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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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Archive for 'June 2015'

    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