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

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? 
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1 comment
I have no idea where Bill Eckberg gets his information of the Confederate Half Dollar, but he makes several inaccurate statements that do nothing more than perpetuate the myths associated with the coin. Despite his position on this, I use the term "coin" decidedly as it was a coin! It was not struck as a souvenir though several seem to have been kept as such. Though Memminger did not order four half dollars struck, he did on April 4, 1861 ask Supt. Elmore to seek from local artisans "designs for the various coins appropriate to south leaving to the north the eagle and its counterpart". The half dollar was struck to fulfill that request and preserve the design.By the way, though never released by the Confederacy into circulation as least one did circulate at face value after the war outside of the south! It was accepted as money and was therefore a coin.