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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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Archive for 'September 2014'

    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.