Log in to post
Jeff Starck

Starck Contrasts

Jeff Starck

Jeff Starck, senior editor, world coins, has been a collector since childhood and a Coin World staff member since 2004. Jeff is the primary writer for the World Coins section in the monthly edition and is responsible for Coin World's coverage of world coins and weekly International page. Jeff is a contributor to Gold Coins of the World and the “Red Book” for Canadian coins.

Visit one of our other blogs:

    Soaring above it all, and capturing visit in silver

    August 12, 2014 3:05 PM by

    ​One of the great joys in the hobby is sharing it with others.

    It’s all the better when such gifts are unexpected.

    In April, a longtime friend came to Ohio so we could catch up. Because it was the first time we had seen each other since college graduation (a frightening distance in our past), I knew the trip had to be extra special. So, I called in a favor from a friend and fellow hobbyist who happens to be a pilot.

    All three of us soared about the verdant landscape of Shelby County, Ohio, in a tiny plane that, to this untrained aviator, may as well have resembled the one used to spirit Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan on their fateful voyage.

    Flying is no problem (crashing, on the other hand … ) but this was a new vantage point for me, literally and figuratively, never having had so little separating the sky from my seat.

    We took off in misting winds, but the flight was uneventful, save for the train accident we witnessed below. I daresay that the experience was magical, and after that outing I better understood the allure of becoming a pilot.

    Some weeks after my friend returned home to Montana, I decided that the flight should be commemorated. Not having the means to commission a new die, I chose the next best option, finding a silver bar to be engraved with a special legend.

    SilverTowne of Winchester, Ind., which operates its own refinery and retail side of the business, offers an array of stock designs for round and rectangular 1-ounce silver pieces that accommodate engraving on one side. Since there were none with a generic flight motif, the American flag bar was chosen for the obverse.

    On the reverse, the inscription MONTANA VISITS OHIO / APRIL 3, 2014 FLIGHT appears on two lines. Unfortunately, space did not allow me to designate the roles each of us played on the flight, with my college friend the “co-pilot” and myself acting as “photographer.”

    The pieces arrived a few days after they were ordered. Both the pilot and co-pilot expressed gratitude for the surprise memento of our fantastic flight.

    Only three examples of this very specific commemorative exist, but each will be cherished by its owner. As it turns out, it was another way to share a very small part of the hobby with friends.

    Collectors have their say in choice for favorite world commemorative coin

    July 23, 2014 10:27 AM by

    The market for new world coin issues is surprisingly active with a diverse number of topics and themes issued by national and private mints all competing for market attention.

    The rapid growth in the number of limited mintage issues has only enlarged the number of new issues coming out for collectors. Reporting on these new issues is one of the more active responsibilities I have.  

    In this role for Coin World, I am exposed to thousands of new collector coins from around the globe every year. Since 2013, that fortuitous position has allowed me to be one of about 50 judges in the Coin Constellation contest, which honors technical innovation, artistry, concept and design, and other attributes, in the ultra-modern coin market.

    While panelists select first, second and third place winners across nine categories, collectors are asked to select the top honor, the People’s Choice Award.

    The 2014 contest features more than 260 coins and 25 commemorative coin series, issued during calendar year 2013, from 31 countries. Central banks, national mints and private issuers are all eligible for the contest but, for the first time, the 2014 contest includes entries from the Royal Australian Mint and the central bank of the Philippines.

    The contest is decidedly tilted toward European and Asian entrants, though North America is represented by the Royal Canadian Mint and the Banco Central de Mexico.

    Winners will be announced in September in Moscow during Coins 2014, the fifth international coin conference and exhibition, a biennial gathering of collectors and dealers in Russia. The 2014 conference is scheduled for Sept. 18 to 20.

    All of the coins in all of the categories are eligible for the People’s Choice Award. The coin that receives the most votes will be declared the winner.

    Voting opened June 1 and continues through Sept. 1. Voters are eligible for prizes, including precious metal coins or subscriptions to a Russian hobby magazine. The most prolific commenters during the voting process will also receive an award.

    Coin Constellation is the only international contest of commemorative coins held in Russia, and is one of just a few similar programs around the world.

    It’s a chance for your voice to be heard, and to reward coin producers for their ingenuity, technology and market receptivity.

    To learn more about the conference itself, visit the exhibition website.

    Connecting Hollywood to numismatics through coal scrip

    June 30, 2014 11:17 AM by

    One of the fascinating things about this hobby is that you can find connections everywhere.

    This is especially true when considering exonumia, that area outside traditional government-issued coins or paper money.

    I was reminded of this recently while reading Sky of Stone by Homer Hickam. If the name sounds familiar, it is probably because of the Jake Gyllenhaal movie October Sky, and his book upon which the movie was based, Rocket Boys.

    Hickam, the son of a stern, taciturn coal mine superintendent in Coalwood, W.Va., was in high school when Russia’s Sputnik streaked across the October sky in 1957, and he was inspired to build rockets. Hickam wrote three books about time spent in – and trying to get out of – McDowell County, at the bottom of the state, deep in the “billion dollar coalfield.”

    Hickam and three friends wound up winning a gold and silver medal at the National Science Fair for their rocketry, and college scholarships followed. But Hickam was forced to spend one college summer working in the last place he wanted to be, below that “sky of stone.”

    There on page 87, the younger Hickam (known at the time as “Sonny”) writes about entering the company store and requesting $20 in scrip against his wages at the mine.

    Like most coal mining operations in the United States, the company store at Olga Coal Co. used tokens. Today these tokens and thousands like it are remnants of the once-widespread substitute economy.

    Coal tokens and company stores have drawn their criticism in popular culture, notably in Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song Sixteen Tons. But Doug Tolley, a member of the National Scrip Collectors Association, disagrees with that characterization.

    “Coal mine scrip was not nearly as onerous as credit cards,” said Tolley. “There was no debt to it – it’s simply an advance on wages already earned. It’s no different than people today who can’t handle credit cards.”
    Tolley, 85, worked in the mines for 46 years before retiring 22 years ago. Now he sells scrip in online auctions.

    Tolley knew the elder Hickam, also named Homer.

    “Homer was just as [darn] tough as they say he was,” said Tolley.

    Since the movie was released in 1999, “everyone wants a piece of Olga scrip,” Tolley said.

    A 1-cent token can be found below $20 in various grades. Pieces from the Carter Coal Co., which owned Coalwood before Olga took over in 1948, are more affordable, and still represent a period when the elder Hickam worked at the mine. Whether they were used after the sale is unclear, but older tokens circulated after sales at other mines in some cases, Tolley said.

    Today, Coalwood is a shell of its former self, with hardly any people left.

    Tolley said, “It’s just like the gold mines out west – when the coal gets gone, the people get gone.”

    Fiasco erupts over the 1965 Canadian annual set

    June 2, 2014 11:48 AM by

    What happens when a Mint’s only product for the year sells out the first day it goes on sale?

    Any collector remotely familiar with the Royal Canadian Mint’s current output of commemorative coins,  which on a monthly basis alone seems to eclipse the Gross Domestic Product of a Pacific Ocean island nation, might be hard-pressed to recall a time when the annual output was a simple set in plastic with one example of each denomination.

    But that was the case in the 1960s, when a furor erupted over the 1965 Prooflike set.

    In the fall of 1964, the RCM was clear: orders would be accepted beginning on Jan. 2, following the New Year’s Day holiday. Buyers could purchase up to five sets at $4 each (the set has a face value of $1.91.) Enough orders flooded the RCM that the initial maximum, two million sets, sold within just a few hours, despite a price tag that was $1 per set higher than the year before.

    The Toronto Globe and Mail  called it “the slaughter of the Royal Canadian Mint,” but noted that the storm was predictable after 1964, when the RCM halted orders for the annual set on April 30 amid strong demand. The RCM eventually produced some 1.6 million of the 1964 sets, compared to 18,000 sets sold six years earlier (1958).

    Collectors who think gaming the system is a pox of modern coin sales need only witness this episode.

    Dealers and collectors from across the U.S. and Canada flooded Ottawa via plane, bus or car with multiple orders, bound for the post office nearest the Mint. 

    Demand was so great it forced the RCM to order high-speed presses, but those would take six months to arrive. In the interim, the RCM grabbed a bit more than 10 pounds of orders from each bag of mail that poured in that first day, estimating how many mailpieces it would take to meet the limit. Temporary workers were hired to process the orders, and orders not set aside were sent back immediately.

    Finally, on April 29, Canada’s finance minister announced that sales would resume immediately, limited to either one, three or five sets per individual.

    Coin World reported at the time that sets in the market were selling for $5, not much of a premium considering the lengths some hobbyists went to obtain them.

    This time, the Mint promised to fill all orders, even if it took into 1966.

    All told, the RCM sold 2,904,352 of the 1965 Prooflike sets, making it the most common annual set in RCM history.

    Each set contains 1.109 ounces of silver, in the 10-cent, 25-cent, 50-cent and dollar coins included in the set (the cent and 5-cent coins are base metal), and online auction sales suggest the set is valued at about $22 to $25, or not much more than its silver value.

    Tackling touchy topics on commemorative coins: Poland celebrates women who saved Jewish children during the Holocaust

    May 9, 2014 9:08 PM by

    Poland, more than any other country, has commemorated tough, even unpleasant themes on its modern commemorative coins, including dozens related to the Holocaust and persecution of Jews.

    In 2009 Poland honored Irena Sendler and two others who helped rescue some 2,500 Jews (mostly children) during World War II.

    Sendler had been posing as a nurse so she could treat victims in the Warsaw Ghetto when she joined Zegota, an underground resistance organization, in 1942. With Sendler’s lead, some two dozen people – almost all women – spirited children to safety, using secret passageways or placing children inside luggage, even sedating them so their cries would not reveal the operation.

    However, the operation was discovered, and Sendler was imprisoned. She slipped through the hands of the Grim Reaper many times in her career as a resister, and did so this time when her compatriots bribed a guard and she was allowed to escape instead of being executed.

    Such a fate, however, befell many of the parents whose children were rescued. Though the children were provided false documents, Sendler created lists of their real names, burying them in jars, hidden to allow for reunions after the war. But reunions simply were not possible for most children as their parents were killed in concentration camps or otherwise scattered.

    Sendler’s story may have remained unknown to the world, but for four Kansas students who traced it for a school project that resulted in the play, Life in a Jar.

    In 2008, at 98 years old, Sendler died, having seen her legacy cemented through the play, which was turned into a Hallmark movie with Anna Paquin.

    For coin collectors, the honor she received in 2009 is even better.

    Sendler, Zofia Kossak-Szczucka and Sister Matylda Getter were honored on two coins in the “Poles Who Saved Jews” series. A circulating 2-zloty coin shows a hand breaking through a brick-and-barbed-wire barrier with the name of Zegota. Image of all three women appear on the Proof silver 20-zloty collector coin.

    In 1965 the trio was proclaimed among the Polish Righteous Among the Nations recipients from Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, awarded to those who saved Jews from extermination during the war.