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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 'April 2016'

    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.