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.

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    In breast cancer awareness coin, U.S. struggling to keep up with Canada

    July 14, 2015 10:42 AM by

    ​The United States in 2018 could issue three Breast Cancer awareness commemorative coins, including the first U.S. coin struck in “pink gold.”

    Collectors of Canadian coins could be excused for thinking, “haven’t we done this already?”

    Even if Congress passes the legislation as it exists now, the program will be just another instance of America playing “catch up” with its neighbors to the north.

    Canada issued a circulating breast cancer awareness coin — with pink ribbon, no less — in 2006, and a coin with pink gold in 2012.

    The 2006 circulating 25-cent coin was the second colorful circulating coin issued by Canada (and in all the world), and since then the process and practice has been repeated numerous times.

    The list of innovations and “firsts” for Canadian numismatics is a tremendous one.

    The world’s first pure gold bullion coin? Canada, 1982. Since then Canada has also issued the first .99999 fine (or “five nines”) gold bullion coin as well. 

    Between Canada and the U.S., which nation removed its small denomination paper money first? That would be Canada, in 1987.

    Here is America, the $1 Federal Reserve Note is still stuffed in our wallets and purses (thanks, Crane & Co., and Massachusetts politicians!)

    In 1998, Canada issued a ringed bimetallic coin for circulation (the $2 coin, or “twoonie”). Down here, we’re still waiting.

    Canada in 2011 began issuing more durable, anti-counterfeit polymer notes, launching five denominations across two years.

    Like the Maytag repairman, America is still waiting.

    Which of the two nations has eliminated the cent coin?

    You know the answer (the Habs dropped the small coin in 2012).

    A cynic would argue that there is hardly a theme the Royal Canadian Mint hasn’t celebrated on coinage.

    A realist would acknowledge the technological strides made by the RCM with circulating, collector and bullion coins.

    Canada is not hamstrung by a political body whose approval rating rivals that of used car salesmen and IRS agents.

    The U.S., on the other hand, is boxed in to two commemorative coin programs annually.

    Many collectors of Canadian coins would surely welcome the practice of a limited number of themes per year.

    But in America, this limit is too restrictive, since so many U.S. commemorative coin programs have been co-opted by organizations searching for pay dirt in the parlors of power.

    Instead of seeking coins that elevate and honor the nation and its glorious history, proponents of new American coin programs seek surcharges and treat collectors like ATMs.

    Somewhere in between, there’s a happy medium. At least the Canadian coin program allows collectors a choice.

    Take it or leave it, that’s something all collectors should be able to agree on.

    Measuring modern world coin explosion, by the book

    July 2, 2015 2:12 PM by
    There may be no better illustration of the explosion in modern commemorative coins than the growth in the catalog that tracks them.

    The famous multi-volume Standard Catalog of World Coins series by Chester Krause and Clifford Mishler in modern times features the research and analysis of Tom Michael and, until January, George Cuhaj.

    The series tracks worldwide coin issues, a century at a time, from 1600 to the present.

    In 2005, the publishers launched the first edition of a reference cataloging coins of the current century. In that time, the book has grown rapidly as the pace of issuance of new collector coins has only intensified.

    When the 2016 editions of the 1901-2000 and 2000-present catalogs arrived at Coin World last week, the abundance of new coins was immediately apparent — the books are almost equally thick.

    The page counts, though, differ significantly.

    The 1901-2000 catalog has 2,352 pages, while the 2001-present catalog has only 1,344 pages.

    However, consider the number of pages per decade covered, and the 2001-present catalog far surpasses the 20th century edition.

    Measured that way, it takes 235 pages to cover each decade of coins from the 20th century, but the book for the modern century requires 896 pages per decade, and that’s with only some of the 2015 coins included, since more continue to be produced daily.

    It’s a startling tell on the glut of modern issues in the market.

    For purists, the Collecting World Coins book is also regularly updated, focusing on coins issued with the intent to circulate and rejecting the collector-oriented products.

    Mints clearly are adopting a “Long Tail” approach to the business — issuing an increasing number of coins targeted at narrower and narrower niches — but the resulting outpouring certainly keeps collectors, the marketplace, and even catalog editors, scrambling to keep up with it all.

    Making money with Jefferson nickels

    May 22, 2015 3:18 PM by

    If someone told you that you could make a 20 percent return with absolutely no risk of losing money, you’d probably think you were talking to a would-be Bernie Madoff.


    But, the reality is, that prospect exists with Jefferson nickels.

    We’re not talking about the ones with full steps. You don’t need to buy Bernard Nagengast’s The Jefferson Nickel Analyst book to study the series. The reward is for something as easy as hunting for examples issued before 1960.

    Dealer Wayne Herndon in Virginia is one buyer willing to pay six cents for pre-1960 Jefferson nickels. Certain key dates and the silver examples net a higher return, of course. But Herndon’s offer stands for even the most common years and Mint marks.

    I first learned of Herndon’s offer through Wayne Homren, editor of E-Sylum. In the March 15, 2015, edition of the weekly newsletter, Homren recounted a story heard at a recent gathering of collectors in the Washington, D.C., area.

    Herndon explained to Coin World his offer to pay 20 percent above face value for these relatively common coins.

    “I’m a dealer, and like most dealers I am constantly offered collections, accumulations, etc.  ... Like bags of wheat cents, there is a market for bags of pre-1960 Jefferson Nickels.”

    Herndon sorts the coins into bins. After a bin gets full, he’ll run coins through a counter and assemble bags of 4,000 coins ($200 face value).

    “Most of this stuff is wholesaled in my case and I have customers who from time to time will ask for bags of pre-1960 [Jeffersons],” he said.

    He doesn’t search them for varieties or even date/mintmark combinations that are better, as that is rarely worth the investment in time.

    The E-Sylum discussion sparked a memory for me. When I was in high school and college, I worked at a national pharmacy chain found at the corner of happy and healthy.

    As a cashier and photo clerk, I soon gained confidence of managers to search through multiple cash drawers daily to buy any coins or paper money of interest.

    At some point during my employment, I began harvesting pre-1960 5-cent coins, though my memory is foggy as to the exact reason I fixed on that date for the search. My reasoning then was, these are 35+ years old, and if I wait another few decades, they’ll be even older. The investment cost was certainly the right price — I could always cash them in and not lose any money.

    I amassed thousands of these coins, many of which came with me to Ohio when I started at Coin World full-time in early 2004.

    The discussion on E-Sylum, and an already fertile desire to winnow down my holdings, sent me searching into the collecting closet, where I found the pile.

    I finally sorted through it recently, and tallied the haul.

    What remained of my collection (I sold some of the coins when I was in college to pay for my education) totaled $78.95.

    A lone 1938-D coin, graded Very Fine+, was part of the tally.

    The hoard did net one full 40-count roll of the silver wartime nickels, but there were no other key dates, like the 1939-D, 1939-S or 1950-D.

    Herndon is not alone in offering a premium for the older coins. Nagengast, a local coin club member, pointed me toward a local dealer who pays seven cents for each pre-1957 coin.

    So, I was able to take the $76.90 face value accumulation of common Jefferson 5-cent coins and turn that into $107.66.

    That 40 percent return looks less exciting considering that inflation has risen by 43 percent since 1996 (about the first year I started collecting these coins).

    Nevertheless, the exercise provided a reminder of my early days as a collector, while offering plenty of exercise in lifting the heavy piles of coins. It also freed up more room in my collecting closet to begin hoarding these coins again.

    And if you want six cents for each pre-1957 Jefferson nickel, I know just the buyer!

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    Will the U.S ever issue a colorful circulating coin?

    April 28, 2015 10:42 AM by

    American collectors looking at the successes of colorful circulating coins in Canada and Australia might yearn for the day that their pocket change features more than the monochromatic steel-gray of copper-nickel or clad metals and the fool’s copper of the mostly zinc cent.

    Will the United States ever issue a colorful circulating coin like several other countries have done with success?

    Don’t bet on it.

    Innovation is a hallmark of the Royal Canadian Mint, which was the first mint in the world to issue .999 fine and .9999 fine bullion coins. The RCM was also the first to issue a colorful circulating coin.

    And, RCM scientists developed the process for minting multi-ply plated steel coins that have become popular around the world as metal prices have risen the last decade.

    The Australian Mint claims some other innovations of its own, being the second mint to issue a convex/concave coin, after the technique was developed by the Monnaie de Paris.

    While the U.S. Mint has joined the “curved coin” bandwagon with its 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame coins, it made the technological leap only because Congress said it must do so.

    The U.S. Mint should rightfully be praised for extending the technology to copper-nickel-clad coinage for the half dollar (a world first), but the minting floors in Denver, Philadelphia, San Francisco and West Point aren’t noted for groundbreaking innovation.

    For Americans, it may be hard to swallow, but America hasn’t been first on coinage technology fronts.

    Modern ringed-bimetallic coins have been in use for more than 30 years, with Italy issuing the first such example in 1982. To put it another way, ringed bimetallic coins were already in use in a major European country before Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was even born.

    However, though hundreds of millions of people in Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and the eurozone (to name but a few) use ringed-bimetallic coins every day, the closest the U.S. Mint has come is its issuance of a collector coin in 2000, in precious metals.

    Changing coin design has become the norm, thanks to the State Quarter program, the Westward Journey 5-cent series and the Lincoln Bicentennial cents, but it’s fair to say the design merry-go-round goes little noticed among the citizenry.

    Adding color or making coins with multiple parts (ringed bimetallic pieces) would be a radical, more obvious jolt to American sensibilities.

    Given the political challenges involved with something as simple as eliminating the 1-cent coin (a feat already achieved around much of the world, including in Canada), the prospect of adding color to American coinage seems downright impossible.

    For my money, there’s a better chance that Uncle Sam shows up at the Fourth of July parade singing “O Canada.”

    An ace in the hole

    March 23, 2015 1:46 PM by

     One of the reasons I love this hobby is that it intersects with so many disciplines.

    Because numismatics involves so many facets of American history, art and culture, connections to broader stories may be found everywhere.

    Consider a recent visit to an antique mall not too far from Amos Media headquarters in Sidney, Ohio. There I found a playing card from the 1933 and 1934 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago, Ill.

    What does a playing card have to do with our hobby?

    Well, in this particular case, the ace of spades shows both sides of the exposition’s official medal, as designed by Emil Robert Zettler, a sculptor who headed the Industrial Art Section of Chicago’s Art Institute.

    Zettler’s Art Deco design features on the obverse a male figure of energy and action, representing an intellectual arch between man’s resources and man’s work, with RESEARCH and INDUSTRY (the fair’s theme) in the field.

    An aerial view of the 400-acre fairgrounds along the city’s southern shore of Lake Michigan graces the reverse of the medal.

    Several versions were created, included one that qualifies as a so-called dollar. So-called dollars are a fascinating area related to coin collecting, with many of these medals sharing themes found on U.S. commemorative coins or having been created by famous artists, including some designers of American coin.

    Coin World shared images of the playing card with Jeff Shevlin, the “so-called guy,” an expert on so-called dollars. Shevlin was unfamiliar with the card, but noted that many of the collectibles related to expos and “world’s fairs” such as this piece aren’t cataloged alongside the medals themselves. A total of 39 million visitors attended the Century of Progress Exposition, and many souvenirs were created to feed demand from the crowd.

    The card is from several different decks issued for the exposition, and online auctions readily offer up examples of cards individually and complete decks. The $1 I paid is a fair market value for one card, and much cheaper than the medal itself.

    In 2012, when Heritage Auctions sold Shevlin’s example of the medal (graded Mint State 65 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp.), it sold for $109.25.

    Though the playing card is no ace in the hole, it is a perfect accompaniment to or substitute for the medal.




    Pocket change memory

    February 19, 2015 2:15 PM by

    There’s still something alluring about finding an old “wheat penny” in circulation.

    As I started my day one morning recently, I grabbed the change from the previous day’s travels and discovered that an old Lincoln cent with those familiar ears of wheat had somehow slipped in without notice.

    Usually observant of my coins, I must have been harried as I slipped the change into my pocket the day before, and been too tired at the day’s conclusion to pay attention to the antique artifact.

    Like many coin collectors, one of the reasons I love this hobby is the ability to be transported through time to when the coin was issued and consider where it has been, and who has used it as spending money all this time.

    That task is a bit harder with this particular coin, since the date is essentially illegible. Both sides of the coin are worn pretty smooth.

    The first two digits — the obvious ones — are still discernible. It’s those last two digits that prove the most vexing. The dates that my mind sees the most end in 23, 25 or 28, but that could be a mirage.

    The Mint Mark, however crude, indicates that the coin was struck in San Francisco.

    I’d like to think that the coin was struck in 1927, the birth year of my maternal grandmother, who played a large role in my early collecting journey.

    My only “three-cent nickel” came from her, when I was maybe 12 years old. Knowing that I had been bitten by the collecting bug, she allowed me to rummage through a pile of wheat cents and other strange coins that I had never seen outside of the “Red Book,” picking out ones I needed to fill an album or build my nascent cache.

    “What do you want for them?”

    “Just give me face value,” she offered.

    So, mistaking it for a dime, given its color and size, I paid 10 cents for the 1865 coin. That was the first year of issue, and the most common date, for the denomination and design type.

    Both numismatically and sentimentally, it’s worth far more than I ever paid for it. And I still have it!

    Though the date on the Wheat cent could very well be another year, I like to think it has special meaning, despite its wretched condition.

    In fact, the reverse of this newfound cent is worse than the obverse.

    The denomination ONE CENT is still visible, but the wheat? It’s almost completely harvested. The remnants of the legend E PLURIBUS UNUM resemble what you might hear someone say right after oral surgery.

    That might explain why it was still slipping by in circulation.

    So what is it worth?

    A cynic knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing, right? Well, maybe that saying should be flipped to say that a romantic values everything far beyond its cost.

    In commerce, the smooth cent is worth at least a cent, of course, but the value of a memory from my early collecting days can’t be quantified.

    What’s your story?

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    The 'hobby of kings' is also for peasants like me

    February 6, 2015 3:21 PM by

    The New York International Numismatic Convention, held Jan. 8 to 11 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, was notable for the tens of millions of dollars of items sold in auctions scheduled across eight days.

    For me, however, the show allowed expenditures that even a writer could afford. The “hobby of kings” is for the peasants, too!

    I’ve already written about a few of the pieces I brought home from the show, but one of the neatest acquisitions is a modern-day interpretation of a classic numismatic rarity.

    Jared Grove of Grove Minting stopped by the Coin World booth and showed and shared his 2013 half-ounce silver Amazonian pattern medal. Encapsulated by ANACS, the piece screams beauty and is actually obtainable to a broad range of collectors, unlike the originals

    It happens to be his favorite design so far, he told Coin World, and is just the beginning of big plans for the nascent Grove Minting company.

    Look for more issues coming from them, and a profile of the artist and his work in Coin World soon.

    Another item coming home with me from New York was the newest edition of Token Publishing’s Coin Yearbook

    The 2015 edition offers current pricing data and is a handy reference for the millennia of British coins, all packed into 362 pages.

    The book also covers coins of Ireland, Scotland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Chapters on various aspects of collecting are targeted for new and intermediate collectors, and so is the book’s price tag of £9.95.

    The final item gained at the show cannot be quantified.

    Every show is a chance to connect with readers, meeting old friends and making new ones, and this trip was no different.

    Several new dealers were on the bourse or in attendance, and many story ideas and friendships emerged from the chaos of the show.

    Look for Coin World at the next big show near you, and be sure to stop by and say hello.

    What I bought at the 2015 NY International Numismatic Convention

    January 27, 2015 1:11 PM by

    One of the great things about this job is getting to attend coin shows on a regular basis.

    Of course it is always great to greet fellow collectors and Coin World readers, and meet with dealers and discuss the state of the market. From a purely selfish reason, however, it is wonderful because it means another chance to buy coins.

    The New York International Numismatic Convention’s 43rd annual event, held Jan. 8 to 11, was no different.

    I came home with several noteworthy acquisitions, and all have special meaning to me.

    There is a romance and allure to the Lima series of coins issued in 1745 during the reign Britain’s George II.

    These coins, like the shilling that I purchased, were struck from metal captured by Admiral of the Fleet George Anson in defeating the Spanish. 

    Having just written about these coins for Coin World’s December monthly issue, I was delighted to find one, in relatively good condition, at a price I found acceptable. And that was within the first 15 minutes of the show!

    Another find was an ancient coin that I had never heard of, in a denomination worthy of a spelling bee.

    The 1.5 karshapana coin is often attributed to Pushkalavati (modern-day Peshawar) in what is now Pakistan, and was issued sometime in the third to second century B.C.

    It wasn’t the name that drew my attention, but the square shape and the elephant on the obverse.

    Who doesn’t love elephants? (Besides poachers, that is).

    According to coin dealer Bob Reis of Anything Anywhere, at the time Pushkalavati was controlled by what we would recognize as banks today, and these banks issued “a series of municipal copper coins that became the model for the square Greek bronzes after those guys conquered the region.”

    The reverse side shows a lion, though it is almost indistinguishable on the example I purchased.

    Though attributed to Pushkalavati, researchers suggest the coins might instead have been issued in Taxila.

    Regardless of its true origins, the coin dates to one of the oldest cultures, is square and, need I repeat, shows an elephant!

    Let’s explore three other notable finds at the show in part two, in the next Starck Contrasts.

    Phantom First Spouse mintage limit a U.S. Mint misstep

    December 15, 2014 1:01 PM by

    There are few U.S. Mint products that I look forward to annually with fervor, and chief among these is the annual First Spouse Bronze Medal Set.

    When the program began in 2007 as a corollary to the much more expensive gold coins, I found a blank Dansco album and blank pages to cobble together a meaningful way to collect and display these medals. Every year when my local coin club placed an order, I made sure to order a set, eagerly anticipating the chance to better learn the stories of First Spouses and/or contemporary coinage designs as new medals were released.

    The recent and rapid sellout of only 7,500 sets of 2014 medals has rendered that effort moot.

    After a few weeks, the sets sold out, despite never before previously having a mintage limit. Today, those sets are selling for three to six multiples of the $16.95 issue price.

    The quick sellout caught myself—and many other collectors—off-guard, and left us scratching our heads.

    The fact that several sets from previous years remain available at the Mint website, even at this writing, certainly lulled me (and probably other collectors as well) into believing that the 2014 set would remain available until we were ready to place an order for other items.

    Shortly after the set was listed at the Mint website as “out of stock,” a fellow coin club collector called Mint customer service and was told that more sets would be made. I called a regional Midwestern dealer that has served my family for several decades, and who has carried the sets from the beginning, and a representative there told me the same story, that a Mint customer service agent told them that more sets would be made.

    Paul Gilkes, Coin World’s tenacious U.S. Mint reporter, quickly sorted out the situation with his sources at the Mint, only to discover that the set had a previously unreported mintage limit and that no more would be made.

    This has created another set of “winners and losers,” as those folks who pounced on the sets are now well positioned to capitalize on the unmet demand.

    When the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame silver and gold coins quickly sold out, and people began “flipping” the coins for profit, I certainly had no complaints, as those coins had mintage limits that were announced well in advance of the sales period.

    Sour grapes may make bitter whine, but this really isn’t a complaint about profit—this rapid sellout means that many collectors will not be able to fill what heretofore had been an inexpensive, educational set with historical implications at a price that even beginning collectors could manage.

    The situation with the Enhanced Uncirculated finish Native American $1 included in the 2014 American $1 Coin & Currency Set has rightfully been described as a rare misstep for the U.S. Mint marketing team.

    The 2014 First Spouse Bronze Medal Set with a phantom mintage limit, is just as much as misstep, and even more disappointing.

    The right thing for the Mint would be to make more 2014 First Spouse Bronze Medal sets, either to a specific limit or to those sold within a specified sales period, with plenty of fair warning for collectors to make plans to get their orders in.

    Until then, four empty holes in a brown Dansco album will serve as a glaring reminder of my failure to act, and of the set that now will remain incomplete.

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    Proclaim your own nation and issue your own coinage

    November 10, 2014 4:39 PM by
    ​Get taken on a ride to where?

    You won’t find Purple Shaftieuland on a map – but they have“coins”!

    If you’ve always wanted to issue your own coins, but don’t want to go the traditional route (see part one of this blog series), then you could always proclaim your own nation.

    Such a nation doesn’t require land upon which to dwell, and may only occupy space in your imagination.

    In so doing, you would be following a tradition of the last half-century,when “coins” for places like Bermania, Buck Island, the Grandy Duchy of Westarctica, the Ultimate State of TÆDIVM, and many others, have been issued.

    Perhaps the most biting of these issues are the “coins” for the nation of “Purple Shaftieuland.”

    In 1970, coin dealer Bob Kolasa created the coin series as a revolt against the flourishing of noncirculating legal tender coins from barely identifiable places, aimed specifically at collectors (a lament that might ring true even today).

    The “coins” also poked fun at the practice of U.S.government foreign aid, and used stereotypical humor to make the point. The politically incorrect brochure accompanying the pieces also features very thinly veiled comments about some of the companies creating the market for international Proof sets in the late 1960s.

    According to coin dealer Joel Anderson (who provided the brochure to Coin World), Purple Shaftieuland had five denominations: 1 nudge, 1 twist, and quarter-, half- and full-shaft pieces. The coins were issued in two versions, “brilliant brass” and“unanodized aluminum.”

    According to the brochure, the exchange value is fixed: 100 nudges equal 10 twists, which equals one full shaft, which of course equals“nothing U.S.”

    As the brochure also noted, the “coins” had staying power as an investment.

    “The beauty of these, as with many foreign proof sets is that they never go down in true value. They can’t go down because they’re worthless to begin with.”

    Besides its own currency, Purple Shaftieuland had another vestige of statehood, a national anthem. Kolasa helpfully provided it on the brochure so all coin owners could sing proudly the refrain, which ends thusly:“When these sets stop selling, and income does refrain, we’ll form another nation, and do this all again!”

    Though the Purple Shaftieuland coins were created to serve a point, many of these issues are just all about fun. Consider Bermania, a place known to dealer Allen Berman and a few others.

    The “kingdom” has a long history, as detailed by Berman, who created a flag, crowns, titles of nobility and other trappings of a monarchy.This, naturally, includes “coins.”

    The first issue was a hand-hammered piece in the style of a medieval coin, struck on a tree stump and with crude lettering and designs.Another piece is celebratory, marking the “royal wedding” of King Alanus I to Queen Barbara.

    The most recent issue is a Bermanian horse cart token, which is good for one ride “anywhere in Bermania.” Good luck redeeming that token!

    The “coins” of Purple Shaftieuland were alternately described by Kolasa as “transportation tokens” because “you buy and get taken for ride.”

    Micronations are a vast and interesting area, and are popular among some collectors. Dealer Anderson stocks any number of unofficial,fantasy issues, and an organization called the Unrecognized States Numismatic Society flourished as little as five years ago. 

    It’s not an area necessarily popular with serious students of American coinage history, but that isn’t the point — in most cases, it’s all about making the hobby fun. 

    ​So you want to make your own coins?

    October 24, 2014 2:59 PM by
    ​So you want to make your own coins?

    It’s not as hard as you may think

    Anyone who pays attention to the modern new issues market quickly becomes aware of the outpouring of commemoratives, often from far-flung tropical island nations or war-torn African countries, but also from national mints like the Royal Canadian Mint and the Mint of Poland.

    Private issuers abound, with European and Asian and even American companies directing programs intended to capture segments of the market.

    Maybe you want to cash in on that craze by issuing your own coins, with a theme of your choosing? But invading a country is too dangerous, and buying a sovereign island outright is too expensive.

    So, you could always partner with a mint that already has a relationship with an issuing authority like Palau, the Cook Islands, or Somalia. Let’s assume that you will coordinate the program with the Mint of Poland, which issues coins for the National Bank of Poland as well as several other partners.

    A popular size for the many noncirculating legal tender coins struck by the Mint of Poland is a silver, crown-size coin measuring 38.61 millimeters and weighing 28.28 grams. This is a fairly standard size among the Mint of Poland and the Pobjoy Mint, among others.

    Mintages have been getting ever smaller as the market explodes and competing issues clamor for attention. A recent issue for the gold-plated 2015 $1 coin for the Year of the Goat had a mintage of 1,500 pieces.

    Back of the envelope calculations indicate that 1,500 coins, at $17.27 per ounce (the closing London market price on Oct. 22), would have a base precious metals cost of $21,789 U.S. That price doesn’t account for any special technology like gold-plating, color or embedded jewels, some favorite embellishments at the Mint of Poland.

    That price doesn’t include the die-making or manufacturing costs, since artists and other employees have to be paid to do the work. And it also doesn’t include the cost for a license.

    You need a license to drive, but why do you need a license to issue coins?

    Well, in this case, the sovereign privilege of striking coins comes at a price. Each nation is responsible for its money supply, and commemorative coins, though unlikely ever to be cashed, are in accounting-speak potential liabilities to the bottom line. 

    Whether it is Niue or Armenia or Belarus or any other country you want to officially issue the coins, there is a cost that must be paid. Issuers are always quiet about this relationship, but recent news reports about the New Zealand Mint suggest that the company alone pays about half-a-million dollars U.S. every year for the dozens of coin programs it issues under that island’s name.

    Suddenly this proposition seems a little pricey, huh?

    Well, maybe that means you want to consider a different route, without involving national mints and all that legal rigmarole. Next time we’ll explore what it takes to issue your own “coins” for a place that might not be found on the map.

    Relic medal for USS Constitution; putting hands on history

    October 2, 2014 2:36 PM by
    ​If someone told you that you could legally walk around with a piece of the oldest warship in the world in your pocket, would you believe them?

    In one sense, the USS Constitution is owned by every American, but in another, the number of folks who can own a piece of the ship, as preserved in a relic medal, is severely limited.

    Relic medals are medals that are struck containing metal or other substances recovered from, flown in or on famous ships, spacecraft or important historic artifacts, or from historic sites. Many relic medals are decades or centuries old, and signify famous American events (like the 1871 Great Chicago Fire or the 1898 Spanish-American War). On a trip to Boston this summer, I stumbled upon a modern relic medal with major importance.

    The USS Constitution is the world's oldest commissioned warship. The ship, known as "Old Ironsides," was launched Oct. 21, 1797, as one of the first warships authorized by Congress. It currently is docked in the Charlestown (or Boston) Navy Yard.

    Visitors may take a free tour to hear the exploits of the sailors and the ship. The ship received its name from the thick wooden hulls that repelled cannonballs during the War of 1812.

    To mark the bicentennial of its greatest moment, and those who have served aboard the ship in battle and in peace, the USS Constitution Museum commissioned the striking of a medal using copper removed from the ship's hull, and a total of 6,000 medals were struck in 2013 by an unnamed Providence, R.I., company.

    On the obverse of the medal is an image of USS Constitution under full sail with its name and nickname. The image is borrowed from an oil painting by Marshall Johnson that is part of the museum's collection.

    On the reverse side is a design inspired by the sea bag of Gunner John Lord who served on board USS Constitution between 1824 and 1828; the sea bag is also part of the museum's collection.

    Each medal measures 1.52 inches and weigh approximately 20 grams.  Each comes with a certificate of authenticity.

    The medal is sold for $29.95, and is still available through the museum store both at the site and online.

    This is actually not the first time a relic medal has been made from copper recovered from the USS Constitution, as an earlier medal issued in 1999 was struck from metal recovered in 1974. Numerous other medals (not struck with recovered metal) celebrate the USS Constitution, and these may sometimes be found in dealer stock or in online auctions.

    Relic medals literally give collectors affordable ways to put their hands on history, and in the case of this medal is another example of the adage that “the hobby can be found everywhere.”

    Souvenir post cards showcase early 20th century world coin designs

    September 4, 2014 11:00 AM by
    ​I have often described my collecting pursuits as voracious, being a numismatic gourmand in a field of gourmets. The American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont, Ill., from Aug. 5 to 9 was a veritable numismatic buffet, providing another opportunity to increase my collection.

    Perhaps my neatest acquisition at the show wasn’t even a coin, but rather a pair of colorful post cards featuring coin designs from Brazil and France.

    These post cards are from a successor to a series issued for use by cambists (a fancy word for money changers). Today foreign currency exchange rates are available widely in print and online, but 100 years ago, people were on their own when it came to exchanging kroners or marks for pounds or pesetas.

    This situation gave rise to a series of post cards, produced by a German businessman named Hugo Semmler. His cards show embossed images of then-current circulating base metal, silver and gold  coins , with a handy exchange-rate chart showing comparable values for common currencies.

    David Gladfelter detailed the history of these postcards in two articles in 2005 and 2006 in The Asylum, a publication of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society.

    These post cards capture in cardboard a snapshot of coins from nearly four dozen countries at around the first decade of the  20th   centu ry. Successive issues followed , both by Semmler and other publishers,  as the cards gained widespread acceptance as souvenirs, superseding their original purpose.

    On one card, the beauty of iconic French coins designed by Oscar Roty, Augustin Dupre and several others is immediately apparent.

    Roty’s The Sower (La Sameuse) depicts the sun’s rays spoking the horizon behind a personification of Liberty striding toward a new century. The design was no doubt an influence on Adolph Weinman’s Walking Liberty half dollar that would follow a few decades later.

    The Liberty on the 1-, 2-, 5- and 10-centime coins wears a Phryghian cap, a motif familiar to Americans thanks to its place on early coins like the half cent and cent.

    The Brazilian card is beautiful but lacks some of the aesthetic allure of the French coin card. However, the fascinating series (also including designs of Liberty) beckons for its depictions of uncommon denominations like 40-, 200- and 400-real coins.

    These post cards are adjuncts to world coin collecting, and are certainly more affordable than the coins that they show. (Each post card cost $20.) And they are worth a prominent space on my desk. 

    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.