiction. Books were my passion, much more than sports (which I was never very good at any way). During the school year, the school library was one of my favorite places, and during the summer, the weekly stop of the county library’s bookmobile in my rural neighborhood was my favorite time of the week (it was even better than getting an orange sherbet “push-up” from the local milk truck).

    While in the library or on board the bookmobile, I sailed the bookshelves in the Nautilus with Capt. Nemo, or tramped through the jungle with the castaways on the Mysterious Island, or set out on an adventure with Podkayne of Mars. At other times, I imagined that local water towers were H.G. Wells's Martian tripods in disguise, awaiting some silent command to awaken them so they could sweep the flat northwest Ohio landscape with their death rays. As I entered my mid-teens I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs’s wonderful creations in new paperback editions, many with gorgeous Frank Frazetta covers (a brilliant artist whose works often featured rugged male heroes, beautiful women, and terrifying beasts, and whose movie poster works included the caper comedy Who’s Minding the Mint?). Burroughs's most famous characters were Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, and Dejah Thoris, the Princess of Barsoom (Mars to us Earthlings) and her hero, John Carter of Virginia. As my tastes matured, I discovered newer authors, like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison, Robert Heinlein, and Robert Silverberg, and learned of “forgotten” writers like Stanley G. Weinbaum and his stunning short story “A Martian Odyssey.”

    The 1960s to 1970s were also the early days of human space exploration, which I followed passionately, not surprising, considering my interest in science fiction. I still have the scrapbook I kept as a teenager as I followed the Apollo manned missions.

    I especially became fascinated by mankind's unmanned probes to the Moon, and to the other planets in our solar system. I loved seeing the first close-up images of Mars taken from Mariner 4 in July 1965, though those first black-and-white images showed a landscape not unlike that of Earth's moon. Later missions would reveal a much more varied landscape, though no Deja Thoris, alas. No Podkayne, either. 

    It was during this same era, the mid-1960s to early 1970s, that I also became interested in collecting coins. While in middle school in Castalia, Ohio, I volunteered at the school library. When my fellow students paid their library fines, I always checked their change, and if I found a coin I needed for my collection, I quickly swapped out another coin for it. Working in the library also meant I had ready access to all of the science fiction books in the school's collection. 

    As I entered high school, I found that love of reading had led to an interest in writing, especially as I served on the staff of my school newspaper.

    Eventually, I turned my passion for coins and literature into my profession, when I joined the Coin World staff in October 1976. I still maintained a passion for space exploration, which was beginning its golden age in the nation's Bicentennial year. That year, NASA placed two landers on the surface of Mars: Viking 1, which settled on the martian surface in July 1976, and Viking 2, which reached the planet's surface in September, at about the same time I interviewed for a job at Coin World

    The Viking program even made the pages of Coin World when a pair of beautiful art medals commemorating the missions began to be advertised. The high relief medals were designed by Marcel Jovine, a talented artist who first came to the United States during World War II as an Italian prisoner of war. Although he was repatriated to Italy at the war's end, he returned to the United States for good in 1946, where he began his long career as a toymaker, artist and sculptor. Even those outside of the numismatic community are familiar with two of his creations — the educational toys known as the Visible Man and Visible Woman, which show humans' internal organs.

    Today, Jovine's Viking 1 and Viking 2 medals are among the prized possessions in my collection. Each shows a close-up sculpture of one of the landers resting on the martian surface, with the other side showing a globe of Mars. As soon as I saw the first advertisements for them, I knew I had to have a set.

    These medals represent a marriage of my passions: the exploration of space, and numismatics. Isn't it grand when you can merge two passions into one?

    When is an error coin not an error? (Part two)

    June 2, 2014 11:45 AM by

    Last week, I previewed an attractive, desirable error coin offered in a recent Heritage auction —  a mated pair of 1973-S Washington quarter dollars. I noted that while most error collectors would love to own the coin, some concerns had to be noted.


    In the 1970s, Proof coins were struck on planchets that were individually hand fed into the press. After each coin was examined by the press operator, it was then delivered to the packaging facilities to be inserted into the hard plastic cases used for Proof sets in the 1970s. Error coin experts state that it would have been impossible for (1) a coin of this type to have been struck by accident and (2) to have left the San Francisco facility legitimately. By all evidence, these pieces fall into the categories of intentional and assisted error.

    So what happened?

    It is well known within the error coin community that during the 1970s, employees of the San Francisco facility were deliberately producing error coins using Proof dies, and then selling them into the collector marketplace. Many of the coins were grossly misshapen, like the mated pair described here. Some were struck on unusual planchets or scrap. They were well publicized in the numismatic community.

    Eventually, Mint investigators working on a tip from the error coin community discovered that the intentional errors were secreted within the oil pans of fork lifts used at the San Francisco facility. When the fork lifts were shipped to an outside firm for service, a confederate removed them from the oil pans and cleaned them with a degreasing agent. From there, the coins entered the marketplace.

    Mint officials shut down the unofficial minting. However, some of the Proof coin errors produced during this time remain in the marketplace, generally unmolested by authorities.

    The mated pair of quarter dollars in the Heritage auction brought a winning price of $4,553.13.

    When is an error coin not an error?

    June 2, 2014 11:20 AM by

    Coin World contributing writer Mike Diamond addressed the concepts of “assisted error” and “intentional error” in his May 12, 2014, “Collectors’ Clearinghouse” column, where he defines the two categories of coins. In short, intentional and assisted errors are given “help” by mint employees. These employees are the spiritual descendants of the 19th century U.S. Mint employees who unofficially produced 1804 dollars, patterns and other rarities for sale to favored collectors and dealers. Such practices continued well into the 20th century, as a lot in a recent auction suggests.

    Heritage Auctions’ April 23 to 27 Central States Numismatic Society sale offered a small number of visually appealing, desirable errors. Among them was lot 5200, a mated pair of 1973-S Washington quarter dollars. The Glossary of the Combined Organizations of Numismatic Errors of America defines “mated pair” thusly: “These coins were struck together in the coining chamber. They fit together perfectly.”

    Most error collectors would love to own the pair of quarter dollars in the Heritage auction. They are visually striking and would be the centerpiece of anyone’s error collection. However, a thin cloud shades this pair of coins — a shroud no commercial dip can remove. Look at the date and Mint mark. The two coins are Proofs, bearing the S Mint mark of the San Francisco Assay Office, and they are all wrong for this kind of error.

    We look at what makes this piece somewhat questionable next week.