Gerald Tebben

Five Facts

Gerald Tebben

Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.

Coin World’s bloggers are not edited by Coin World’s editorial staff and blog posts reflect the views of the individual author.

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    Purchasing Power: ​Another Bicentennial

    November 28, 2016 1:56 PM by

    In 1932, during the depths of the Great Depression, the United States Mint released the Washington quarter dollar to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington.

    The 1932 Washington quarter would then purchase what $4.39 would today. In 1932, the nation suffered through nearly 10 percent deflation. In 1932 and again in 1934, the national unemployment rate came within a hair’s breadth of 25 percent. The unemployment rate remained above 10 percent, sometimes much above, until the U.S. entered World War II.

    In 1932, gold was still legal to own. It was valued at $20.67 an ounce. Gold is worth about 65 times that amount today. In 1932, a quarter dollar would buy a little more than 1/100 of an ounce of gold. Today a quarter could buy about 2/10,000 of an ounce.

    The quarter dollar was released into circulation Aug. 1, 1932. Here are some of the things you could buy with those quarters that day in Dubuque, Iowa, according to ads in that city’s Telegraph-Herald newspaper:

    The Interstate Power Co. advertised 50 to 75 percent off its regular prices. Automatic wringer washers were $59.50, Hot Point coffee percolators were $6.36. Manning Bowman mahogany mantle clocks were $3.75. White electric sewing machines housed in wooden cabinets were $59.50 to $74.50.

    Montgomery Ward, which went bankrupt more than a decade ago, was offering 6-ply Riverside Mate tires for $5.45 to $7.93. The price included an oil change.

    The Hub advertised a “cash raising sale.” It offered men’s Fruit of the Loom shirts for 99 cents, with matching collars and cuffs available. Union suits were also 99 cents, down from $1.50. Panama hats were $1.

    Roshek Brothers department store advertised a “storewide 25 percent discount sale.” Women’s silk dresses were priced at $2.23 to $4.13, and men's sport oxford shoes at $3.34.

    Sanitary Butter Stores offered “pure, fresh milk” for a nickel a quart, three boxes of Rice Krispies for 25 cents, three cans of Van Camp’s peas for 23 cents, two “tall” cans of Libby’s Alaska sockeye red salmon for 34 cents, and a 2-pound can of Chase and Sanborn’s coffee for 65 cents.

    Dubuque Airways advertised penny a pound airplane rides over “scenic Dubuque.” But, if you weighed less than 100 pounds, you still had to pay a buck.

    Rhomberg’s was selling “campus quality” raccoon coats for $147, northern seal coats for $47 and Japanese mink coats at $277. The company advised people to buy now while prices are low because “We have reached the turn in business condition. This will be reflected in a rise in fur coat prices.”

    The turn in business conditions was not a good turn. The company, however, weathered the Depression and prospered during the ensuing decades, only to close its store in 2015, a victim of changing fashions.

    Purchasing Power: The Bicentennial

    November 4, 2016 2:56 PM by

    The U.S. Mint ended a20-year drought for commemorative coin collectors in the mid-1970s when itagreed to produce quarter dollars, half dollars and dollars marking the 1976Bicentennial of the United States.

    In 1975, the Mintceased producing regular-issue quarters, halves and dollars and switched to thedual-dated 1776-1976 coins. The coins, especially the quarter with its colonialdrummer, were wildly popular. Mintages ran into the hundreds of millions.Today, all three coins are common, and the quarter dollars still circulate.

    The coins were producedat a time of ruinous inflation. The Eisenhower Bicentennial dollar was worththe equivalent of $4.23 in today’s money. Americans had been freed to own golda couple years before, and the price of the precious metal was rising. In 1976,an ounce of gold was worth about $135, roughly 1/10th of its current value.

    Beyond the Bicentennialcelebrations, which commanded front pages July 4, newspapers were also filledwith news of the early morning Israeli raid on Entebbe to free hostages takenby Palestinian hijackers.

    Here are some of thethings you could buy with those coins on July 5, 1976, according toadvertisements in that day’s Pittsburgh Press.

    The G.C. Murphy Co.,which operated stores on main streets across the country until the 1980s, wasadvertising 12-exposure Kodacolor II C-110 film for 99 cents a roll, disposablebutane lighters for 72 cents, a 60-diaper box of Murphy-brand disposablediapers tor $2.97 and a 20-inch, 3-horsepower lawnmower for $59.

    J.C. Penney offeredoriginally $14 men’s flare-leg jeans for $4.99, undershirts at three for $2.99and aluminum folding lawn chairs for $4.99. In its auto section, the store wasselling steel-belted tires two for $44 and CB radios (10-4, good buddy) for $88.88.

    In the travel section,Atlantic City’s Summit Hotel, which was “100 percent air conditioned,” wasadvertising rooms for $9 a night, double occupancy. The Tides hotel was adollar cheaper.

    Giant Eagle supermarket(still in business) was selling Green Giant canned green beans for 25 cents acan, Kraft mayonnaise for 99 cents a quart jar, rump roasts for $1.29 a poundand six-packs of ice cream sandwiches for 59 cents.

    Sears was selling 100percent solid-state 19-inch color televisions for $399, eight-track stereosystems for $139 and heavy-duty clothes washers for $179.

    David Weiss, jewelersand distributors, offered electronic calculators for $9.99, Smith Coronatypewriters for $169.86, Panasonic portable cassette tape recorders for $34.82and GE clock radios for $24.97.

    That same month, butnot in Pittsburgh, the Apple I computer went on sale for $666.66 at the ByteShop in Mountain View, Calif. Those first machines are collector’s items now,selling for hundreds of thousands.

    A Bicentennial dollarput away in 1976 has a purchasing power of only about a quarter dollar now.Gold is worth about 10 times its 1976 value. And an Apple I computer is worthabout 300 times its original selling price.

    Next: AnotherBicentennial

    Purchasing Power: In war’s wake — Berlin 1945 to1948

    October 28, 2016 3:54 PM by
    I used to be a heavy smoker. Two packs a day was a starting point. Running out of cigarettes was a catastrophe, and I would do anything for the next smoke. So it’s no wonder that cigarettes have often been used as money.

    During the first years of Allied occupation, cigarettes were a major currency in Germany, preferred by everyone to the leftover Nazi coins and paper money and the just-introduced Allied Military Currency. Germans called their smokable money, zigarettenwahrung — cigarette currency. Some — kippensammlers — supported themselves by collecting discarded cigarette butts and reworking them into new smokes.

    Vladimir Petrov in his 1967 book Money and Conquest: Allied Occupation Currencies in World War II reports the value of a cigarette fluctuated, but was generally worth 7 marks during the first three years of occupation. He noted, “The remarkable value attained by the cigarette provided the Soviet authorities with a new means of extracting from the German population formerly hidden assets.” The Reds converted war-booty tobacco into gold, trading 60 smokes for each gram of gold until the gold ran out. Then they sold their cigarettes on the black market.

    U.S. soldiers, too, found a way to make quick money from cigarettes. They bought packs of cigarettes at a post exchange for 5 cents and sold them on the black market.

    Journalist Joel Sayre reported on Berlin’s cigarette economy in the July 28, 1945, issue of New Yorker magazine:
    “On the black market a single cigarette costs from 15 to 20 marks (a dollar and a half to two dollars, at the official rate of exchange), depending on its quality. American cigarettes are considered the best, and the standard black-market price for a pack of 20 is 300 marks, or $30. The value of a pack of Chesterfields can run as high as $75 to $90.”

    Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, reported Aug. 2 that the 33,000 U.S. troops stationed in Berlin in July sent home $4 million, four times the Berlin garrison’s total monthly payroll.

    Cigarette currency died a sudden death three years later when Nazi and AMC bills were replaced with new paper money in June 1948, Dorothea von Schwanenfluegel Lawson recorded in her book Laughter Wasn’t Rationed .

    Next: The Bicentennial

    ​Purchasing power: In war’s wake — Toledo, Ohio 1946

    October 21, 2016 4:55 PM by

    Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led the nation through the twin perils of the Great Depression and World War II, was crippled by polio as a young man. In 1938 he founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, whose chief fundraising event was the annual door-to-door March of Dimes campaign.

    Shortly after Roosevelt died April 12, 1945, Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock began work on the Roosevelt dime — a singularly appropriate denomination. Production began Jan. 30, 1946, the president’s birthday.

    The nation was still transitioning to a peacetime economy when the coin was issued. Pent-up demand from a decade of Depression and five years of war stressed the economy. Civilian goods were often in short supply or had not been available for years.

    The 1946 dime contains .07234ounces of silver, worth about $1.45 as I write this. In 1946, the value of that silver in the dime was slightly more than 5 cents.

    As for what that dime could purchase in1946, here are the prices for some items advertised in the Toledo Blade newspaper in January 1946:

    • Lane’s “cut-rate drugs” was charging a dime for six pencils with erasers, a can of Shinola shoe polish, a flashlight battery, two bars of Lava soap, 50 envelopes or 250 aspirin tablets. 

      The store was also selling rat traps for 11 cents, a 40-ounce can of Colgate tooth powder for 37 cents, a giant tube of Colgate shaving cream for 39 cents and a pint of Fumo moth spray for 59 cents.

    • At Belman’s supermarket, a dime would buy two rolls of Northern toilet paper, a package of marshmallows, a can of grapefruit juice or half a pound of boiling beef.

      The store was also selling lard for 18 cents a pound, 3-pound jars of Crisco for 68 cents, a large package of Oxydol detergent for 23 cents and beef steak for 39 cents a pound.

    • A dime wouldn’t buy much at W.T. Grant’s, a dime store chain that went under in 1976. The store advertised artificial flowers and small boxes of Kleenex, which it said was a “very scarce item,” for a dime.

      The store also advertised that it had just 24 each of four types of “new metal toys.” Parents of those lucky post-war children were able to buy toy patrol and transport planes for 59 cents and stake and dump trucks for 79 cents.

     

    General Electric, the object of a CIO strike, took its case to the public, complaining that it had offered workers earning less than $1 an hour a 10-cent pay hike and those earning more a 10 percent raise, to no avail. The federal minimum wages was 40 cents an hour in 1946. It is now $7.25 an hour.

    Next: In war’s wake — Berlin April 1945

    PURCHASING POWER: ​New Orleans, April 1862

    September 30, 2016 5:23 PM by

    Paper money lost much of its purchasing power in early April 1862 as Union forces closed in on New Orleans. Confederate paper, private bank notes and shinplasters — notes worth less than $1 — formed the bulk of the circulating medium and traded more or less at par with each other.

    Coins were scarce and the shinplasters that replaced them had a checkered history. Newspapers regularly railed against unscrupulous merchants who refused to redeem their small-denomination bills.

    On March 28, the city’s Board of Provost-Marshals prohibited “the traffic in gold and silver against the Notes of the Confederate States of America” under threat of unspecified “prompt and severe punishment.”

    Early April advertisements in The True Delta newspaper chronicled the city’s commercial life in the run-up to the city’s takeover.

    A.J. Powell offered an $80 bounty to soldiers “who will enlist in Co. C., 10th Louisiana Regiment, now in Virginia.”

    The Mississippi and Tennessee Railroad advertised tickets for the 24-hour run to Memphis at $14.50.

    Samuel Jamison offered a $100 reward for the return of runaway slave “grill boy Edward.”

    Dental surgeon, Dr. Felding, was selling full sets of dentures on a sterling silver base for $25 or on a 22 karat gold base for $50 to $80.

    In court, the paper reported, six people “were severally sentenced to pay a fine of $5 or go the Parish Prison for 10 days, all for enjoying the glorious privilege of getting on a bender and sloshing around generally.”

    On April 1, the provost marshals published a list of maximum prices that could be charged in the city’s markets:

    Beef rump roasts, and round and chuck steaks maxed out at 12.5 cents a pound.
    Ham, 30 cents a pound.
    Fine flour, $12 a barrel.
    7-ounce loaves of first quality bread, 5 cents.
    Rice, 8 cents a pound.
    Corn, $1.50 a bushel.
    Liverpool fine salt, 7 cents a pound.

    Nonetheless, the black market apparently thrived as Union forces closed in on the city.

    The True Delta reported April 20, “Those who have a fondness for eggs find them a rather costly luxury these blockade times. Just think of eggs commanding fifty cents per dozen.”

    On April 23, the city’s Committee of Public Safety offered “rewards for the destruction, through private enterprise, of the armed vessels of the enemy threatening the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi. Gunboats were worth $25,000, mortar boats $10,000 and larger ships, $50,000.”

    Two days later unmolested Union ships dropped anchor at the city’s riverfront and demanded surrender.

    Four days after the Union takeover, The True Delta decried the profiteering that followed in the U.S. Navy’s wake. “There are those who are disposed to take advantage of the deranged state or our markets by demanding exorbitant prices for what they have for sale. We have heard of instances where four prices have been asked for articles and specie demanded in exchange.”

    Next: In war’s wake Toledo, Ohio 1946

    ​Original purchasing power

    September 27, 2016 9:48 AM by

    Whenever I buy a coin, I consider three things; the coin’s design, history and original purchasing power.

    The design and history speak for themselves. The purchasing power, though, can be hard to tease out.

    For U.S. coins issued since 1913, a fair approximation of the purchasing power can be had at the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics’ online Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator.

    This amazing and easy-to-use tool will tell you the purchasing value of coins and paper money at any point during the last 103 years. A 1913 dollar for example is listed as having the purchasing power of $17.39 in 2000 and $24.31 today.

    That number, though, only goes so far. Not all goods rise in price at the same rate. An ounce of gold, for example, was $18.92 in 1913. Today it’s about $1,325, or 70 times its 1913 price. In 1913, a Ford Model T touring car cost $600. Today a Ford Explorer SUV runs about $30,000, about 50 times more than its 1913 cousin.

    Old newspapers, government reports and personal papers can tell you the prices of things when the coin was issued. The Google News Archive Search — https://news.google.com/newspapers — is an excellent place to start. It has centuries-long runs of numerous newspapers. There are several other sites, too, that have digital archives of newspapers and magazines.

    During the next five weeks, I’m going to discuss the purchasing power of a number of old coins.

    Next: New Orleans, April 1862

    Mountains, monuments & money: The Alamo and the U.S. Capitol

    September 19, 2016 3:06 PM by

    Italian born sculptor Pompeo Luigi Coppini is known mostly for Texas-related works, including the Texas Centennial commemorative half dollar of 1934 through1938.

    Coppini immigrated to the United States in 1896 at the age of 26 and promptly found work creating sculptures for a wax museum. In 1901 he moved to Texas, where he designed such projects as the monument to Terry’s Texas Rangers (Confederate troops) on the Texas statehouse grounds, the 60-foot-tall Alamo Cenotaph at the Alamo and the Sam Houston Grave Monument at Huntsville, Texas.

    Coppini may be the only coin designer to have work on permanent display in the nation’s Capitol. Each state is allowed to place two statues in the National Statuary Collection. Some states used the collection to honor citizens who had made great contributions in life. Other states turned to less notable politicians.

    Arkansas used the hall to honor Uriah Milton Rose, president of the American Bar Association from 1901 to 1902; and Sen. James Paul Clarke, a man Theodore Roosevelt credited with the bill authorizing construction of the Panama Canal.

    Coppini sculpted the Clarke statue, which was placed in the Capitol in 1921.

    Coppini’s Texas commemorative half dollar crams a lot into a little space. The obverse features an eagle in front of a lone star. The reverse shows a winged and buxom Victory cradling the Alamo, with cameos of Sam Houston and Stephen Austin beneath her outspread wings.

    Charles Moore of the Commission of Fine Arts disapproved of the busy design. “The design shows the whole history of Texas and all its leading personages in a perfect hodge-podge,” he wrote to the Treasury Department. “The heads are so small that they will disappear on a 50-cent piece, and yet it is just this conglomeration in which the Texas people are relying to sell 25 cents worth of silver done in a 50-cent piece at the price of a dollar to make money to build some building.” Profits, such as they were, were used to help finance the 1936 Centennial Exposition in Dallas.

    The Texas coin was not a huge success. Congress authorized 1.5 million pieces, but only about 150,000 were sold. Coppini’s statue of Clarke, though, is another story. Every year millions of people pass by it in the Capitol Visitor Center.

     

    Mountains, monuments & money: ​From Ticonderoga to the Panama Canal

    August 26, 2016 4:25 PM by

    Charles Keck’s name is largely forgotten, but in the early years of the 20th century he designed three commemorative coins and dozens of monuments across the country.

    He designed the  1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition gold dollar  featuring a Panama Canal worker on the obverse and dolphins on the reverse, the 1927 Vermont Sesquicentennial half dollar showing Green Mountain Boy Ira Allen on the obverse and a catamount on the reverse, and the 1936 Lynchburg Sesquicentennial half dollar, a coin which remarkably showed the still living Sen. Carter Glass on the obverse and Liberty in front of the Lynchburg Courthouse on the reverse.

    Keck, who designed the Booker T. Washington memorial at Tuskegee University, nearly also designed the Booker T. Washington half dollar (1946-1951). Keck’s design for the coin had been approved by the Mint and S.J. Phillips, who had lobbied for the commemorative. But the Commission of Fine Arts rejected it in favor of a design offered by Isaac Scott Hathaway.

    Beside the Booker T. Washington memorial, Keck also created the equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson that stands outside the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City, Mo.; the Huey Long Memorial in Baton Rouge, La.; and Liberty Monument at Ticonderoga.

    Liberty Monument features a massive bronze sculpture of Liberty atop a granite base. Four sculptures representing an Indian, a Frenchman, a Scottish soldier and an American stand at the base of the plinth.

    Demagogue Huey Long was assassinated in 1935 as he was preparing to run for president of the United States. Keck’s 12-foot tall bronze statue of the Kingfish stands atop his towering tombstone on the grounds of the Louisiana statehouse.

    NEXT: The Alamo and the U.S. Capitol

    Mountains, monuments & money: Victory becomes Liberty

    August 22, 2016 9:35 AM by

    Augustus Saint-Gaudens, designer of what is widely regarded as the most beautiful United States coin ever minted — the $20 double eagle of 1907 to 1933 — also created numerous monuments, including a massive gilded bronze statue of Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.

    The monument in Grand Army Plaza at the southeast corner of New York’s Central Park, features a mounted Sherman led by Victory. The statue of Victory, cast in 1902, is often cited as the inspiration for Liberty on the Saint-Gaudens double eagle.

    Others of his works include Chicago’s 12-foot tall Standing Lincoln statue in Lincoln Park and the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial on Boston Common, a commission he worked on for an astounding 14 years.

    Besides the double eagle, Saint-Gaudens also designed the stunning Indian $10 gold piece of 1907 to 1933. Saint-Gaudens, unfortunately, died before the coins were released into circulation. Both designs remained in production until the end of circulating gold coins in 1933. The 1933 double eagle has a checkered past. Only one is legal to own. It sold for $7,590,020 in 2002.

    The obverse of Saint-Gaudens’ $20 gold piece was reprised in 1986 for the Mint’s American Eagle gold bullion pieces, which are still in production. In 2009, the Mint made an ultra-high-relief, one-ounce version of the coin for sale to collectors. That tour de force harkened back to the coin’s inception when the coin’s original high-relief concept proved too difficult to produce for circulation.

    NEXT: From Ticonderoga to the Panama Canal

    MOUNTAINS, MONUMENTS AND MONEY: ​A nickel and the Supreme Court

    August 11, 2016 4:02 PM by

    James Earle Fraser, whose work graces the obverse and reverse of the iconic Indian Head five-cent piece, also designed numerous monumental sculptures in Washington, D.C., including the statues Contemplation of Justice and Authority of Law that flank the entrance of the U.S. Supreme Court building.

    Until 1938, when Indian Head nickel production stopped, Fraser’s work could be found in every pocket in America. But even now, you can’t turn around in the nation’s capital without bumping into something he created.

    Fraser’s statues appear in the background of photos and TV footage accompanying stories about Supreme Court decisions dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times each year. Voting rights — Fraser’s there. Abortion — Fraser’s there. Obamacare — Fraser’s there.

    At the National Archives, his Recorder of the Archive appears on the pediment above the south entrance. At the Treasury Department building, immense statues of Albert Gallatin (fourth and longest serving Secretary) and Alexander Hamilton (first Secretary and subject of a current Broadway hit) guard the north and south entrances, respectively.

    Fraser’s Indian Head design was raised from the dead in 2001 when the Mint issued the popular American Buffalo commemorative dollar. Since 2006 the Mint has also struck gold versions of the 103-year-old design.

    Frasier, who grew up in South Dakota, and his wife designed the 1926-1939 Oregon Trail commemorative half dollar. The obverse of that coin shows a romanticized image of life on the trail with a man leading a Conestoga wagon into the sun while his wife and baby ride inside.

    Fraser’s work also appears on United States paper money. His statue of Hamilton outside the Treasury Department building also appears in the center of the Treasury building vignette on the back of current $10 bill.

    NEXT: Victory becomes Liberty

    ​Mountains, monuments and money: Two mountains and a coin

    July 26, 2016 12:33 PM by

    Mountains and money. Those are the canvases some artists have worked with since the early 1900s when the U.S. Mint started asking non-mint engravers to design some of the nation’s coins.

    For the next five weeks I’m going to look at sculptors who were equally at home with monumental and minuscule commissions — with mountains, monuments and money.

    Part 1: Two mountains and a coin

    Gutzon Borglum, who sculpted one of the nation’s largest pieces of art — Mount Rushmore — also designed the Stone Mountain commemorative half dollar.

    Between 1927 and his death in 1941, Borglum directed some 400 workers as they blasted 60-foot tall portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln from the granite face of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

    The monument did not appear on a United States coin until 1991 when small versions of it were placed on half dollars, silver dollars and $5 gold pieces marking the memorial’s 50th anniversary.

    In this century, the monument has appeared on two quarter dollars — the 2004 South Dakota State quarter and the same state’s 2013 America the Beautiful coin.

    The 2004 coin is a crowded affair, showing the monument beneath a bird and between wheat ears. Designer John Mercanti didn’t have the space to give dimension to the portraits, rendering them more as caricatures than faithful reproductions.

    Joseph Menna’s 2013 America the Beautiful quarter dollar features a bold design showing a worker beneath Jefferson’s eye.

    While Mount Rushmore is Borglum’s masterwork, numismatists know him better as the designer of the Stone Mountain half dollar. The coin shows Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse.

    Before Mount Rushmore, Borglum was hired to sculpt a massive memorial to the Confederacy on Stone Mountain, Georgia. He planned to blast a high-relief frieze of mounted figures of Lee, Jackson and Confederate President Jefferson Davis leading troops.

    Borglum only got as far as Lee’s head before he was fired. The Stone Mountain coin, curiously, may have played a part in his firing. “Some observers felt that he was spending so much time on the coin models that the stone sculpting was not being properly supervised,” Q. David Bowers wrote in Commemorative Coins of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia.

    After Borglum was fired, his portrait of Lee was blasted off the face of the mountain and Augustus H. Lukeman took over — until the money ran out in 1928. Work began again in 1963 and was completed in 1970. The actual Stone Mountain differs markedly from Borglum’s coin.

    James Earle Fraser, designer of the iconic Indian Head five-cent piece, sat on the Commission of Fine Arts that approved the design. Fraser found fault with much of Borglum’s design and only grudgingly approved it.

    Next: A nickel and the Supreme Court

    Odd uses for coins: Heat dispersion

    July 15, 2016 3:33 PM by

    This blog usually ends with the fifth item, but when I thought I was done, a sixth – really modern – non-numismatic use for coins turned up.

    Copper coins placed on a laptop can disperse heat, making the computer easier to handle.

    On Nov. 2, 2015,Akinori Suzuki, a musician from Kanagawa, Japan, Tweeted a photo of his MacBook Pro laptop with about 50 copper 10-yen pieces placed where the keyboard meets the display.

    He wrote, “People who are having trouble with their MacBook Pros getting too hot and not cooling down should gather up all the 10-yen coins they have lying around the house. The copper in the yen is a better conductor of heat than the aluminum in the computer and is good at letting the heat escape.”

    The Tweet went viral among the computer gaming community and was picked up by newspapers around the world in June. Copper yen became pennies in England and pre-1983 copper cents in the states.

    Techworm.net showed a thermal scan of a MacBook Pro computer showing the area at the top of the keyboard and the bottom of the display was very hot.

    The website noted, “He (Suzuki) chose copper coins because copper has much greater thermal conductivity than aluminum or plastic – which most laptops are made out of. Suzuki worked on the laws of thermodynamics and used it on his laptop. Essentially it means that if the copper coins you stack on your laptop are cooler than the laptop itself, the copper coins start soaking up the heat to balance themselves with the laptop.

    “Suzuki’s brilliant hack worked and the copper coins ‘soaked up‘ the heat that would otherwise be causing issues for his laptop’s central processing unit.”

    The hack does not work with modern copper-plated zinc cents, but it’s a great way to get some use out of the older cents in your coin jar.

    ​Odd uses for coins: A wine-saving tip

    July 8, 2016 4:08 PM by

    A penny saved may be a penny earned, but a penny dropped into a glass of smelly wine can save the drink.

    “Wine drinkers rejoice, if you've got a bottle of wine on hand that's pumping out bad, sulfury smells, we've got a cheap chemistry life hack to help,” the American Chemical Society teases on its YouTube channel.

    In a late 2015 Chemistry Life Hacks video, “How to Save Smelly Wine,” the society says a pre-1983 copper cent can turn bad wine good.

    “You had a brutal day and finally earned yourself a moment to breath,” the narrator intones. “Take a seat and enjoy a glass of wine from that lonely bottle that’s been waiting for you. You crack it open, pour yourself a glass, only to find out that your wine stinks like match sticks and burnt rubber.”

    The culprit is thiols (stinky sulfur molecules) that either built up in storage or were created during fermentation gone wrong. Swirling the wine in the glass might help a bit, but the American Chemical Society has a sure-fire, better-living-through-chemistry cure.

    “Head straight to your coin jar. Pull out an old penny, give it a nice, solid cleaning in the sink and then drop it right into your glass. Stir it around briefly with a spoon. Pull it out and taste and smell a world of difference.”

    The society reports, “When you drop a penny into your wine, the copper reacts with these thiol compounds producing odorless copper sulfide crystals.”

    The result is delicious and you get your penny back.

    Next: Bonus odd coin use: Heat dispersal 

    Odd uses for coins: ​Hidden messages, hidden poison

    June 24, 2016 4:08 PM by

    A hollowed-out nickel stuffed with microfilm played a part in the prosecution of notorious Soviet spy Rudolf I. Abel.

    Abel used numerous nickels to conceal messages and microfilm that eventually found their way back to the Soviet Union. The coins were dropped at several locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn for retrieval by confederates for shipment to Russia.

    One of those nickels was apparently spent and flowed unnoticed through the channels of commerce until Jimmy Bozart, a 13-year-old paperboy, accidentally dropped it.

    Bozart collected 35 cents weekly from each of his Brooklyn Eagle customers. A pair of schoolteachers living in East Flatbush tipped him 15 cents on June 23, 1953. “You didn’t get too many 15-cent tips,” Bozart, recalled decades later.

    As he walked down the stairs from the sixth-floor apartment, he dropped the 50 cents. He found 45 cents of the 50 cents and kept hunting for the missing nickel when he discovered what he described as “the wafer-thin back of a Jefferson nickel.”

    He found the front of the 1948 coin a few feet away, with a tiny piece of microfilm inside.

    Bozart figured something was up and turned the coin over to police. Four years later, the FBI came calling, asking him to testify in the Abel espionage case.

    While Bozart was one of 68 witnesses, the coin story captured the public’s imagination. New York police rewarded him with a commendation. A citizen bought him an Oldsmobile as a reward.

    Abel, who died in 1971, was convicted of espionage and traded Feb. 10, 1962, for captured American U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers. The prisoner exchange was the basis for the 2015 Steven Spielberg film, Bridge of Spies.

    Powers, curiously, had a hollowed-out coin in his possession, too, when he was captured May 1, 1960, after his plane was shot down. A silver dollar he wore around his neck like a “good luck charm” had a CIA-issued, poison-laced injection pin inside.

    Powers decided not to use the poison pin, a move that many called cowardly at the time. In 2012 he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal for “exceptional loyalty” to America during his two years of captivity.

      Next: A wine-saving tip

     

    ​Odd uses for coins: Taking a bite out of coins

    June 20, 2016 10:24 AM by
    Teething is hell on babies, parents and grandparents. Coins, however, have provided a solution to the problem for centuries.

    Folklore remedies include tying a small silver coin, such as a dime, around a baby’s neck as an amulet or using a large silver coin as a teething ring.

    While the county child protection agency might frown on the practice, one recent posting on a genealogy website advised, “What you do is you put a hole in the top of it with an icepick, and then you put a fishing string through the hole, and tie it around their neck about midway where the Adam’s apple would be just a little lower then [sic] the Adam’s apple. Right where the windpipe or that indenture is in your throat. And leave it there until all teeth are in. Make sure you tie it up high enough where the child cannot put the dime in their mouth.”

    A holed 1780s Spanish real was found during excavations at a slave cabin at Virginia’s Poplar Forest. In a 2011 article in Northeast Historical Archaeology, researcher Lori Lee describe the piece: “It is heavily worn and bears two deep impressions that some dental experts have identified as probable teeth marks.”

    She notes, “Stephen McCray, born into slavery in Alabama, recounted to an interviewer in Oklahoma: ‘A dime was put ‘round a teething baby’s neck to make it tooth easy and it sho’ helped too.’ ”

    A.G. Heaton, who popularized collecting by Mint mark, complained about the practice in an August 1903 article in The Numismatist.

    “Many scarce silver pieces have been also bored to suspend in some way, either for teething infants or because their date happed to be that of someone’s birth or marriage,” he said.

    In 1955 ANA member L.A. Pettitt wrote about his budding collection of teething-ring dollars.

    He wrote, “Americans have always been practical people and in the early days when the time came for baby's teething ring, the big dollar with a hole and string came into use. The string looped around the baby's neck became a plaything and a practical teething ring for generations. At present, I have one of these dollars, an 1802 over 1 which came to me from a lady in Trenton who said it had been in her family since the early 1800s until she sold it to me. Two others, which came to me from Alex Kaptik of the Philadelphia Coin Club, are dated 1795 and 1799.

    “The latest acquisition with a string on it, an 1844 silver dollar, came from Lansdale, Pa., and had been used by the babies in this family for nearly 100 years. I love these old dollars and was prompted to collect them because of the prices of fine dollars of this era.”

    He concluded, “In looking at my four teething ring dollars my thoughts often turn to, ‘How many tiny teeth did these old dollars help to bring through?’ As they hang above my desk these coins bring many pleasant thoughts.”

     Next: Hidden messages, hidden poison

    ​Odd uses for coins: A numismatic ruler

    June 6, 2016 4:11 PM by

    Canadians must have been running short on rulers and weights in 1858 when the British colony decided that its cents should be an inch in diameter and weigh 1/100th of a pound.

    Issued in 1858 and 1859, Province of Canada cents featured Queen Victoria on the obverse and the denomination on the reverse.  

    The Journal of Education for Upper Canada reported in its 1858 edition, “The frontier counties will be saved a great deal of trouble by the introduction of this new coinage. Canadian cent pieces, which have been lately thrown off the British mint, possess a remarkable peculiarity. They are not only tokens of value, but also standards of weight and measure; 100 cents weigh exactly 1lb., and one cent measures 1 inch. Thus in the common transactions of life the buyer will have a ready check upon the dishonest dealer.”

    Despite their potential utility, the coins were not popular.

    Previously, Canadians had used heavier bank tokens. In Striking Impressions: The Royal Canadian Mint and Canadian Coinage, James Haxby wrote, “Two novel features of the Canadian decimal coinage proved to be great mistake. The new cent was expected to be a convenient tool as a weight and measure: its diameter was one inch (25.4 mm) and 100 coins weighted exactly one pound avoirdupois. But this was largely lost on a public who preferred the much heavier and more familiar copper bank tokens. It would be the mid-1870s before the entire coinage of 9.7 million cents could be put in circulation.”

    In 1876, when the newly created Dominion of Canada resumed cent production, the weight was increased to 1/80th of a pound – the same weight as a British half penny. Canada continued to produce large cents (first in British mints, later in the Royal Canadian Mint) until 1920, when it switched to smaller cents, the same size as United States cents.

    (U.S. small cents can be used, too, to make a reasonably accurate ruler. Line up 16 and you have a foot. The same coins stacked are within a hair’s width of an inch tall.)

      Next: Taking a bite out of coins

    Odd uses for coins: A penny a day...

    May 24, 2016 4:10 PM by

    Coins are good for spending, of course, if that’s all you can think of to do with them. But the possibilities for other uses are endless.

    Coins have weight, mass and dimension. They can be used to regulate time, measure distance, restore bad wine and even serve in the dark arts of spycraft.

    For the next five weeks, I’m going to look at alternate uses for one of mankind’s most useful inventions.

    A penny a day keeps the time right.

    Keepers of London’s Big Ben have used pennies and pounds to regulate the timepiece since it was set ticking more than 150 years ago.

    Adding an old English penny (9.4 grams from 1860 to 1970) or a modern £5 pound crown (28.3 grams since 1990) to the clock’s massive pendulum causes the clock to gain time.

    Before 2009, when crowns were added to the mix as part of the countdown to the nation’s 2012 Olympics, timekeepers kept 10 old pennies beside the mechanism, using the coins to keep the clock accurate.

    Adding or taking away coins affects the pendulum’s center of mass and the rate at which it swings, Mike McCann, the clock’s keeper told Reuters news service at the time.

    In 2015, news photos showed a pile of coins on the pendulum as timekeepers tried to regulate a clock that was suddenly six seconds off.

    CBS news reported, “The guys who maintain it, like Ian Westworth, have been struggling to keep it on time — even using pennies as weights.

    “By putting on or taking off a penny on the pendulum, you speed up or slow down the clock by two-fifths of a second in 24 hours,” Westworth said.

    Adding a penny to the top of the pendulum effectively shortens the length of the pendulum, causing the pendulum to run slightly faster. 

    In 2009, a commemorative crown was added to the pile of well-worn Victorian pennies. The crown takes the place of three pennies when placed on the pendulum. The countdown crown, fittingly, has a stopwatch as part of the design. The central element was a large numeral 3 (three years to the Games) superimposed over two swimmers.

    “There is a long and historic relationship between Big Ben and the UK’s coins,” McCann said. “Few people realize the technical role the old pennies have played inside the clock.”

    The clock will fall silent for a while next year when it undergoes a $42 million restoration. The New York Times said, “Maintenance teams have identified problems with the clock’s hands, mechanism and pendulum that threaten its ability to function properly.”

    Next: A numismatic ruler

     

    Red Book 70: Spanish Milled Dollar

    May 2, 2016 9:55 AM by

    The first coin in the first edition of the Red Book – a 1766 Mexico City 8 reales – appeared below the headline “The Spanish Milled Dollar,” “The Coin of Our Nation’s Founders.”

    The text: “The Spanish milled dollar otherwise known as the ‘pillar dollar’ and ‘piece of eight’ has been given a place in romantic fiction unequalled by any other coin.

    “The time-honored piece was the chief coin of the American colonists and actually was the forerunner of our silver dollar. It became so fundamentally a part of the everyday course of business during the colonial period that its official adoption as the standard unit of value for United States money was a natural and desirable development.”

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    That brilliantly written description perhaps unintentionally connected the coin with pirates in the minds of young collectors and inspired generations of numismatists to add one to their collections as a birth-point of U.S. coinage.

    The coin retains its preeminent place in the current Red Book, though the coin pictured now is a 1734 Mexico City piece.

    The text, too, has changed, giving more detail about its place in Continental Congress deliberations and its value ($225 in Fine to Very Fine).

    The current description ends with a timely warning that probably would not have been necessary in 1946. “Note that many modern copies of the 8 reales exist. These are produced mostly as souvenirs and have little or no value.”

    Red Book 70: Gloucester token

    April 22, 2016 4:36 PM by

    The 1714 Gloucester token was an enigma that vexed collectors for more than a century.

    In 1776, Sylvester S. Crosby, discussed the piece in his The Early Coins of America but did not picture it, possibly because it wouldn’t have served any purpose. Crosby said two well-worn specimens were known and together they didn’t provide enough information to give a full description.

    He wrote, “Of the history of the earliest of these (American tokens), called the Gloucester Token, nothing is known. It appears to have been intended as a pattern for a shilling of a private coinage, by Richard Dawson of Gloucester (county?) Virginia.”

    The 1714 dated piece(s) gave a denomination of XII or shilling and showed a building on the obverse and a star on the reverse. Half or less of the legends showed.

    Crosby’s second piece now appears to have been a copy of the first.

    The first edition of the Red Book credited Crosby with what little was known about the piece. “Known specimens are imperfect and a full description cannot be given.”

    That description remained unchanged for some 35 years. In 1981, another specimen was discovered. Combining the two coins, collectors were able to determine the coin’s full legend: GLOVCESTER • COVRTHOVSE • VIRGINIA on the obverse and RIGHAVLT DAWSON • ANNO • DOM • 1714 on the reverse.

    The Red Book now reports, “The recent discovery has provided a new interpretation of the legends, as a Righault family once owned land near the Gloucester courthouse.”

    Another Gloucester token mystery has arisen since the first Red Book was published. The current Red Book says, “A similar but somewhat smaller piece, possibly dated 1715 exists. The condition of the unique piece is too poor for a positive attribution.”

    Red Book 70th anniversary: The King of Coins

    April 18, 2016 5:15 PM by
    In 1946, when R.S. Yeoman’s first A Guide Book of United States Coins was printed the 1804 dollar’s origin was a mystery. In its 70th edition this year, the book reflects the latest research.

    The King of Coins

    The 1804 dollar has always been a coin of mystery and desire. Was it struck in 1804 or decades later? In 1946, when the first Red Book was printed, both sides had their adherents. The Red Book told the story down the middle, giving both sides of the argument, but offering no conclusion.

    For the first 15 editions, the Red Book reported, “Those who adhere to the belief that these coins were struck in 1804 point to such evidence as the letter written by Robert Patterson, Director of the Mint, to President Thomas Jefferson. This letter stated that no dollars had been minted ‘during the last two years.’ Inasmuch as the letter was dated April 2, 1807, they infer that dollars were struck during 1804.

    “Mint records show that 19,570 silver dollars were coined in 1804 and that these coins were struck after March 28, 1804.”

    The 1804 dollar text concluded, “The 1804 dollar has been and probably will continue to be a subject of much discussion. Unless some new evidence is uncovered the mystery of its existence or disappearance will always be a matter of speculation for the numismatic fraternity”

    In 1962, Eric P. Newman and Kenneth Bressett, who went on to edit the Red Book, set the record straight with the publication of The Fantastic 1804 Dollar. No 1804-dated dollars were produced before 1834, when the Mint struck display sets of coins for diplomatic missions. Years later, a handful more (Class II) were secretly struck at the Mint for sale to connected collectors.

    As for the nearly 20,000 dollars listed in Mint records, Q. David Bowers reports in his Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia they were struck with dies dated 1803 or earlier.

    The 1963-dated 16th edition of the Red Book updated the controversy, saying, “Numismatists now know that the 1804 ‘original’ dollars were struck at the mint between 1836 and 1842.”

    In the years since 1963, the Red Book text has been updated to reflect current research. It now reads, “Numismatists have found that the 1804 original dollars were first struck in the 1834 through 1835 period for use in Presentation proof sets.”

    The first Red Book noted that original dollars had sold for $5,000 to $10,000. Today it takes about $4 million to buy one.

     

    ​Red Book 70th anniversary: The Good Samaritan shilling

    April 8, 2016 4:38 PM by

    The Red Book, in its 70th edition this year, has changed several times, reflecting research discoveries.

    Good Samaritan shilling

    The Good Samaritan shilling, a famous 19th century fraud, might be the only coin to be delisted from the R.S. Yeoman's A Guide Book of United States Coins, the Red Book.

    The “coin” was considered a great rarity in the 1940s and ‘50s. For the first dozen or so editions, the Red Book write-up described the piece:

    “The Good Samaritan Shilling, supposed to be a pattern piece, was struck at a Boston mint and is extremely rare. This piece is of the same general type as the Pine Tree Shilling, but has a device illustrating the parable of the Good Samaritan on the obverse. It is in silver and dated 1652 on the reverse.”

    Sylvester S. Crosby, in his groundbreaking 1876 work The Early Coins of America, acknowledged that some doubt the genuineness of the piece, but he was convinced it was a Massachusetts silver pattern. “I am to a considerable extent justified in regarding it as genuine, in the absence of anything like proof to the contrary,” he wrote.

    In 1959, numismatic researcher Eric P. Newman blew that argument apart, exposing the piece as a fraud. In The Secret of the Good Samaritan Shilling Newman said the Good Samaritan Shilling “was the ‘fakest’ coin in history!”

    In 1848 the British Museum purchased a Good Samaritan Shilling that was known to exist as early as 1730. The coin, Newman determined, was a Pine Tree Shilling on which the obverse had been ground off and replaced with the seal of the British Commission of Sick and Wounded, a 17th century precursor of the Red Cross. English coin dealer Thomas Snelling and American dealer Thomas Wyatt separately faked their own versions of the supposedly genuine coin and palmed them off on unsuspecting collectors.

    The Red Book continued to list the piece for a few years after Newman exposed the fraud, but changed the text. “Although this piece was formerly thought to be a pattern for the 1652 shillings, recent findings show that the known specimens are all fabrications.”

    While the piece has been debunked, it is still popular with collecting, fetching as much as $5,000 in recent auctions.

    Red Book 70th anniversary: The 1903-O Morgan silver dollar

    March 30, 2016 1:32 PM by

    R.S. Yeoman's venerable “Red Book,” in its 70th edition this year, gets better over the years. Some changes serve as markers for collectors of the books.

    Red Book 70th anniversary: The 1903-O Morgan silver dollar

    The 1903-O is an incredibly important coin in the history of Morgan dollar collecting. From its minting to the early 1960s, it was the star of the series. Q. David Bowers estimates, in his Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia, that fewer than 10 uncirculated pieces were known before October 1962, when the Treasury Department released bags and bags of them.

    Bowers estimates 200,000 or more uncirculated 1903-O dollars exist today. Before the Treasury release, the coin cataloged for $1,500, more than any other Morgan. The price fell off a cliff in 1963, dropping as low as a reported $7. Today the coin lists in Coin World’s Coin Values at $450 in MS-63. The value and the demand for the coin are in no small part based on its fabled history.

    The coin also serves as a way to distinguish the rare first print run of the first edition of A Guide Book of United States Coins from the more common second printing.

    In November 1946, 9,000 copies of the 1947-dated Red Book were printed. A paragraph below the Morgan dollar listing ambiguously reads, “270,232,722 silver dollars were melted under the Pittman Act of April, 1918, 259,121,554 for export to India, and 11,111,168 for domestic subsidiary coins, which probably accounts for the scarcity of this date.”

    In February 1947, an additional 22,000 copies were printed to meet unexpectedly strong demand for the title. The Morgan dollar paragraph was altered to eliminate the ambiguity. The ending phrase “scarcity of this date” was changed to “scarcity of 1903 O.”

    The Red Book’s “Valuation Guide for Past Editions of the Red Book” lists the first printing at $1,700 in new condition and the second printing at $1,600.

    The first edition lists the 1903-O dollar at $110 in Uncirculated. That was $10 more than the next most valuable coin, the 1893-S. The 1895 Proof is listed at $35. (The edition also lists the 1895 in Uncirculated at $6, though none exists.)

    About 10 years ago, Whitman Publishing Co. reissued the first printing of the first edition. It lists at $17.95 and is still available from the publisher and supply houses.

    Red Book 70th anniversary: A look back

    March 24, 2016 4:10 PM by

    A Guide Book of United States Coins by R.S. Yeoman, the venerable “Red Book,” enters its well-deserved 70th edition this year. The 1946 foundation was strong and durable; every edition since has stayed true to its basic format – a retail price guide and numismatic primer.

    It remains inexpensive, accessible and definitive.

    Readers over the decades learned not only the current price of the coin they were interested in, but a bit of its history and, in some cases, the rationale for producing it. First editor Yeoman was as much interested in the educational aspects of collecting as the financial.

    The book has served an astounding four generations of collectors. And while its print run is diminished from its all-time high of 1.2 million in 1965, it remains true to its origins and delivers an ever-improving product to collectors year in and year out.

    The Red Book is an incredible first point of contact for most collectors. People who pick up an odd coin in circulation or stumble across a tin can of gold go to it first to figure out what they’ve got and what it’s worth. The book whets the appetite of the curious and encourages them to explore the hobby further.

    During the next five weeks, I’m going to look at five changes in the book over the years, some typographical, some based on new scholarship, all changes that made the book a better product or serve as a marker for collectors of the books themselves.

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    U.S. coinage shaped by war: Vietnam

    March 11, 2016 3:26 PM by

    We end a five-part look at the way war has shaped America’s coinage with a look at a commemorative coin to honor those unfortunate soldiers who died in the jungles of Vietnam.

    Part five: Vietnam

    The Vietnam War saw one of the biggest changes ever in United States coins, but the changes had nothing to do with the war.

    At the same time American involvement in the South East Asian war was escalating from just a few hundred soldiers in 1959 to more than half a million in 1968, the price of silver was also rising.

    Rising demand, especially in the photography industry, pushed prices above 90 cents in 1956 and over $1 in 1961. The death warrant for silver coinage was signed Sept. 1, 1963, when silver hit $1.293 — the point at which a silver dollar contained a dollar’s worth of silver.

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    In 1965, the Mint ceased production of 90 percent silver dimes, quarter-dollars and half dollars. Some silver would remain in the half dollar through 1970, as U.S. involvement started to wind down.

    Our current clad coinage began during the Vietnam War and continues to this day.

    Twenty-one years after the last American left Vietnam, the United States produced one of the most democratic coins ever made to commemorate those who lost their lives in war — the Vietnam Veterans Memorial silver dollar.

    The 1994 coin shows a portion of Panel 3-East of The Wall, recording some of the deaths of Nov. 15 and 16, 1965. Most of the men whose names appear on the coin fell during the Battle of Ia Drang.

    Of 21 discernible names on the commemorative silver dollar, 17 men died at Ia Drang. Sixteen of those 17 died during the 16-hour battle in and near a football-field size clearing called Landing Zone Albany. The battle was the subject of the 1992 book and 2002 movie We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young. Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.), who commanded the 1st Battalion, 7th cavalry in the battle, and author Joseph L. Galloway wrote the book.

    “The Ia Drang campaign was to the Vietnam War what the terrible Spanish Civil War of the 1930s was to World War II: a dress rehearsal; the place where new tactics, techniques and weapons were tested, perfected and validated,” Moore and Galloway wrote in the book’s prologue. “In the Ia Drang, both sides claimed victory and both sides drew lessons, some of them dangerously deceptive, which echoed and resonated throughout the decade of bloody fighting and bitter sacrifice that was to come.”

    U.S. coinage shaped by war: World War II

    February 23, 2016 4:22 PM by

    In the depths of World War II, metals used for America’s coinage reflected the exigencies of battle and wartime prosperity at home, as the Mint tried new metals to replace those needed for weaponry abroad. 

    We continue a five-part look at the way war has shaped America’s coinage.

    Part four: World War II

    World War II challenged the Mint. After a decade of low-production because of the Great Depression, sudden wartime prosperity dramatically increased the demand for coins.

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    Competing, though, for the nation’s copper and nickel was the wartime need for artillery shells and armor plate. The result was zinc-plated steel cents and silver nickels.

    In 1943, the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco produced some 500 million white steel cents. They were instantly recognizable in change and were prized by children as lucky coins for decades after.

    Then the artillery shells were recycled at the Mint from 1944 through 1946 and used to make cent planchets. The shellcase coins are a lighter color than earlier and later pieces because the alloy lacked the trace of zinc used in other copper cents.

    War nickels, produced from mid-1942 through 1945, were composed of 35 percent silver and had a large Mint mark on the reverse above Monticello. The large letter was meant to allow for easy identification so the silver could be retrieved after the war.

    All other coins remained unchanged throughout the war. Some paper money, though, was changed for war reasons.

    After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States became concerned that the enemy might occupy the islands. In answer to the threat, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing produced special paper money for use in Hawaii. These notes had the word HAWAII printed on them in large letters and could not be taken off the island. If Hawaii had been overrun, the bills would have been demonetized.

    U.S. coinage shaped by war: World War I

    February 19, 2016 2:52 PM by

    After World War I, America’s coinage celebrated peace. We continue a five-part look at the way war has shaped U.S. coinage.

    Part three: World War I

    While World War I wreaked havoc on European currencies, the coinage of the United States went through the war unchanged.

    In the war’s aftermath, several countries – notably Germany – abandoned metal coinage for paper money and produced it with abandon.

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    The United States, though, doubled down on the silver dollar and changed its design to celebrate the peace that followed the war.

    Coin dealer Farran Zerbe is generally considered to be the coin’s father. Speaking at the 1920 American Numismatic Association convention, Zerbe called for the nation to commemorate the peace with a coin for circulation.

    Late the next year Anthony de Francisci won a competition to design the peace coin, but his winning entry was not without controversy. President Warren G. Harding had a problem with Liberty’s face on the obverse and veterans groups didn’t like the broken sword on the back.

    De Francisci’s wife, Teresa, was the model for Liberty. In a letter to her parents, she said the president objected to a dimple on her chin. “The president, however,” she wrote, “maintained that he preferred a dimpleless Liberty, because the dimpled variety did not exactly express peace.”

    She also described her husband’s vision for the coin’s reverse, “On the reverse side is an eagle, with folded wings, perched upon the top of a mountain, with the rising sun in the distance. Above the eagle’s head are the olive branches of peace, while a broken sword, symbolic of the end of the war, is clutched in its talons. Just beneath the eagle is the word ‘Peace’, while crowning the top of the coin are the words ‘United States of America.’ ”

    The president approved the design, but veterans groups protested the broken sword was a symbol of defeat. The New York Herald editorialized, “It is regrettable that the artist should have made such an error in symbolism.”

    Just three days before production started Dec. 26, 1921, Mint Chief Engraver George T. Morgan reworked the hub used to produce the coin’s dies by essentially morphing the broken sword into an olive branch.

    The last Peace dollars, curiously, were dated 1964 and produced in 1965, during the early days of the Vietnam War. The entire later-day mintage of 316,000 coins was melted. 

    U.S. coinage shaped by war: The Civil War

    February 12, 2016 4:28 PM by

    In the depths of war, legends on America’s coinage gave substance to our aspirations and the metals used reflected the exigencies of battle.

    Coins glorified God during the Civil War, celebrated peace after World War I and honored those unfortunate soldiers who died in the jungles of Vietnam.

    During the Civil War and again during World War II the Mint tried new metals to replace those hoarded at home and needed for battle abroad.

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    We continue a five-part look at the way war has shaped U.S. coinage.

    Part 2: The Civil War

    The Civil War produced the short-lived but immensely important 2-cent piece.

    Coinage, even cents, disappeared from circulation at the start of the Civil War. Metal coins were hoarded and traded at a substantial but fluctuating premium to paper money.

    In April 1864, Congress authorized a change in composition for the cent and the creation of the 2-cent piece. The cent, which had previously been a nearly 5-gram copper-nickel coin, was changed to a 3.11-gram copper piece.

    The 2-cent piece was produced to take the pressure off the cent. Twice as much value for each strike of the press.

    The coin was most important, though, for the legend it bore: IN GOD WE TRUST.

    On Nov. 13, 1861, Ridleyville, Pa., minister M. R. Watkinson urged Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase to place a “recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins.” He suggested, GOD, LIBERTY, LAW.

    A few days later, Chase wrote to Mint Director James Pollock:

    “No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins,” he wrote.

    “You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.”

     

    The result was IN GOD WE TRUST. Over the next century, the motto would make its way onto all of the nation’s coins and paper money.

    U.S. coinage shaped by war: The Revolution

    February 3, 2016 9:36 AM by

    In the depths of war, legends on America’s coinage gave substance to our aspirations, and the metals used reflected the exigencies of battle.

    Coins celebrated the unity of the 13 original states during the Revolution, glorified God during the Civil War, celebrated peace after World War I and honored those unfortunate soldiers who died in the jungles of Vietnam.

    During the Civil War and again during WWII, the Mint tried new metals to replace those hoarded at home and needed for battle abroad.

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    Over five weeks, we'll look at the way war shaped our coinage.

    The Revolution

    You can’t get much more American than Continental Currency dollars.

    The coins were designed by Benjamin Franklin, have the names of all 13 rebelling colonies and bear the fateful date 1776.

    The coins, basically a larger version of the 1787 Fugio cents, feature a chain of 13 links on the reverse, each inscribed with the name of a breakaway colony. The chain surrounds the statement AMERICAN CONGRESS / WE ARE ONE. The obverse shows a sundial and the legend MIND YOUR BUSINESS/FUGIO. The words CONTINENTAL CURRENCY 1776 surround the sundial.

    Some varieties also have the engraver’s initials: E.G., widely believed to be New York silversmith Elisha Gallaudet.

    The coin is known from four silver pieces and a handful of pewter and brass examples.

    In a 2014 sale of one of the silver coins, the Heritage Auctions catalog tells the story of the pieces. “ Eric P. Newman, Don Taxay, Walter Breen, Philip Mossman, and Michael Hodder spent many years researching the Continental Currency coinage, mesmerized by its mysterious origins. No authorization for the production of the Continental Currency coinage has come to light, but it is probable that the coins were intended to take the place of the dollar-denominated paper currency issued by the Continental Congress in the latter part of 1776. The four resolutions from May 10, 1775 to May 9, 1776 provided for the issue of paper money in various denominations, including the one dollar bill. The six resolutions of July 22, 1776 through September 26, 1778 omitted the one dollar denomination. Thus, it is logical to conclude the pewter pieces were intended as a substitute for the paper dollars in those issues. The coins had minimal intrinsic value, and like the paper bills they replaced, were valued according to the public’s confidence in Congress, who guaranteed their value at one dollar each.”

    That coin, graded MS-63 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., sold for $1.4 million. Beat up pewter examples can sometimes be had for $10,000.

    Paper Continental Currency, some bearing the same designs, is much cheaper. Congress authorized nearly $250 million in paper Continental Currency during the Revolution. At the end of the war, it was all but worthless, giving rise to the phrase, “Not worth a Continental.” Well-worn bills can frequently be found for just a few dollars each.

     

     

    Saint 5: A junk-box saint

    January 29, 2016 3:24 PM by

    You can pick up coins issued by this saint for a dime or so in just about any junk box in the world.

    Pope John XXIII issued millions of aluminum, aluminum bronze, steel, silver and gold coins between his election in 1958 and his death in 1963. The Vatican City coins typically show the pontiff on the obverse and a religious image on the reverse.

    The beloved pope was canonized April 27, 2014, by Pope Francis, a pope whose substance and style are informed by the life of St. John XXIII.

    The Vatican’s biography of Pope John XXIII begins, “When on Oct. 20, 1958 the cardinals, assembled in conclave, elected Angelo Roncalli as pope many regarded him, because of his age and ambiguous reputation, as a transitional pope, little realizing that the pontificate of this man of 76 years would mark a turning point in history and initiate a new age for the Church.”

    On Oct. 11, 1962, the aging pope opened the first session of the Second Vatican Council. The New York Times recounted in a 50th anniversary article, “Over three years, from 1962 to 1965, some 2,800 bishops from 116 countries produced 16 documents that set the Roman Catholic Church’s course for the future.”

    The council changed how the church interacted with the rest of the world and how the faithful interacted with the church.

    The most visible changes concerned the celebration of the Mass. Priests now faced the congregation and said the Mass in the language of the people  English in most of the United States, Spanish in heavily Hispanic areas.

    John XXIII died before the council ended. Successor Paul VI closed the event. He noted in the final address on Dec. 7, 1965, “You see, for example, how the countless different languages of peoples existing today were admitted for the liturgical expression of men's communication with God and God's communication with men: to man as such was recognized his fundamental claim to enjoy full possession of his rights and to his transcendental destiny. His supreme aspirations to life, to personal dignity, to his just liberty, to culture, to the renewal of the social order, to justice and peace were purified and promoted; and to all men was addressed the pastoral and missionary invitation to the light of the Gospel.”

    In 1962, John XXIII issued a set of commemorative coins celebrating the council. The 50-, 100- and 500-lire coins show the pope on the obverse and the bishops assembled beneath the Paraclete on the reverse. The steel 50- and 100-lire coins sell for just a few dollars each. The silver 500-lire coin catalogs for $30 in Uncirculated condition.

     

     

    Saint 4: Putting a halo on a crown

    January 22, 2016 4:11 PM by

    King Louis IX of France was a pious man who fed the poor, cared for the fallen, built grand churches and launched two crusades.

    Louis ascended to the throne in 1226 at the age of 12. His strong-willed, sternly moral mother, Blanche of Castile, served as regent during the early years of his reign, thwarting plots to unseat him.

    Louis, who loved sermons, attended two Masses every day, and was often accompanied by priests chanting the hours.

    In 1239 he bought the Crown of Thorns (the one Jesus wore) and pieces of the True Cross from Baldwin II, the perpetually impoverished last monarch of the Latin Empire, a Crusader state established in Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade. Louis built the still-standing Sainte-Chapelle on the Île de la Cité to house them.

    In 1248 he joined the Seventh Crusade. He landed in Egypt during the summer of 1249 and was defeated at the Battle of Al Mansurah the following April. He was captured by the Egyptians and held for ransom.

    In 1267, Louis IX again “took the cloth,” sewing a cross on his clothing, and vowed to reach Jerusalem. He didn’t make it. The Eighth Crusade landed at Carthage on July 17, 1270. Dysentery swept through the troops and felled the king on Aug. 25.

    Louis received last rites Aug. 24 and weakly lingered the next day.

    The Lives of the Saints reports that at noon he lifted his eyes toward heaven and “repeated aloud the words of the psalmist: ‘Lord, I will enter into thine house; I will adore in thy holy temple, and will give glory to Thy name.’ He spoke again at three in the afternoon, but only said, ‘Into Thy hands I commend my soul.’ Immediately after which he breathed his last in his camp.”

    Pope Boniface VIII canonized Louis IX in 1297.

    During the saint’s long reign he issued a wide variety of silver and gold coins. His most common coin is the thin, dime-size billon denier tournois. These typically show the cross on the obverse surrounded by the king’s name — LVDOVICVS REX — and a crude representation of a castle on the reverse. Well-circulated examples can be found with a bit of searching for less than $50.

    Next: A junk box saint 

    Saint 3: Mom’s a saint, too

    January 15, 2016 12:00 PM by

    Like her son, St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, is revered as a saint, too, for her charity, devotion and discovery of the True Cross upon which Jesus of Nazareth was crucified.

    Helena was born about 248 and worked as a young woman in her father’s tavern in Naissus. It is unknown whether she was wife or concubine to Constantius I, but she bore him a child who would become ruler of the Roman world.

    About 312 she converted to Christianity.

    Roman historian Eusebius Pamphili wrote, "Especially abundant were the gifts she bestowed on the naked and unprotected poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing; she liberated some from imprisonment, or from the bitter servitude of the mines; others she delivered from unjust oppression, and others again, she restored from exile.

    “While, however, her character derived luster from such deeds as I have described, she was far from neglecting personal piety toward God. She might be seen continually frequenting His Church, while at the same time she adorned the houses of prayer with splendid offerings, not overlooking the churches of the smallest cities. In short, this admirable woman was to be seen, in simple and modest attire, mingling with the crowd of worshipers, and testifying her devotion to God by a uniform course of pious conduct.”

    In 324 she traveled to Palestine to search for places sacred to the memory of Jesus, building churches at the sites of Christ’s nativity and the ascension into Heaven and discovering, according to legend, the true cross.

    The Shrine of the True Cross, a Catholic shrine in Dickinson, Texas, relates, “Then, on Sept. 14, 326, Emperor Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, found in Jerusalem the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. The legend of the story of the discovery of the True Cross is that when visiting the holy places in Palestine, St. Helena was guided to the site of the Crucifixion by an aged Jew who had inherited traditional knowledge as to its location.

    "After the ground had been dug to a considerable depth, three crosses were found, as well as the superscription placed over the Savior’s head on the Cross, and the nails with which He had been crucified. The Cross of the Lord was distinguished from the other two by laying the crosses on a dead youth who was revived by the touch of the third Cross.”

    Lifetime coins of Helena are plentiful and cheap, too. They typically show her on the obverse and a star or Securitas on the reverse. They can often be found for as little as $5 to $10 each. 

    Next: Putting a halo on a crown

    Saint 2: A visionary saint

    December 23, 2015 1:10 PM by

     

    The world changed Oct. 28, 312, at the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber north of Rome and hasn’t been the same since. On that day, Constantine the Great, fighting beneath Christian banners, defeated Maxentius, winning control of the western half of the Roman Empire.

    The day before, Constantine had a vision. In the sky appeared a Christian symbol (either a cross or the Chi-Rho XP monogram, depending on the account) and the Greek words for “In This Sign You Shall Conquer.”

    That night in a dream, Christ appeared to Constantine and told him to paint the sign on the shields of his soldiers before they went into battle.

    Maxentius drowned in the battle, and his head was paraded through the streets of Rome the next day.

    Four months later, Constantine and Licinius, who ruled the East, issued the Edict of Milan, permanently ending persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. While no copies of the edict exist, a rescript sent by Licinius to the governor of Bithynia says, “Our purpose is to grant both to the Christians and to all others full authority to follow whatever worship each person has desired, whereby whatsoever Divinity dwells in heaven may be benevolent and propitious to us, and to all who are placed under our authority.”

    The Catholic Encyclopedia says, “Constantine showed equal favour to both religious. As pontifex maximus (chief priest, a title traditionally held by Rome’s emperors) he watched over the heathen worship and protected its rights.”

    Over time, Christianity replaced the old religions as the religion of the state. Constantine was baptized a Christian on his deathbed by Eusebius of Nicomedia in 337. He is especially revered as a saint by Orthodox Christians.

    Lifetime coins of Constantine the Great are cheap and plentiful. Most show Constantine on the obverse and a god or military representation on the reverse. A few have the Chi Rho (XP  the first letters of Christ in Greek) symbol in the design. Ancient coin dealers often heap piles of Constantine’s bronze coins on their tables at coin shows, offering them for as little as $5 or $10.

    Next: Mom’s a saint, too

    Saint 1: ​The saintly mint master

    December 18, 2015 10:50 AM by

     

    St. Eligius (588 to 659 or 660) apparently took to heart the New Testament proposition that the want of money is the root of all evil and aimed to do something about it. He made money as mint master of Marseilles.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia says that the saint’s father sent him to work with the noted goldsmith Abbo, master of the mint at Limoges, as a youth.

    His skill and honesty were recognized by Frankish king Clotaire II, who commissioned him to make a throne of gold adorned with precious stones. The encyclopedia says, “His honesty in this so pleased the king that he appointed him master of the mint at Marseilles.”

    After Clotaire II died in 629, the successor, Dagobert, named him chief councilor. The Catholic News Agency writes, “The charitable and honest Eligius took advantage of his status to obtain alms for the poor and to ransom Roman, Gallic, Breton, Saxon, and Moorish captives who were arriving at Marseilles daily. He was able to get the king’s approval to send his servants through towns and villages in order to take down and bury the bodies of the criminals whose bodies were executed and displayed as a further punishment. He founded several monasteries … built the basilica of St. Paul and restored the basilica of St. Martial in Paris. In honor of the relics of St. Martin of Tours, the national saint of the Franks, he had several churches built. He did the same thing for St. Denis, whom the king had taken as a patron saint.”

    Eligius was consecrated as a bishop in 641 and died Dec. 1, 660. Over the years, he became venerated as a saint and is recognized today as the patron saint of goldsmiths and coin collectors.

    Inge Lyse Hansen and Chris Wickham, writing in “The Long Eighth Century,” note, “The legend Eligius monet(arius) appears on coins struck at Marseille between c.625 and c.638 and … at Arles between c. 638 and 641, before Eligius returned north to be consecrated bishop of Noyon.” His name and title - ELIGIUS MVN - also appear on coins issued in Paris.

    Eligius’ coins are scarce and highly sought after. In 2013 a tiny gold tremissis sold for 7,000 euro ($9,500) at a Fritz Rudolf Künker auction in Germany. The undated coin shows Clotaire II on the obverse and a cross-anchor symbol known as the Eligius Cross surrounded by the saint’s name on the reverse.

    Less well-heeled collectors can buy medals showing the saint. The Austrian Mint sells a medal depicting Eligius as a bishop striking coins on the obverse. The reverse shows the anchor-cross. The bronze medal sells for 18 euro.

    The Paris Mint struck a large format — 115 mm — bronze medal honoring the saint. The obverse shows the saint. The reverse shows the famed throne surrounded by a dozen of his coins.

    In 1966 the Van Brook Mint of Lexington, Ky., stuck antiqued bronze and silver medals show Eligius at work. These turn up on eBay from time to time, with bronze pieces generally selling for less than $10.

    Next: A visionary saint

    ​Saints on coins

    December 10, 2015 1:03 PM by

    Religion and money have a long history, dating at least as far back as the time of Moses.

    As the Jews wandered in the desert, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. ‘Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the Lord.’ ” (Exodus 30:13)

    That temple tax was collected even during Christ’s lifetime and is referenced in the New Testament.

    “Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.” Matthew 21:12

    The money changers provided the silver shekels of Tyre that were used to pay the temple tax. No other coin would do.

    From the time of Constantine the Great (306 to 337) Christian religious references have appeared on European coins and even a few Colonial pieces.

    In 1790 the First Presbyterian Church of Albany even issued its own pennies. The church pennies were struck to stop churchgoers from placing worn or counterfeit coins in the collection plate. Church pennies are worth a pretty penny today. They catalog for upwards of $12,500 and can top $100,000.

    Today, houses of worship everywhere accept money as donations.

    For the next five weeks I’ll be discussing five saints who either appeared on coins during their lifetimes or, in one case, struck coins. Most of their coins are incredibly historic and uncommonly inexpensive.

    Next: The saintly mint master

    ​Leopold’s private hell: Leopold II of Belgium

    November 11, 2015 9:46 AM by

    ​At first glance Leopold II, who ruled Belgium from 1865 to 1909, looks like just another bearded 19th century European monarch. 

    Benevolent at home, Leopold gave workers the right to form unions and take Sundays off. Child labor was restricted. All men were given the right to vote.

    Abroad, though, he was a monster, running the Congo as his private colony, enslaving the populace and killing and maiming millions.

    "He turned his 'Congo Free State' into a massive labour camp, made a fortune for himself from the harvest of its wild rubber, and contributed in a large way to the death of perhaps 10 million innocent people,” the BBC reported in a 2004 story on the murderous king’s legacy.

    Leopold’s private army, Force Publique, murdered men who failed to harvest enough rubber, and killed their wives and children, too. Leopold’s soldiers cut the hands and feet off children and the penises off men and routinely beat natives to death.

    While many of history’s mass murderers were held to account for their sins against humanity, Leopold came out smelling like a well-fertilized rose. The Belgian government bought him out in 1908, extracting the payment, of course, from the Congolese.

    In 1914, American poet Vachel Lindsay included these lines in a work called The Congo: A Study of the Negro Race:

    Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost
    Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host,
    Hear how the demons chuckle and yell
    Cutting his hands off, down in Hell.
     
    Leopold’s portrait appears on the European nation’s late 19th and early 20th century silver and gold coins.  
     
    Leopold’s coinage, unfortunately, had a long run. They are common and plentiful.

    ​A dynasty of mad men: Kim Jong-Il

    November 2, 2015 3:09 PM by
    Kim Jong-il was North Korea’s supreme leader from 1994 to his death in 2011. Dear Leader (Really, that’s what he was called) succeeded his father, Great Leader Kim Il-sung, and was father to Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong-un, the hermit kingdom’s current ruler.
     
    Language doesn’t have words bad enough to describe Kim Jong-Il, his dad and his chubby son. An estimated 1 million to 3 million North Koreans starved to death in a needless famine during the early years of Kim Jong-il’s reign.
     
    God, though, apparently thought he wasn’t so bad.  According to North Korean media, the heavens cried when Kim Jong-il met his maker. The BBC relayed the report Dec. 22, 2011. “Ice cracked on a famous lake ‘so loud, it seemed to shake the Heavens and the Earth’, and a mysterious glow was seen on a revered mountain top, KCNA said.”
     
    The report continued, “Following the storm's sudden end at dawn on Tuesday, a message carved in rock — ‘Mount Paektu, holy mountain of revolution. Kim Jong-il’ — glowed brightly, it said. It remained there until sunset.”
     
    Dear Leader appears on several coins from the 1990s and 2000s,  mostly showing half and three quarter portraits of Mr. Misery greeting diplomats. The most entertaining is a 1992 50-won silver piece celebrating Kim Jong-il’s 50th birthday. The coin has the nation’s coat of arms on the obverse and a facing bust of Dear Leader on the reverse. 
     
    If you squint a bit while looking at the coin, the high-haired murderer looks just like his idol, Elvis Presley. Dear Leader, it turns out, was a huge Elvis fan, adopting the King’s jumpsuit, sunglasses and even his bouffant hairstyle.
     
    The coin can be difficult to locate. In July, a deep cameo Proof sold for $305 on eBay.
     
    Next: Leopold’s private hell

    Law and order or anarchy: Diocletian

    October 23, 2015 1:14 PM by

    The forces of good and evil collided cataclysmically during the reign of Roman emperor Diocletian (285-304). Which was which, though depended on your perspective. 

    The relationship between Christians and the Roman government was inconsistent. Sometimes the church was persecuted.  Other times it was tolerated. The seesaw teetered for three centuries. Peter and Paul were martyred during the reign of Nero. Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan in 313, setting the empire’s official position as toleration forevermore.
     
    Conservative Romans viewed Christianity as seditious superstition that threatened the state’s true religion and an orderly society in general. Christians, of course, thought otherwise.
     
    At any rate, the emperor Diocletian attacked Christians with a fervor in 303 A.D., in an event known to history as the Great Persecution. The emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius issued edicts ordering Christians to comply with traditional Roman religious practices. A Christian named Eutius was the first to fall after tearing down Diocletian’s edict in Nicomedia. He was charged with treason, tortured and burned alive. Countless others followed, refusing to sacrifice to Roman gods and paying the ultimate price.
     
    Diocletian’s coins are common and cheap, especially the bronze antoninianus. The coins tend to show the emperor on the obverse and a Roman god on the reverse. 
     
    Common, worn coins of the last emperor to persecute Christians can frequently be bought for less than $10.
     
    Next: A dynasty of mad men
     

    The people’s paradise: Which coins did Joseph Stalin appear on?

    October 19, 2015 10:07 AM by
    This is the third in a five-post series about Evil People on Coins.
     
    Read the rest of the series: Adolf Hitler | Pol Pot
     
    Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who made common cause with Hitler until the untrustworthy German attacked him, never appeared on a Soviet coin. But that didn’t stop sycophants from placing his likeness on the coins of another country.
     
    Soviet Union coins of the era were about as uninspired as possible. They typically showed the denomination on one side and the hammer and sickle superimposed on a globe on the other. 
     
    Stalin, who ordered or caused the deaths of countless millions of his countrymen, did appear, curiously, on a 1949 Czech coin celebrating the evil one’s 70th birthday. The coins were issued a year after communists took over the nation in a coup.
     
    The .500 silver 50- and 100-korun pieces are plentiful and inexpensive. Czechoslovakia produced 1 million of each coin. They catalog today for less than $10 each in circulated condition and not much more in Uncirculated.
     
    They show a lion on one side and Stalin on the other. The legend J V STALIN 21 XII 1949 – Stalin’s birthday – surrounds the bust.
     
    Next: Law and order or anarchy
     

    'Heil Hitler'

    October 12, 2015 10:14 AM by

    This is the second in a five-post series about Evil People on Coins.

    Read the rest of the series: Pol Pot | Joseph Stalin

    Adolf Hitler’s face was all over the place in Nazi Germany, but not on coins. The central design element of Nazi coins, by and large, was an eagle holding a swastika. The only person to appear on coins – and only on pre-war coins at that – was Paul von Hindenburg, the German president who appointed Hitler chancellor and signed the Enabling Act of 1933 giving Hitler’s decrees the force of law.

    The only wartime coins to show Hitler’s face were patterns produced as part of a 1941 design competition. Hitler, by many accounts, rejected the pieces, saying he didn’t want his portrait to appear on coins until after Germany had won the war.

    Hitler’s face also appears on a pair of gold 20- and 100-mark pieces cataloged in Colin R. Bruce II’s Unusual World Coins. These pieces show the Brandenburg Gate surreally topped by a swastika on the reverse.

    Bruce notes the pieces were possibly produced in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1959 as souvenirs for Nazis who escaped to South America after World War II.

     

    Next: The people’s paradise

    Evil people on coins

    October 2, 2015 4:05 PM by

    The evil that men do lives after them;

    The good is oft interred with their bones.

    Antony famously observed is his “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that good disappears with the passing of the second hand, but evil remains long after the clock has stopped working.

    For coin collectors, the visages of evil people often live on, too, for decades, centuries and even millennia.

    For the next few weeks, Five Facts will look at coins depicting five truly evil people who were responsible for endless human misery and millions upon millions of deaths.

    Some will be obvious. What list of mass murderers wouldn’t have Adolf Hitler on it? Some didn’t make the list — think Pol Pot — because no coins were issued with their portraits. 

    Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge decimated Cambodia, forcing millions to work on collective farms and killing a quarter of the nation’s population in what became known as killing fields. Neighboring Vietnam invaded in 1979, ending the slaughter.

    One of the numismatically important 20th century evildoers is a real surprise. 

    This is the first in a five-post series about Evil People on Coins.

    Read the rest of the series: Adolf Hitler | Joseph Stalin

    One that paid off

    September 26, 2015 1:11 PM by

    The Franklin Mint was a marvel of marketing and good design.

    Entrepreneur Joseph Segel (who would go on to found QVC shopping network) created Franklin Mint in 1964 to craft and sell commemorative medals and coins. Former U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts, who designed the obverse of the Kennedy half dollar, signed on to head the artistic side of the enterprise.
     
    The result was set after set of beautifully designed commemorative medals that were sold to the public through ubiquitous newspaper, magazine and direct mail advertising in the 1960s and ’70s.
     
    The advertising fostered the belief that future generations would want the “heirloom” pieces and pay big money for them. Noncollectors bought the company’s medals by the millions, apparently unaware that few people actually collect medals.
     
    Buyers bought the medals – usually sterling (0.925 fine) silver – on a subscription basis, at the rate of one or two medals a month until a set was completed.  
     
    The 1971 20-medal Great American Landmarks set is fairly representative of the mint’s products. Each 39-millimeter medal contained 1.04 ounces of silver and depicted a historic place, such as Mount Rushmore and the Alamo. The medals sold for $9.50 each.
     
    At the time, silver was selling for $1.55 an ounce, giving the Franklin Mint a handsome profit. The situation was ripe for disaster for buyers who tried to sell.
     
    However, the rising price of silver saved Franklin Mint material from the dismal fate of Avon bottles and Beanie Babies. Silver soared in the ’70s, briefly topping $50 an ounce in 1980. Franklin Mint buyers were in clover.
     
    While a few sought-after Franklin Mint medals sell at a premium to silver because of their subject matter, most of the private mint’s products trade as bullion.
     
    Even with silver trading at $14.89 an ounce as I write this, the original buyers of most Franklin Mint medals are above water, giving them a rare win in the collectibles marketplace.
     
    Next: Evil people on coins

    ​Put it on the wall

    September 22, 2015 10:14 AM by

    Collector plates enjoy a long history, but in the 1970s interest notched way up as marketing firms promoted plates as collectibles.

    You couldn’t open a Sunday paper or magazine without stumbling across advertisements for luscious creations marking holidays, current events, movies and art themes. Norman Rockwell never had it so good.

    The history of commemorative plates dates back to the 1700s when factories started producing plates, bowls and mugs marking royal events in Europe and political events in America.

    These have always enjoyed support from a small group of collectors. Prices are stable for these genuinely historic items.

    In 1895 Danish porcelain manufacturer Bing & Grøndahl produced the first series collectible plate, a dated Christmas commemorative. Royal Copenhagen joined the club in 1908. While the companies have since merged, the Bing and Royal plates are still produced each year.

    The two series enjoy a collector base that has largely supported prices over the years – except for plates issued during the boom years of the 1970s and early 1980s. Supply for these dates far exceeds demand, with the most common pieces cataloging for as little as $15 and often selling for less.

    Royal Copenhagen and Bing have priced this year’s plates at $120 each.

    Beyond these narrow areas, the market for collector plates pretty much went bust in the early 1980s. There was no secondary market to create price appreciation. Nobody really wanted a 1976 Mother’s Day plate in 1987.

    In early August eBay had 163,544 listings for collector plates. Most had no bids. Among completed auctions, a Princes Diana collector plate went for 99 cents and a 1994 numbered, “limited-edition” Danbury Mint Betty Boop plate fetched $1.29.

    As the original purchasers of collectible plates in the 1970s retire, die and downsize, more and more material is coming on the market. EBay listings are full of complete collections of various series of plates – often 20 and more – complete with boxes and certificates of authenticity that attract no bids.

    Next: One that paid off

     

    ​I’ll drink to that

    September 10, 2015 3:40 PM by
    Jim Beam, now part of a Japanese conglomerate, has been making good booze for decades. The Beam family started making whiskey in 1795. After Prohibition the present James B. Beam Distilling Co. was formed to rekindle the family profession.
     
    To push product, the company began selling alcohol in ceramic decanters 60 years ago. Some decanters were just decorative, often featuring a dog, and were produced solely to look good on the shelf behind the bar. Others commemorated events, such as Alaska statehood. Some were specially crafted for companies to give – filled, of course – to special clients or officials.
     
    In the 1970s coin collecting and Beam bottle collecting briefly merged. Booze and coins seemed like a match made in heaven. Dealers started advertising Beam bottles in the pages of Coin World. Ads touted the investment potential. The star of the series was the 1964 First National Bank of Chicago decanter. 

    Connect with Coin World:  

    Michael Polak’s Antique Trader book Bottles Identification and Price Guide notes about that bottle, “Commemorates the 100th anniversary of the First National Bank of Chicago. Approximately 130 were issued with 117 being given as mementoes to the bank directors with none for public distribution. This is the most valuable Beam Bottle known. Also, beware of reproductions. “
     
    Prices for that genuine rare piece have been all over the place, reaching several thousand dollars during the Beam bottle collecting heydays of the 1970s.
     
    In June, a First National bottle with a “firing flaw” sold for $588 on eBay. The seller maintained he had recently sold an unflawed decanter for $1,200.
     
    Beam bottle collecting started to wane in the 1980s, about the time ads ceased appearing in Coin World. Today most bottles go for just a couple dollars apiece, when they sell at all.
     
    Author Darryl (no last name given) writes on World Collectors Net, “What caused this demise in the hobby? I think there are a few factors that went into this. The distillers were having such success at making decanters that they continued to make more and more each year. They actually flooded the market with bottles. Buying these bottles new from your local liquor store was not cheap. The new decanters cost far more than the standard off-the-shelf bottles. I started out by collecting Political bottles. I remember paying $89.00 each for the last Politicals in 1988. Today these bottles aren’t worth half that. It all comes down to supply and demand.”
     
    Next: Put it on the wall

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    The collectible that smells

    August 28, 2015 12:31 PM by
    In the early 1970s, when my wife and I were young and poor, Olga sold Avon products door-to-door in our Ohio State University campus-area neighborhood.

    “Avon calling” was the company’s advertising catchphrase, and women brought the firm’s lotions, perfumes and beauty products in their homes, much to our good fortune.

    In the 1960s, the company’s marketing focus shifted from products to packaging. Aftershave might be sold in a bottle made to look like a car one month and a fish the next.  

    Customers began buying the products for the bottles. The bottles themselves moved out of the bathroom and onto display shelves in the living room. Collectors followed. Production increased to meet expanding demand. Collectors started chasing vintage bottles from the 1950s – produced before the collecting frenzy began. Prices rose.

    Price guides, with often wishful-thinking values, were produced by several publishers. Sellers moved the bottles to the front of their displays. Avon was hot – until it wasn’t.

    In the 1980s, the market dissipated. Today more than 7,000 Avon bottles are listed on eBay. Most have no bids. The few that do sell go for a few cents to a few dollars each. 

    This summer the Central Ohio Numismatic Association’s club auction featured a 1970s Avon aftershave in a bottle shaped like an 1877 Indian head cent. It sold for a buck amid much joking about what it must smell like.

    An article in the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call a few years ago noted, “Smell aside, what should you do with your bottles? Junking them is a very viable approach. If you have a garage sale scheduled in the months ahead, put them in a box with a sign reading ‘Your Choice: 50 cents.’ Have two other signs in reserve, one reading ‘Your Choice: 25 cents’ and the other reading ‘Free For The Taking.’ "
     
    Next: I’ll drink to that

    It’s all beans

    August 21, 2015 2:35 PM by
    In 1999, theater students at Fort Hayes High School in Columbus, Ohio, were raising money for a summer trip to Scotland by holding benefit performances, bake sales, a grand yard sale and even an auction of donated items.

    As I recall, I donated some old coins. A lawyer put up a will. Several artists offered their work. What I remember most, though, was a dear girl who placed her Beanie Baby collection in the auction.

    Beanie Babies were “the thing” in the 1990s. They were (and still are) hand-size toy animals stuffed with plastic pellets – their namesake beans. Each came with a heart-shaped hangtag. Experts could discern which factory produced the toy and when by deciphering such things as the spacing of the wording on the tag. 

    Prices skyrocketed as more as more people chased sometimes-elusive versions of the animals. Some were produced for just a few months before being “retired,” in the language of the day. A 1997 “commemorative” bear honoring Diana, princess of Wales, after her death was especially sought after, jumping from an issue price of $5 to several hundred dollars. When McDonald’s offered 100 million tiny versions of Beanie Babies as a promotion for its children’s Happy Meals, adults stormed the stores.

    In 1998, the fad’s peak year, Ty Inc. sold $1.3 billion of the toys to retailers.

    Les and Sue Fox, known to coin collectors for their “Fortune Telling” silver dollar books of the 1970s, even produced The Beanie Baby Handbook, a catalog that showed number made, issue price, 1998 price and estimated 2008 price.

    The Foxes advised, “Basically, if you can afford to do this, simply putting away five or ten of each and every new Beanie Baby in super mint condition isn’t a bad idea.”

    The book reported that a 1995 Stripes (The Dark Tiger) toy, issued for $5, was worth $250 in 1998 and would be worth $1,000 in 2008.  

    In 1999 the Beanie Baby craze went bust. The valuable toys the high school student donated were worth next to nothing by the time of the auction. 

    Today the toys turn up on eBay with great frequency. Princess Diana bears are priced from 99 cents to $500,000. Of 361 Diana bears listed in early August, only nine had bids. Of the few bears that sell, most go for just a few dollars. 

    Next: The collectible that smells

    Collectibles?

    August 17, 2015 10:55 AM by

    Coins are often unfairly classified as collectibles.

    Collectibles are made specifically to be collected. They have little to no utility. You take them home and put them on the shelf where they gather dust for decades. Or maybe you carefully store them in a climate-controlled dry place in their original boxes along with their all-important certificates of authenticity for decades. You hope, vainly in almost every case, that they will appreciate in value. Because if you were foolish enough to buy them in the first place, there surely must be a greater fool somewhere willing to pay more than you did.
     
    Coins, on the other hand, are made to serve commerce. For most of the 2,500-plus years coins have been minted, they have had an intrinsic or metal value that approached or equaled their face value. While coins can be collected, to my mind they are not collectibles. 
     
    In the next few weeks I’m going to explore the world of collectibles, focusing on five heavily promoted products from the past 50 years, including one numismatic one. From an investment perspective, four of the five went bust. The fifth – the numismatic one – actually provided a fair return, but not for the reason promoters advanced all those years ago. If you’re middle-aged or better or have walked through a flea market or antique mall, you’ve probably seen them all and wondered why anyone ever thought those things would be worth anything at all.
     
    Feel free to comment in the comments section with your guesses and experiences.
     
    Next: It’s all beans 

    Worthless cents and a partial country

    July 31, 2015 2:47 PM by

    In the early days of the United States Mint, dies were created by hand using punches to place design elements, letters and numbers. In some cases, mint workers grabbed the wrong punch or failed to properly space the lettering.

    Large cents produced from late 1793 to 1807 expressed the value as a fraction 1/100 on the reverse, except when it didn’t. 

    In 1801 a die cutter botched three reverse dies. All expressed the value as 1/000 – zip, zero, nothing. He caught the error on one of the three dies, punching a 1 over the first zero in the denominator, the lower set of numerals in the fraction. His third die was spectacularly bad. In addition to the nonsensical value, he used two I’s for a U in the word United and left off part of the wreath – the central design element.

    Because dies were expensive, even bungled ones were used to produce coins until they wore out. One of them was still going strong in 1803.

    Coins struck by the bungled dies tend to be worth more than regular coins, especially in higher grades.

    In 1793, the engraver producing the first die for the first cent abbreviated America as AMERI.

    Why remains a mystery. There was plenty of space for the last two letters. Some believe the engraver thought the completed word would end too close to the next word – UNITED in UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The late researcher Walter Breen speculated it was done on purpose, somehow in sympathy with the unfinished pyramid on the Great Seal of the United States.

    Whatever the reason, only about 7,000 were struck before the die broke, making a rarity for the start of the now 222-year-old 1-cent series.

    Less is more when it comes to the nation’s first cent. The Ameri. coin catalogs for $10,000 in Good condition in Coin World Coin Values. Coins with the whole word catalog for $7,500.

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    The amusement park dime

    July 23, 2015 5:34 PM by
    The 1982-P Roosevelt No P dime touched off a wave of change-scouring when stories started appearing in Ohio and Pennsylvania newspapers about the discovery of odd dimes that did not have a Mint mark.   Since 1980, every circulating coin, except cents, has a Mint mark above the date. These dimes, though, were blank.

    The Philadelphia Mint had neglected to place a Mint mark on one or two dies.  Coins with a noticeably strong strike surfaced in Sandusky, Ohio. Many were unknowingly given out in change at the city’s Cedar Point Amusement Park. 

    In an article in the Central State Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel, Steven Bieda wrote, “In March or April of 1982 the amusement park requested its seasonal allotment of coins through Citizens Bank. The bank ordered the coinage from the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland. As it turned out, the vast majority of the 1982 No-Mint Mark dimes were contained in this order.”

    Less desirable coins with a weak strike were released in Pittsburgh.

    Bieda noted that some think that all the No P dimes were struck from the same set of dies, but that the pressure used to strike the coins was raised during the production cycle, resulting in a sharper strike.

    Strong-strike 1982 No P dimes catalog for $300 in Mint State 65 in Coin World’s Coin Values.  Weak-strike coins are not cataloged there, but tend to sell for less than half the value of strong-strike coins.

    Less, once again, is more when it comes to numismatics.

     

    Next: Worthless cents and a partial country

    The Philadelphia coin that wasn’t

    July 14, 2015 3:12 PM by

    Collectors knew something was up in 1922 when cents without a Mint mark started showing up in circulation. For the first time since 1815, the Philadelphia Mint was not striking cents that year. Only the Denver Mint was coining Lincoln cents. All Denver Mint cents should have had a D below the date. These didn’t.

    The 1922 cents without a Mint mark weren’t Philadelphia products. They were Denver cents without a Mint mark. Here’s how it happened.

    During the production of some 7 million cents that year, several dies clashed – banged against each other without a cent blank between them – because of a mechanical error. Clashed obverse dies showed parts of the reverse. Clashed reverse dies showed parts of the obverse.

    The standard remedy was to grind off the clashed parts and place the dies back in service. Sometimes, though, the grinders got overly enthusiastic. On at least one die, they ground off the Mint mark. True 1922 No D cents – called Die Pair 2 by collectors – have a strong reverse.

    Three other dies also produced cents with a very weak or in some cases missing Mint mark. These coins were probably created by worn dies – Die Pairs 1, 3 and 4 – on which the D Mint mark recess gradually filled with debris or grease – a not uncommon occurrence – until the D entirely disappeared.

    These varieties have a mushy, poorly defined reverse. Coins with a weak D command a small premium over regular 1922-D cents. Coins on which the D is entirely filled command a larger premium, but much less than the No D cents with a strong reverse

    Less is more when it comes to 1922 cents. In Good condition, regular 1922-D cents catalog for $20 in Coin Values, Weak D cent go for $30, and No D cents struck from Die Pair 2 fetch $600.

    Next: The amusement park dime

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    A crippled buffalo

    July 10, 2015 3:18 PM by
    A press striking Indian Head 5-cent pieces in Denver misfired in 1937. No blank was in the press when the obverse and reverse dies slammed into each other. Part of the Indian’s head was impressed into the reverse die, just below the left side of the buffalo.

    As usual, Mint workers tried to fix the reverse die by grinding away the clash marks. However, this time they got carried away, removing not only the offending clash marks but most of the creature’s foremost leg.

    When the die was placed back in service, only the animal’s hoof remained. The buffalo on coins struck from it hobbled along on only three legs.

    Collectors immediately seized upon the coin, which apparently was released mostly in Montana.

    Collector Aubrey Bebee, who later gave much of his collection to the American Numismatic Association, reported in a 1943 article in Numismatic Scrapbook. “While touring the West for several months in 1939, we stopped at Bozeman, Montana, for several days, where Mrs. Bebee and I had the great pleasure of meeting Harold C. White, who informed us of the existence of this freak. I bought several of these nickels from Mr. White, as I doubted that I would be able to find any as late as 1939. However, the next day I went to the banks there and from four $50.00 bags found about 30 specimens.”

    Collectors sucked up the coins. Most grade Extra Fine or better. David W. Lange, author of The Complete Guide to Buffalo Nickels, says, “Low grade specimens are somewhat scarce.”

    In About Uncirculated condition, a standard 1937-D 5-cent piece fetches about $10. Grind off a leg and the value jumps to $1,000.

    With Indian Head 5-cent pieces, less is more.

     

    Next: The Philadelphia coin that wasn’t

    The case of the missing signature

    July 8, 2015 11:01 AM by

    The Provincial Congress of New Jersey authorized a 30,000-pound (later raised to 50,000 pounds) paper money issue Feb. 20, 1776. Nineteen people were authorized to sign the bills, and each bill had to be signed by three men before being released into circulation. 

    John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was one of the signers. Notes signed by him command a premium of several hundred dollars over other New Jersey notes. Hart, for his part, was paid £12 10s & 10d by New Jersey to sign 15,600 notes.

    In late 1776, notes that had been signed by two people – Hart and Samuel How – were sitting in the state’s treasury awaiting the third signature. As the British advanced on Trenton, the treasury, consisting of fully signed bills and partially signed ones, was moved to John Abbot’s farm.

    The partially signed bills were placed in a trunk in the attic. The fully signed bills were hidden under broken pottery and other debris in tubs in the basement.

    On Dec. 9, 1776, British Lt. Thomas Hawkshaw in command of 20 troops searched the farmhouse after being tipped off by a loyalist local. They found the partially signed bills, but not the fully signed ones.

    Colonial Williamsburg reports, “Apparently the British released these non-monetized notes into circulation, no doubt as a form of economic warfare. A warning against the acceptance of these incompletely-signed notes appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal.”

    The Feb. 26, 1777, article read, “The PUBLIC are hereby cautioned not to receive any of the Paper Bills emitted by the Convention of the State of New-Jersey, dated the 20th of February, 1776, unless they have three signers names thereto; as a quantity of those Bills were plundered by the enemy from one of the person’s appointed by the said Convention to sign them, before he had put his name to the same; some of which have been since circulated through New-Jersey and Pennsylvania. As they are not perfect, and of consequence not a legal tender, and being the property of the State of New-Jersey, the public are requested to stop such as are offered in payment.

    N.B. [Nota bene, that is, “note well”:] The names of the two persons who have signed the said Bills, are JOHN HART and SAMUEL HOW.”

    The bills, called raid notes by collectors, are especially prized. They are dated 1776, were signed by a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and played a real part in the Revolutionary War.

    Raid notes typically command a premium of two to three times the value of notes with all three signatures. Less is more when it comes to Colonial paper money. (Note to grammarians: Get over it. “Less” works better than “fewer” in this entry.)

    Next: A crippled buffalo

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    Less is more

    June 30, 2015 5:48 PM by

    Less is more. 

    You’ve heard the phrase, maybe even bought into it. 

    Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe used the phrase in the 1960s to describe his minimalist style.  Living simply advocates adopted the phrase in recent years to describe how a fuller life can be lived with fewer possessions. 

    In the workplace, though, duck your head when your boss babbles the chant, often in conjunction with some blather about right sizing.  Less is more, means less money for you, more for him.  If you’re lucky enough to be on the right size of a corporate right-sizing, less is more means more work for you with fewer co-workers to share it.  In the corporate world less is never really more. Only more is more.

    However, in numismatics, sometimes less is more.

    Some coins and pieces of paper money are worth more because of what’s missing, not what’s there.  For the next few weeks, Five Facts will be exploring five numismatic items that are worth more than their full-bodied counterparts.

    Next: The case of the missing signature 

    Antebellum enigma

    June 12, 2015 2:53 PM by
    Probably the most interesting thing about late-date large cents is the catalog that describes them. Howard R. Newcomb’s 1944 United States Copper Cents 1816-1857 is hand-printed and meticulously illustrated with line drawings.

    One coin in the series, though, stands out as something very special – the 1848 small date cent. The coin, which is known by only 10 specimens, gets two pages in the Newcomb catalog, but no catalog number. R.S. Yeoman’s A Guide Book of United States Coins gives it a footnote: “The 1848 small date cent is a rare contemporary counterfeit.”

    Advanced collectors, though, are eager to pick up the coin on the rare occasion that one is offered at auction. A Mint-struck 1848 large cent in Very Good condition sells for about $25. The small date, though, fetches $4,000.

    Newcomb wrote the coins have a good ring when dropped but have inferior workmanship, especially in the leaves that make up the wreath on the reverse. “Personally,” he wrote, “I believe these pieces to be counterfeits of the time.”

    All of the pieces known show evidence of circulation, indicating they passed as cents during the decade before large cents were replaced in 1857 by the current-size small cents. Numismatic researcher Walter Breen traced the coin’s first appearance at auction back to a May 29, 1865, sale.

    Why was it produced? No one knows.

    Copper prices were rising at the time, and the Mint was actively searching for a less-expensive cent. It seems a losing proposition that anyone would really try to counterfeit large cents for circulation.

    Adding to the mystery is that most if not all of the coins were overstruck on existing large cents – one on a regular issue 1848 cent.

    Scrap-pile rescue

    June 5, 2015 3:12 PM by

    Arguably the most famous “counterfeit” early copper coin is the 1804 restrike cent, a coin struck with dies salvaged from the scrap pile. Since about 1860 bargain-minded collectors have been able to fill the 1804 hole in their large cent albums with this jury-rigged substitute.

    Authentic 1804 large cents are all but unavailable in high grades and run hundreds of thousands in About Uncirculated. A PCGS AU-55 coin with a gold CAC sticker sold for $223,500 at a 2013 Stack’s Bowers sale.

    The restrike is all but unavailable in circulated condition and runs just $1,250 in Uncirculated condition.

    Its origin remains a mystery more than 150 years after it was produced, though the finger of suspicion has long pointed at unscrupulous Mint insiders.

    In 1910, Charles K. Warner, son of early American medalist John S. Warner reminisced about his childhood in an article that appeared in The Numismatist. In the 1850s, the younger Warner related, silversmith William Sellers conducted his business in the old Philadelphia Mint building. In the basement was a pile of scrap metal, including old, rusted, cracked and chipped coinage dies. In late 1857 Sellers gave the dies to medalist John S. Warner, who, in turn gave them to his friend, Chief Coiner George K. Childs.

    It is not recorded which dies were in the lot, but two years later restrike 1804 cents began appearing on the numismatic market. The pieces were struck from an altered rusted and cracked 1803 die (S-261) and an 1820 reverse (N-12).

    In his definitive large-cent book, Penny Whimsy, author William H. Sheldon quoted turn-of-the-20th-century coin dealers F. W. Doughty and David Proskey about the source of the coins.

    “This singular example of the low moral tone of some of our public officials made its appearance about the year 1860,” Sheldon quoted the pair. The piece was “manufactured for the sole purpose of supplying coin dealers with a cent they could sell to young and ignorant collectors.”

    Breen speculated they were struck for prominent coin dealers Joseph A. Mickley or Dr. Montroville Dickeson during the freewheeling administration of Mint Director James Ross Snowden.

    Today, the pieces, with their crude appearance and rough rusted surfaces are prized by large cent collectors, counterfeit collectors and those who appreciate a mystery.

    Next: Antebellum enigma

     

    Copy or counterfeit?

    May 29, 2015 4:54 PM by

    1796 half cent copies or counterfeits?

    With a reported mintage of just 1,390, the 1796 half cents are scarce, but pieces known as Edwards’ copies are rarer – just a dozen are believed to exist.

    Dr. Frank (or Francis, depending on the source) Smith Edwards of New York City, who died in 1865, cut his own 1796 Liberty With Pole dies and used them to strike half cents on somewhat thin planchets.

    In his 1952 book, Struck Copies of Early American Coins, Richard Kenney described Edwards as a serious collector of U.S. coins

    Edward Cogan destroyed the Edwards dies after his death and all but 12 “coins,” one of which appeared at auction the following year. (Sylvester Crosby, who wrote the seminal Early Coins of America, was the high bidder at $5.50 in the April 1866, W. Elliot Woodward sale. The sum was equal to a week’s wages for a laborer.)

    Edwards’ delicacies are still prized by collectors today. Last year Ira and Larry Goldberg sold the finest known, a PCGS MS-67 red and brown piece, for $37,950. While a goodly sum, the hammer price is just 5 percent to 10 percent of what a real high-grade 1796 Liberty Cap With Pole half cent would go for.

    The Goldbergs noted in that sale, “The dies were handmade and the workmanship is of good quality. The resulting design is a fairly accurate representation of the genuine article, but it is far from perfect.”

    The pieces, which are often out of round, are commonly referred to as copies. They are close enough to originals, though, that the Red Book (R.S. Yeoman’s A Guide Book of United States Coins) warns about them.

      Next: Scrap-pile rescue

    A genuine counterfeit

    May 22, 2015 3:50 PM by

    About the same time that Philadelphia coin dealer Ebenezer Locke Mason Jr. was creating electrotypes of Jefferson head cents (in the 1860s), New York dealer William D. Smith was creating his own 1793 cents from well-worn 1793 and 1794 cents.

     

    The coins, largely unknown to the collector community, are called Smith counterfeits by cognoscenti. In a 2013 article on contemporary counterfeits, Coin World’s Paul Gilkes wrote, “Some collectors suggest the Smith counterfeits are not counterfeits at all, but simply alterations to genuine U.S. Mint cents.”

    Smith took well-worn cents and extensively engraved the remaining surface, rounding Liberty’s cheeks and giving definition to her hair strands. The result — lightweight by necessity — is nowhere near original looking but has a not-unattractive, otherworldly presence that attracts collectors.

    Stack’s in its 2007 John Ford XVII sale catalog, wrote that Smith was noted for his “trademark smiling Liberty, bold date, and abundant reverse berries.”

    The description for an Extra Fine Smith counterfeit that fetched $2,990, said, “Their manufacture in the 1860s was not meant to fool anyone, but rather to make a nearly worthless cent (like a low-grade and granular Wreath cent, worth just pennies in the 1860s) into something admirable and perhaps suitable as a hole-filler in the place of the elusive high-grade cents of 1793.”

    In January, Ira and Larry Goldberg sold a Fine 12 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath Reverse cent for $2,585. The price was about a third of what an unaltered Fine 12 piece would bring, but more than an unaltered poor coin would sell for.

    The intriguing pieces are prized today for their whimsy and connection to mid-19th century collecting, when the hobby was young.

    Next: Copy or counterfeit?

     

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    The saw-maker’s patterns

    May 15, 2015 3:42 PM by

    For more than a century, odd looking, extra heavy 1795 cents confounded collectors. Everyone knew they were not of the same quality as the 1795 cents produced by the Philadelphia Mint, but no one knew where they came from.

    In the 1860s coin dealer Ebenezer Locke Mason Jr. referred to them as Jefferson cents, presumable because the image of Miss Liberty on the front bore a vague resemblance to Thomas Jefferson. He liked the scarce and odd coins so much he even made and sold electrotypes of them – a kind of counterfeit counterfeit.

    The mystery was not solved until 1952 when researcher Walter Breen connected several 18th century dots to posit that Philadelphia saw maker John Harper produced the pieces in an attempt to wrest coinage of the nation’s coins from the U.S. Mint.

    The coins, Breen wrote in his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, “are obviously not productions of the federal Mint, but which are too heavy to have been a practical exercise in counterfeiting.”

    In 1795, Congress held hearings of the possibility of replacing the inefficient and expensive government mint with a private one. Harper, who provided equipment to the Mint and who had been involved with the private minting of state coinage, testified in February that he could do the job and produced his own coins to show the congressmen.

    At the hearing, several congressmen bought examples of the coin from Harper, giving them a semi-official status.

    Mint Director Elias Boudinot, concerned about the possible nefarious use of the dies, confiscated them and reimbursed Harper the $100 value of the dies.

    Writing on the PCGS CoinFacts site, Ron Guth notes, “Harper intended to mimic the designs on 1795 Liberty Cap Cents, but his skill was as a machinist, not as a die-cutter. Thus, his attempts at replicating the designs, though admirable, were clearly different and off the mark.”

    Today, about 30 Jefferson head cents are known, all well circulated. The finest grades just Very Fine. One sold for $184,000 in 2012.

     

    Next: A genuine counterfeit

    Counterfeits

    May 11, 2015 2:31 PM by

    Counterfeits from China bedevil us, but contemporary counterfeits, especially those from the early days of the Republic delight us.

    For the next five weeks, I’m going to look at copper “cents” and “half cents” that mimic regular-issue United States coins. Some were produced possibly to fool merchants, others to provide collectors with otherwise unobtainable rarities. One was a pattern for an attempt to replace the government mint with a private one.

    For the most part these items – Can you call them coins? – are collected, by tradition, as part of the regular-issue series. In auction catalogs, many appear with the word counterfeit in quotes, denoting their special status as somewhere between Mint products and out-and-out fakes.

    Because of their indistinct status, all occupy a special spot in the hearts of collectors.

    Next: The saw-maker’s patterns

    ​Tax on checks

    April 27, 2015 3:30 PM by

      With the nation at war with itself, the United States government shook every tree it could find to raise money to prosecute the Civil War. It issued paper money that was backed by nothing more than the government’s full faith and taxed everything it could.

    The newly created Internal Revenue Service taxed mortgages, bonds, contracts, bank checks and a host of other documents.

    The initial bank check tax, instituted in 1862, was 2 cents on checks drawn for $20.01 and more. Tax dodgers quickly figured out that if they wrote a bunch of $20 checks instead of one big one they could avoid the tax.

    The government wised up in 1864 and applied the tax to all checks.

    Not surprisingly, the tax didn’t disappear after the Civil War or after the Indian Wars. It didn’t go away until years after the Spanish American War.

    For decades checks bore stamps that looked much like postal stamps.  Most stamps on 19th century checks are specially issued BANK CHECK stamps. But in the early years, when the government was not able to provide enough of the special check stamps, general U.S. Internal Revenue stamps were OK. The stamps were “canceled” by being written on in ink so they could not be reused.

    Sharpies figured out they could bleach out the ink cancelations and reuse the stamps, much to the government’s consternation.

    Philatelists have studied the 19th century revenue stamps extensively, but few people collect them. Despite their great history and Civil War connection, canceled bank check stamps tend to catalog for 50 cents or less.

    For check collectors, the stamps add a bit of sparkle, but a check’s primary value comes from who signed it, what’s pictured on it, which bank it was drawn on and where it was issued.

    Tiny tax tokens

    April 21, 2015 10:57 AM by
    Sales taxes, a regressive form of taxation enjoying new popularity among tax hikers across the country, owe their birth to the Great Depression. As income and therefore income tax receipts fell in the early 1930s, state after state turned to consumption taxes.

     A problem, though, quickly developed. While a 1 percent tax on a $1 purchase worked out to an even cent, no smaller coin was available for the tax on amounts of less than $1.

     To avoid overcharging people, 12 states – Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Washington – issued their own tokens in denominations as small as 1/10th of a cent to make change.

     The tokens – tiny in size and tiny in value – proved to be too much of a bother. Most states discontinued their usage before World War II, though Missouri tokens lasted into the early 1960s.

     The tokens tend to be simple affairs – often with just the state’s name and denomination. New Mexico’s are noteworthy in that they show a saguaro cactus. Sales tax tokens were made in fiber, plastic, aluminum, zinc and bronze and were often holed.

     The tokens are avidly sought after by a small group of collectors – many of whom are members of the American Tax Token Society. Sales tax tokens tend to be junk box material, often selling for a dime or so. Some rare varieties, though, have sold for as much as $500.

     Next: Tax on checks

     

    ​Peter the Great’s beard tax

    April 15, 2015 10:48 AM by

    Taxes serve three purposes: raise money for government functions, encourage activities (such as tax credits for energy efficient furnaces) and discourage activities (think cigarette taxes.)

    In 1705, Russian Czar Peter the Great instituted a tax on beards as part of his plan to modernize and westernize his backward country.

    Peasants and clerics were exempt, but everyone else who wanted to wear a beard had to pay an annual fee and carry a medal as proof of payment.  The first medals were round affairs showing a nose, mustache and beard on one side and the imperial eagle on the reverse.  Later issues were diamond shaped and dropped the images but bore the legend, “The beard is an unnecessary burden.”

    Randolph Zander, writing in The Numismatist (“Russian Beard Tokens,” December 1948), noted: “The law provided for check-points at the entrance to towns, where officials would deny passage to any bearded person who could not produce a beard token. In addition, law enforcement agencies were enjoined to arrest and fine bewhiskered individuals on sight if they carried no beard license.”

    The tax was collected from 1705 to 1772. It was levied according to rank, topping out at 100 rubles for wealthy merchants.

    Beard tax tokens are prized by collectors, partly for their novelty and partly for their sheer ridiculousness.  They are scarce and often sell for thousands of dollars when they appear at auction.

    Next: Tiny tax tokens

    Lady Godiva's tax protest

    April 8, 2015 4:54 PM by

    Seventeen a beauty queen
    She made a ride that caused a scene
    In the town

    Her long blonde hair
    Hangin' down around her knees
    All the cats who dig striptease
    Prayin' for a little breeze
    Her long blonde hair
    Falling down across her arms
    Hiding all the lady's charms
    Lady Godiva

     

    Peter and Gordon’s 1966 chart topper celebrates the world’s most famous tax protest, the fabled and likely fictitious 11th century ride of Lady Godiva, wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia in Anglo-Saxon England.

    The story of the lady’s naked ride was first recorded in Roger of Wendover’s 13th century book Flores Historiarum or Flowers of History. Despite its title, the book is a chronicle of events not a gardening guide.

    The tale has been embellished over the centuries, but the plot remains the same: Leofric refuses Godiva’s entreaties to lower the taxes on the oppressed residents of Coventry. One day, though, Leofric gives in, saying he’ll cut taxes if she rides naked through the town at midday.

    In a report on the historic person, the BBC wrote, “The rest of the story is not documented at all, but it is said that so great was her compassion for the people of Coventry that Godiva overcame her horror of doing this. She ordered the people to remain indoors with their windows and doors barred. Loosening her long hair to cover her as a cloak, she mounted her waiting horse.

    “Then she rode through the silent streets unseen by the people, who had obeyed her command because of their respect for her.”

    Peeping Tom, the tailor who was struck blind for looking, was added to the story in the 17th century.

    Lady Godiva appeared on a privately minted 1792-1794 halfpenny token issued during Great Britain’s Condor token craze. The token, which was designed by William Mainwaring and struck by William Lutwyche, shows a not-too-pretty nude equestrian on one side along with the date and the legend PRO BONO PUBLICO, a wording with a double meaning on this piece.

    With small change in short supply, private mints struck hundreds of trade tokens, often with imaginative designs, to meet the English public’s need. The legend PRO BONO PUBLICO appears on many Condor tokens, meaning that they were struck for the public good. Lady Godiva’s ride, too, was for the public good.

    The other side of the Godiva token shows Coventry’s symbol – an elephant with a castle turret in place of a saddle – and the legend COVENTRY HALFPENNY. The edge says where it was payable and by whom.

    Circulated examples are common and generally sell for $50 or less.

    The public grew tired of the collectible tokens in 1795 as supply exceeded demand. The need for the unofficial coinage ended in 1797 when Great Britain started striking copper half pennies and pennies.

    The token series takes its name from James Condor (1761–1823) who cataloged the pieces in his 1798 book, An arrangement of Provincial Coins, tokens, and medalets issued in Great Britain, Ireland, and the colonies, within the last twenty years, from the farthing to the penny size.

    Next: Trimming the hirsute


    Rome's insulting Jewish tax

    March 23, 2015 4:56 PM by

    This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD. Exodus 30:13

     

    Before Rome conquered Judea in 70 A.D., Jews paid a tax of a silver half shekel to the temple each year. In 71 A.D., Emperor Vespasian ordered that the Jewish tax – fiscus iudaicus – continue to be collected, but for the benefit of Rome, not the destroyed temple.

    Rome’s tax collectors were brutal in their methods and despised for their profession. To determine if a man was Jewish and thus subject to the tax, tax collectors were known for ordering Jews to disrobe, often in public places.

    Historian Suetonius noted, “Besides other taxes, that on the Jews was levied with the utmost rigor, and those were prosecuted who, without publicly acknowledging that faith, yet lived as Jews, as well as those who concealed their origin and did not pay the tribute levied upon their people I recall being present in my youth when the person of a man 90 years old was examined before the procurator and a very crowded court, to see whether he was circumcised.”

    After assuming the throne in 96, the Emperor Nerva issued a sestertius – a large bronze coin about the size of a half dollar – that showed his portrait on the obverse and a palm tree on the back. The legend FISCI IVDAICI CALVMNIA SVBLATA surrounds the palm.

    The legend translates as “The insult of the Jewish tax has been removed.”

    What that means, though, is open to interpretation.

    In his Guide to Biblical Coins, David Hendin, writes, “Nerva instituted an extensive series of popular changes, one of which was the abolition of the insulting method of collecting the Jewish tax. The tax itself was not revoked, only the degrading method of collecting it. To proclaim his benevolence, Nerva ordered a coin to be issued.”

    The coin, Hendin believes, celebrates Nerva’s decision to make tax collecting less abusive.

    However, Hendin’s book also reports an alternative theory posited by David Vagi, author of Coinage and History of the Roman Empire.

    Vagi believes the Romans weren’t being nice at all.

    Rome redirected the tax from the Jew’s Jerusalem temple to Rome’s Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus. When the tax was collected for the Jews, Vagi contents, it was an “insult” to Rome. Nerva’s coin celebrates the removal of that insult.

    ​Taxman

    March 13, 2015 1:21 PM by

    If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street.

    If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.

    If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat. 

    If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

    George Harrison’s 1966 song was a rock 'n' roll protest against England's confiscatory 95 percent tax rate on high-income individuals, especially musicians. With April 15 fast approaching, the song is the theme of the season.

    Everything the late Beatle mentioned in his song almost 60 years ago is subject to taxation in the United States today. Sales and use taxes are levied on cars,roads, chairs, fuel and shoes. Politicians leave few stones unturned in their quest to reward campaign contributors with the stolen fruit of honest labor.

    For the next five weeks, Five Facts will look at five numismatic tax touchstones dating back to antiquity. Some are amusing. Some are titillating. Hopefully all are interesting.

    Next: Rome’s insulting Jewish tax. 

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    As seen on TV: 'Rockford Files' episode shot in real California coin store

    February 6, 2015 5:35 PM by

    Over five weeks, ​I’m highlighting shows from the golden age of television that featured coins in pivotal roles.

    What we've covered so far:

    No. 5: The Rockford Files, Sept. 24, 1976

    An unseen 1838-O Seated Liberty half dollar played a key part in The Rockford Files show   The Fourth Man (season 3, episode 2). Interestingly, much of the show was shot in a real coin store - American Coin Co., 12164 N. Ventra Blvd., Studio City, Calif.

    In the story, coin dealer Timson Farrell, played by actor John McMartin, is a hit man who uses his coin shop as a cover for his life of crime. His latest job is to eliminate four gangsters who were going to appear before a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating organized crime.

    A friend of private investigator Jim Rockford becomes unwittingly involved when she recognizes Farrell at the airport returning from a Miami trip a short time after traveling to Detroit. Farrell figures he has to execute her, too.

    The killer coin dealer maintained a trip to Miami to rub out a fink gangster was actually a buying trip. He said he traveled to Miami to try to buy an 1838-0 half dollar, but was beaten out by a rival dealer.  The coin, with only a handful known, is a major rarity. In 1974, a Specimen 64 piece sold for $43,000 at auction. That same coin, now labeled a Proof 64, sold for $732,500 at a Heritage auction in 2013. Fewer than 20 1838-O branch mint proofs were struck in early 1839, ostensibly “to test a press” in the early days of the New Orleans Mint.

    Farrell’s fourth hit is thwarted when the target’s bodyguard kills him.

    American Coin Co., which was established in 1959, advertised nationally in the 1970s, offering gold Bicentennial medals to non-collectors.  Today its building is home to Dilbeck Real Estate. The coin company’s large sign, visible in the television show, remains but has been repurposed for the new tenant. In the show, the store has ashtrays on the counters, coins in two-by-twos in the display cases and books and folders along the walls.

    The episode can be watched free on Hulu.

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    As seen on TV: 'Hawaii Five-0' episode likely the most famous coin-themed show

    January 30, 2015 12:22 PM by

    Over five weeks, ​ I’m highlighting shows from the golden age of television that featured coins in pivotal roles.

    What we've covered so far:

    No. 4: Hawaii Five-0, Dec. 11, 1973

    An Hawaii Five-0 episode titled,  The $100,000 Nickel  is probably the most famous television show with a coin theme.  Producers built the episode (season 6, episode 14) around the Olsen specimen of the 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent piece. In late 1972 the coin was the first coin to hit $100,000. The coin, graded Proof 64 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., sold for $3.3 million at the 2014 FUN show.

    The show opens with a forger altering a 1903 nickel to look like a 1913. The action then shifts to a courier taking a locked briefcase to the security room at the Pacific Coin Convention Coin Bourse and Auction. He takes out a box holding the coin. “It’s insured for $100,000. There are only five like it in the world,” he says. The actual coin is show full screen before it is locked in a safe.

    The action then shifts to an oceanfront park. The forger is holding the altered coin with his fingers and says, “Virtually undetectable without high magnification. I think you will find it well worth $1,000.” A killer then takes the coin in a gloved hand, places it in his pocket and pulls out a pistol. He plugs the forger and walks away.

    A con man is then hired for $10,000 to switch coins. At the coin show, the carnival slight-of-hand expert casually asks to look at the coin, which is promptly handed to him. Wearing a white glove, he picks it up and switches it out. As he’s leaving the show, an alarm sounds. The con man uses the coin to buy a 15-cent newspaper, effectively stashing the coin until he can retrieve it; only he doesn’t get back to it in time.

    The coin bounces from the vending machine to a child’s pocket to a candy store before ending up as change at a bar after the con man buys a drink.

    The coin, which is still known for its TV exposure more than 40 years later, benefited from the publicity. In 1978 Superior Galleries paid $200,000 for the coin, double its 1972 price.

    The video can be seen free at YouTube.

    Next: The Rockford Files

    As seen on TV: Murderous coin dealer in 'Streets of San Francisco' strikes fake double eagles

    January 22, 2015 10:40 AM by

    Over five weeks, ​I’m highlighting shows from the golden age of television that featured coins in pivotal roles.

    What we've covered so far:


    No. 2 : Streets of San Francisco, Feb. 1, 1973

    Actor Jamie Farr (later Klinger on MASH) is offed at the beginning of this episode of The Streets of San Francisco after smuggling blank double-eagle size gold planchets into the country. (From the Great Depression until 1975, private ownership of gold was highly restricted in the United States.)

    In A Collection of Eagles  (season 1, episode 18) murderous coin dealer Vincent Hagopian Jr. uses the planchets to strike fake double eagles, including a 1907 Ultra High Relief, in the basement of his coin shop in Maiden Lane off San Francisco’s Union Square.

    Hagopian, played by veteran character actor John Saxon, strikes his counterfeits on a small screw press after hand-engraving the dies himself. He’s careful not to leave any “hair lines,” which he says are telltale casting flaws, on his fakes. His plan is to substitute the counterfeits for real coins in a 40-coin collection that his late father, an honest coin dealer, had built for client John R. James.

    The episode has several shots of James’ collection, but no close ups of individual coins. James, according to the story, had purchased the 1907 coin for $22,500 in 1962. With about 15 known, the coin remains a rarity today, often topping $2 million when it appears at auction.

    After killing yet another of his accomplices, Hagopian makes the switch. Later he’s captured after a fight at his coin store and the attempted murder of one more associate.

    At the end, collector James sends a pair of uncirculated 1882 Morgan dollars to detectives Mike Stone (Karl Malden) and Steve Keller (Michael Douglas) as a thank you. Keller looks them up in A Guide Book of United States Coins and says, “We’re rich — $4 apiece.” Today, they’re $50 coins.

    It can be watched free on YouTube.

    Next: Hawaii Five-0

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    As seen on TV: 'Dennis the Menace' tosses away rare gold coin

    January 15, 2015 11:39 AM by

    Over five weeks, ​I’m highlighting shows from the golden age of television that featured coins in pivotal roles.

    What we've covered so far:

    No. 2: Dennis the Menace, Jan. 17, 1960

    Dennis the Menace, the early 1960s television version of Hank Ketcham’s comic strip, frequently had a numismatic theme. In one episode Dennis can be seen placing cents in a Whitman folder. The writers knew coins, giving a sense of authenticity to the stories.

    Dennis and the Rare Coin  (Season 1, Episode 15) revolves around a 1907 Rounded Rims with Periods Indian Head $10 gold eagle. At the start, Dennis’ long-suffering neighbor, “good old Mr. Wilson,” buys the rare coin from big time dealer Mr. Hathaway for $250.

    The coin is a notable rarity that comes with a great story, but the Dennis the Menace episode does not go into the coin’s history. Philadelphia Mint Superintendent John Landis said 31,500 were minted but all but about 50 were melted. The coin, an early version of Saint Gaudens’ design, is a great rarity worth $100,000 and up in Uncirculated condition.

    The condition of Mr. Wilson’s coin isn’t mentioned, but it gets some rough treatment. Mrs. Wilson inadvertently brushes it onto the floor where Dennis finds it. “Finder’s keepers?” Dennis asks Mrs. Wilson. “Loser’s weepers,” she affirms. The coin is briefly visible on the floor and is clearly an Indian Head eagle.

    Dennis puts it in his pocket where it jostles with other coins until he throws it in a wishing fountain.

    When Mr. Wilson and Dennis try to retrieve the coin from the water, they’re arrested and taken to the police station to sort things out.  While they’re there, Mr. Hathaway is led in in handcuffs.  An officer says coin dealer Hathaway is actually con man John Higgins.  “He’s flooding the town with phony old coins,” the officer says.

    The episode is online at Hulu and can be viewed at no charge. 

     Next: Streets of San Francisco

    As seen on TV: 'Mickey Mouse Club' series enthralled young collectors

    January 7, 2015 11:06 AM by

    Since antiquity, coins have played a part in theater. The ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes referred to the owls of Athens (tetradrachms showing an owl on the reverse) in his fifth century BC comedy, The Birds. Shakespeare mentioned coins so many times in his plays that a whole book - Coins in Shakespeare by J. Eric Engstrom - has been written about it.

     
    Though Aristophanes’ and Shakespeare’s plays have been staged for centuries, they never had the reach of television in the 1950s, ‘60s and  ‘70s.  In the days before cable, the three main television channels pretty much split the nation.  If a person wasn’t watching NBC, he was watching CBS or ABC. The most popular shows in the era drew as many as 100 million viewers. Today popular shows are happy to hit 20 percent of that number.
     
    For the next five weeks, I’m going to highlight shows from the golden age of television that featured coins in pivotal roles.
     
    No. 1: The Mickey Mouse Club, Oct. 1, 1956
     
    The Mickey Mouse Club was must-see TV for baby boomers in the 1950s.  Every school day afternoon Walt Disney’s mouse led a parade to start the show, which featured dancing and singing Mouseketeers, words of wisdom from Head Mouseketeer Jimmie Dodd and a really old cartoon or a serial adventure.
     
    One of the serials, The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure, revolved around a missing pirate treasure and enthralled a generation of budding collectors.
     
    Each of the 19 10-minute episodes began with a pirate-ish theme song backing bony hands ruffling through a treasure chest filled with coins.
     
    The theme song jauntily stated the serial’s premise: a pirate treasure that had been handed down to Bayport’s Silas Applegate had gone missing.
     
    “Gold doubloons and pieces of eight, handed down to Applegate? From buccaneers who fought for years for gold doubloons and pieces of eight.  Handed down in a pirate chest, the gold they sailed for east and west.  The treasure bright that made men fight, till none were left to bury the chest.  So now the gold and pieces of eight all belong to Applegate.  The chest is here but wait ... now where are those gold doubloons and pieces of eight?”
     
    The story is a reimagining of the Hardy Boys mystery, The Tower Treasure. Applegate’s pirate chest has been missing for a decade when Frank and Joe Hardy stumble across a gold doubloon. Over the next few weeks, the boys follow red herrings and real clues to eventually end up in an old water tower with a couple villains. After a fight in which the bad guys fall through the tower’s rotten floor, the boys celebrate the discovery of the treasure chest.
     
    The treasure chest appears to be filled with stage coins showing a portrait surrounded by stars on the obverse and a sold line on the back.  The one real coin shown – the one the boys stumble across -  is a lustrous 1808 Mexico City gold 8 escudos showing Ferdinand VII on the obverse and the Spanish coat of arms on the reverse. A common coin, the piece retails for about $2,250 in Extra Fine condition.
     
    The episodes are not online, but the theme song can be found on YouTube here
     
    Next: Dennis the Menace
     

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    Santa's paper money: Collecting Christmas

    December 9, 2014 10:23 AM by

    'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

    Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

    The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

    In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

    The children were nestled all snug in their beds;

    While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

    And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,

    Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,

    When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

    I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

    —Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas

    The modern celebration of Christmas as a holiday, was formed in no small part on Dec. 23, 1823, when  A Visit from St. Nicholas, also know as The Night Before Christmas, was published in the Troy Sentinel in Troy, N.Y.

    The poem established that Santa Claus rode in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, magically rose up chimneys and carried a pack of toys for good little girls and boys.

    Images inspired by the poem were placed on notes issued by more than 20 banks in eight states before the Civil War, when federal bills replaced privately issued bank notes.

    One of the banks that issued Santa Claus notes was—not surprisingly—the Saint Nicholas Bank of New York City. When the bank became a National Bank during the Civil War it’s Santa vignettes dropped from circulation.

    The Saint Nicholas vignettes on bills show Santa riding his sleigh, getting ready to go up a chimney, tiptoeing past a sleeping child and smoking his pipe.

    “Since banks often chose vignettes that would lead customers to have faith in the bank, it is not surprising that Santa Claus vignettes were chosen by some banks to help acquire confidence and goodwill,” former Heritage Auctions cataloger Kathy Lawrence wrote in an introduction to the 2012 sale of Roger H. Durand Santa Claus Collection.

    She noted,  “The banks may have also hoped that customers would set a lower denomination note aside as a keepsake due to the Santa vignette as well.”

    The notes are wildly popular with paper money collectors, difficult to find and expensive. When the notes appear at auction, they regularly sell for thousands and tens of thousands of dollars.

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    Collecting Christmas: Dec. 25 business in Colonial New England

    December 1, 2014 4:08 PM by

    For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.   

    General Court, Massachusetts Bay Colony, May 11, 1659

    Christmas Day wasn’t always a day of celebration. Puritans considered winter revelry pagan and papist and outlawed celebrating the day, going so far as to fine offenders five shillings. (That fine in lightly circulated 1653-1660 Willow Tree shillings would be worth more than $1 million to collectors today.)

    Christmas Day was a regular workday in America in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. Following the publication of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and America’s embrace of Santa Claus and the Christmas tree in the mid-1800s the holiday took its now familiar form. It did not become a federal holiday until 1870.

    Christmas wasn’t banned in colonial New Hampshire in the early 1700s, but it wasn’t kept well, either. It was just another day.

    On Dec. 25, 1734, a group of 18 merchants and a “great number” of leading citizens of Portsmouth, N.H., issued 6,000 pounds worth of interest-bearing paper money. The bills, issued in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 7 and 10 shillings, paid 1 percent interest and were redeemable on Christmas Day, 1746.

    In Early Paper Money of AmericaEric P. Newman writes the bills were issued after the Crown forbade further paper money issues. However, the bills were not universally accepted. Boston merchants pledged not to accept the bills. Massachusetts prohibited their circulation, under a penalty of a 21 shillings fine. Even the governor of the province inveighed against them.

    Today these relics from a time when Christmas wasn’t a day of celebration are scarce and expensive. On the rare day that one appears at auction, it sells for thousands of dollars. In 2005, Stack’s sold a Fine – Very Fine 1 shilling note for $9,500.

    Next: Santa’s paper money

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    Why the common Indian cent is 'a worthy gift of the magi': Collecting Christmas

    November 19, 2014 2:21 PM by

    One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas. 

    O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi

    O. Henry began his Christmas tale The Gift of the Magi on a numismatic note.  The short story appeared in the Dec. 10, 1905, edition of The New York Sunday World.

    Della famously sells her hair to buy a $21 platinum fob for Jim’s watch, and Jim sells his watch to buy a comb for Della’s hair.

    O. Henry ended the tale: “The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the new-born King of the Jews in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.”

    With a mintage of 80.7 million the 1905 Indian cent is a common coin. In Good condition, it lists for $1.50 in Coin Values. Uncirculated examples start at $30. Every one is a Christmas coin and a worthy gift of the magi.

    The lowly coin is both a symbol of the enduring power of love and the yuletide.

    Next:  Christmas day business in Colonial New England

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    What did Scrooge use to pay Bob Cratchit?: Collecting Christmas

    November 12, 2014 11:06 AM by

    “You'll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?'' said Scrooge.

    “If quite convenient, Sir.''

    “It's not convenient,'' said Scrooge, “and it's not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd think yourself ill-used, I'll be bound?''

    The clerk smiled faintly.

    “And yet,'' said Scrooge, “you don't think me ill-used, when I pay a day's wages for no work.''

    The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

    “A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!'' said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. “But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning!’' 

    – Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

    Ebenezer Scrooge, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner,” paid his long-suffering clerk Bob Cratchit a pittance – just half a crown a day.

    That famous fictional half crown was a middling size silver coin that showed a king or queen on the obverse and the English shield on the reverse. The Tower Mint in London struck 455,000 half crowns in 1843, the year Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. Each showed a young Queen Victoria on the obverse.

    The half crown (2 shillings, 6 pence) was the equivalent of about 60 cents in U.S. coin at the time. During a period know as the Hungry Forties in England, Cratchit’s wage of 15 shillings a week enabled him to cling precariously to the bottom run of the middle class. Wages were so depressed during the Industrial Revolution that landowners were know to hire men (at 9 pence a day) to dig fields because it was cheaper than plowing with horses.

    The half crown reappears toward the end of Dickens’ Carol when a transformed Scrooge offers an “intelligent, remarkable and delightful boy” a half crown if he brings back the poulterer in less than five minutes.

    British 1843 half crowns catalog for $225 in Fine condition and $4,125 in Uncirculated.  While they can be a bit pricey, the coin is THE Christmas coin of the 19th century.

    Next:  20th century gifts of the magi

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    Collecting Christmas: Start with a Roman coin circulated around the time Jesus was born

    November 6, 2014 3:39 PM by

    Collectors are blessed when it comes to Christmas. The hobby provides a multitude of possible gifts to give and receive. There are also numerous numismatic objects that are touched by and reflect the sprit of the season. Some date from the time of the birth of Christ. Others are associated with the holiday’s celebration over the centuries.

    For the next five weeks, this blog will be my Christmas present to you. In it I’ll detail five items – three coins and two pieces of paper money – that bask in the glow of the season. Their values range from as little as $1.50 for a cent associated with the gifts of the magi to $10,000 for piece of paper money dated Dec. 25 in a year the holiday was not celebrated. Each would make a fine present.

    The first item is a coin of Caesar Augustus.

    And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

    (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

    And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

    And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

    To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

    And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

    And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.  – Luke 2:1-7

    The coinage of Caesar Augustus is intimately connected to the birth of Jesus Christ. 

    Augustus, who ruled Rome and its provinces from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14, is named in the first line of Luke’s account of the nativity. His coinage circulated throughout the empire, and it’s not inconceivable that the magi’s gift of gold included an aureus of Augustus.

    While ancient coins do not bear calendar-year dates, collectors can be fairly certain that lifetime issues of Augustus with the abbreviation “PP” or words “PATER PATRIAE” in the legend were issued during Jesus’ childhood. The Senate awarded the title "Father of the Country” to Augustus in 2 B.C. Most of his coins bear his bust on the obverse – giving dimension to man named in the first line of Luke’s famous account.

    Augustus’ coinage is plentiful and inexpensive. With a little searching, circulated bronze and silver coins bearing his portrait can be obtained for less than $100.

    Next: Bob Cratchit’s pay

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    Five sure-five ways to make money in coins: cherrypicking

    October 21, 2014 3:13 PM by

    Here’s my fifth and last sure-fire way to make money in coins.

    Check out the first four here:  

    Cherrypicking. Knowledge is king in collecting. An investor who specializes in a series, especially early coppers, Seated Liberty coins and Morgan dollars, can find rare coins going for a fraction of their value on eBay, in national auctions and in dealer stock on the bourse floor. Knowing varieties and die states can be immediately and immensely profitable.

    Years ago, astute collectors maintained personal notebooks detailing rare varieties. For the most part, that’s no longer necessary.

    Large cent collectors have William H. Sheldon’s Penny Whimsy and Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of Early US Cents 1793–1814.

    Morgan dollar collectors have The Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars by Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis.

    The Cherrypickers' Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton covers many other denominations.

    The trick to cherrypicking is finding value hiding in plain sight.

    Rare coins are regularly picked from junk boxes, bourse display cases and even national auctions.

    Last year a collector bought the third-known example of a scarce 1794 Liberty Cap, Head of 1794 cent variety (NC-11) unattributed from a dealer’s display case on the floor of the gigantic Whitman Coin & Collectibles Philadelphia Expo.

    Fellow Coin World columnist and silver dollar variety expert John Roberts is locally famous in Columbus, Ohio, for plucking a $1,000 VAM variety from a local auction for common-coin money.

    In addition to money, successful cherrypicking gives the collector bragging rights. Cherrypicking stories regularly appear in Coin World and online at several websites. Probably of all the ways to make money in rare coins it’s the most fun. And that, at base, is what coin collecting is all about.

    FIVE SURE-FIRE WAYS TO MAKE MONEY IN COINS: LARGE COLLECTOR BASE

    October 15, 2014 10:27 AM by

    Here’s my fourth sure-fire way to make money in coins.

    Check out the first three here:  

    Buy coins with a large collector base. Some blue chips are too blue to actually be blue chips.  As the price of a coin increases into the tens and hundreds of thousands the number of possible buyers thins, sometimes to next to nothing. Several very rare, very desirable coins have sold for hundreds of thousands one year and gone begging for a buyer at half that price a year or two later.

    While gains for extreme rarities can be great, their loses can be catastrophic. One of the first collectors to realize this was famed 19th century Boston bean baker Lorin G. Parmelee. In 1870 he paid $700 for a Class I 1804 silver dollar.  When he cashed out in 1890, the King of American Coins, fetched just $570 at auction.  That coin hasn’t been sold since.Buyer Byron Reed willed it to the city of Omaha. It’s the centerpiece of the Reed gallery in that city’s Durham Museum.

    A more recent example is the 1850 Proof Seated Liberty quarter. Three are known. The finest, graded Proof 68 by NGC, sold for a breathtaking $460,000 at the January 2008 FUN show.

    Five years later, at last year’s Aug. 8, 2013, Heritage Auctions U.S. Coins Signature Auction, the coin sold for $258,500. In June, Heritage sold the same coin again, this time for just $223,250.

    If the only other guy interested in a very expensive coin is out on his yacht the day you sell your coin at auction, the price is goingto plummet. Look for coins that are affordable by the average collector.

    Next: Cherrypicking

    Five sure-fire ways to make money in coins: Watch inflection points

    October 6, 2014 11:38 AM by

    Below is my third sure-fire way to make money in coins.

    Check out the first two here: 

     

     

    Buy on the downgrade side of rising inflection points.  Many coins have an inflection point – a grade where increasing demand pushes up the retail price dramatically from the next lower grade, often doubling it.  In a rising market, that inflection point moves down grade. Predicting where it will go can lead to profits.

    If demand for a series is increasing, more and more collectors are chasing a fixed number of coins.  When there are more collectors than coins in a desirable grade, price pressure builds on the next lower grade.

    The action first appears in the intermediate grades.  An Extra Fine 40 coin may rise a bit in value, but interest intensifies in Very Fine 30 coins, then 25s.  Like a wave, the value hike rolls down through the grades until it hits the next resistance point, in this case Very Fine 20.

    In Seated Liberty coins, for example, most of the action is between VF-20 and EF-40. Coins graded 25, 30 and 35 are ripe for profit making. It’s hard to tell when it’s happening. The movement is neither smooth nor obvious. 

    Curiously the value of higher grade coins, especially uncirculated coins, may not move much, if at all.  The market perceives that higher grade coins are already valued fairly, but lower grade coins are not.  As the market moves to correct the perceived imbalance, prices rise in lower grades

    Think of this as a numismatic analog to stock market momentum investing.

    Next: Too blue blue chips

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    Five sure-fire ways to make money in coins: Buy blue chips

    September 30, 2014 2:34 PM by

    After introducing the topic and discussing the first sure-fire way to make money in coins, buying and holding, here’s my second sure-fire tip.

    Buy blue chips. Look for coins that have a large market base and show a long period of sustained appreciation. Blue chips are key coins in popularly collected series. Think 1909-S VDB Lincoln cents, 1916 Standing Liberty quarters and 1893-S Morgan dollars. Year in and year out blue chips go up in value, and they go up in all grades.

    Just about every American collector has started a date-and-mint-mark collection of Lincoln cents at some point. The final five holes – 1909-S, 1909-S VDB, 1914-D, 1922 plain and 1931-S – though, are a stumbling block. Every collector wants to fill them, but many are deterred by price.

    The five key coins, at least in circulated grades, hold the series’ value. Some have been on collectors’ wish lists for more than a century. There is tremendous demand for them. Just about every year they go up in value, regardless of what the bullion market is doing, regardless, to a large part, of what the general economy is doing.

    If Warren Buffett collected coins, he’d collect blue chips. Collecting key coins is as close to Buffet’s signature “value” investing as a collector can get.

    One caution about coins that appear to be blue chips, but are not. The value of a blue chip coin is based on genuine scarcity and genuine demand. If enough examples of a coin exist for it to be promoted on TV or in ads, then it’s too common to be a blue chip. Its value will disappear as soon as the advertising stops.

    Next:  Inflection points

    Five sure-fire ways to make money in coins: Buy and hold

    September 23, 2014 3:51 PM by

    After introducing the topic in my last post, here’s my first sure-fire way to make money in coins.

    Buy and hold. This classic stock advice applies to coins, too.  Pick a good coin and hold on to it.  

    While there are notable exceptions (1950-D nickels, for example, are worth less now than they were 50 years ago), coins in the long run tend to go up in value, sometimes spectacularly.

    In 1950 famed collector Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. spent $4,000 for the unique 1873-CC half dime, the capstone of his collection. In May 1996, the coin sold for $550,000.

    If Eliasberg had placed the money in a 3 percent passbook savings account, his estate would have amassed $15,580 by 1996.  The same amount invested in stocks in 1950 (using the Dow Jones Industrial Average as a proxy) would have grown to $116,000 by May 22, 1996.

    While that coin outshines just about everything else, run-of-the-mill collector coins tend to go up year after year, too If you compare a Red Book from 2004 with this year’s, you’ll find few negatives. The farther back you go, the larger and more numerous the positives.

    In 1976, a 1909-S VDB cent cataloged for $115 in Good condition. Today it catalogs for $750.

    Keep in mind, though, that you’re paying retail prices for coins (even if the seller claims he’s selling at wholesale) and that you’ll have to hold on to the coin long enough to cover the spread (figure 30 percent) between wholesale and retail before turning a profit.

    Next:  Buy blue chips

    Five sure-fire ways to make money in coins

    September 19, 2014 9:19 AM by
    Investing in coins is a little different from investing in stocks. Though, some of the same principles apply. Here are five sure-fire ways to make money in coins.

    But, first here’s an overview of the differences between stocks and numismatic investments.

    Stocks are productive assets. Coins are non-productive assets.

    A stock’s value is based largely on how much money the company earns. Investors buy a company’s stock based on such measurable things as the company’s price-to-earnings ratio and how well the company is doing in comparison to other companies in its sector.

    Coins, on the other hand, are valued solely on the interplay of supply and demand.  Supply, for the most part, is fixed and known; demand is neither.

    A coin goes up in value only when more people want one now than did before. Numismatic investments are not made on the basis of a rational evaluation of metrics, but rather on a gut feeling – sometimes a guided gut feeling - that more people will want a given coin tomorrow than do today. Economists call this the greater fool theory. The purchaser is a fool who believes a greater fool will come along and pay him more than he paid for the asset.

    NEXT POST: Buy and hold.

    Five U.S. numismatic nudes

    September 2, 2014 11:41 AM by

    Nudes full and partial abound in art and sometimes on United States coins, medals and paper money.

    Here are five U.S. numismatic naughties:

    Bare Breast Standing Liberty quarter. Beloved by 15-year-old boys everywhere, the Standing Liberty quarter dollar issued in 1916 and early 1917 shows Liberty holding a shield and baring a breast. Researcher Walter Breen claimed in his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins that the design was modified in 1917 to cover the offending breast because of pressure from Anthony Comstock’s New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, a morality police that disbanded in 1950. Coins issued from mid-1917 on show chainmail over the offending breast.

    U.S. Diplomatic medal. This U.S. Mint medal, designed by Thomas Jefferson shows a bare-breasted Indian maiden representing Peace welcoming a nude male Mercury, representing Commerce, to America. Jefferson commissioned famed French engraver Augustin Dupre to produce the medal “as a medal to be given to diplomatic characters on their taking leave of us.” The State Department discontinued use of the medal in 1791 but bronze copies have periodically been available from the U.S. Mint over the centuries.  It is currently listed as “sold out” on the Mint’s website.

    $5 Educational bill. This 1896 silver certificate, part of the 1890s Educational Series, shows an allegorical scene titled  “Electricity Presenting Light to the World. “ Electricity is holding a gleaming light bulb above her head and baring a breast.  Breen claimed that Comstock objected to these items, too, and forced their recall. Some sources, too, claim Boston bankers refused to accept the bill, giving rise to the expression, “Banned in Boston.” Both claims are likely hokum but make for good stories

    1984 Olympic commemorative silver dollar. The obverse of the coin shows naked male and female torso statues above the entrance to the Los Angeles Olympic stadium.  How naked, though, is up in the air.  Mint Director Donna Pope said the artists submitted very explicit plaster models.  She called Bill Smith, the Philadelphia Mint’s head of production, and told him “in rather specific terms ‘to lower the relief on a certain portion of the male torso.’ The coin we all dreaded didn’t look that terrible.”

    1915 S Panama-Pacific International Exposition half dollar.  The obverse, designed by Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber, shows a representation of Columbia scattering flowers and the back of a naked cherub holding a cornucopia.  The design reprises one Morgan created for the reverse of the 1907 U.S. Mint medal marking the departure of the Great White Fleet for its around-the-world cruise to show the flag and American might.

    Five valuable firsts from the Mint

    August 20, 2014 1:39 PM by

    The $100,000 gold Kennedy half dollar raised eyebrows in and outside the hobby. The coin’s claim to fame is that it is the first gold Kennedy SOLD by the United States Mint.  

    Mint firsts have commanded attention and sometimes big bucks for more than a century. Here are five Mint firsts, started with the latest.

    2014 – Los Angeles collector Nick Yadgarov was first in line Aug. 5 when the gold Kennedy half dollar went on sale at the American Numismatic Association World's Fair of Money. He paid the $1,240 issue price for the first piece and promptly sold it to David Hendrickson from SilverTowne and California dealer Kevin Lipton for $5,000 plus a replacement coin.  The pair had the coin slabbed Proof 70 Deep Cameo by Professional Coin Grading Service and sold it two days later to an unidentified collector for the eye-popping figure of $100,000. 

    2000 – In 1999 as the Mint geared up production and promotion of the Sacagawea dollars, West Point struck 12 gold specimens and Philadelphia struck 5,500 gold-colored copper pieces, all dated 2000. The gold coins traveled aboard a July 1999 space shuttle mission as a publicity stunt.  They are currently stored at the Fort Knox Gold Bullion Depository in Kentucky. The gold-colored copper pieces were struck on the same planchets as later strikes but have different tail-feather detail than later coins.  The coins, which were distributed in Cheerios cereal boxes to publicize the new dollars, are differentiated from later strikes by a raised center line in the tail feather shaft.  These “first” coins fetch about $6,000 at auction. 

    1964 – While production of Kennedy half dollars actually started quietly weeks before, first strike ceremonies were conducted simultaneously in Philadelphia and Denver on Feb. 11. The first four coins struck at each mint during the ceremonies were given to President Johnson, who presented them to the late president’s widow,  Jacqueline. The coins, which have dropped out of sight, are likely impounded in a museum.  On the market, the Kennedy connection would make them priceless, even though they were not actually the first half dollars struck. 

    1892 – At 10 a.m. Nov. 19, Philadelphia Mint foreman Albert Downing, under the watchful eye of Chief Engraver Charles Barber placed a silver planchet in a coining press and pulled a lever to strike the first Columbian Exposition commemorative half dollar.  “Unfortunately, the first attempt was a failure,” the New York Times reported the following day. The coin was rejected because of a flaw and, The Times reported,  it was “battered” with a hammer and consigned to the scrap box.  The second coin struck was better. It was placed in a box with a certificate of authenticity signed by Mint Superintendent O.C. Bosbyshell claiming it was in fact the first coin struck.

    The official first coin struck was sold to Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict, makers of the Remington typewriter (a primitive analog word processor) for the incredible sum of $10,000. Q. David Bowers in his Commemorative Coins of the United States estimates the sum was about equal to a common worker’s lifetime earnings. The coin was donated to the Columbian Museum, now the Field Museum of Natural History. At auction, the coin would undoubtedly attract a terrific sum.  While most Columbian half dollars are worth very little, high grade Proofs have topped $40,000.

    1878 – About 3 p.m. March 11, 1878, the first Morgan dollar was produced at the Philadelphia Mint by Downing. This coin, too, proved flawed and was discarded.  A second “first” coin was produced at 3:17 p.m. and set aside for President Rutherford B. Hayes.  The coin, an 8-tail feather VAM-9 (Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of U.S. Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars by Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis), is permanently impounded in the Rutherford B. Hayes Museum in Fremont, Ohio. It, too, is an incredibly valuable coin in a hyperhot series. Its value is likely several times over that of the $100,000 gold Kennedy half.