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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 'February 2016'

    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.