This 1808 Capped Draped Bust gold quarter eagle is highly sought as a one-year type. What is considered the finest known example realized $2.35 million in the May 19 Pogue Collection auction. Images courtesy of Stack's Bowers Galleries.
William T. Gibbs, senior editor, news, joined the Coin World editorial staff in 1976 and serves as chief copy editor for all Coin World publications while directing weekly editorial production aspects. The collector of numismatic items relating to Adm. George Dewey of Spanish-American War fame has served as lead copy editor for all Coin World books since 1985 and is principal author of the cover topic for Coin World's Guide to U.S. Coins, Prices & Value Trends.Visit one of our other blogs:
- 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.
Life is all about transitions. We all undergo changes in our lives.
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.
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 happens, and often one side loses while another side gains. Telegraphs replaced the Pony Express in a few short months. Similarly, collectors without online access sometimes cannot buy the coins and medals they want.
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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The Mint has announced another Reverse Proof coin to join the 2014-W Kennedy half dollar and other coins with the same finish. The Reverse Proof coin will be a 2015-P Roosevelt dime. Images of the dime are unavailable at this time.
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.
Philadelphia Mint strikes silver American Eagle bullion coins for first time since series' 1986 debut
'Sons of Liberty' TV mini-series misses the mark when it comes to Colonial coins
Several 2015 U.S. Marshals Service commemorative coins already 'out of stock’
Kennedy half dollar sales begin Feb. 12 for 200-coin mixed bags and two-roll sets from U.S. Mint
Former U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy now sits on the board of a Bitcoin integration company
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This proposed design for the 2015 High Relief gold $75 coin is clearly based on the Statue of Freedom that stands atop the U.S. Capitol dome, but it also throws off a Wonder Woman vibe, at least to this blogger.
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?
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.
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 email@example.com and by commenting on our Coin World Facebook page.
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Color coded sketches indicate the different finishes on the dies for the 2014-D Enhanced Uncirculated Native American Dollar in the 2014 American Coin and Currency set being offered by the Mint. The Uncirculated Mint set coin shown at top is only to illustrate the coin's design. In the sketch of the Enhanced Uncirculated coin die, white indicates a standard Uncirculated finish; blue, a standard laser-frosted finish; and yellow, a light laser-frosted finish.
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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A century and a half ago, U.S. Mint officials demanded that owners of five 1804 dollars return them to the Mint. Four of the coins were reportedly returned, with three of them destroyed, a Mint curator claimed. Should collectors today worry about a repeat performance? Probably not, but ...
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.
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.
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.
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.