Log in to post
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.

Visit one of our other blogs:

Archive for '2016'

    A cent you can’t buy

    December 29, 2016 2:26 PM by
    You can’t buy an 1815 cent. None were made with that date. It’s the only date in the denomination’s entire nearly 225-year run that does not exist. Though no cents were struck with that date, it’s open for debate whether any cents were struck during that year.

    Blame the War of 1812. Before the war, the Philadelphia Mint bought cent planchets from Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, England. That source dried up with the start of hostilities. There were no domestic suppliers. In his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins , the late researcher Walter Breen reported the Mint had no stomach for buying scrap copper and making its own blanks with its own “marginally functional rolling mills.”

    Toward the end of 1814, the Mint struck its remaining copper stock and delivered 357,830 coins. By some accounts, those coins were the last produced of John Reich’s Classic Head design.

    Those coins, Breen claims, went into the pay packets of Mint workers. He wrote that the Treasury Department for some “mysterious reason” refused to authorize Mint Director James Patterson to pay his workers. In December, Patterson “overrode Treasury policy” and paid his staff with bright copper coins.

    Breen claimed the Mint ordered more planchets from England as soon as the wartime embargo against trade was lifted in 1815, but the blanks did not arrive until 1816.

    However, Bill Eckberg, writing in the Jan. 21, 2015, issue of Coin World reported, “Once the war was over in early 1815, the Mint ordered 5 tons of planchets from Boulton. These arrived in the fall and were struck into coins as soon as possible. The resulting 465,500 cents were delivered on Feb. 27, 1816.”

    The mystery is, then, when were those coins struck and what was the date on those coins? It clearly was not 1815.

    If the coins were struck as soon as the shipment of blanks arrived, they were struck in 1815, likely using still serviceable 1814 dies. Dies were expensive and difficult to produce in the early days of the Mint. They were used until they wore out, no matter what date they bore.

    If the coins were struck closer to the delivery date, they were struck in 1816. In 1816 the Mint abandoned Reich’s Classic Head design for Robert Scot’s Matron Head. However, it’s unlikely new dies were produced and in use that early in the year, so even if the coins were produced in 1816, they probably were struck on leftover 1814 dies.

    The lack of 1815 cents hasn’t stopped collectors from placing them in their collections. Con-men, pranksters and hole-fillers have produced their own 1815 cents by altering 1813 and even 1845 cents to fill the gap.

    Next: Fooling the public

    ​Strength or slavery?

    December 21, 2016 5:45 PM by

    The 1793 Chain cent, the nation’s first regular-issue cent, was misunderstood from the start. The obverse shows Liberty, with her hair flowing in the wind. The reverse features a chain of 15 links.

    Critics didn’t like Liberty from the start. The flowing hair didn’t symbolize newfound freedom; it was standing up in fright, they said. The reverse, though, drew the most criticism.

    The 15 interlocked links of the chain were meant to symbolize the strength and unity of the new nation of 15 states. The design was patterned after Benjamin Franklin’s design for the Feb. 17, 1776, 1/6th dollar Continental Currency note. The design was reused on the pattern 1776 Continental Currency dollars and the 1787 Fugio cents.

    However, despite its storied past and association with a signer of the Declaration of Independence, critics saw the chain as a symbol of slavery and pounced.

    In an April 1869 article, “The United States Cents of 1793,” in the Journal of Numismatics, Sylvester S. Crosby, one the 19th century’s great numismatists, quoted a March 18, 1793, article in the Philadelphia newspaper, The Mail or Claypoole’s Daily Advertiser.

    “The American Cents (says a letter from Newark) do not answer our expectation. The chain on the reverse is but a bad omen for liberty, and liberty herself appears to be in a fright. May she not justly cry out in the words of the Apostle, ‘Alexander, the copper-smith hath done me much harm; the Lord reward him according to his works.’ ”

    In his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, the late Walter Breen wrote, “This was (Mint) Director (David) Rittenhouse’s cue to order a change in design for the next cents to be struck. And so, for the first time (but not the last), bad newspaper publicity forced the Mint to abandon an adopted design, unintentionally creating rarities in the process.

    Some 36,103 Chain cents were struck in early 1793. While not rare, the coins are highly sought after. About Good examples tend to sell for $5,000 and up. Even coins so badly worn that only a shadow of the chain remains easily sell for $1,000 and more.

    Production of Chain cents ceased in early March. By April, the Mint was churning out cents with a wreath on the reverse instead of a chain. A wreath remained on the coin’s reverse through the large cent’s demise in 1857. Liberty’s hair ceased flowing in 1794. She added and lost a couple hats over the years before settling on a coronet in 1816.

    Next: A cent you can’t buy

    A Penny Story Collection

    December 13, 2016 10:05 AM by

    It’s been decades since the cent would actually buy anything. The penny candies of the ’50s and ’60s are now sold by the box and cost a whale of a lot more than 1 cent each.

    Amazon sells tubs of 225 pieces of Bazooka bubble gum for $16.94, or 7.5 cent each. Other retailers charge more. And the stupid comic that came with it, that’s gone too. In 2011 the company killed Bazooka Joe and his corny jokes and replaced him with brain teaser puzzle wrappers.

    The cent, which was copper for most of its nearly 225-year run, lost all but a thin film of the metal in 1982 when the Mint switched from bronze to copper-plated zinc.

    Nonetheless, the coin is widely collected. Most of us started with Whitman penny boards — squeezing cents into barely yielding holes in blue folders. Many were sated with Book 2 folders — 1940 to some date in the 1960s. A few moved on to Book 1, which had the key coins everyone searched their change for — 1909-S VDB, 1909-S, 1914-D and 1931-S. Still fewer went on to the rarified atmosphere of early large cents.

    Collectors accumulate not only coins, but also stories — stories about how the collector acquired the coin, stories about the history of our nation and stories about injustice and prejudice.

    For the next five weeks, I’m going to explore five stories about the lowly denomination. Like all good stories, they bear telling and retelling.


    Next: Strength or slavery?

    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.”

    Connect with Coin World: 

    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.

    Connect with Coin World: 

    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.

    Connect with Coin World:  

    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.

    Connect with Coin World:  

    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.

    Connect with Coin World:  

    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.

    Connect with Coin World:  

    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.

    Connect with Coin World:  

    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