Obscure specialties

Build a collection at low cost
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Published : 02/26/13
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If you are a constant reader of my column, you know that I like all sorts of coins, tokens, medals and paper money issues. Their value is irrelevant. Among American coins, two of my all-time favorites are the 1909 Lincoln, V.D.B. cent ($30 in Mint State 63 according to the latest A Guide Book of United States Coins) and the 1883 Liberty Head, Without CENTS 5-cent coin ($50 in the same grade). If prompted, I could stand on the proverbial soapbox and talk for a half hour about each with history alone.

Indeed, many other federal coins are both interesting and inexpensive. Of course, others of them are very costly.

If you are looking for a numismatic adventure for low cost, apart from interesting inexpensive coins in the federal series, consider following a path not often taken: investigate an obscure specialty.

The less information about it in printed books, the better! Sounds strange, but it is not.

Take scrip paper bills of the Civil War. Thousands of small denomination, 1-, 3-, 5-, 10-, 25- and 50-cent notes were issued by merchants, transportation companies, banks and communities. Very little has been published about them. It is possible to buy a great rarity or even a unique note for $50 or less.

Last week, I wrote about an exciting (to me) 1975-D Jefferson 5-cent coin with “errant Mint mark” that cost me $25. As I explained last week, it seems that this coin is at least several hundred times rarer than one with the D in the correct or usual position. Will it ever have significant value? Who knows?

I collect counterstamped cents and have since I was a kid. Dealers used to give them to me free.

Today, a nice counterstamp can cost more than $100. I have an 1858 Flying Eagle cent and an 1859 Indian Head cent each counterstamped on the obverse, J.H. METZ’S / HOTEL / N.E. COR. JEFF’N AV. & FED. ST. Each is two coins in one — a nice copper-nickel cent and a nice counterstamp. Doing a bit of hunting on the Internet last week, I learned that John H. Metz operated a tavern in Philadelphia on the corner of the streets named.

Now, if I can find more information about the hotel, I will be able to give a half-hour talk on it as well! Who was Metz? Why did he counterstamp his advertisement on cents? What was his hotel like? What happened to it? Do images of it exist? I find this to be fascinating.

I know full well that my counterstamped 1859 cent will forever remain obscure. In the meantime it will yield enjoyment to me as I try to learn more. Such challenges are why I love numismatics!

Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached at his private email, qdbarchive@metrocast.net, or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.

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