William T. Gibbs

Bill’s Corner

William T. Gibbs

William was appointed the managing editor effective May 1, 2015. He joined the Coin World editorial staff in 1976 as an assistant editor for "Collectors' Clearinghouse" and later became a senior staff writer before being appointed news editor. As managing editor, he manages the day-to-day editorial operations for Coin World, both print and online, and leads the editorial staff. He also serves as chief copy editor for all Coin World publications, including for all books published by Coin World since 1985. He has been project editor of mulitple editions of the Coin World Almanac. Bill began collecting coins at the age of 10 and soon discovered Coin World. As a teen interested in numismatics and journalism, he identified a writing position on the staff of Coin World as a dream job, which was realized shortly after he graduated from Bowling Green State University with a major in journalism. He collects store cards and medals depicting Adm. George Dewey of Spanish-American War fame.

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    Mint forum participants look to the future and call for circulating historic designs

    October 21, 2016 10:46 AM by
    In the United States, the coin collecting  hobby and the United States Mint are in­extricably intertwined, each deeply de­pendent on the other, and while each would survive without the other, both benefit from this symbiotic relationship. That closeness was on display Oct. 13 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia during the Mint’s Stakeholders Forum.

    Approximately 60 hobby “stakeholders” — collectors, dealers, officers from clubs both big and small, and members of the numismatic media, including me — participated in the day-long event at the bank, located a block away from the Philadelphia Mint. The Mint had a full schedule for the day, starting with introductions from Mint officials; in the weeks ahead, I’ll be writing more on some of these topics in our print issues and in my blog.

    This week though, I want to focus on one part of the program. During the afternoon, participants split into teams to discuss such topics as Mint packaging, the setting of mintage maximums and household limits for products, and historic design reproduction, the team of which I was a member.

    Members of this team largely agreed that reusing historic designs can be a good thing for the hobby, but that legal restrictions imposed on the Mint by federal law severely hamper the effectiveness of programs like the 2016 Centennial coin series to draw in new collectors. The Mint struck the three coins, originally issued in silver 100 years ago, in gold because it has broad authority to issue gold coins without seeking congressional approval. However, issuing those coins in silver would have required an act of Congress, literally.

    Many of the team members would like the Mint to issue historic designs in their original specifications for collector sale, and in current compositions for circulation. Furthermore, we liked the idea of issuing the circulating versions in fairly small numbers, randomly salting them among modern designs, and then encouraging young collectors to search for them aided by an app on their phone, as in the recent Pokemon craze. This, however, would require changes to federal law, to give the Mint more leeway than it now has to issue coins. Such changes are possible (for example, the hobby drove passage of the Hobby Protection Act of 1973 and the Bicentennial coin redesign of 1975 and 1976 through concerted lobbying efforts of Congress). However, such changes will require a collaborative effort by many in the hobby. Are we up for that?  

    Sharing some thoughts on the state of U.S. coin grading today

    October 18, 2016 9:45 AM by

    The columns by John Kraljevich, Q. David Bowers and Beth Deisher this week all address the same topic — the grading of coins. 

    Although they are from different generations, John and Dave both became numismatists at very young ages. Each is a talented researcher and cataloger, and they know a thing or two about grading. Beth, on the other hand, came to Coin World as an editor in 1981 with no knowledge of coins but a keen instinct for reporting the news.
    In his column this issue, John examines the concept of grading as a specialist in early American coinage — those issues of the Colonial and Confederation periods that predate the 1792 founding of the federal Mint.

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    “If you’d like to build a collection full of lustrous gems, each perfect and beautiful, Colonial coins may not be for you,” John begins, adding, “Various Colonial coin series, or even individual varieties, appear with their own typical, endemic flaws that help explain how they were made.”
    Because of these natural flaws, “Problems inherent in the production of Colonial coins used to be judged more leniently [by] specialist collectors. Today, however, “in the era of certifi­cation, ... coins are now judged by an uncomfortable standard,” which he explains in his column, lamenting that “many die varieties are lumped under an identical heading.
    While perfection may be elusive in early American coinage, that is no longer the case with coins struck by the United States Mint, “With literally millions of coins encased in plastic holders today bearing the grades MS-70 and Proof 70,” as Beth writes. Perfection was not reached among even modern coinage until 30 years ago, when “Page 1 of the July 30, 1986, issue of Coin World announced the earthshattering news” — that the first coins to ever be awarded a Proof 70 or Mint State 70 grade were revealed, though to “say that the perfect grade raised some eyebrows is an under­statement,” she adds.
    Even today, with “perfect 70” coins common­place, some collectors still “raise their eye­brows” when they point to examples of “perfect 70” coins with no­ticeable flaws, wondering how these coins can still receive 70 grades.
    Finally, in his column, in which he has been writing about the evolution of grading for the past month or so, Dave writes, “The seeming precision of num­bers as compared to adjectives in coin grading has opened the gates for countless thousands of coin buyers. Many, if not most, hope for quick investment profits, then leave when such do not materialize.
    For many of the readers who correspond with me, grading remains an area of great concern, whether it be the specter of “grade­flation,” in which long-established standards are ignored by third-party grading firms, or the high prices charged for coins with lofty grades. 
    They are looking for answers where there may be none, at least for now. 

    Numismatic literature excitement reigns with a sale and a sellout

    September 30, 2016 3:41 PM by

    The Sept. 21 auction by Bonhams’ Fine Books and Manuscripts in New York City of a copy of the 1850 book New Varieties of Gold and Silver Coins, Counterfeit Coins, and Bullion; with Mint Values by Jacob Reese Eckfeldt and William E. Du Bois for an astounding $10,625 is an illustration of the power in the marketplace of numismatic literature.

    This book, written in 1850, includes reports of the new gold finds in California. The historical value of the book is enhanced by the presence of gold fragments and a tiny gold bar from the California fields behind a sheet of mica. The Gold Rush connection gives owners of the book a historical connection that few works provide.
    Numismatic books have been leading the news recently. In the past month, the newly released fifth edition of Q. David Bowers’ A Guide Book of Morgan Silver Dollars sold out almost immediately. Whitman publisher Dennis Tucker explained: “Part of the strong demand for this edition comes from the recently revealed discovery of hubs, dies, and models for a 1964 Morgan dollar. This exciting announcement was made in late August, and demand for the book skyrocketed in September.” The book features on its cover the photograph of a hub for the 1964 Morgan dollar, with more photographs and details of the discovery inside. Since the existence of models, hubs and dies for an 1964 Morgan dollar were unknown until the book was announced, collectors were eager to share in this exciting news by purchasing a copy. (And Dennis promises that thousands more copies of the book will be available soon.)

    Not all books, however, qualify as classic works, as columnist Joel Orosz ex­plains in his “Numismatic Bookie” column in this issue. He cites The Profit March of Your Coin Investment, 1935–1971, written by a man Joel describes as “the Barnumesque” George Haylings. Haylings was wildly optimistic in his 1960 book, in which he predicted that a roll of 1950-D Jefferson 5-cent coins would be worth $10,000 in 1971. They were actually worth $50.

    Numismatic literature can inspire, inform, educate and, on some occasions, give bad advice. For collectors, a good library is a vital tool in their hobby.

    Read any good books lately? 

    Why you won’t see a U.S. Star Trek coin series

    September 16, 2016 11:32 AM by
    World mints generally have much greater latitude than the United States Mint when it comes to selecting coin themes. That is both a good thing and a bad thing

    Our World Coins section this week includes Louis Golino’s Topical Topics article on world coins commemorating the 50th anniversary of the debut of the American television program Star Trek, and Jeff Starck’s New Issues coverage about the Perth Mint’s Star Trek coins for Tuvalu. You won’t be seeing, however, any U.S. coins celebrating the television program.

    In the United States, the legislative branch, Congress, has sole authority over regulating coinage, though it has ceded some authority for gold and platinum coinage to the executive branch, specifically the Treasury Department. This legislative authority dates to the U.S. Constitution’s Section 8: “The Congress shall have power to coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures. ...”

    In the United States, commemorative coin programs originate in Congress, not with the Treasury Department or the U.S. Mint. In other countries, authority over coinage may originate at a nation’s central bank or its mint, with commemorative and coin themes selected at the discretion of those governing bodies. And since sales of commemorative, bullion and other coins can be very lucrative for issuers, many nations are very innovative with their coin programs, as they seek themes that may appeal to coin collectors and noncollectors alike. That is why we see so many coins with pop culture themes — comic book heroes, cartoon characters, popular movie franchises and more. Issuers of these coins hope that a Star Trek coin series might attract Trekkies even if they have no real interest in collecting more traditional coins.

    There is something to be said about this approach. Some of these pop culture themes might attract younger collectors who love, for example, the characters from the movie Frozen. These young collectors may never graduate to, say, Lincoln cents or Indian Head 5-cent coins, but they may keep collecting character-themed coins.

    Please note that I am not advocating the United States go the same route. I'm really not. But is it wise to reject a change in direction without giving it some consideration? What do you think? Would you collect an American Star Trek coin? Or would following the path taken by so many other national and private mints be a huge mistake?

    A possible solution (or not) to the Mint’s fast sellouts of limited products

    September 13, 2016 9:21 AM by
    Our Letters to the Editor page recently has often featured submissions from readers on the same topic — fast sellouts of high-demand limited-edition U.S. Mint products. Readers continue to be angry about the difficulties many experience in ordering products like the 2016 Winged Liberty Head gold dime and 2016 American Liberty silver medals, especially when dealers seem to be able to acquire large numbers.

    Letter writers often offer potential solutions that Mint officials should consider. We also have offered various solutions and here is a another one: The United States Mint should consider emulating the Royal Canadian Mint by introducing a Masters Club — a program that rewards regular customers with advance access to new products, among other benefits.

    Here’s how the RCM describes the program: “Designed by and for the Mint’s most dedicated clientele, our Masters Club program delivers features and benefits providing recognition and rewards that offer innovation, value, and exclusivity.

    Essentially, the RCM tracks a customer’s purchases of qualifying products and enrolls the customer at a Silver, Gold, or Platinum level. The biggest benefit is early access to new products; for example, a customer at the Silver level gains access to a product two days before the rest of the public, while Gold and Platinum customers gain three- and four-day advance access, respectively.

    And how do you qualify? Simply purchase a certain amount of product — coins, sets, medals — during a year. As a customer buys more products, he or she advances from Silver to Gold to Platinum member status.

    This program rewards customer loyalty; if you routinely spend X amount with the Mint every year, you gain recognition for your loyalty, and better access.

    The RCM’s purchase limits are moderately high, with $1,000 in purchases necessary to qualify a customer for Silver member access, $1,500 in purchases for Gold member access, and $2,000 for the Platinum level. The United States Mint would not have to follow these levels since a number of customers might find those bars set too high; the U.S. Mint could set the lowest level much lower if it chose. Still, even at the $1,000 level, many collectors could easily spend that much on annual sets, special sets, and the year’s commemorative coins.

    With such a program at the U.S. Mint, what might the practical effect for collectors be?

    Better luck in snagging a limited-edition product, for one. It is no secret that some retailers and wholesalers commission individuals to purchase high-demand products on their behalf to circumvent household limits. Since it is likely that some if not many of these customers are noncollectors and are infrequent or even first-time Mint customers, they would not gain access to these products until days after qualified longtime customers would have already been able to purchase the coins under a Masters Club program. Of course, wholesalers could still stack the deck in their favor by enlisting clients to buy products at sufficient levels to reach Masters Class levels.

    Nonetheless, early access could also lessen the severity of Mint website crashes and delays, and the inability of customers to connect with customer service representatives by phone, effects that are typically experienced when hot coins go on sale, like the 2016 Standing Liberty gold quarter dollar that went on sale Sept. 8.

    A solution exists. It might not be following the RCM’s approach. Still, Mint officials and collectors should work together on finding a solution that benefits collectors.

    Centennial gold coins make price guide debut

    August 23, 2016 11:12 AM by
    When the U.S. Mint announced that it  would issue gold versions of the Winged Liberty Head dime, Standing Liberty quarter dollar, and Walking Liberty half dollar to celebrate the centennial of their release in silver in 1916, the editors here began planning our coverage of what we knew would be a popular series with collectors. Among our plans were special features on the three original series (we covered the dime in the February monthly issue, the quarter dollar in the May issue, and Gerald Tebben’s take on the half dollar will anchor our October issue). We also planned for senior editor Paul Gilkes to visit the West Point Mint to witness one of the coins being struck; you will find his videos and news coverage of his visit at our website and Facebook page. And we started thinking about how we would list the coins in our print and online price guide.

    The three gold coins make their price guide debut this week, in a special section along with the Mint’s other special gold coins of the past few years. They appear just after listings for the 2009 Ultra High Relief gold $20 double eagle and the American Liberty, High Relief gold $10 series, which debuted in 2015.

    We placed the three coins there after debating several options, including listing them with the original series. For example, that is the approach we took for the 1964–2014-W Kennedy gold half dollar. So why did we not take the same approach for the centennial gold coins?

    The Kennedy half dollar is an ongoing series and even though it has not been struck for circulation since 2001, it is produced every year in multiple versions (circulation, Proof and Uncirculated Mint set strikes, and in copper-nickel clad and 90 percent silver versions). Furthermore, the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy half dollar’s release was celebrated not only by a gold version, but also by other versions with special finishes and unique Mint marks.

    However, the gold centennial editions mark series that have not been struck since 1930 (for the quarter dollar) and the 1940s (for the dime and half dollar). And while it would not have been “wrong” to list the gold coins with their silver counterparts, it made more sense to us to list them in the same section as the other special gold coins.

    The Mint has identified a market for these special gold pieces and their innovation is likely to continue. The American Liberty series should resume in 2017, and other special pieces may be in the early planning stages (a 2021 Peace dollar in gold?). For us, listing the 2016 coins in this section seems to be a reasonable decision. 

    Readers seek advice, reassurance on a wide range of hobby topics

    August 12, 2016 12:36 PM by
    An important part of the job for Coin World’s editorial staff is interacting with the collecting public. While on occasion we can do so in person at conventions like the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money, in progress while I write these words, most of our interaction occurs over the telephone or via email. Still, we can learn a lot from you in these exchanges.

    Take, for example, a phone call from a reader about senior editor Jeff Starck’s recent article that referenced Kurdistan. The caller, who was very pleasant, wanted to point out that no independent nation called Kurdistan exists. When I edited that story, I should have made a revision to clarify the point in the article.

    After we discussed this topic, the caller then asked several questions, including seeking advice on what was the best auction house to which to consign his collection. I noted at the beginning of our conversation that it is inappropriate for editorial staff members to recommend one auction firm or dealer or grading service over a rival. But I was able to discuss the topic in general terms, offering some basic advice. All in all, it was a pleasant 22-minute conversation and we both learned from the exchange.

    Another recent exchange came via email from a reader who wanted to know what safeguards, if any, are in place at grading services to ensure that coins are not switched for inferior examples by the graders or support staff opening customer mail. It appears that this collector did not have much experience, if any, working with a grading service.

    This is a question I get periodically, and while I cannot speak about specific procedures practiced by all of the firms, I rush to reassure readers that grading services are trusted by professionals to grade coins worth thousands, tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. I add that it is unlikely that a professional authenticator or grader would risk their professional reputation or livelihood over a customer’s $100 or $200 coin (most callers on this topic are considering submitting coins of generally low value, though of importance to their owners, of course). All of us in the hobby are security conscious, naturally, so the reader’s apprehension is understandable.

    Another caller had been contacted by a firm wanting to sell him a recent Uncirculated American Eagle 1-ounce gold coin graded Mint State 70 at a price that was well above our price guide values. The firm, according to the caller, was stressing the mintage as being less than 8,000 coins. I explained to the caller that this was not an unusual mintage for coins of recent vintage. And while I couldn’t tell the reader what he should do, I was able to get him thinking about what steps he could take to determine whether a deal offered him was a good one.

    We are always happy to talk with our readers, so don’t hesitate to call me at 937-498-0853

    ANA marks 125 years with annual convention

    July 15, 2016 11:12 AM by

    How do you celebrate your 125th birthday? Attendees at the 2016 American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money will learn how the association celebrates its quasquicentennial when it holds what is traditionally the biggest coin show of the year in the United States.

    The ANA World’s Fair of Money “is the biggest, most educational coin show in the country,” in the association’s own words. This year’s event is scheduled for Aug. 9 to 13 in Anaheim, Calif. Previews of the convention appear here.

    The ANA was founded in 1891 by  Michigan physician George Heath, who operated a small coin business on the side and who since 1888 had published a small periodical that he called The Numismatist. In early 1891, he used the pages of his journal to ask, “Whats the matter of having an American Numismatic Association? ... Would it be practicable?” As columnist Joel Orosz wrote in his “Numismatic Bookie” column in the June 20 issue of Coin World, “Favorable responses abounded; in the June number, he nominated a slate of officers for the association.” 

    For the past 125 years, the ANA has met the needs of coin collectors, offering a club journal (The Numismatist eventually became the property of the ANA), an annual convention, and much more. 
    The ANA has changed over the years. Until 1967 it had no headquarters and all association business was operated out of the officers’ homes. Today it has a headquarters, museum and lending library in Colorado Springs, Colo.
    The ANA has also changed how it welcomes collectors below the age of 18, as longtime Coin World columnist Q. David Bowers recounts, writing about his first experiences with the organization in the 1950s when he was in his mid-teens. In that era, the general reaction of the ANA to a youthful collector was, basically, “Go away kid, you’re bothering me.” 

    Today the ANA wants young collectors to join its ranks. It offers special educational and fun programs, literary contests, scholarships, and much more that is geared specifically at the young numismatist. The ANA leadership recognizes that the hobby needs to continually refresh collector rolls to ensure that the hobby does not die along with aging collectors (a sizeable majority of hobbyists is in the 50- and 60-year age bracket and even older).

    For those of you attending the 2016 convention, have fun looking at and buying coins and notes and more. For those unable to attend the show, try to attend a future show (the location changes from year to year). It is well worth the time and expense.

    And if you are not an ANA member, join. You will get the award-winning The Numismatist, access to the largest lending numismatic library in the world, and much more. 

    What are you waiting on? 

    Congress should let these two commemorative coin bills die

    July 12, 2016 1:40 PM by
    One of the many truisms of the modern U.S. commemorative coin program is that most of the sales in a program occur during the first few weeks or couple of months after sales open.

    So why have two members of Congress from Massachusetts introduced a two-year three-coin program for 2020 to 2021?

    The twin bills call for half dollars, dollars, and half eagles to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the landing and settlement of Plymouth Colony, the signing of the Mayflower Compact, and the role of the indigenous Wampanoag tribes in the realization of the settlement.

    Since the reintroduction of commemorative U.S. coins in 1982, just two programs were authorized to last more than one year. Both marked Summer Olympic Games held in the United States and both featured multiple designs in an effort to encourage buyers to purchase coins over a prolonged period of time.

    The bills now before the House and the Senate, H.R. 5598 and S. 3105, do not follow that model. Both measures seek to authorize three coins of single designs to be issued over a two-year period starting Jan. 1, 2020. However, there is little evidence that the coin collector community will provide a steady source of buyers for the duration of the program. In 2007, when similar Jamestown 400th anniversary coins were sold, the vast majority were purchased in the first few months of sales, with sales then dwindling for the rest of the year

    The two bills have other troubling provisions, these involving the designs and design process. The scope of the program is very broad — capturing all of the history encompassed by the legislation on a single coin would be difficult for designers to attempt.  Furthermore, the bills name 10 entities that the Mint will have to consult with in designing the coins, and that’s before sending the designs to the two federal panels that regularly review coinage designs. Having that many critics involved will be a nightmare for the Mint’s design team.

    Monitors of the legislative process give the bills scant chances of passing, which is a good thing. Neither measure deserves to become law in its current form. 

    Fit for a King; amendment threatened our coins and notes

    June 24, 2016 9:44 AM by

    If Rep. Steve King were, say, king of the United States instead of the Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Iowa, the federal government would have lost the authority to (1) continue enhancing U.S. paper money’s anti-counterfeiting technology, (2) comply with a 2008 court order making Federal Reserve notes accessible to the blind, and (3) depict a black woman and other minorities on the $20 bill.

    King recently proposed an amendment to H.R. 5485, the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, a routine bill that would authorize the Treasury Department’s funding. King’s amendment was intended to modify the following passage in the legislation:
    “Sec. 119. None of the funds appropriated in this Act or otherwise available to the Department of the Treasury or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing may be used to redesign the $1 Federal Reserve note.”

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    The text of Section 119 is nothing more than a piece of boilerplate meant to ensure that the government does not spend any money on a redesign of the $1 Federal Reserve note. The language is unnecessary. Officials of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing have long said that they have no intentions of redesigning the $1 or $2 bills. The costs of upgrading their security would likely exceed any financial benefits from making either denomination harder to counterfeit. And let’s face it — counterfeiters tend to produce higher denomination fakes to get more bang for their bogus bucks.
    King’s amendment, however, would have gone much further and would have threatened the security and appearance of all of the nation’s currency, coins and paper money alike. Here is how Section 119 would be modified to read under King’s proposal (emphasis added):
    “None of the funds appropriated in this Act or otherwise available to the Department of the Treasury or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing may be used to redesign the [sic] any Federal Reserve note or coin.”
    What? Why?
    Here’s Politco’s reporting on King’s explanation, given the evening of June 21: “It’s not about Harriet Tubman, it’s about keeping the picture on the $20,” King said Tuesday evening, pulling a $20 bill from his pocket and pointing at President Andrew Jackson. “Y’know? Why would you want to change that? I am a conservative, I like to keep what we have.” 
    Indeed, King has called plans to displace Jackson's portrait with one of Tubman's both "racist" and "sexist." However, many commenting via social media at various news sites saw King's attempt to maintain the status quo as "racist" and "sexist."
    King had a lot more to say on the changes Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced for $5, $10, and $20 notes, but we won’t go into that here. You can find additional coverage online.
    When Coin World learned of the amendment from an article in The Huffington Post, we immediately recognized the broader dangers of the measure. We contacted King’s office but never received a response. We asked specifically, in part, why Rep. King introduced the amendment — at that point he had not spoken publicly about his reasoning — and whether his office intended a generic change prohibiting coinage and paper money redesign to derail existing programs to upgrade the $10 bill with both better anti-counterfeiting technology and enhancements that will enable the blind and visually impaired to use the notes with confidence. I suspect King’s office, in its zeal to deny Tubman a spot on the $20 note, either did not think about broader ramifications or simply did not care.
    However, the House Rules Committee on June 21 kept the amendment from moving to the House floor. Whatever one’s opinion is on depicting Tubman on federal currency, I think everyone can agree that continuing to combat counterfeiting and helping the visually impaired use our notes are both good things. 

    In the end, the sentimental value outweighs the financial reward

    May 27, 2016 6:52 AM by
    For some observers, the failure of bidders to meet the reserves for the 1804 dollar and 1822 half eagle in the Pogue IV auction was a sign of trouble for the market in high-end coins. However, the real story appears to be that of a collecting family that could not bear to part with two of their favorite coins, even with an offered total price of nearly $18 million.

    The 1804 dollar received a final bid that, with the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee, would have totaled $10,575,000, a world’s record for any coin. The 1822 half eagle garnered a final bid that, with the buyer’s fee, would have totaled $7,285,000, a bid surpassed among gold coins by only the 1933 double eagle that brought $7,590,000 in 2002. Both prices would have well exceeded what the Pogue family paid for the coins ($4.14 million for the dollar in 1999 and $687,500 for the half eagle in 1982). But still, no sale.

    Christine Karstedt, executive vice president of Stack’s Bowers Galleries, said that in the end, the sentimental value outweighed the financial reward and the family decided to keep the coins instead of accepting the bids.

    The 1822 half eagle has been part of the Pogue Collection since the current owner, Brent Pogue, was a teen. His father, Mark, who started the collection, had purchased the coin while Brent competed in a track meet with his high school team, though the younger Pogue had examined the coin during lot viewing.

    The younger Pogue wrote about the family’s purchase of the gold coin in his introduction to the book The 1822 Gold Half Eagle by Q. David Bowers. He noted in that introduction that the two coins the family has elected to keep are among his personal favorites.

    To those who choose to focus on just these two coins and see the situation in a negative light, look at the bigger picture. After four auctions, the Pogue Collection has raised $85,318,218.50. That’s a record already for any single collection, and its sale is not over.
    The Pogue Collection was clearly assembled over the decades by a family of collectors with a deep admiration of early U.S. coins. Who can blame them for deciding to keep a couple of the greatest coins in American numismatics? 

    When U.S. Mint experiments in finishes failed

    May 20, 2016 11:59 AM by

    Our cover feature this week focuses on the Mint’s recent experiments with different finishes on the coins it produces and sells to collectors and dealers. Collector reactions to Reverse Proof and Enhanced Uncirculated coins have differed, though secondary market pricing for many pieces suggests that overall, the response has been positive.

    The Mint has not always received a positive response to experimental finishes for collector coins. Indeed, the failure of experiments at the start of the 20th century actually resulted in the cancellation of sales of Proof coins for two decades.

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    From 1858 to 1915, the Philadelphia Mint struck Proof versions of most coins for customers. Until 1907, the finish on the Proof coins generally consisted of polished surfaces. However, the introduction of the new designs for the gold eagle and double eagle in 1907 and for the gold quarter eagle and half eagle coins in 1908 resulted in changes to the die curvature and texture of the fields that researcher Roger Burdette said made polishing of the surfaces to create a traditional Proof finish impractical.

    Since Mint officials still wanted to sell Proof coins to collectors and wanted those coins to have a distinctive finish to distinguish them from circulation strikes, they introduced a dull Proof finish or what we call today the Sandblast Proof finish. This finish on the 1907 and 1908 gold coins was imposed post striking through light sandblasting. A different approach requiring no post-striking treatment was used on the gold coins of 1909 and 1910, creating the oddly named Roman Proof finish.

    For the next few years, Proof finishes were not uniform, which collectors found unsettling and complained about in correspondence. The new Lincoln cent had a matte finish. The 5-cent coin and three silver coins of the old designs had traditional brilliant finishes but their replacements had die curvature and fields similar to those of the gold coins, making polished surfaces not an option.

    Furthermore, the Mint’s prices for the Proof silver and minor coins would not cover the higher production costs that would be entailed, Burdette writes. The Mint decided the hassle was not worth it, and in 1916 canceled the Proof program.

    Mint officials today must tread the fine line separating an expanded product line with multiple finishes on the same coin that collectors embrace and a product line that collectors find bloated and offputting. Let’s hope that we all benefit from the failures of the past by avoiding repeating them.

    Collectors still peeved at U.S. Mint over gold dime sales

    May 16, 2016 3:22 PM by

    As I write this editorial on May 12 it has been three weeks to the day since the U.S. Mint offered and “sold out” of its 2016 Winged Liberty Head gold dime, and yet, I continue to receive daily email, phone calls and traditional letters from collectors upset with the U.S. Mint and dealers over how sales unfolded in a period of 20 to 40 minutes.

    Meanwhile, as we now know, the program is not sold out. More than 6,200 of the dimes remain unsold because of credit card declines, order cancellations, and returns from buyers (some being returned because of damage to the packaging or coins, and others because of imperfections that might result in a grade that is unacceptable to the customer). Mint officials have said that at least some of the unsold dimes will be offered again but we are still waiting on details of how and when those coins will be sold.

    A Mint spokesman said May 12 that the remaining dimes likely would not be offered until order reconciliation is complete. He could not say how long that might take, so collectors are left wondering whether it be a matter of days or weeks or even months. And when sales resume, how much advance notice will collectors receive.

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    One thing that I can guarantee is that collectors will be even more upset than they are already if the Mint offers the remaining coins under the same 10-coins-per-household limit imposed during the initial day of sales, April 21. That approach made it easier for certain dealers and marketers to purposely circumvent the household limits to snag much larger numbers of the dimes, including at least one television seller who acquired several thousand coins.
    Many collectors who were locked out the first time believe that anyone successful during the first round of sales should be barred from buying any more (especially dealers, they say).
    In addition to waiting on the resumption of sales for the dime, the marketplace is waiting on the Mint to announce plans for the second coin in the gold centennial program — the 2016 edition of the Standing Liberty quarter dollar, which like the dime was struck in 1916 in silver. And after that coin is the 2016 Walking Liberty gold half dollar.
    Will the Mint sales and marketing division learn from the sale of the dimes and make these later offerings fairer, with lower household limits and better monitoring of customers who might be trying to exceed the limit? Or will that division’s officers continue to anger its base — the collectors of U.S. coins?

    Museums big and small benefit from numismatic donations

    May 6, 2016 10:34 AM by

    Two of our news articles this week focus on the generous donations to museums in New York City by two civic-minded and wealthy families. Paul Gilkes reports on the generosity of John E. Herzog, while Steve Roach reports on the donation by Stephen K. and Janie Woo Scher. 

    Herzog is well known within the financial collectibles community. He is chairman emeritus of Spink/Smythe and the founder and chairman emeritus of the Museum of American Finance on Wall Street in New York City. In 2011 he founded the Wall Street Bourse, a now annual coin, paper money and stock certificate show held at the nation’s financial capital.

    His new donation to the museum of $5 million, to be paid out in installments through May 17, is, as Herzog puts it, “a final gift” and “a display of my confidence in the ability of the museum’s leadership to successfully carry it into the future and sustain it as a permanent institution.” 

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    The museum serves as a neutral public forum for addressing topical financial issues and events.

    The Scher donation involves their astounding collection of 450 art medals, donated to The Frick Collection in New York City. 

    The museum says, “Given its sweeping scope across historical periods and the wide range of its subject matter, [the collection] will resonate with almost every work in the Frick’s permanent holdings. As such the Scher medals will enrich the experience of the museum’s viewing audience and stimulate scholarship on existing holdings in previously unanticipated ways.”

    Museums are wonderful places for families to visit, whether they be an art museum like the Frick, a financial museum like that founded by Herzog, or the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force not far from Coin World’s home in western Ohio. And numismatic holdings can enhance a museum’s ability to tell visitors something about history, art, finance, and people.

    Donations of numismatic materials to museums don’t have to be as valuable as those offered by Herzog and the Schers. Even a small local museum might welcome a donation of numismatic material. For a collector who is thinking about what should be done with his or her holdings after death and whose family has no one interested in coins or paper money or medals, a donation to the local history museum is a great solution.

    Is there a better way to sell a hot product like the 2016 gold dime?

    April 29, 2016 10:57 AM by

    Trigger warning — if you were one of the many collectors who were unsuccessful in buying one of the Winged Liberty Head gold dimes from the U.S. Mint on April 21 and you are still upset about being shut out, you might want to pause before reading this next bit.

    Promotional copy at the Home Shopping Network website: “2016 SP70 ANACS First Day of Issue Limited Edition of 1,789 24K Gold Mercury Dime ... $499.95.”

    To translate, the online and television shopping network acquired at minimum nearly 1,800 of the hotly anticipated gold dimes, sold by the Mint for a price of $205 each with a household of 10 coins.

    That represents about 1.4 percent of the 121,201 coins sold in the initial wave of sales from the maximum mintage of 125,000 pieces, and they are now being offered at more than twice the price (cost of grading and encapsulating included).

    The Mint’s sale of the 2016-W Winged Liberty Head gold dime unfolded like many of its long-awaited and hotly anticipated products. The coin went on sale at noon Eastern Time, was switched from “available” to “back order” status about 20 minutes later, and then to “currently unavailable” about 40 minutes into the sale.

    The speed at which the coin sold out was made possible in part by the 10-coin household limit. That bar was too high, collectors have told us, adding that the limit made it easier for retailers to snap up sizeable quantities of the coins.

    My phone started ringing and email inbox beeping around 1 p.m. April 21, maybe even sooner. Collectors were contacting me to complain that they had been unable to buy one of the dimes. Most said the 10-coin household limit was too high; a one- or two-coin limit would have been better. This is a familiar refrain; the collectors make a good point.

    Many of the callers also predicted that dealers would be able to acquire quantities of coins well beyond the household limit. Most were upset with this possibility.

    I think anyone would understand why a collector who was locked out of buying one of the coins would be upset with a retailer offering large numbers of the coins at prices well above the issue price. It is easy to see why some believe that the system is rigged in favor of dealers and not collectors. But is it?

    Companies like HSN and some of Coin World’s advertisers build their inventories in several ways: The firms may have employees order the maximum number of coins on their personal accounts and then reimburse them. Firms also turn to the secondary market, buying coins from their customers or others at a premium; it is not unusual to receive an email from such a company before or after a sale begins, offering to pay a premium for each coin the recipient will sell to the firm. And while the practice does upset some collectors who see such techniques as improperly circumventing the household limits, some collectors already intend to buy the maximum number of coins, pick the best one to keep, and sell the rest to a dealer, often financing the purchase of the coin they kept and making a nice profit beyond that. It is tough to fault any collector for doing that.

    The reality is that the Mint has not found a better way to sell in-demand products. The Mint order system cannot distinguish why a particular buyer is purchasing a coin or coins, whether it is for a collection to be held long term or to be quickly flipped for a profit. I doubt anyone would want the government to tell a buyer what he or she can do with the coins once purchased. If anyone has a better idea that might be feasible, let us hear it.

    However, the Mint can do a better job of determining household limits. Ten was too many for this coin; a better limit would have been one or two coins for the first couple of days of sales, then a higher limit. A lower limit could have helped spread the coins around a little better.

    The Mint still has time before it launches sales of the gold Standing Liberty quarter dollar and Walking Liberty half dollar, part of the same Centennial program celebrating these three beautiful coins. Although the smaller size and lower price made the dime the most desirable coin for collectors on a limited budget, the Mint should still listen to collectors and lower the household limit for both other coins.

    New paper money designs to depict stirring stories of Freedom, Liberty

    April 22, 2016 10:41 AM by
    Good coin and paper money designs tell stories about the nations and the people that issue them. In a few years, U.S. paper money will starting telling new stories — of a refusal to be enslaved, of the fight for women’s suffrage, of the battle for civil rights — by returning historical vignettes to our notes.

    Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew finally ended months of speculation when on April 20 he announced that a portrait of Harriet Tubman would shove Andrew Jackson’s portrait off the face and onto the back of the $20 note.

    Tubman was the popular choice in a poll conducted by Women on 20s, a women’s rights advocacy group. It is easy to understand why Tubman was the popular choice: Born a slave in Maryland circa 1822, she developed a growing thirst for freedom. Escaped in 1849; was returned to her owners. Escaped again, this time for good. Risked her freedom and life again and again by returning to the South to rescue family members and others from bondage. Though an advocate of nonviolence, she nonetheless supported John Brown’s efforts to free slaves and to create a safe home for them. Served in the Union Army during the Civil War as a nurse and spy, even leading men in an armed assault. After the war’s end and the abolition of slavery, she took up a new righteous cause — women’s suffrage, joining with Susan B. Anthony in the good fight. In short, she lived an amazing life.

    But Tubman’s story will not be the only new tale to be told on our future paper money. Lew also announced that the backs of the $5 and $10 notes will be redesigned as well, with the now familiar structures on the two notes (the Lincoln Memorial on the $5 note and the Treasury Building the $10 issue) retained but gaining scenes of historic events conducted in the name of liberty and freedom at both sites.

    The back of the $5 note will show historical vignettes of the growing movement for equal rights for African Americans in the 20th century: Marian Anderson’s triumphal 1939 operatic performance in front of 75,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial after being denied a venue at one of the capital’s segregated concert halls; Martin Luther King’s stirring “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 before a crowd of hundreds of thousands. A portrait of Abraham Lincoln, who preserved the Union and helped end slavery, will remain on the face of the note, the two sides meshing perfectly in telling a shared story.

    Similarly, Alexander Hamilton, our first Treasury secretary and a financial genius, and the Treasury Building will remain on the $10 note, but the back will feature scenes like the March 1913 gathering at the Treasury facility of women’s suffrage advocates and a vignette honoring Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul for their contributions to women’s suffrage.

    Historical vignettes have largely disappeared from our paper money. Their return, with stirring new stories, should be exciting.

    African American Liberty portrait recommendation draws criticism

    April 1, 2016 11:06 AM by

    The recent decision by members of both the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the Commission of Fine Arts to recommend a portrait of an African American woman as the Liberty figure for the 2017 American Liberty silver medal and gold coin has been polarizing, to put it mildly. A lot of collectors are not at all supportive; many of them loathe the idea — and they have not been shy in their comments at Coin World’s Facebook page and in their email to me.

    Supporters of the decision and the design have been a distinct minority; I estimate that some 80 percent or so of those commenting fall into the “anti” camp, with about 20 percent welcoming the recommendation (and I count myself among the latter; a wrongheaded decision, some readers have told me).

    For those who like the idea, introducing new concepts of Liberty not necessarily rooted in ancient Greek art is a wonderful way of recognizing the immense diversity of our nation. As one writes, “It’s about time our money reflects the beauty of America’s racial diversity.”

    The opposition to the design seems to fall into three or four or more categories, with some crossover. Some just don’t like the design on aesthetic grounds. Others are rejecting the design without explicitly saying why. Then there are those who call the idea of an African American Liberty “politically correct garbage,” or another example of an America changing into something they don’t support. Others see the abandoning of the classical Liberty, with its roots in Europe, as tossing tradition out the window. Still others point fingers at President Obama or the U.S. Mint as being responsible, though that is not accurate, as one person intimately involved in the decision explains.

    Heidi Wastweet is a talented sculptor and medalist, and a member of the CCAC. In the March 27 issue of The E-Sylum, the weekly electronic newsletter of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society, she discusses the origins of the American Liberty gold coin and silver medal program, which made its debut in 2015. Some of her comments follow.

    She writes: “The High Relief Liberty series is not Congress driven. It was [a] program recommended by CCAC and adapted by the Mint as is allowed in the Mint parameters.

    “That seems to be common notion that there was some kind of directive saying we were told to do an African American Liberty, or that Obama pushed this agenda or that it is an attempt at radical political correctness. (I’ve been reading the online comments). The truth is much simpler — We members of the CCAC wanted a new medal series to stimulate artistic freedom and creativity and therefore create more interest in collecting. ...”

    She added: “Last year we chose a standing Liberty that was not distinctly caucasian but not specifically any particular race. It was just a solid beautiful design. This year we had many submissions again as you saw and this is the one that got the most votes. There was no direction to choose a black Liberty. The CCAC and the CFA thought this was simply the most intriguing design of the group. 

    “We also asked the Mint to save all the designs that received 10 or more points and add those to the submissions for next year. That group includes another African American face, an Asian face and several more caucasian or non-distinct nationalities. I hope that people will come to look at this series as a whole … a beautiful diverse series.”

    Lest you think that the CCAC is some stereotypical “Washington elites” organization out of touch with the coin collecting community, be aware that the membership is dominated by the numismatic community. Of the 11 current members, 10 are coin collectors, numismatists, or medal/coin designers. “They” are “us.” Some on the panel have been coin collectors for decades; many are award-winning writers, researchers, and artists. Not all of the current members served on the panel when the American Liberty program was first proposed, but the current domination of the CCAC by the collecting community has always been present.

    So why are so many collectors so strongly opposed to the design decision? Why are so many of them so angry about the proposal?

    Some of the anger seems very similar to the anger being expressed in the current presidential campaign, as voiced by both candidates and followers. One only has to follow the daily news to know that the current campaigns have had their ugly moments. Some of those angry about the CCAC/CFA decision seem to be tapping into that same well of anger, aimed at a changing America, an abandonment of tradition, and a climate of what they perceive as political correctness run amuck.

    Getting back to those opposing the design, there is one more category — one with racist undertones — that I and others have found to be especially disheartening. Overtly racist comments have been in a minority, thankfully, but some of those favoring the design have called out what they see as racism in other postings. And this leads to my next observation.

    America is changing. We’re becoming much more diverse on many levels, and while some in the nation are upset with those changes, census studies suggest that those changes are not going to stop. But is the coin collecting community keeping pace with greater America?

    It’s no secret that the hobby (collectors and dealers alike) has long been dominated by older white men (like me; I’m aged 62) and that as the community ages, it is not being replaced at the same rate by younger collectors and dealers. Hobby leaders are worried about declining club membership, declining numbers of dealers, declining advertising space and revenue and editorial space in the numismatic publications. We’d all like to see the hobby grow and expand. But can that happen if white men continue to represent 90 percent of the hobby?

    The hobby needs to diversify. We need new collectors, new dealers. And we should seek to welcome people who fall outside of the current collector community demographics. Unfortunately, though, the level of anger directed at more diverse representations of Liberty isn’t very welcoming. If you were a young black woman, say, happening upon the Coin World Facebook page, how would you feel if you saw so much vitriol directed at a coin design showing someone who might look like you? You probably wouldn’t stick around.

    In the meantime, I welcome your comments. If you don’t like the CCAC/CFA decision, I’d like to know why. We’ll consider comments for publication in Coin World, but please, keep your comments civil. You can reach me at bgibbs@coinworld.com or at 937-498-0853. 

    Unique 1907 gold pattern could be at the same risk as aluminum cent

    March 24, 2016 1:52 PM by

    The 1907 Indian Head gold $20 double eagle is arguably one of the greatest U.S. patterns ever struck. The coin bears a variation of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Liberty portrait eventually adopted for the 1907 Indian Head gold eagle married with a version of the artist’s Flying Eagle design used on the adopted reverse of the 1907 double eagle. The date appears in Roman Numerals at the bottom of the reverse (not the obverse), and LIBERTY is the sole inscription on the obverse, boldly positioned below the portrait. The pattern is unique, entered the marketplace from the estate of Charles Barber (chief engraver of the U.S. Mint when the pattern was struck), and today is in a private anonymous collection. It last sold at auction in 1984 for $467,500.

    So is this 1907 pattern permitted to be in a private collection? After all, the sole 1974-D aluminum cent was just returned to the U.S. Mint by a coin dealer and a second man whose father was given the cent as he retired from a long-held position at the Denver Mint; even the son agreed the Mint made a compelling case. Similarities between the two pieces are striking. Both are unique, both were struck during a period of experimentation at the Mint, and both surfaced in the marketplace from the estates of U.S. Mint employees.

    To many outside the collector community and even for some within it, Barber’s keeping of a historic pattern would not pass the smell test. A current Mint employee would be prosecuted for keeping a modern pattern, justifiably so. Remember, also, that just a few years after the 1907 pattern was struck, the Mint fought hard and successfully to force a private collector to return two unique 1877 gold $50 half union patterns (today, they’re national treasures).

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    Well, according to the U.S. Mint in a March 23 statement in response to my inquiry, the 1907 pattern could be a target for its return. The Mint’s Tom Jurkowsky said this: “If at some point we become aware of specific conclusive information that the 1907 Indian Head Double Eagle experimental piece is United States Mint property that came to be in private hands without proper authority, we will take the appropriate next steps to retrieve it as well.”
    Hobby leaders have worried for years that cases like the Langbord 1933 double eagles could spread unwanted attention to other great rarities. It is a fact that some great coins fall into a gray zone of legality. For example, the five 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coins were unknown to the hobby until some years later when they surfaced in the hands of a newly retired Philadelphia Mint employee. Collectors have long speculated that this employee struck the coins without authority and then spirited them out of the Mint, waiting until after his retirement to reveal their existence (he even bought an advertisement seeking these coins in The Numismatist, and — surprise — a few months later he announced that he had acquired five examples through his ad). 
    Now, new light is being shone on some questionable coins. Some collectors and dealers are certain that requiring certain rare coins to be turned over to the government is wrong, and it is easy to take that point of view. But again, these are gray areas. 
    How many would disagree today that those 1877 half union patterns, now in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, are national treasures that should be owned by the American people, especially given their background? They were thought destroyed by the Mint for their gold content, but Col. A. Loudon Snowden, superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint from 1879 to 1885, apparently spirited them out of the Mint and sold them to a dealer, with the coins eventually sold to the collector who revealed their existence in 1909.
    Interestingly, that collector, pattern specialist William H. Woodin, would become secretary of the Treasury in the early administration of President Franklin Roosevelt and thus in charge of the Mint. While Snowden deserves credit for apparently saving the patterns from destruction, can anyone honestly say that as the man in charge of the Philadelphia Mint, he had the authority to take the patterns from the government and presumably profit from them personally? 
    We likely have not seen the last of Mint action similar to that involving the 1974-D aluminum cent. We will watch with great interest in the months and years ahead, as other great rarities surface and draw attention, some of it unwelcome.

    A bold recommendation for American Liberty

    March 18, 2016 10:55 AM by

    Liberty, that icon who has graced U.S. coinage since 1793, appears poised to have a new face that reflect the nation’s growing diversity.

    During their reviews of designs provided by the U.S. Mint for the 2017 American Liberty, High Relief gold coin and silver medal, the two federal panels that advise the Treasury Department on coinage and medal designs went for the same bold choice. Both panels chose to emphasis the first word of “American Liberty” and to thankfully abandon “traditional” concepts, by selecting a portrait of a woman with distinct African-American features to be the new face of Liberty.

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    Mint artists over the years have interpreted the concept of Liberty in different ways, but until recently, all of the renditions of Liberty were influenced by classical Greek and Roman art, with Liberty represented by a white woman. Sure, James Barton Longacre depicted Liberty masquerading as a Native American on his cent of 1859, but his Indian Head cent shows a woman with a classical profile wearing a Native American headdress. Bela Lyon Pratt and James Earle Fraser later depicted authentic male American Indians on their classic coins, but it wasn’t until 2000 that Glenna Goodacre’s Liberty portrait on the Sacagawea dollar showed a female Liberty who wasn’t white.

    Not long after the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and Commission of Fine Arts made their decisions on the 2017 American Liberty designs, some collectors began to object to the panels’ choice for Liberty. A few of those objecting simply said they didn’t like the portrait, but others trotted out that tiresome phrase “politically correct” in voicing their opposition to the idea of an African-American Liberty.

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    The entire idea of the American Liberty program was to highlight a changing America, and the proposed 2017 design does a better job of that than the design on the 2015 American Liberty coin. It’s a fact that national demographics are changing. The U.S. Census Bureau said in 2015 that by 2020, “more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group.”
    Our nation’s coinage, and its paper money, needs to keep pace with the changing faces of Americans. The new face of Liberty is a welcome addition. 

    Boy, do We miss Frank Annunzio and Mike Castle, who did it right

    March 4, 2016 12:24 PM by

    ​Does the investor market really need a palladium bullion coin? That question had been answered but Congress in its “wisdom” has overridden hard data to require the United States Mint to issue such a coin anyway.

    Congress in 2010 authorized the Mint to issue a palladium bullion coin but required Mint officials to study the matter first to determine whether the idea was viable. The Mint released its findings on March 1, 2013.

    As Coin World reported then, “The palladium market study was completed by New York City-based CPM Group under provisions of the American Eagle Palladium Bullion Coin Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-303). CPM Group is a commodities market research, consulting, asset management and investment-banking firm.”

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    The findings were clear. CPM Group researchers found that demand would be insufficient to profitably sustain a palladium bullion coin program.
    Here’s what Coin World’s Paul Gilkes reported after reading the 2013 study: “CPM Group outlined a 10-year demand forecast, suggesting 150,000 troy ounces in total sales the first year — 100,000 ounces in bullion coins, 33,333 ounces in Proof coins and 16,667 ounces in Uncirculated pieces. Demand is projected to slip to 40,000 ounces the second year — 20,000 in bullion coins, 13,333 in Proof pieces and 6,667 in Uncirculated coins. By the 10th year, demand is projected at 4,500 ounces — 3,000 in bullion coins, 1,000 in Proof coins and 500 in Uncirculated coins
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    In general, the study found that a bullion coin program likely would not be profitable on its own though a collector-based program could be. Since 2013, Mint officials had not entirely abandoned the possibility of an American Eagle palladium coin program, but the project was not a high priority.
    Well, whether it needs one or not, it appears that an American Eagle palladium bullion coin is in the nation’s future.
    Legislation passed by Congress in December 2015 has rendered the 2013 survey moot. The Mint must move forward with a 1-ounce .9995 fine palladium bullion coin, no matter if the program will not be viable.
    Congress’ action is all too typical when it comes to coin- and bullion-related legislation. Ignore facts and go ahead anyway. So what if an in-depth survey suggested that a bullion program might not be financially wise.
    Gone are the days when Congress had a legislator who was keenly interested in the hobby and who actually conducted hearings on important legislation. Today commemorative coin and congressional gold medal legislation is passed when enough co-sponsors sign on to move it to the floor of the House and Senate for a vote. No one actually seeks outside expert opinion on the legislation as in the good old days when legislators like Frank Annunzio and Michael Castle really cared about numismatics and actually legislated by scheduling hearings from hobby and industry leaders. Today it is merely who can line up the votes.
    We miss those days, those wise legislators.

    Great rarities can be found in odd places, but do your research first

    February 12, 2016 2:35 PM by
    What should a collector do when he or she finds an online auction of high-powered numismatic material offered by a business whose name is unfamiliar?

    That question arose after a recent telephone call from a reader who believed that he had identified a fraudulent online coin auction by a firm whose name was unfamiliar to him (and to Coin World). We’ll return to that call in a bit.

    Smaller auction firms who generally conduct sales of other materials sometimes offer numismatic gems. Arthur L. Friedberg, who reports on paper money news for Coin World, reported in 2015 on an auction by Duane Merrill & Company, a long-established firm that bills itself as Vermont’s largest auction house since 1967. Duane Merrill does not often offer great numismatic rarities, but its April 18, 2015, auction offered a sleeper — what astute bidders recognized as the first-known example of a Series 1902 Red Seal national bank note from the First National Bank of Ely (Nevada). The $5 note was offered in the auction with a starting bid of $1,000 and a $2,000 to $5,000 estimate, not unreasonable amounts for similar though common national bank notes.

    This note, however, was anything but common, and when the auction was over, the note had realized $120,750. The winning bidder got a great unique note, the elderly consignors realized much more than they expected from their consignment of mostly New England paintings, and the auction house benefitted from bidder fees that were well beyond what they had anticipated. This was the perfect example of why collectors should sometimes seek out gems in unusual places.

    However, it also pays to be wary of auctions by firms who offer little or no history of selling rare and valuable numismatic material, which brings us back to the phone call.

    He had been searching online when he came across an auction that seemed too good to be true. The collector was wary because, he explained, he had been defrauded several years ago in a similar auction. 

    He spent several days researching the coins in the online auction and eventually found some of the same coins (as shown by the serial numbers on the third-party grading service slabs housing them) offered at fixed prices by a longtime Coin World advertiser. He contacted that firm and learned that other collectors had also contacted its owners, all telling our advertiser that it appeared that the auction firm claiming to offer the coins had misappropriated the images from the actual owner’s website. 

    Coin World, too, contacted its longtime advertiser, and representatives confirmed they were aware of the misuse of their images and were working to have the auction taken down

    Collectors can protect themselves in similar situations by doing their research before bidding. In the April 2015 Duane Merrill sale, bidders confirmed the legitimacy of the note and brought a previously unknown issue into the numismatic marketplace. And the recent caller to Coin World and others did their research and may have prevented other collectors from being defrauded.
    “Knowledge is power” is a cliche, but in these cases, the cliche was accurate.

    Open design competitions always exciting for the public and hobby

    February 4, 2016 4:34 PM by
    The United States Mint is ready to kick off the open design competition for the 2018 World War I American Veterans Centennial commemorative silver dollar program, and that is exciting news.

    Open coinage design competitions are fun. It is always exciting to see members of the public interpret themes for the nation’s coinage and generate designs. And while the U.S. Mint’s designers at the Philadelphia Mint are a talented bunch, as are those in the Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program, it is nice to give new artists an opportunity to let their creative juices flow. Just ask Cassie McFarland.

    McFarland was the winning artist in the Mint’s last open design competition, this for the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coin program. She submitted the winning baseball glove obverse design used on three coins in the program (paired with a baseball design by Donald Everhart II on the reverse).

    McFarland was a 27-year-old figurative oil painter, portraitist and sculptor from San Luis Obispo, Calif., when officials announced that she won the competition. Her design was selected over those submitted by 177 other design hopefuls for the Baseball Hall of Fame program. She went from someone whose artistic talents were mostly known locally and at the university level, to a celebrity who was honored nationally for creating a simple yet stirring design reflecting the joys of “America’s pastime.” 

    The history of coinage design competitions in the United States has been mixed. The first were in the 1890s as the Mint sought replacements for the Seated Liberty design on the dime, quarter dollar, and half dollar. Established artists who had been invited to compete in a limited competition roundly rejected the Mint’s terms. A follow-up competition open to the public attracted designs of unsatisfactory quality, apparently. The Mint’s chief engraver, Charles Barber, stepped in to create the new designs.

    However, the limited competition to replace Barber’s designs a quarter of a century later was spectacularly successful, resulting in some of the most beautiful designs to ever grace silver coinage (by coincidence, celebrating their centennial anniversary in 2016). Subsequent design competitions included those resulting in the Washington quarter dollar in 1932, the Jefferson 5-cent coin in 1938, and the Bicentennial designs of 1975 and 1976.

    Senior Editor Paul Gilkes outlines the design competition’s goals and terms in his article. If you are artistically inclined, read them and then get busy creating.

    The winning designer will have to convey the accomplishments and contributions of American veterans who served during World War I. All of those veterans are now gone, but their sacrifice lives on.

    What will the submitted designs look like? Who will be the next Cassie McFarland to win the design competition for the 2018 commemorative silver dollar? We eagerly await the answers. 

    What’s going on with the U.S. Mint and its many packaging problems?

    January 26, 2016 8:43 AM by
    The United States Mint’s packaging woes keep getting worse and they need to stop.

    As Paul Gilkes reports this week, the Mint had to postpone sales of three 2016 annual sets featuring the year’s America the Beautiful quarter dollars because the sales and marketing team messed up, again, in approving the production of packaging with a serious problem. In this case, the error was an “incorrect image of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park,” according to a Jan. 20 press release from the Mint.

    This problem is the latest in a continuing series of packaging problems for the Mint.

    The Mint canceled the Jan. 14 launch of sales for the 2016-P Mark Twain silver dollar when it discovered that the certificate of authenticity cited the wrong novel for the small scene on the reverse of the coin showing Huck and Jim on a raft traveling along the Mississippi River. As anyone who has studied American literature could tell you, that life-changing voyage for the two occurred in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, not in the pages of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as the COA and earlier Mint promotional materials stated.

    On Nov. 4, Mint officials announced that the Nov. 23 launch of sales for the 2015 Limited Edition Silver Proof set had to be postponed because of “issues with the packaging.” While a delay in sales of that annual product ordinarily would not have been catastrophic — the 2014 edition did not go sale until March 2015 — it contributed to the Mint’s later decision to cancel the set altogether. The cancellation was ordered after Congress passed legislation in December requiring that numismatic versions of American Eagle silver dollars sold in 2016 should sport distinctive edges. The 2015 set would have contained a Proof 2015-W American Eagle silver dollar with a standard reeded edge.

    On Sept. 3, the Mint acknowledged that it was “looking into the packaging issues for the 2015 American $1 Coin and Currency sets.” Some customers buying the sets complained that the $1 Federal Reserve note slipped out of position and became stuck to the adhesive intended to keep the packaging together.

    Do you see a really ugly trend here?

    I’ll be the first to admit to being guilty of making errors in the news articles, features, and opinion pieces I have written during the past 39 years. All of us make mistakes. I try to learn from my errors and not repeat them.

    The seemingly never-ending problems the Mint is experiencing suggests two serious problems: a leadership problem at the Mint, especially in the sales and marketing area, and to a lesser degree, a problem with testing packaging before releasing a product to Mint customers.
    Moreover, such errors affect the Mint’s bottom line. Destroying old packaging and replacing it with new costs money. Continued problems threaten to drive away Mint customers. The four agencies that stand to benefit from sales of the Mark Twain silver dollar could end up with lower surcharge payouts because of a shorter sales period and higher costs associated with the program, which have to be recouped before payments to those agencies can begin.

    Most importantly, these kinds of problems make the Mint look stupid. The mistake with the name of Twain’s novel should never have occurred. Huckleberry Finn is one of the greatest works in American literature; how could the Mint sales and marketing staff not catch that error?

    Every time the Mint suspends or postpones sales for a product, Coin World’s editorial and advertising staffs get calls and emails from customer wondering what is going on. Mint customers are clearly upset.

    United States Mint management needs to take immediate steps to stop these kinds of problems from occurring in the future. Otherwise, the Mint could stand to lose future revenue as customers stop purchasing the Mint’s products.

    The unexpected results of an assassination

    January 15, 2016 12:49 PM by
    Senior staff writer Paul Gilkes’ cover  on the centennial anniversary of the Winged Liberty Head dime kicks off our celebration of the 100th birthday for the nation’s most beautiful silver coinage issued for circulation. It’s an event that we might not even be celebrating had an unemployed wire mill worker from Detroit chosen to not attend the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sept. 6, 1901.

    At 4:07 p.m. that afternoon, Leon F. Czolgosz stood in a receiving line at the Temple of Music on the grounds of the exposition. Those standing in line were waiting to greet the distinguished visitor at the expo that day — William McKinley, president of the United States. 

    Czolgosz, however, carried an Iver Johnson revolver in his right hand, which was wrapped in a cloth as though bandaged for an injury. When Czolgosz reached McKinley, he fired two shots at the president. The first was deflected by a button on McKinley’s clothing; the second bullet entered the president’s abdomen. Afterwards, at first McKinley  seemed to be responding to treatment, but then he suffered a relapse and, on Sept. 14, he died.

    Upon McKinley’s death his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, was sworn in as president. At 42, Roosevelt, “that damned cowboy” in the words of Republican boss Mark Hanna, was the youngest man to enter the office of president. With his youth he brought a new outlook to the office, and a goal to make the nation a world power.

    Not long after entering the office, he met, through Henry Adams (grandson and great-grandson of two presidents) the nation’s leading sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The two men became frequent companions and their many discussions led Roosevelt to order a complete redesign of the nation’s coinage. Saint-Gaudens managed to redesign the gold $10 and $20 coins before dying of cancer in 1907, but the process had begun, leading to new designs in 1908 for the rest of the gold coins; to the Lincoln cent in 1909 and the Indian Head 5-cent coin in 1913; and finally to the three silver masterpieces of 1916: the “Mercury” dime, the Standing Liberty quarter dollar, and the Walking Liberty half dollar. The nation was set on a new path in 1901 with an assassin’s bullet, a path that would a few years later lead to the Golden Age of U.S. Coinage Design. 

    Coin World improved website navigation and content in 2015

    December 30, 2015 11:51 AM by

    During 2015, Coin World and its corporate business, Amos Media, focused a great deal of attention on our website at www.coinworld.com.

    When Coin World was founded in March 1960, computers were still in their infancy and played no role in newspaper publications. Writers wrote their stories on manual typewriters, editors edited them by hand on paper, and typesetters composed the stories using hot lead compositors. Once an issue was printed, it then went into the mail for delivery, and depending on how far the subscriber lived from our headquarters in Sidney, Ohio, the latest issue was received within a few days to a week or more. And that delivery schedule was fine; the world, including the coin community, moved at a slower pace in those days.

    That has changed, and readers now expect to get their news within minutes, not days

    Our website allows us to do that and more, and over the years, the editors, the IT staff, and outside developers have worked at making our website better and easier to use, filled with useful, up to date information

    Tom Klausing, Amos Media’s director of digital media, highlighted for me some of the recent improvements to our website:

    For one, we improved design and navigation for both desktop and mobile devices (the growth in use of tablets and smartphones makes this function vital; now you can get all of the latest news virtually anywhere on your phone).

    We made navigation better by condensing our former “News/Headlines/Insights” all into one “News” section. This section is then broken down by topic: U.S./World/Paper/Precious Metals. Topics are clickable and will intuitively show news from that topic. Our editors will continue to write the same way they did. The big difference is that content is now presented differently, in this improved manner

    New or improved features at the website include related, recommended and trending news. On the CoinWorld.com homepage, we’ll continue to have news all over the page, and on articles you will find a “Recent News” section to the top right of each page. Also on each article page, after the end of the article, we add three related articles, chosen by editors.

    Another change is the addition of “Blog” (formerly “Voices”) prominently to the navigation.

    We hope that you find the new navigation is much more intuitive. 

    From an editor’s perspective, our website grants us the ability to post breaking news within minutes of our receiving it, thus fulfilling readers’ desires to get important news quickly. It also affords us opportunities to post news that occurs after we have closed out a print edition but before it has mailed or been released in its digital edition form (that happens pretty often; the United States Mint often releases information on Friday afternoon, after we have closed that week’s issue).

    Let us know what you think about our website, and what other improvements you would find useful in the future.

    Social media outreach prompts Treasury to buck the system

    December 23, 2015 12:52 PM by
    Of all the news stories covered in Coin World in 2015, one probably caught us a bit off guard.

    It also showed the strength of social media and it received massive coverage in the mainstream press.

    I am referring to the decision of the U.S. Treasury Department to place a portrait of a woman on the next generation of $10 Federal Reserve note, to be unveiled in 2020 and released into circulation sometime afterward.

    As I write in my article recapping this important story, members of the public had advocated for a woman’s place on our paper currency in the past, but none of those initiatives ever gained any traction, thanks to a reluctance by Treasury officials to change the persons and themes depicted on our paper money. In 2015, a new powerful force flexed its collective muscle — the strength of social media to drive news coverage and to persuade federal officials that the old party line had to go. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, at almost every press conference he gave, found himself asked about depicting a woman on a note, and others wrote to President Obama about the topic. Once the president said the idea was a pretty good one, Lew had his marching orders.

    Of course, the original movement, to get rid of Andrew Jackson, now seen by many as all that was wrong with some of our forebears, was sidelined by reality. Since the next note to be redesigned is the $10 note, the change will be made on that denomination and not the $20. The public gained some insight into the slow pace of paper money design, something regular readers of Coin World are more knowledgeable about. Still, I suspect that Old Hickory’s years appearing on the $20 note are numbered.

    Still, the haste with which the Treasury Department said that it would start depicting women on U.S. paper money caught even me a little bit off guard. I was skeptical and expecting the old party line.  Kudos to Jack Lew for doing the right thing.

    The power of the public to makes its voice heard is growing. Coin World’s own social media and online platforms — Facebook, Twitter, and its website — also afforded our readers more opportunities to offer opinions on the various news stories covered during the year. Before, when the Mint website and phone lines crashed with the opening of sales of a hot new product (like the 2015 Coin and Chronicles sets) we would get a lot of phone calls from angry collectors. This past year many instead chose to voice their frustrations at our Facebook page. Granted, some readers still called me when the first two Coin and Chronicles sets sold out in minutes (and many of them voiced their suspicions that the Mint colluded with dealers to sell marketers the bulk of the sets), but the numbers were smaller than they would have been in the past. They just went to our Facebook page to vent their anger and make their allegations. 

    The times are changing.

    Readership metrics results

    In leading up to our selection of the year’s top stories, I asked Coin World editorial staff members for their choices. Joe O’Donnell, Amos Media’s Chicago-based content producer, is a leader in our online initiatives — at our websites, on our Facebook pages, and behind the scenes in getting our word out to the world at large. Not surprisingly, he took a somewhat different approach to selecting his choices for our top stories, saying:

    “Like last year, I’m going to bring a metrics-based approach to my Top 10, just to show what went viral for us. ... (I had to include No. 11 just because I definitely think it’s a top 10 story.)”

    Here’s his list of individual stories that brought the biggest online readership:
    (1) Gold Prospector Unearths 87-Ounce Nugget In Australia.
    (2) Federal Government To Return Millions In Liberty Dollars.
    (3) Goal Of Bill To Change Silver Alloy In United States Coins.
    (4) Mint Releases Mock-Up Designs For Gold 2016 Centennial Issues.
    (5) Court Rules In Favor Of Langbord Family In 1933 Double Eagle Case.
    (6) Israel’s Largest-Ever Gold Hoard Discovery Reported.
    (7) Limited Edition 2015 March Of Dimes Special Silver Set May 4.
    (8) 2015 High Relief Gold Coin Becomes 100 Dollars Face Value.
    (9) California Dealer Discovers Fake Krugerrand In Fake Holder.
    (10) Federal Judge Rules Against Government In 1974-D Cent Case.
    (11) Enhanced Uncirculated Native American Dollars In Demand. 

    The strong reader interest in these stories does not surprise me. Coin World’s editors have long recognized that treasure stories are big draws; who has not dreamed of finding something rare and valuable, like the lucky Australian who found an 87-ounce gold nugget or the finders of the gold coins in Israel. While these stories may not have the same lasting impact on the hobby as some of the other stories, these kinds of treasure stories are popular with readers.

    Similarly, the stories about the government’s efforts to confiscate coins from American citizens elicit strong feelings from readers. Our readership is by no means 100 percent united behind the Langbord family and its claims on 10 1933 double eagles, and similar claims by several dealers on an apparently experimental 1974-D Lincoln cent struck on an aluminum planchet. However, a strong anti-government bias exists in such cases, with many readers feeling that the government has no business confiscating the coins. 

    Similarly, the decision to return Liberty Dollar medals to Americans caught a lot attention from those who have followed the government’s long legal case against Bernard von NotHaus, creator of the Liberty Dollar who in 2011 was convicted of counterfeiting U.S. coins, a decision that some hobbyists thought was prompted by von NotHaus’ longtime crusade against the Federal Reserve. The Liberty Dollar medals had been confiscated by the government in 2007 at the beginning of legal action against their issuer.

    Of course, a number of our stories involve the U.S. Mint, which is the biggest coin dealer in the world. No surprises there.

    I am looking forward to 2016. 

    Legislation has unexpected consequences

    December 17, 2015 3:04 PM by
    Call it bad timing, bad planning or the law  of unintended consequences, or maybe a combination of all three factors. The Mint has announced that it will not offer the previously announced 2015 Limited Edition Silver Proof set — not because the coins aren’t available, and not because the packaging issues that led the Mint to postpone its intended Nov. 23 release can’t be resolved, and not because the Mint has reservations about issuing a 2015 set in 2016 (the 2014 set wasn’t released until 2015).

    Mint officials instead made the decision to not issue the 2015 Limited Edition Silver Proof set because of the five-year $305 billion highway bill that President Obama signed into law on Dec. 3.

    Why would a transportation bill lead the Mint to cancel what was becoming an annual set?

    The 2015 Limited Edition Silver Proof set was to have contained a Proof 2015-W American Eagle silver dollar and 2015-S examples of the Roosevelt dime, all five America the Beautiful quarter dollars, and the Kennedy half dollar. All of the coins were available and the Mint was attempting to solve “packaging issues” for the set. The Mint could have resolved those “issues” and then released the 2015 set sometime in 2016.

    However, the transportation act that was signed into law included several provisions related to the nation’s coinage. Among them is a requirement that all Proof and Uncirculated American Eagle silver dollars issued in 2016 must have a special edge inscription recognizing the 30th anniversary of the coin. The key word in the provision is “issued.” Mint officials have interpreted this as meaning that even the existing 2015-W American Eagle silver dollars cannot be released in 2016 because they already are struck and have a reeded edge. It doesn’t matter that the coins would be dated 2015 — they can’t be issued in 2016 because they don’t meet the edge lettering requirements outlined in the legislation.

    Had the Mint not experienced “packaging issues” that delayed the release of the set, it could have gone on sale Nov. 23 and then been taken off sale on Dec. 30, possibly creating a modern rarity for those fortunate to have purchased one or more. However, with the passage of the transportation bill, this set will apparently never be released.

    Unintended consequences, indeed. 

    A few predictions on the the U.S. Mint and its 2016 programs

    December 14, 2015 10:13 AM by
    A few weeks ago, in the Dec. 14 issue of Coin World, I noted that the editorial staff was beginning to think about its selections for the “Top 10 Stories of 2015,” the latest installment of a long-running annual series in our pages. Well, we have pretty much wrapped up that list and you should see the results in the Jan. 11, 2016, issue. It’s a pretty interesting list and I’ll also share some observations from what readers saw as the most interesting stories of the year.

    In the meantime, it seems fitting that as 2015 comes to an end, we look forward to what 2016 will bring for the collecting community by making some predictions for the year. While we could visit many areas, we’ll limit our “predictions” to those involving the largest coin dealer in the world — the United States Mint.

    The sales record for the American Eagle silver bullion coin will fall (again): 

    This is a pretty safe prediction. Since 2008, sales of the American Eagle 1-ounce silver bullion coin have set a new record every year but 2012. 

    In 2007, sales of the coin totaled 9,887,000 pieces (please note that calendar sales may differ from mintages; in some years, sales included coins of two or three dates). In 2008, that sales figure more than doubled, to 19,583,000 (mintage for the 2008 coin, 20,583,000), breaking the old sales record of 10,475,500 coins in 2002. From 2009 to 2015, a new sales record was established in every year but for 2012, and even that year, with 33,742,500 coins sold, the total was more than triple the 2007 sales figure. This year’s total so far, with one more week of sales left for calendar 2015, is 45,786,000 coins.

    Silver demand has been rising across most categories — silver, jewelry, bars and ingots, coins — for several years. Silver coins have proven to be an increasingly popular investment during the last decade, showing impressive gains worldwide. Thomson Reuters noted on Nov. 17, “Coin demand should account for 12% of physical demand this year, up from 10% in 2014 and just 4% ten years ago.”
    The United States Mint has done an admirable job meeting demand, going from striking a little more than 9 million coins in 2007 to striking more than 45 million coins nine years later. Likely the Mint could be striking and selling even higher numbers if not constrained by a worldwide shortage of silver coin planchets.

    Will that trend soften in 2016? We’ll see this time next year, but don’t be surprised if we report the United States Mint sets a new American Eagle silver bullion coin sales record next year.

    The United States Mint will anger collectors somehow, somewhen: 

    As good a job as the Mint does meeting demand for the American Eagle silver bullion coins, it has a history of making stumbles. In 2009 it was the decision to not strike Proof versions of the American Eagle silver bullion coin, to focus all attention on meeting demand for the bullion versions. Collectors hated that decision because it left them with a one-year gap in their collections for the first time since sales began in 1986.

    In 2015, the Mint sales and marketing team made a series of blunders, seen most vividly with sales of the Harry S. Truman Coin and Chronicles set as part of the Presidential dollar program. The Mint sorely underestimated sales of the Truman and Eisenhower sets; both sold out in minutes, and many collectors were unsuccessful in placing orders by phone or at the Mint website. The Mint made some changes when offering the Kennedy and Johnson sets, making the sales of those two products much smoother, but the damage had been done; a lot of collectors who were unsuccessful in buying the first two sets suddenly found that their sets of Presidential dollars were incomplete.

    Obviously, the Mint can’t please 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time (to steal a phrase), but some decisions seem to really, really hack off large numbers of collectors, even when that anger is misdirected or based on an erroneous conclusion. We hope that the Mint’s marketing team will make better decisions in 2016 but we don’t like the odds on that.

    The 2016 gold centennial editions of the Winged Liberty Head dime, Standing Liberty quarter dollar, and Walking Liberty half dollar will be a hit with collectors (but not as big a hit as silver versions would be): 

    Collectors are understandably excited about the Mint’s decision to issue 2016 versions of the Winged Liberty Head dime, Standing Liberty quarter dollar, and Walking Liberty half dollar in gold to celebrate the centennial of the introduction of these three coins in 1916.

    All three designs are celebrated for their beauty and it can be said that each design is the best ever created for its respective denomination. All three coins were designed during the period known as the Golden Age of U.S. Coinage Design. Many of the designs from that era — 1907 to 1921 — have been resurrected on modern U.S. coins: the Indian Head 5-cent coin and the Saint-Gaudens gold double eagle among them. The obverse of the Walking Liberty half dollar was resurrected in 1986 for the American Eagle 1-ounce silver bullion coin and has been used on that coin ever since. The “Mercury” dime and Standing Liberty quarter now join that list of designs taken from the Philadelphia Mint’s vaults, dusted off, and reused for a modern purpose

    The coins should sell well, but the program would be even better had the Mint been able to issue the centennial coins in silver (the original composition of the 1916 coins) in addition to gold.

    However, while provisions in the U.S. Code give the Treasury secretary broad authority to issue certain gold coins without congressional approval, the office lacks similar authority for silver coins. Issuing the centennial coins in silver requires an act of Congress, and no such legislation is pending.

    With gold coins priced above the budgets of many collectors, sales of the centennial coins will be well below what they could have been had the Mint sought and gained congressional approval for the silver coins.

    The U.S. Mint will issue an exciting new product that is on no one’s collection radar screens: 

    The Mint does a great job of developing a new product and springing it upon collectors with little advance notice. In recent years that has included new treatments like the Reverse Proof finish and Enhanced Uncirculated finish, and coins like the American Liberty, High Relief gold coin.

    Will the Mint surprise us and excite us and maybe upset us in 2016? We can’t wait to see. 

    Some coins should be off-limits to collectors

    December 9, 2015 3:46 PM by
    When should a particular kind of coin be untouchable, off-limits to collectors?

    Sometimes an answer to a question you haven’t thought about for a while can come when history, current events and coins all converge at the same time unexpectedly.

    Freelance contributor Gerald Tebben provides always insightful articles for Coin World through his column “Coin Lore” and features like his cover article on patriotic printers in the November 2015 issue of our monthly magazine. He also blogs for us with his “Five Facts” blog, with his latest series focused on men who committed mass genocide in the past who happen to be depicted on coins that many people collect.

    Two days after his last blog was published on Nov. 11 on Leopold II, Belgium’s king who killed millions in the Belgian Congo, came the horrors of the Islamic State’s terrorist attacks in Paris that killed nearly 130 people and injured hundreds more.

    In September, the Islamic State (also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL) released a movie (which I haven’t watched) announcing its new series of gold and silver coins. According to news accounts, Islamic State leaders want to ruin the economies of the world powers and especially that of the United States by encouraging the replacement of the U.S. dollar with gold. An article published by The Economist on Sept. 3 gives three reasons why the Islamic State’s financial plans are doomed to failure; you should read the article.

    But what about the Islamic State’s coins? Are they something collectors should pursue as collectibles? While Coin World rarely takes a stand against collecting a particular series of coins, this is one time we’ll abandon that principle. Don’t do it, for one good reason (many others exist): providing financial support, even indirectly, to an organization whose sole purpose in life is to foment terror and murder and enslavement is morally wrong and probably illegal.

    Men like Leopold II, who killed millions, are long gone; their coins are part of the historical record and thus are collectible if you have a desire to.

    But not the coins of the Islamic State.

    Counting down to the end of 2015 and pondering the top 10 stories

    November 25, 2015 2:50 PM by
    Every year about this time, the Coin World editorial staff begins thinking about the most important stories we’ve covered since the first of the year, narrowing the list to 10 after several rounds of voting. We then recap the year within our pages and at our website. While we haven’t finalized our plans as yet, you’ll see our list of the top stories for 2015 in about a month.

    We also want to know your top stories of the year. Will your list include the release of the 2015 Coin and Chronicles sets by the U.S. Mint?  (While the editorial staff hasn’t voted yet, I can confidently say that one will make our list.)  How about the impending record sales of American Eagle silver bullion coins? 

    If paper money is your focus, we’ve covered a lot of news in that area as well. Will your list include confirmation that a woman’s portrait will be placed on the $10 Federal Reserve note in 2020? How about the surfacing of a number of previously unknown national bank notes?

    For world coins, a lot has happened during the year, including a new portrait for Queen Elizabeth II on the coinage.

    Let us know your picks for the year’s top stories at www.facebook.com/coinworld and at cweditor@coinworld.com

    A coinage revolution began 50 years ago this month with silver's replacement

    November 11, 2015 9:38 AM by

    ​On Nov. 1, 1965, Washington quarter dollars unlike anything that been released before — the first U.S. copper-nickel clad coinage — were poured into circulation by the Treasury Department through Federal Reserve System channels.

    Until that first day of November 50 years ago, three kinds of U.S. circulating coinage were legally classified: minor coinage, those pieces made of a nonprecious metal (in 1965, just the cent and 5-cent coin remained); silver coinage (the dime, quarter dollar, and half dollar in 1965); and gold coinage (none of which had been struck or circulated since early 1933).

    The Coinage Act of 1965 upended nearly 175 years of federal coinage laws, converting the dime and quarter dollar into what was essentially minor coinage, and lowering the silver content of the half dollar from 90 percent to 40 percent.

    This was a change of historic proportions and collectors were accepting though not thrilled.

    As Coin World editor Margo Russell wrote in her Editorial in the Nov. 17 issue, collectors had been awaiting the new coins with mixed feelings:

    “Coin collectors knew why and how the coins were being manufactured — they were just waiting for a look at the finished product,” she wrote.

    “The collectors’ verdict?” she asked, and answered, “Most agree the new coins will serve their purpose as coin of the realm, their sole function from a Treasury standpoint, but it is the collecting consensus that few people will collect clad coins in quantity or for their aesthetic qualities.”

    Margo wrote that this collector disinterest would serve Treasury goals. Concurrent with the rise in the price of silver that drove the conversion to a copper-nickel clad coinage was a nationwide shortage of coinage. The vending industry demanded higher and higher numbers of coins every year and the Bureau of the Mint had taken several steps in the early 1960s to ramp up production: reopening the San Francisco Mint for coinage production,which had last occurred in 1955; increasing the number of production shifts;and adding additional coining presses to its facilities.

    Treasury officials had blamed collectors and “speculators”for much of the coinage shortages. The collector sentiment was “good news for the Treasury,” Margo noted, adding “its task will be made easier by the initial lack of collector interest in the new pieces.”

    The hobby was doing what it could to repair relations with those who governed the Mint, even to the point of refusing to profit by the change, at least immediately. Margo noted, “Major segments of the numismatic press have agreed not to accept advertisements offering the new clad coins inbulk quantities until there are sufficient quantities in circulation.”

    Attempts at repairing the relationship had begun several months before release of the new coins, Margo revealed, crediting both major   hobby organizations and a receptive Treasury Department for working toward the thaw. She especially hoped that improving relations would prompt government officials to offer collectors something more; the Mint had stopped making Proof sets and Uncirculated Mint sets in 1965 to focus on circulating coinage, and had gotten authority to remove all Mint marks as well (collectors would have to be satisfied with a single 1965 quarter instead of three coins, one each from the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco facilities). The Mint would offer 1965, 1966,and 1967 Special Mint sets, but production of the traditional annual sets and restoration of Mint marks would have to wait until 1968, so Margo was right about the Mint’s resumption of collector-friendly outreach, if a bit optimistic.

    As for the Nov. 10 news article, there is a statement collectors today will find laughable.

    Treasury officials expected the silver coins to circulate alongside the copper-nickel clad ones “for their normal 25-year life span.”

    We know how that went, don't we?

    Getting edition sizes for collectibles vital to keep collectors happy

    November 3, 2015 8:34 AM by
    “You could have manufactured enough of this edition so that everyone who wanted one could have one.”

    This lament, voiced by a collector at a collector’s forum after a limited edition collectible sold out in mere minutes, could have been about one of the U.S. Mint’s recent Coin and Chronicles sets.

    So could this comment found at another social media site: “I'm so disappointed I couldn't get a [blank] because of your unperfect sales strategy. ...”

    In fact, neither comment was made by a collector shut out of buying a Harry S. Truman or Dwight D. Eisenhower Coin and Chronicles set. The first comment was made by a collector who was unable to buy a limited edition Hot Wheels die-cast version of a Dodge 330 car that was offered Oct. 26 at the collector’s website operated by toy giant Mattel for collectors of Hot Wheels. The second comment was from a collector unhappy about being unable to buy a replica Pepsi Perfect bottle on Oct. 21 on Amazon in commemoration of the date that Marty McFly visited in the movie Back to the Future II (Pepsi Perfect was promoted as a “future” product of PepsiCo in the movie).

    Collectors like being able to buy a limited edition product at issue price and then watch it rise in value on the secondary market. Collectors don’t like being unable to buy the collectible and then see prices rise on the secondary market. Collectors especially hate it when they see quantities of limited edition collectibles available for sale, at rising prices, on eBay or elsewhere, all being offered by the same seller, despite restrictive household limits, when they themselves were unable to buy just one.

    For manufacturers of collectible products, getting the edition size right is one of the most important decisions a marketing team can make. Make too many of the collectible and unsold quantities can sit on the issuer’s website for weeks, months, or longer. Make too few of them and the collectibles can sell out in minutes, frustrating hundreds or thousands of collectors who couldn’t reach the checkout step of ordering online in time.

    Mattel’s Oct. 26 sale of the Dodge 330 was a good example of the type of sale that can frustrate collectors. The edition was limited to 3,000 units and of that number, 2,000 were reserved for collectors who had earlier subscribed to the year’s core product line. When the sale of the remaining 1,000 began at noon Eastern Time Oct. 26, collectors rushed to buy those examples.

    Some buyers saw their orders sail through. Others encountered roadblocks; Mattel recently introduced a new edition of its Hot Wheels Collectors website, and problems with logins, browser incompatibilities and other technical matters have occurred ever since (U.S. Mint website customers would understand). The car sold out in a half hour or so, while some collectors were still sitting in the online waiting room (also something Mint customers remember).

    Post-sale comments were so similar to those about the Mint’s limited edition issues that all one would have to do would be to trade “Dodge 330” for “Coin and Chronicles set” and nothing would be lost in the translation.

    As for the joint Pepsi-Amazon offering of 6,500 bottles of Pepsi Perfect (identical in appearance to the bottles seen in the movie), confusion arose as to when sales of the product were to begin on Oct. 21. Sales of some of the bottles apparently began early according to news accounts, catching many collectors unawares. Given the much higher visibility of the Back to the Future movie trilogy, it is likely that the numbers of upset collectors were much higher than those shut out of recent U.S. Mint and Hot Wheels limited editions. The sellout certainly got a lot of attention from the media.

    What all of these recent sales show is that government and private manufacturers can anger their customers when sales methods allow products in hot demand to sell out early. Anger customers too often and they will stop buying the products, or so the unhappy customers say at forums.

    Many U.S. Mint customers want the Mint to stop imposing artificial mintage limits on special products and, instead, make them to order. Mattel does that with some Hot Wheels, producing them to the quantities ordered during a set sales period. But most of its special collector products are limited to editions of 2,500 to 4,000, and there are rarely enough to go around.

    If you’re a U.S. Mint customer who couldn’t buy one of the Coin and Chronicles set, you’re not alone. There’s a collector at the Hot Wheels site who knows exactly what you’re going through.

    Stories intertwine in Paris in the 19th century

    October 16, 2015 10:02 AM by
    In Paris in 1869, among the many Americans visiting there were two youths — Gus, a struggling artist barely into his 20s and Teedie, the sickly 11-year-old son of a family of aristocrats.

    It is unlikely that the two crossed paths that year in the City of Light. They came from vastly different worlds. The Irish-born Gus was an improvised art student of no particular brilliance, struggling to make a tiny income from cutting cameos. Teedie was a scion of a very wealthy New York family. Decades later, though, at the dawn of the 20th century, their lives would intersect when both were at the height of their careers, and brilliance would result from their collaboration: Augustus Saint-Gaudens was the pre-eminent American sculptor and Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States.

    The author-historian David McCullough in his book The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris tells the story of several generations of young American men and women who journeyed to Paris to learn and hone their talents in the most important city of the arts in the world.

    Roosevelt is only a minor figure in the book and his collaboration with Saint-Gaudens on the 1907 gold eagle and double eagle warrants a single sentence in the book’s Epilogue. The artist, though, is a central figure of the book, as McCullough relates how a poor art student became one of the greatest American artists of all time.

    Paris was temporarily home to many talented Americans in 19th century — Henry James, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson among them. In the 1890s, Saint-Gaudens would meet in Paris another young American artist, James Earle Fraser, whose sculpture The End of the Trail of a bedraggled Native American astride his horse during a blizzard led the older and now established artist to say, McCullough writes, “You haven’t done a man. You’ve done a race.” Fraser would later work in Saint-Gaudens’ studio and like his mentor would not only achieve greatness in traditional sculpture but also create a numismatic masterpiece — the Indian Head 5-cent coin — in what would be a period of American Renaissance of coinage design inaugurated by Roosevelt.

    When lives intertwine, the amazing can occur. 

    There’s no going back: U.S. Mint website is a permanent feature

    October 12, 2015 2:47 PM by

    I took a call from a reader a week ago who had some suggestions on improving how the United States Mint sells its limited edition products to ensure a fairer distribution.

    That’s a subject that has been on a lot of minds lately, in the wake of superfast sellouts of the 2015 Truman and Eisenhower Coin and Chronicles sets, and complaints by some collectors that certain retailers were finding ways to circumvent the Mint’s household limits.

    The caller was recommending a return to a time when the Mint sold all of its products through the mail, with the customer sending in an order form and a check. I have been a collector for a bit more than 50 years and remember the days when I would write my check for the annual Proof set and send it in with the Mint order form, and then wait six months or longer for delivery. A lot of our readers probably did the same in their youth in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

    The caller, however, was recommending a twist on this old practice. He suggested that the Mint set a purchase deadline for limited edition sets, hold all orders received until the deadline, then randomly draw “winners” until all of the sets are awarded to the lucky customers.

    The collector was no Luddite. He described his background as scientific, with experience in working for the Department of Defense. I suspect that other collectors of a certain age (my 60th birthday is already past, so I am in that age group) would embrace this idea.

    Abandoning the Mint website for mail sales will never happen. There’s no going back.

    Online sales are not a wave of the future. They are how business is done today. The U.S. Mint can’t go back to the sales practices of a half century ago, any more than Amazon could suddenly announce it was closing down its website and was instead opening up brick and mortar stores nationwide. 

    Yes, online transactions are not perfect. We all face the possibility of identity theft. Buying a single product from a website can result in a flurry of junk email filling your inbox. But buying products and services online, including bidding in rare coin auctions and buying sets of coins from the U.S. Mint, is a permanent fixture of the marketplace. At least until the next technological achievement renders online buying obsolete (Star Trek “matter replicators,” maybe; we seem to be headed that way with 3-D printers).

    The real solution to fast sellouts and “unfair” distribution of limited edition sets is not a technological one, it’s a marketing one, as we have said in the past.

    Theme matters, but Congress doesn’t get that with commemorative coins

    September 26, 2015 4:10 PM by
    This has been said before, but it needs to be said again. Congress authorizes too many commemorative coins of limited appeal.
    Congress has limited itself to no more than two commemorative coin programs per calendar year since the late 1990s. That’s when wiser heads reined in Congress’ propensity to use collectors as cash cows for whatever project sought funding through the surcharges attached to the prices of commemorative coins. Still, that has not stopped the authorization of programs that were poor choices with little chance of broad collector/public support.
    Let’s look at the two 2015 coin programs. 
    The March of Dimes silver dollar celebrates a laudable theme: the eradication of polio from the United States. But laudable themes do not always translate to strong sales. Sales of the coin have been lackluster at best: as of Sept. 20, Mint customers had purchased 148,343 silver dollars out of a maximum mintage of 500,000 coins, 74,590 of the coins being in the March of Dimes Special Silver set. It is particularly disturbing that the strongest sales have been for the limited edition set (75,000), which contains a Proof March of Dimes silver dollar and two 2015 Roosevelt silver dimes bearing distinctive finishes. It is clear that the collector interest in the set was for the two dimes and not the silver dollar.
    The second coin program for the year marks the U.S. Marshals Service and offers a copper-nickel clad half dollar (maximum mintage of 750,000), a silver dollar (500,000 maximum), and a gold $5 half eagle (100,000 maximum). Sales as of Sept. 20 are not even close to those maximums: 98,140 half dollars, 148,325 dollars, and 29,494 half eagles.
    Clearly, neither program has drawn the attention of the public like the successful 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame program did; except for a few returns, that program’s gold coin and silver dollar both sold out, and the half dollar sold nearly 58 percent of its maximum. In contrast, sales of the 2014 Civil Rights silver dollar did not even reach 25 percent of
    the maximum.
    A commemorative coin program’s theme matters. Congress needs to remember that. 
    Collectors would be better served if the concept of surcharges was simply dropped. Then organizations would have less incentive to approach Congress for funding through commemorative coins sales. And then maybe Congress would, finally, authorize coin programs with themes that have a wide appeal.

    Unfortunately, the hobby no longer has a voice in Congress. Frank Annunzio is long gone and his spiritual descendant, Michael Castle, no long serves in the House. Getting change will be hard.

    But it is something to strive for.

    Transitional errors: Coins with a high coolness level that await discovery

    September 18, 2015 12:21 PM by

    ​Kennedy half dollars are back in the news, thanks to the discovery of a rare transitional error for the 1971-D Kennedy half dollar, as reported by Paul Gilkes.

    Transitional errors generally occur when a mint is making a change in composition. They have a coolness level that is hard to match, particularly since they can be found in circulation when the coin’s composition is in the process of being changed, or even discovered years later as with this newly reported piece. 

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    The most famous U.S. transitional errors are the 1943 Lincoln cents struck on copper-alloy planchets from 1942 rather than on the one-year-only zinc-coated steel planchets. Even some in the noncollecting public are at least vaguely aware of the 1943 errors, though many think the steel cent is the error and not the copper one.
    The period from 1964 to 1971 offered ample opportunity for the production of transitional errors for the dime, quarter dollar, and half dollar. The switch from 90 percent silver to copper-nickel clad for the dime and quarter dollar, while not popular with collectors, was a financial necessity. Since production of 1964 and 1965 coins continued well past the ends of those two calendar years, even concurrently, planchets of both compositions were on hand, and not surprisingly, coins of either date were struck on the wrong planchets.
    The transition of the half dollar was a two-step process. Silver proponents wanted a “prestige coin” to survive, so the half dollar’s alloy was switched to a silver-copper clad composition — with a reduction in silver content to 40 percent from 90 percent. Again, transitional errors became possible as this first switch was made.

    By 1970, however, silver’s value had risen to the level that even a content of 40 percent was not viable. The last half dollars struck for circulation in a silver alloy were the 1969-D coins. In 1970, no half dollars were struck for circulation, though the 40 percent silver composition was used for the 1970-D coin for the Uncirculated Mint set and for the 1970-S half dollar for that year’s Proof set. In 1971, when production of the denomination resumed for circulation, the half dollar was made of the same copper-nickel clad composition as the dime and quarter dollar.

    The discovery more than 40 years later of a 1971-D Kennedy half dollar presumably struck on a leftover 1970 silver-copper clad planchet is a reminder that great coins can still be found. 

    More from CoinWorld.com:

    Space-themed world coins more popular than ever

    ANACS certifies 1971-D Kennedy half dollar struck on silver planchet

    Weekly allocation of American Eagle silver bullion coins lowered

    Collecting the Peace dollar

    Transitional errors: Coins with a high coolness level that await discovery

    ‘Rocking Around the Clock’ making cents (big ‘whoops’ moment)

    September 14, 2015 8:25 AM by

    Sixty years ago this month, teens were rocking to Bill Haley and His Comets singing “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock” and Pat Boone’s “Ain’t That a Shame.” Dad and Mom were listening to Mitch Miller’s “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” In movie houses and at the drive-ins, moviegoers were watching William Holden woo Jennifer Jones in Love is a Many-Splendored Thing while in The Man From Laramie, Jimmy Stewart faced down a gunrunner selling rifles to the Apaches.

    In Nevada, at Yucca Flats, the U.S. military was continuing to study the damage done to “Survival Town” by a series of 14 atomic bomb blasts conducted during the previous spring.

    In the Northeast, residents were still cleaning up from Hurricane Diane, whose torrential rains in August had flooded vast swaths of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and New England, killing more than 180 people. 

    And 60 years ago, in the late summer or early fall of 1955, employees of the Philadelphia Mint made a series of blunders whose results still excite collectors six decades later. 

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    In the die shop of the Philadelphia Mint, an employee installing a partially hubbed obverse die failed to check the alignment with the hub. 

    The die sailed through the inspection process, somehow, and was installed in a press on the coining floor of the Mint. The facility was operating a 12-hour shift seven days a week to meet the huge demand for cents. A new 1-cent cigarette tax had just been enacted in Pennsylvania to pay for the damage from Diane.

    At the Mint, an employee checking the latest batch of cents finally noticed something was amiss with some of the coins, from one press, after about 40,000 had been struck. Approximately 24,000 of the cents from that production run were already mixed in with other cents. After some consideration, the Mint decided to ship the error cents that were mixed with the others, since the need for cents was so acute, but melt the rest. Not long after, collectors began to notice the odd-looking cents, many found tucked in cigarette packs.

    Happy birthday to the 1955 Lincoln, Doubled Die Obverse cent! 

    More from CoinWorld.com: 

    Application of edge devices differs between Enhanced Uncirculated 2014-D and 2015-W Native American dollars

    U.S. Mint gets shot at redemption: Monday Morning Brief, Sept. 14

    Seeking a different challenge for your collecting pursuits?: Q. David Bowers

    1933 double eagle sighting leads to eventual call from FBI office: Guest Commentary

    How one firm seeks to meet collectors' demand for limited-edition U.S. Mint products

    Mint needs new approaches for selling limited-edition products

    September 3, 2015 8:26 AM by
    In recent weeks we have commented on the botched — a harsh term, but accurate — marketing decisions behind the sales of the 2015 Truman and Eisenhower Coin and Currency sets. We won’t further belabor those points. Instead, let us look at the future. What steps can the Mint sales and marketing team take in the future to avoid angering their most loyal customers (collectors)?

    Many readers been have asking why the Mint didn’t make the sets to order. The Mint has done this previously; it struck the Matte Finish 1998-S Kennedy half dollar to order, and today the coin sells at a significant premium. This approach would give collectors and dealers equal opportunity to buy the products.

    If the Mint would prefer not taking that approach, then it needs to make informed decisions on the products it offers. The Mint sales and marketing team needs to talk with hobbyists at all levels before making final marketing decisions; had it done this prior to limiting the Truman and Eisenhower sets to editions of 17,000 each, officials would have likely understood that those numbers were woefully inadequate to meet consumer demand. 

    One resource the Mint could access pretty quickly is the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, which already advises the Mint on collector products. The CCAC has among its membership a number of knowledgeable collectors and professionals, so expand reliance on these experts and let them help. 

    In addition, the Mint needs to balance the twin needs of collectors and dealers. Mint staff must recognize that some dealers will circumvent household ordering limits by enlisting surrogate buyers. The Mint will likely never be able to stop this from happening, so it should offer products in a different way. It could, for example, offer a percentage of a particular product to bulk purchasers — maybe even without the elaborate packaging, for those resellers who plan to slab the products — while at the same time ensuring that the majority of the product is offered to collectors. For a product limited to 50,000 units, it could for the first week offer 20,000 sets in bulk quantities (say, units of 1,000) and the remainder in smaller numbers. Then, if the set remains available after a week of sales, lift all ordering restrictions (by that time, collectors will have had ample time to place their orders).

    The Mint makes a lot of products that a lot of collectors want. But to keep that collector base, it has to sell those products smarter. 

    Whodunnit: Mystery can add to a coin’s ‘value’

    August 24, 2015 3:58 PM by
    You have to love a good mystery, whether it’s Sam Spade and the Maltese Falcon, or Nate Heller investigating the Lindbergh kidnapping, or a numismatist trying to uncover the truth behind the issuance of a 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin, an 1884 and 1885 Trade dollar, or a restrike 1804 Draped Bust dollar.

    It’s no mystery that these coins have fascinated collectors ever since they were first discovered and sold by a dealer to a well-heeled collector. Each of the coins is rare, and when one appears on the auction block, all eyes are on the auctioneer. The pedigree of any of the coins invariably reads like a list of the best-known collectors of all time. But what do we know about them?

    Our cover feature this issue by Bill Eckberg tells some of the “shady stories” behind these great coins, or as Bill would insist, “coins.” The quote marks are essential punctuation because, he writes, “it’s easy to forget that some of the rarest, priciest and most ‘significant’ rare coins aren’t really coins at all.” The four coins described earlier were all issued without sanction or authority, many numismatists believe; they certainly were not struck for circulation. But for most collectors, that lack of an official stamp doesn’t matter; these are great coins, and just about anyone reading this piece would love to own any one of them.

    Even if a collector can’t afford to own one of these coins, there is enjoyment in just looking at them. The just concluded American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money had many great rarities on display at its Museum Showcase, which never wanted for an audience of collectors eager to catch a glimpse of the ANA’s 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin and 1804 Draped Bust dollar (and other great rarities as well).

    The mysterious origins of coins like the Class II and III 1804 dollars (the restrikes) and 1913 Liberty Head “nickels” enhance each coin’s value. Some other U.S. coins are rarer than the 1804 dollar (which has a sizeable population of 15 counting all three classes), and yet they bring lower prices because they lack the same level of “mystery.”

    More-modern coins also have an air of mystery surrounding them, like the quarter dollar/dollar mule of 2000 (how could the Mint make three different die pairs of these coins?), that someday may rank right up there with the older rarities.
    So, what is your favorite mystery? 

    Repeat performance: Collectors angry over Eisenhower sellout

    August 17, 2015 10:10 AM by
    Collectors are not happy with the superfast sellouts of the first two Coin and Chronicles sets for 2015. The Dwight D. Eisenhower set sold out within approximately 15 minutes on Aug. 11, according to U.S. Mint officials. The rapid sellout was a repeat of the experiences with the Harry S. Truman product, which also sold out in about 15 minutes when it went on sale June 30. 

    Within 15 minutes of the sellout, I received a phone call from an upset reader who was unsuccessful in obtaining one of the sets. His experience, he said, was enough to lead him to decide to not even bother attempting to purchase the remaining two 2015 Coin and Chronicles sets. Shortly afterward, the email began to flood my Inbox. The email did not stop; it seemed like every time I opened my email on my iPad while attending the ANA World's Fair of Money, another one or two emails about the set awaited. Not a single email was 100 percent positive; most were 100 percent negative.

    Several broad points were made repeatedly in the emails: (1) The 17,000-set edition was too small for the demand. (2) Many collectors experienced website difficulties, with some customers making it all the way to checkout at the Mint's website only to be denied their set. (3) There's a perception among many collectors that a few dealers snapped up the bulk of the sets in order to resell them at huge profits; several readers cited claims they say were made by a television retailer of coins that the firm had acquired 6,000 to 7,000 of the sets. (4) Customers are tired of a system that to them seems to prefer deep-pocket dealers wanting thousands of the sets to small-time collectors wanting one or two sets.

    Interest in the two sets was clearly driven by the Reverse Proof Truman and Eisenhower dollars, both of which are unique to their respective sets. The Presidential dollar program has its followers in the collecting community, and since the mind-set of many collectors is completeness, the popularity of the coins is not surprising.

    In establishing an edition size, the Mint’s marketing team has to walk a tightrope between two potentially uneven towers — one tower representing demand and another representing edition size. If the towers are too unbalanced, the tightrope walker will also be unbalanced and fall. Making sure the rope is balanced between towers of equal height is important.

    For the Truman and Eisenhower Coin and Chronicles sets, the edition size was clearly too small. The Mint could easily have sold additional sets without clogging the marketplace with sets no one wanted.

    The Mint also got household limits wrong, in the view of many collectors. They tell us that the limit should have been one per household from the start, and not five or even two.

    For some collectors, sales like the two Coin and Chronicles sets are enough to make them question their loyalty to the United States Mint. Mint officials need to remember that risk when contemplating future product offerings. 

    Over the weeks to come, we'll revisit the subject and offer some suggestions on how future programs might be improved.

    Smithsonian Institution exhibit reviews the concept of money

    July 24, 2015 1:19 PM by

    ​The National Numismatic Collection is one of this nation’s great treasures and its new exhibit “The Value of Money” showcases items that trace the concept of money from its earliest origins to today’s digital currencies.

    The concept of money is a powerful one, representing as it does the idea that various media are considered to hold value, whether that value be based on some imagined intrinsic value or simply faith in the issuer of the money.  For those of us in the collecting community, money takes on special meaning as something to be collected for artistic and historical worth.

    The word “money” itself is ancient, believed to have originated in a temple to the goddess Juno, situated on Capitoline, one of Rome’s famous seven hills. A Juno Moneta temple at Rome is believed to have been a mint. Roman coinage, of course, counts among the earliest coins, preceded by the first true coins issued in Lydia and by the earliest Greek coins, plus various coin-like objects issued in China.

    The new exhibit of the National Numismatic Collection at the Museum of American History helps explain money — what it is, how it arose, how different cultures view different things as having value, of being “money.”

    The concept of what has value can differ among cultures. Take a simple thing like a rock.

    If you show someone who grew up in a Western culture a round piece of rock with a central hole and tell him that it that it is money, he’s likely to scoff and say that it’s just a rock. Show the same Westerner another rock and point out the threads of gold running through it, and he’ll probably agree that this rock has value, simple because of the mineral running through it. On Yap Island in the Pacific Ocean, the results would likely be reversed. The resident of Yap would prize the round stone as money and very possibly view the rock containing the gold as having no real value.

    Both cultures have identified different rocks as having value, as being money; it’s all a matter of perspective about a particular physical object.

    However, money no longer has to be a physical object — a coin, a Federal Reserve note, a piece of Yap money or a gold nugget. Increasingly, digital forms of money are growing in acceptance.

    Consider Bitcoin, a form of money or exchange  that exists primarily in the digital universe. Bitcoins are nothing more than bits and bytes, and yet they are now being used as money. Bitcoin is the logical next step in money, the child of credit cards and online payments through your bank; none of these involve physical exchanges of a coin or note to complete a transaction, and yet most of us are perfectly content with using such payment methods as money.

    The Smithsonian exhibit, of course, has a lot that appeals to traditionalists — 1804 dollars, gold coins and paper money, and more. For the noncollector, “The Value of Money” exhibit helps viewers understand the many concepts of money, from a Yap Island stone, to a traditional coin, to a credit card.

    More from CoinWorld.com:

    Images of gold coin hoard discovered in Germany released by museum

    Collecting gold dollars: Q. David Bowers

    United States Mint releases approved designs for 2016 America the Beautiful quarter dollars

    Metal detectorist discovers Nazi-era gold coin hoard

    Household ordering limit set at 50 for American Liberty, High Relief $100 gold coin

    Keep up with all of CoinWorld.com's news and insights by signing up for our free eNewslettersliking us on Facebook, and following us on Twitter. We're also on Instagram!

    ANA World's Fair of Money: The center of the collecting universe

    July 22, 2015 12:49 PM by
    The summer hobby doldrums should end with the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont, Ill., Aug. 11 to 15.

    The late spring and early summer are often quiet times in the collecting community: many take vacations starting after the end of school, and in families where the collecting gene wasn’t passed along to the children, collecting pursuits are left at home. Hobby business can drop off for some firms and the auctions and shows conducted during this period are usually smaller affairs. Collectors, however, whip out their loupes and update their want lists as the ANA’s annual summer show approaches.

    Rosemont will again become the center of the numismatic universe for a full week, with abundant opportunities for collectors and dealers alike. ANA officials have anchored its summer convention at this northern suburb of Chicago in recent years, viewing the centrally located site as a good one, with easy airport access, sizeable convention center space, and ample hotel accommodations.

    If you’ve never attended an ANA show, you really should consider treating yourself. Here’s what you can expect this year:

    There’s the hobby business that will be contracted at the convention, of course, on what is traditionally the largest numismatic bourse of the year and at the many auctions to be held in conjunction with the show. Chances are excellent that you will find something for your collection.

    Then there are the many educational opportunities. The ANA and other clubs conduct numerous educational forums, most of which are free and open to the public. Topics this year range from “Aksumite Coinage” to “Lincoln in Numismatics.”

    Many mints private and government will be on hand to showcase their numismatic collector products and even sell their latest creations. However, don’t expect the U.S. Mint to have a major show release like the 2014-W Kennedy gold half dollar issued to great excitement and disruption in 2014.
    Finally, there’s the social aspect of a large coin show, where friends can gather to share their hobby experiences and renew acquaintances.

    Much of the Coin World staff will be present at the show. I will be there from Thursday through Saturday; please stop by the Coin World booth and say hello.  

    The saga of the 1933 double eagles is our Jarndyce v. Jarndyce

    July 9, 2015 4:44 PM by

    The ongoing legal tussle between the federal government and the Langbord family is starting to feel like the celebrated Jarndyce v. Jarndyce case that is the focal point of the novel Bleak House

    Charles Dickens’ fictional lawsuit involves a large inheritance, not unlike the case involving the 1933 double eagles, though the case in the novel lasted generations before its conclusion. In contrast, the current case involving the 1933 double eagles is merely 12 years old, starting in 2003 when the Langbords revealed the discovery of 10 of the coins and the Mint announced that it was keeping them.

    Still, Coin World has been reporting on legal cases involving ownership of 1933 double eagles for more than a generation. In 1996, one of the coins was recovered from a British coin dealer in a sting operation. The dealer and the government fought a legal battle until 2001, when both parties agreed to a public sale of the coin with the proceeds to be split 50–50 between the two; the sale occurred in 2002.


    And several decades before that, collectors, dealers, and the government fought over 10 other 1933 double eagles sold into the marketplace by the now-deceased father and grandfather of the three Langbords involved in the current case. The earlier cases began in 1944 and did not end until 1952, when a ninth coin was surrendered by its owner, and 1954, when the 10th coin, purported to be the piece sold in 2002, was withdrawn from the collection of Egypt’s King Farouk and went into hiding.


    If one considers 1944 as the true starting date for the current battle, it truly is becoming the hobby’s Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. 

    Underestimating demand for sets frustrating to Mint’s customers

    July 2, 2015 12:13 PM by

    ​When the U.S. Mint underestimates public demand for one of its products, collectors are quick to feel frustrated. When it happens twice in less than a week, the frustration doubles, not only for the collecting community but for Mint officials as well, as evidenced in back-to-back public comments by the Mint.

    Collectors were first frustrated on June 25 when the Jackie Kennedy First Spouse gold coins went on sale and were quickly placed in back-order status. Then sales began at noon June 30 for the Harry S. Truman Coin and Chronicles set, and ended after 15 minutes. When sales ended,16,780 sets had been sold from a maximum edition of 17,000 sets.

    The popularity of both products clearly caught United States Mint officials off-guard.

    In a June 30 statement, officials addressed the Jackie Kennedy First Spouse gold coin: “The Mint underestimated the initial demand for the 2015 First Spouse Series One-Half Ounce Gold Coins – Jacqueline Kennedy and, unfortunately, the products went on back order very quickly after sales started.”

    A day later, the Mint publicly commented on the Truman set (which contains the first-ever Reverse Proof Presidential dollar), noting that the edition size of 17,000 was based on sales of prior sets (lacking a Reverse Proof coin). The Franklin D. Roosevelt set, which went on sale Dec. 22, 2014, “had sold only 13,255 units as of June 29, 2015,” out of a maximum edition of 20,000 sets, the Mint noted in its comments. In contrast, the Truman set sold a “total of 16,780 sets ... in approximately 15 minutes.”
    Predicting the popularity of a future product can be difficult, and basing maximum mintages on past sales of similar products is a reasonable approach — usually. However, the addition of a Reverse Proof Truman Presidential dollar, a significant change, made the Mint’s prediction of those sales lacking.
    It is also reasonable for the Mint to factor in the popularity of a coin’s subject or theme. Mint officials did predict that demand for the gold coin depicting the popular Jackie Kennedy likely would be greater than for the other 2015 First Spouse coins and increased the maximum mintage to 30,000 (the other 2015 coins have maximums of 10,000 each). 
    One has to feel for Mint officials, having to face customer criticism twice in such short order. However, officials can use these experiences in any future product planning. 

    More from CoinWorld.com:

    Policy by eBay exempts some numismatic items from Confederate flag ban

    1970-S Lincoln, Small Date cent discovery a keeper: Found in Rolls

    Where did the Proof Jackie Kennedy coins go?

    Legislation calls for commemorative coins celebrating 50th anniversary of Apollo 11

    2015-W American Liberty, High Relief $100 gold coin goes on sale July 30

    Keep up with all of CoinWorld.com's news and insights by signing up for our free eNewslettersliking us on Facebook, and following us on Twitter. We're also on Instagram!

    It is rocket science: Honor Apollo 11 with commemorative coins

    June 26, 2015 12:27 PM by

    Ever since the rebirth of U.S. commemorative  coinage in 1982, Congress and the United States Mint have created both winners and losers in the various programs and designs they have served up to collectors. For every American Buffalo silver dollar program with its fast sellout, there’s been a Girl Scouts of America program that sold so few coins that surcharges could not be paid out. For every beautiful Dolly Madison silver dollar, there’s been an unimaginative Seoul Olympiad silver dollar.

    The keys to a successful commemorative coin program are twofold. First, select a subject sure to capture the imagination of the coin collecting community; that’s the responsibility of Congress, which authorizes the coin programs. Second, create designs that are gorgeous and innovative and exciting; the U.S. Mint is chiefly responsible here though Congress can also play a major role.

    H.R. 2726, the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act, could be one of those wildly successful programs. The subject matter of the program — commemoration of the 50th anniversary of mankind’s greatest technological achievement, landing men on the moon — is an obvious choice. Failure to issue coins commemorating the Apollo 11 astronauts and the thousands of men and women at NASA and the many private contractors who ran the Apollo program would be a grave disservice.

    The program could also be a winner in terms of designs as well. As Coin World editor-at-large Steve Roach writes in his Page One article, one of the bill’s provisions calls for “super-sized silver commemorative coins” — a maximum of 100,000 Proof 5-ounce .999 fine silver dollars struck on a 3-inch-diameter planchet similar to the 5-ounce America the Beautiful quarter dollars. “In addition, the bill calls for the program’s coins to use curved surfaces similar to coins from the U.S. Mint’s popular 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative program,” Steve writes.

    Furthermore, the legislation requires the coins to “be produced in a fashion similar to the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame 75th Anniversary Commemorative Coin, so that the reverse of the coin is convex to more closely resemble the faceplate of the astronaut’s helmet of the time and the obverse concave, providing a more dramatic display of the obverse design.”
    The U.S. Mint has shown it is capable of producing a 3-inch 5-ounce .999 fine silver coin and striking coins with concave and convex designs. A marriage of the two achievements could yield incredible results.
    Let’s start the countdown clock to 2019 now. T-minus four years and counting. 

    More from CoinWorld.com:

    Policy by eBay exempts some numismatic items from Confederate flag ban

    1970-S Lincoln, Small Date cent discovery a keeper: Found in Rolls

    Where did the Proof Jackie Kennedy coins go?

    Legislation calls for commemorative coins celebrating 50th anniversary of Apollo 11

    2015-W American Liberty, High Relief $100 gold coin goes on sale July 30

    Keep up with all of CoinWorld.com's news and insights by signing up for our free eNewslettersliking us on Facebook, and following us on Twitter. We're also on Instagram!

    Coins and notes as snapshots of history

    June 22, 2015 9:56 AM by
    Coins and paper money are snapshots in America’s photo album, capturing turning points and other events in our history. That’s the message in Coin World senior editor Jeff Starck’s cover feature the July Coin World Monthly issue. It’s also part of the message in the article by our paper money contributor, Art Friedberg, on a decision to depict a woman on the $10 federal Reserve note in 2020.

    Art writes about the decision by Treasury officials regarding the $10 Federal Reserve note: “Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew decided that the new $10 note should feature a woman who was a champion for our inclusive democracy. The note is scheduled to be introduced in 2020, in time to mark the centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. In a new twist, the Secretary is asking for the public’s views to help guide the design process.”

    As readers of Coin World and the general media know, advocates of depicting a woman on the $20 note to replace Andrew Jackson have been very vocal this year. And while Lew’s decision affects the $10 note — already scheduled for a design upgrade in 2020 — and not the $20, it appears that democracy is alive and well, as men and women, boys and girls, all came together to change history. We don’t yet know who will appear on the note that now depicts Alexander Hamilton, but it will be someone who did much to change our shared history.

    Coins serve in the same manner, as Jeff writes in his feature: “Coins not only serve as a medium of exchange, but as a record of a nation’s growth, and American coinage, when viewed in the proper context, can tell a fascinating story of the moments, milestones and turning points that help define this nation. In this sense, coins can serve as a lens to focus on American history.”

    Those of us who share a love of coins and paper money and all things numismatic can appreciate the beauty of the things we collect.

    But we can also appreciate the lessons these objects teach. Coins tell stories if you will only listen. So does paper money; so do medals and tokens.

    As you collect, take time to listen to what these records of our past are saying. Think about the times reflected in the dates on the coins and the eras depicted. Appreciate these snapshots of history.

    Summer vacation doesn't have to mean leaving collecting fun behind

    June 12, 2015 1:48 PM by
    Summer is nearly here, and for collectors, that can mean a brief relaxation of their collecting activities. 

    Longtime collectors and dealers know that the hobby often takes something of a breather in the early summer. Families, with the children out of school, often use this time for vacations.

    The marketplace can also take a breather

    This year, like many years, the appearance of important auctions, while not completely halted, has slowed somewhat. Conventions and coin shows, too, are on something like a break, with the Whitman Baltimore Expo in July merely whetting the appetite for the larger American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money near Chicago in August, when the hobby and marketplace should resume its normal pace.

    Still, collectors taking vacation in the weeks ahead need not take a complete break from their hobby. Vacation destinations often offer the collector in the family ample opportunities to sate their collecting needs.

    Collectors visiting the nation’s capital, for example, have several hobby-related sites that even noncollectors can enjoy. 

    The Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s main facility in Washington, D.C., offers a tour taking in the production of Federal Reserve notes; tickets to the tour often are snapped up fast, so families should plan their stop at the nation’s money factory early. (And if your vacation takes you to Texas, the BEP’s Western Satellite Facility, also offering public tours, is located outside Forth Worth.)

    The Smithsonian Institution in Washington offers numerous different museums; a family could easily spend a week at the Air and Space Museum, the American Art Museum, the American Indian Museum, the African American History and Culture Museum, and the American History Museum. This last museum should really appeal to the collector, since that’s where the National Numismatic Collection is housed. Better yet, starting July 1, the new Gallery of Numismatics and the inaugural exhibition, The Value of Money, opens at the museum, making the museum a must-stop for visitors to the District of Columbia.

    Visitors to other cities will often find hobby-related stops beckoning as well. In the City of Brotherly Love, the Philadelphia Mint offers public tours. Visitors in Colorado will find both the Denver Mint and the ANA Museum in Colorado Springs well worth the stops.

    But when August gets here, the nation’s numismatists will head to the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Ill., where the ANA will hold its World’s Fair of Money from Aug. 11 to 15. An amazing bourse floor with numismatic collectibles of all kinds will await showgoers, as will educational events and exhibits, and more.

    Summer is here and the collecting is fine (or Extremely Fine). 

    What summer hobby activities do you have planned?

    Rolling Stones concert surprise source of half dollars in change

    June 8, 2015 4:01 PM by

    Coin World senior editor Paul Gilkes’ recent blog about receiving a Kennedy half dollar in change at a concession stand at a rock concert and his news article in this issue about increased circulating coinage production are connected, however tenuously. 

    Paul writes in his blog (http://goo.gl/DQSZrC), “Despite being Coin World ‘s senior editor for U.S. coins, I haven’t seen a Kennedy half dollar in circulation or received one in change for years. That is, until May 30, in, of all places, Ohio Stadium, home to the national champion Ohio State Buckeyes football team.”

    He wasn’t attending a Buckeyes game (wrong time of the year) but a concert given by a bunch of old weathered guys in a little rock n’ roll band that you may or may not have heard of before — the Rolling Stones.
    The musicians weren’t tossing the half dollars to the crowd, exactly, as Paul explains about his encounter at the concert concession stand.

    “All of the food and drink items were priced in even dollar amounts or in 50-cent increments,” Paul writes, adding, “I was actually slightly dumbfounded when the concession worker handed me a well-circulated 1972 Kennedy half dollar in change.”

    Paul is always the reporter so he asked the cashier why they were using half dollars; the worker explained that because all of the food and drinks sold at the concession stand were priced in 50-cent increments, all change was handed back in half dollars.

    A niche market for half dollars doesn’t get any “nich-ier” than a Rolling Stones concert concession stand in Columbus, Ohio.

    The Kennedy half dollar has been a niche coin for decades, used increasingly infrequently in circulation. As Paul explains in his news article at the top of page 5 this week about the Denver and Philadelphia Mints rising up to meet increased circulating coinage demand, half dollars are no longer struck for circulation. In fact, that last happened in 2001 when the Rolling Stones was a boy band, when Mick and Charlie and Ron and Keith were mere youths in their late 50s.

    During their current Zip Code tour of North America, the Stones have been selling out and rocking the house with their classic tunes, including 1968’s “Sympathy for the Devil” and the lament, “Who killed the Kennedys,” about the hoarding of the half dollar; and 1969’s gold digger tune, “You Got the Silver.”

    And the Stones didn’t forget their trio of classics about the woes of cracking out half dollars for resubmission to the grading services: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Tumbling Dice” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

    Finally, they brought the house down with tunes from the days when they dabbled in questionable personal forms of coin alteration: “Under My Thumb,” “Paint It, Black,” and “She’s a Rainbow.”

    Seriously, though, the half dollar still can serve commerce even in these highly specialized transactions. You may even get one in change some day; time is on your side.

    More from CoinWorld.com:

    How one group is putting $100,000 in dollar and half dollar coins into circulation

    Donald G. Partrick Collection auctions postponed at consignor's request

    Collector discovers new variety for 1896 Indian Head cents

    Stack’s Bowers Galleries announces coins to be offered in Pogue II sale in September

     Rolling Stones concert surprise source of half dollars in change

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    It’s the Golden Age of Numismatic Literature, so Go read a book

    June 1, 2015 8:59 AM by

    Joel Orosz’s “Numismatic Bookie” column this week poses an interesting challenge: “This month, let’s play ‘Desert Island Numismatic Book,’ and choose a single volume we’d cherish if washed up on Gilligan’s Isle.”

    Given some time to think about it, we’d all likely be able to select one book to take with us while stranded on a desert isle. 
    Which brings us to this important point.
    In all of the excitement over auctions of major named collections like Partrick, Newman, Gardner and Pogue, or the scramble to acquire the United States Mint’s latest must-have limited edition offering, it is easy to overlook what is arguably one of the most important segments of our community: numismatic literature.
    Numismatic books, auction catalogs, price lists and price guides, Mint reports and other forms of literature all play vital roles in telling the story of our hobby. And recently, numismatic literature has soared to new heights. If 1907 to 1921 was the Golden Age of  U.S. Coin Design, the last decade or so has been the Golden Age of Numismatic Literature. 
    As I look at the bookshelves in the Coin World offices and reference library, and my own personal library at home, I marvel at the breadth and depth of hobby literature today.
    Researcher-writers like Joel Orosz, Q. David Bowers, Roger Burdette, Philip Mossman, Fred Reed, Roger Siboni, John Howes, A. Buell Ish, John Adams, Anne Bentley, Leonard Augsburger and a host of others have produced a remarkable body of work in this century.
    And then there are the catalogers who have produced incredible catalogs for dozens of auctions of collections big and small. 
    Traditional publishers like Whitman and auction firms such as Heritage and Stack’s Bowers Galleries, too, deserve credit for publishing books on increasingly specialized series: If you collect only Peace dollars, there’s a book for that series. How about a book on the 1822 Capped Head half eagle or Draped Bust half dollars of 1796 and 1797?
    Yes, they exist.
    If you will excuse me, I need to go read a book.

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    Mega-collection auction catalog offers more than just rare coins

    May 27, 2015 2:07 PM by
    The first auction of the D. Brent Pogue Collection is now history and collectors are beginning to review the results for the 128 silver and gold coins sold May 19.

    The auction brought more than $25 million — that’s an average of about $195,000 per coin.

    Of course, not all of the coins sold for six-figure prices. Some of the coins sold for well under $10,000, and one for less than $5,000. Still, for many collectors, even these prices exceeded their annual collecting budgets.

    Should a collector on a limited budget feel marginalized when so much attention is focused on mega-collections like that assembled by Brent Pogue with mega-coins bringing mega-prices? Absolutely not.

    The auction catalog created by Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Sotheby’s for the auction is a well-researched, well-written work of numismatic literature, and it is available free as a download at http://goo.gl/wzMVDV

    Every collector should seek out the Pogue catalog and make it part of their library. It will offer many hours of reading pleasure.

    You will discover, for example, the cataloger explores the concept of a “Specimen coin” in writing about the second coin offered in the auction, a gorgeous 1794 Flowing Hair half dime. In just 100 words or so, the catalog deftly reviews what collectors and dealers have long known — that a few 18th century coins show signs of being struck with special care, or in the words of the cataloger, “that particular forethought must have been involved in their creation.” The catalog is filled with insights like this on virtually every page.

    Yes, most of us can’t afford a six-figure coin, but we can all enjoy reading about them and learning something new and exciting. 

    Transitions are always occurring, but one thing remains constant

    May 11, 2015 1:54 PM by

    Life is all about transitions. We all undergo changes in our lives.

    I have been thinking about transitions a lot recently. The cover feature in the May Coin World Monthly was about the Coinage Act of 1965, ushering in the transition of silver coinage to clad coinage. I started collecting then, and have fond memories of searching through change at every opportunity — through the library fines paid to me as a volunteer in Margaretta Middle School by fellow students and at my first paying job, at the K&S Dairy Bar across the street from the entrance to the world-famous Blue Hole in Castalia, Ohio.
    More recently, I have thought about all of the transitions I’ve experienced during more than 38 years as a Coin World staff member. Margo Russell, the editor who called me to offer me a job interview in the fall of 1976, passed away in January. I recently met with her two daughters and we had fun reminiscing about those long-ago days and the many talented people who worked on the editorial staff decades ago.
    A few days ago, Margo’s successor as editor, Beth Deisher, stopped in to use the library to research an upcoming “From the Memory Bank” column. We discussed how the 1980s, when U.S. commemorative coins were reborn, is now ancient history to many younger collectors. Many of those collectors weren’t alive and don’t recall the era when the United States Mint sold collectors an annual Proof set and an annual Uncirculated Mint set and maybe a few medals, but nothing more.
    I also thought of the many changes Steve Roach, our editor-in-chief who just stepped into the editor-at-large position — a step that will enable him to continue writing for us while at the same time pursuing new opportunities — helped bring about in moving Coin World from a print-only publication to a digital one. 
    Through all of the years I’ve spent here at Coin World, one force has driven everything that all of us here share — a love of coins and numismatics, a love of writing and editing and reporting.  
    Transitions will always be underway, but that love for the hobby will be undying.

    Commemorative coins honoring Mark Twain long overdue

    March 6, 2015 4:39 PM by

    What would Mark Twain think about being depicted on the 2016 commemorative coins that will honor him for his immense contributions to American literature?


    I think he would be amused, and he was vain enough that he would also be a bit pleased.

    Twain is the first American chosen for depiction on U.S. commemorative coinage to receive the honor because of his literary contributions.

    SEE THE COIN DESIGNS: Part 1: Gold obverses — Part 2: Gold reverses — Part 3: Silver obverses — Part 4: Silver reverses

    Congress has honored dozens of politicians and military leaders and athletes and Civil Rights advocates on our commemorative coinage, and some of them made their own literary contributions. But never before has Congress honored anyone whose primary claim to fame is that he was a writer.

    And what a writer.

    Twain was the quintessential American writer and humorist. His Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is considered one of the greatest works of American literature; it can be read on multiple levels (I first encountered it as a very young child, and have read it multiple times since, gaining new appreciation every time). Life on the Mississippi beautifully captures the river that played such a major role in Twain’s life. Roughing It includes his hilarious experiences as a prospector and miner in the Nevada mining region (he failed spectacularly, and had to turn to writing to survive — fortunately for the literary world). His time travel story, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, predates H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine by many years, and is so much funnier than Wells’ dystopian tale.

    His shorter works, too, are often wonderful, including “The £1,000,000 Bank Note,” which tells of the troubles resulting from disputes over ownership of a very high denomination Bank of England note.

    Twain’s influence on American humorists cannot be overstated. All modern humorists owe a great debt to him. If he were alive today, he would likely have his own television show like Stephen Colbert and John Stewart. He would be just as biting and funny as any of these modern-day commentators. And like those two very funny men on their TV programs, Twain, when he was a reporter, blurred the lines between facts and fantasy. His early newspaper writings, what turned Sam Clemens into Mark Twain, would fit right in on Saturday Night Live’s news brief, or the monologues read by Colbert or Stewart.

    In addition to being amused and maybe a bit proud at appearing on a coin, Twain would also recognize the irony of depicting him on coinage bearing the national motto “In God We Trust.”

    Twain said this about the motto’s use on coinage, in a speech he gave May 14, 1908:

    “Some years ago on the gold coins we used to trust in God. It think it was in 1863 that some genius suggested that it be put on the gold and silver coins which circulated among the rich. They didn't put it on the nickels and coppers because they didn't think the poor folks had any trust in God. ... If I remember rightly, the President required or ordered the removal of that sentence from the coins. Well, I didn't see that the statement ought to remain there. It wasn't true. But I think it would better read, ‘Within certain judicious limitations we trust in God,’ and if there isn't enough room on the coin for this, why enlarge the coin.

    On the basic facts, Twain’s comments were a fairly accurate recapitulation of the history of the motto’s use on coinage.

    He was a little off on the date, of course. The motto’s origins trace to an 1861 letter from a minister to the Treasury secretary and it didn’t appear on a coin until the release of the bronze 2-cent coin in 1864. But he was pretty close otherwise.

    The president being referenced was Theodore Roosevelt, and Twain was right; TR demanded that the motto not be used on the new gold coins designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens for issuance in 1907. Of course, about the time Twain was making his speech, Congress was overriding Roosevelt’s decision by ordering the use of the motto on the coinage. And the lesser coins mentioned by Twain — the nickels and coppers — they, too, would gain the motto a few years later as new designs were issued to replace the old “godless” coins.

    Twain’s appearance on American coinage is long overdue. And it is very welcome.



    Change sometimes seems unfair if you're on the wrong side of it

    February 20, 2015 3:18 PM by
    ​A pair of telephone calls I received from readers recently brought to mind how much the coin marketplace has changed in the more than 38 years I have spent on the Coin World staff. I am not talking about changes to grading standards nor about the massive increases in products offered by the United States Mint. I am referring to changes in how coins are bought and sold.

    The phone calls were similar in nature. One reader described seeing what, as best as I could determine, was a privately “enhanced” American Eagle silver bullion coin being sold by one dealer. The other caller was interested in a medal offered by a private minter. Each caller wanted a phone number for the merchant offering the item he was interested in purchasing. For each caller, I dutifully ascertained who they wanted to contact and then went online to search for the merchant’s phone number. That’s when the same problem arose twice.

    The dealer offering the enhanced American Eagle operated a store through Amazon. The private minter similarly has a Web presence where he sells his creations. In neither case could I find a telephone number for the caller. Both companies appeared to transact all business online; neither operated a brick-and-mortar shop and neither took orders over the phone, at least from what I could tell through my quick searches online for the readers.And that was a problem for each of the two readers, because neither has personal online access.

    When I joined the Coin World staff in 1976, most business between dealer and collector was conducted in person at a coin shop or at a coin show; or through the mail or by a phone number appearing in an ad (by the way, some of the earliest coin dealer ads bearing phone numbers date to about 1911). Collectors ordered their annual Proof set or Uncirculated Mint set by mail, paying by check and using the form the Bureau of the Mint mailed to them as Mint customers.

    The introduction of the World Wide Web changed all that, as coin dealers and the U.S. Mint began conducting an increasing amount of their business at their new websites as the 20th century closed. While some collectors quickly embraced being able to order coins online, many of Coin World’s readers hated the change.

    That became very clear with the Mint’s sale of the 2001 American Buffalo commemorative silver dollar. The program sold out in two weeks, and a popular set containing one of the coins sold out in a matter of hours. Some readers accustomed to waiting for their Mint catalog or order form to arrive in the mail, so they could order the commemoratives by return mail,found that the coin had sold out before they could even place their order.

    Of the many phone calls Coin World received, a common thread was heard in many of them. Readers without online access — many of them longtime Mint customers who had happily bought Mint products by mail for decades  — said it was unfair that they were shut out of being able to acquire the coins just because they lacked online access.

    Today, much of the numismatic business is conducted online.Collectors and dealers can bid on auction lots online, and order coins at dealer or Mint websites.

    Some dealers, as we have seen, now transact all of their business online, whether it is through Amazon or eBay or at their own websites.They do not offer potential customers an alternative means of purchase.

    Collectors today without online access are in the same predicament that others found themselves in when on the traditional side of technological change. Farmers who relied on horse-drawn equipment could notwork their fields as quickly and efficiently as farmers using tractors, whether powered by steam or internal combustion engines. The Pony Express lasted just a short while, its once fast delivery of letters overtaken by telegraph wires that stretched from coast to coast and to every city, town and village.

    Change may seem unfair sometimes. Some collectors cannot afford a computer or smart phone or tablet with online access; others may feel they are too set in their ways to embrace the new technologies. Because of the lack of access, the two recent callers to Coin World may find themselves unable to purchase the coin and medal they wanted.But change happens, and very often, it benefits those who embrace that change.

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    Mint to issue another Reverse Proof coin

    February 12, 2015 7:43 AM by

    The U.S. Mint caught the collector community off-guard Feb. 6 when it announced that it would be issuing two special 2015 Roosevelt silver dimes as part of a set to contain a Proof 2015-W March of Dimes silver dollar. 

    The Reverse Proof 2015-P Roosevelt dime to be in the set is a first for the denomination and the ninth Reverse Proof U.S. coin overall. 
    A collector could fairly easily create a mini-set or exhibit of Reverse Proof coins, though many are made from expensive platinum and gold. The mini-set contains (so far!):
    • A 2006-W American Eagle 1-ounce gold $50 coin.
    • A 2006-P American Eagle silver dollar.
    • A 2007-W American Eagle half-ounce platinum $50 coin.
    • A 2011-P American Eagle silver dollar.
    • A 2012-S American Eagle silver dollar.
    • A 2013-W American Eagle silver dollar.
    • A 2013-W American Buffalo 1-ounce gold $50 coin.
    • A 2014-W Kennedy silver half dollar.
    Mint officials have also said that collectors should expect additional Mint products with Reverse Proof coins in 2015, including a Reverse Proof set or sets to mark the 50th anniversary of the production of Proof coins at the San Francisco Mint. 
    The other silver dime in the March of Dimes set — a Proof 2015-W Roosevelt dime — is special, too. Until now, all standard Proof Roosevelt dimes were struck either at the Philadelphia Mint (1950 to 1964) or at the San Francisco Mint (1968 to date). The West Point Mint has struck Roosevelt dimes before, though: a 1996-W copper-nickel clad version included in the 1996 Uncirculated Mint set. 

    Is it Liberty, or is it Wonder Woman?

    January 22, 2015 2:49 PM by

    The United States Mint unveiled a slew of designs for its 2015 High Relief gold $75 coin on the afternoon of Jan. 22: eagles in various poses for the reverse and images of Liberty for the obverse.

    As Coin World’s Washington correspondent Bill McAllister has reported, the Commission of Fine Arts in its Jan. 22 review of the designs recommended two different obverse designs displaying the allegorical figure as Liberty, one showing a Liberty Head and the other a nearly full-length Liberty figure.

    The various Liberty portraits submitted for review encompass a wide range — some gorgeous and others that were much less attractive; some simple and others intricate.

    Some designs stand out above others.

    Two striking portraits of a Liberty Head figure depict her with decidedly African-American features — a bold choice in this increasingly diverse nation, and one which is recommended by the CFA. She wears wheat strands in her hair in both portraits, and both show her in three-quarters view, with one design showing a fraction more of her face than the other.

    Many of the depictions show standing portraits of Liberty,some from torso upward, with others showing the full length of her body. Depictions of flags, flaming torches, various plants, wings, shields and swords help support the central Liberty in her various portrayals. Think of Liberty as botanist, or Liberty as patriot, or Liberty as angel, or Liberty as peacemaker,or Liberty as the potential warrior.

    And then there’s Liberty as Wonder Woman. Yeah, Wonder Woman. The Mint’s 14th design shows a virtually full length portrait of Liberty, her hair held in place by a helmet, armor covering her torso, a sword in her right hand and a union shield being supported by her left hand. The design shows Liberty as Warrior Queen, or an Amazonian princess. Like I said,Wonder Woman.

    The design is clearly modeled after the Statue of Freedom that stands as guardian atop the U.S. Capitol dome, though somewhat modernized.And yet the figure also throws off this Wonder Woman vibe. True, she’s not wearing Wonder Woman’s classic costume (Google “Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman” if you’re uncertain of what that looks like).However, the character of Wonder Woman is sometimes shown in the comics wearing flowing robes similar to those worn by women in ancient Greece and Rome, and thus looks a lot like the design reviewed on Jan. 22.

    These comments should not be construed as criticism. Far from it, as the many Wonder Woman statues and figures and busts that grace the geek shelves of my home prove.

    To Americans, the allegorical figure of Liberty can represent many things. Why not Wonder Woman, who wears the red, white and blue of her adopted country?​

    Finding patterns in the Top 10 Stories of 2014

    December 31, 2014 12:18 PM by

    The year 2014 is now officially past, and Coin World tradition means that it is now time for the editorial staff to present to you its annual recap of the Top 10 Numismatic Stories of 2014.

    As in the past, editorial staff members met in mid-December to vote on the Top 10 stories they had covered in the past year. Everyone had an opportunity to present his or her choices, and then we voted on what we believed were the year’s most important stories. For the most part, the votes were not even close. Stories such as the release of the 2014-W Kennedy gold half dollar and the National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins were universal choices — no one on the staff disagreed that they were among our top stories for the year. 

    It should be noted, however, that we did not rank the stories from 1 to 10 in terms of importance. That is for our readers to decide.

    Read all of the Top 10 Stories of 2014 that have been posted so far

    Some patterns emerged this year, as they often do in each year’s list. Of the 10 stories deemed the year’s most important, four directly involved 2014 programs and initiatives of the United States Mint: the 50th Anniversary Kennedy half dollar program, the Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins, another record year for sales of the American Eagle 1-ounce silver bullion coin, and the Mint’s successful launch of its new website. Since most of our readers collect modern U.S. coins issued by the Mint, it should be no surprise that so many of our top stories have a close Mint connection

    Three other stories involved found treasure connected to the California Gold Rush: the Saddle Ridge Hoard of gold coins and the discovery of the 70-ounce gold Butte Nugget, both finds made in Gold Rush country, and the resumption of recovery of gold ingots, coins and more from the shipwreck of the SS Central America, which carried tons of California gold in its cargo bays when it was sunk in 1857. Treasure stories are always popular with readers and with the editorial staff, so it is rare when our annual recap of a year’s news does not feature one or more treasure stories.

    A seventh article has links to both treasure and the U.S. Mint: the revelation that a 1974-D Lincoln aluminum cent had been discovered (no one, including U.S. Mint officials, was even aware any of the experimental aluminum cents had been struck at the Denver Mint). 

    The remaining two articles are market driven: one is about the amazing number of major collections entering the marketplace in 2014 or being announced as coming to market in early 2015, and the other top article is about a series of record prices being set for ancient and more recent world coins.

    As with any “Top” list, room for disagreement exists. What do you think of our choices? Did we miss any major stories? Let us know your thoughts by emailing cweditor@coinworld.com and by commenting on our Coin World Facebook page.

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    A Thanksgiving surprise: U.S. Mint releases ‘humdrum’ set that isn’t

    December 8, 2014 5:04 PM by

    Twenty years after the U.S. Mint issued a set with a 1994-P Jefferson 5-cent coin bearing a special finish, and not revealing that the coin was special until after the set sold out, the Mint has done something remarkably similar.

    Coin World Senior Editor Paul Gilkes reports in this issue about the Mint’s surprise “sleeper set of the year”—the 2014 American $1 Coin and Currency set with an Enhanced Uncirculated 2014-D Native American dollar.

    RELATED VIDEO: An exciting end for 2014 Mint products

    When the Mint announced details of the set Nov. 13, it noted only that the coin had an “uncirculated finish." As one collector said, “Yawn. Someone tell me why this set exists.” 

    However, as collectors started examining Mint images of the set packaging, they noticed the words “Enhanced Uncirculated,” and when they started receiving their sets after sales began Nov. 20, the special finish was confirmed in the accompanying certificate of authenticity.

    The failure to announce ahead of the set’s release that the coin had a special finish was a rare misstep by the Mint’s Sales and Marketing staff, which in recent times has done a good job in promoting coins with special features.

    After Mint officials released additional details about the finish on the morning before Thanksgiving, Coin World and other media quickly published news of the coin’s nature. Customers then placed so many orders that by Dec. 1, the set was “out of stock” for several days before sales resumed.

    A 50,000-piece sales limit makes the Enhanced Uncirculated 2014-D Native American dollar the likely key date in the series. 

    In deciding whether to buy the 2014 set, collectors might want to look at current values for the aforementioned Matte Finish 1994-P Jefferson 5-cent coin and a similar Matte Finish 1997-P 5-cent coin. Both coins are among the highest priced pieces in the series since 1968.

    After a busy year with such exciting issues as the Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins and the Kennedy gold half dollars, December looked to be rather dull for the Mint. With the release of the new set, however, the year will close out on a high note. 

    Who says collecting modern U.S. coins can’t be exciting? 

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    Keep up with all of CoinWorld.com's news and insights by signing up for our free eNewslettersliking us on Facebook, and following us on Twitter. We're also on Instagram!

    U.S. Mint confiscates 1804 dollars — in the 19th century

    September 30, 2014 3:47 PM by

    It's a nightmare scenario for many hobbyists. U.S. Mint officials contact owners of rare 1804 dollars and demand their return, and upon receipt of the coins, destroy most of them.

    Some observers of recent Mint litigation involving 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagles and a 1974-D Lincoln cent struck in aluminum warn of such a nightmare scenario. They say that if Mint efforts at confiscating these coins are unchecked, classic rarities produced under less than official circumstances, such as the 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin and 1804 Draped Bust dollars, could be next.

    The fears of a broadened wave of confiscations are likely overblown, but those voicing such concerns can cite historical precedence. The Mint has already confiscated 1804 dollars, and by some accounts, destroyed them — a century and a half ago.

    For longtime collectors, the back story of the 1804 Draped Bust dollars is a familiar one. No 1804 dollars were struck in 1804. The so-called Originals were struck circa 1834 for use in diplomatic Proof sets to be presented to foreign heads of state like the Sultan of Muscat and the King of Siam. When collectors became aware of the coins' existence, a few favored individuals were able to acquire some of the circa 1834 strikes from the Mint. Years later, at the end of the 1850s, Mint employees began striking new 1804 dollars (Restrikes, as they are sometimes called) using the same obverse die and a different reverse die, and selling them to dealers and collectors — without official authority to do so — to meet new demand for the coins. 

    These unsanctioned sales were quite the scandal in the numismatic community in the 1860s, and many collectors were outraged that Mint was selling such pieces to a select few. In November 1861, members of the Boston Numismatic Society wrote James Pollock, director of the Mint, calling to his attention the fact that Mint employees had been abusing the system by striking pattern coins and other rarities, and offering them to dealers. Pollock was pretty noncommittal in his response, about whether abuses truly had occurred and whether he would stop them.

    Some years later, William E. DuBois, the curator of numismatics of the Mint Cabinet — the Mint's collection of coins that was the basis for today's National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution — wrote in the numismatic press that Mint employees had sold five 1804 dollars in the category that modern collectors call Class II. These coins, struck circa 1858, have a plain edge and a different reverse than the 1834 Originals, which have a lettered edge along with a distinctive reverse.

    In an apparent effort to clean up the mess some Mint employees had made, Mint officials requested that the owners of the five Class II coins return them, according to DuBois. Four of the coins were returned (no evidence exists of a surviving 16th example, however; just 15 known 1804 dollars survive of all classes), with one retained and three destroyed. Today, the sole Class II coin known rests in the National Numismatic Collection.

    The confiscation and destruction of the Class II coins was not the end of the 1804 dollar story, and the Mint's notorious practices were resumed, if they were ever stopped in the first place. Some time after the end of 1850s and early 1860s (no one today knows for sure), additional examples were struck with a lettered edge and the second reverse. These later dollars are the Class III coins. Other great rarities also slipped out the Mint's doors, even into the 21st century.

    DuBois' claim that some 1804 dollars were destroyed in the 1860s, if true, could cause owners of 1804 dollars today to worry at least a little about future Mint actions. Today, it is impossible to know whether the Class II 1804 dollars were truly destroyed, or whether they were converted into Class III coins with the addition of edge lettering, and then sold back into the marketplace.

    It is unlikely that existing 1804 dollars will be confiscated in the future. However, coins rest in collections today that the government wants to confiscate, and the Treasury Department has an inconsistent history on what it consider legally collectible. Never say never.

    Publisher’s dilemma: what to add to standard price guides

    September 2, 2014 10:35 AM by
    As Coin World’s resident error coin specialist, I get a lot of phone calls from readers about coins they’ve found. A call I received the other day was typical, and unfortunately for the caller, so was my response.

    The caller was excited about a coin he had owned for some 40 years: a 1971 Eisenhower dollar that was missing the letters OL in DOLLAR on the coin’s reverse. The owner expressed surprise that after all those years, the coin had not been listed in any publication, including the “Red Book” — Whitman’s venerable A Guide Book of United States Coins — and was hopeful that it could be listed in standard references.

    Now, I can’t speak for Whitman, but as the principal editor for Coin World’s own annual Guide to U.S. Coins, Prices & Value Trends for more than a quarter century, I’m qualified to discuss why a few “odd” coins make the listings but most do not.

    I explained to the caller that, for his coin, the most likely explanation is that some foreign matter, maybe “grease,” filled incused portions of the die. The grease impeded metal flow into those letters of the die, thus the OL was not formed on the coin. Such pieces are common, though collectible, with minor examples usually bringing very low premiums.

    References like the “Red Book” and the Coin World Price Guide do not add such coins to their listings for a very good reason. The error was temporary — once the grease wore away after a few strikes or was manually removed by a Mint employee, the die would have returned to striking normal coins. It is also of a very common type. 

    What standard price guides incorporate into their listings is a selection of die varieties (and die stages and states), and even then, just a tiny fraction of varieties that are produced are included. Granted, a few outliers have made their way into general works like the "Red Book" and Coin World's price guide, including the 1922-D Lincoln, No D cents. These errors are not die varieties in the technical sense; they fall into the category of die stages/states, since the changes that resulted in the missing D Mint mark occurred after the obverse die was placed into production, and not during the creation of the die itself.

    Collectors who don’t understand the differences between errors, like the struck-through coin owned by the caller, and die varieties, like the 1955 Lincoln, Doubled Die Obverse cent (which the caller repeatedly referred to as “double stamped”) don’t enjoy the broad exposure to errors and varieties both great and small that we at Coin World and Whitman enjoy. They also don’t face the dilemma we publishers face of deciding what legitimate varieties to add to our respective products.

    Generally, varieties are added to a standard reference when they are collected not only by specialists but by general collectors as well, or have gained wide popularity in collecting circles. That’s why the prime Doubled Die Obverse variety for the 1955 Lincoln cent is listed in standard references while the other multiple Doubled Die Obverses for the same date are found listed only in highly specialized references.

    There is another reason a coin may not have been listed in any reference, even a specialty one devoted to Eisenhower dollars that goes beyond true die varieties — the coin may never have been reported to a specialist and confirmed. The caller had owned the coin for some 40 years but I got the impression that he had never contacted anyone in the publishing field about the coin previously; he was waiting for someone else to do so, apparently. And even when a variety has been reported to a specialist and confirmed, the find may not be reported to the broader numismatic community, even in this age of online chat rooms, forums and websites devoted exclusively to error and variety coins. 

    The caller’s coin sounded like an interesting error, especially being on a large dollar coin, and would be a nice circulation find. However, it just doesn’t qualify for a listing in any standard price guide.

    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.