Log in to post
Jeff Starck

Starck Contrasts

Jeff Starck

Jeff Starck, senior editor, world coins, has been a collector since childhood and a Coin World staff member since 2004. Jeff is the primary writer for the World Coins section in the monthly edition and is responsible for Coin World's coverage of world coins and weekly International page. Jeff is a contributor to Gold Coins of the World and the “Red Book” for Canadian coins.

Visit one of our other blogs:

Archive for '2014'

    Phantom First Spouse mintage limit a U.S. Mint misstep

    December 15, 2014 1:01 PM by

    There are few U.S. Mint products that I look forward to annually with fervor, and chief among these is the annual First Spouse Bronze Medal Set.

    When the program began in 2007 as a corollary to the much more expensive gold coins, I found a blank Dansco album and blank pages to cobble together a meaningful way to collect and display these medals. Every year when my local coin club placed an order, I made sure to order a set, eagerly anticipating the chance to better learn the stories of First Spouses and/or contemporary coinage designs as new medals were released.

    The recent and rapid sellout of only 7,500 sets of 2014 medals has rendered that effort moot.

    After a few weeks, the sets sold out, despite never before previously having a mintage limit. Today, those sets are selling for three to six multiples of the $16.95 issue price.

    The quick sellout caught myself—and many other collectors—off-guard, and left us scratching our heads.

    The fact that several sets from previous years remain available at the Mint website, even at this writing, certainly lulled me (and probably other collectors as well) into believing that the 2014 set would remain available until we were ready to place an order for other items.

    Shortly after the set was listed at the Mint website as “out of stock,” a fellow coin club collector called Mint customer service and was told that more sets would be made. I called a regional Midwestern dealer that has served my family for several decades, and who has carried the sets from the beginning, and a representative there told me the same story, that a Mint customer service agent told them that more sets would be made.

    Paul Gilkes, Coin World’s tenacious U.S. Mint reporter, quickly sorted out the situation with his sources at the Mint, only to discover that the set had a previously unreported mintage limit and that no more would be made.

    This has created another set of “winners and losers,” as those folks who pounced on the sets are now well positioned to capitalize on the unmet demand.

    When the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame silver and gold coins quickly sold out, and people began “flipping” the coins for profit, I certainly had no complaints, as those coins had mintage limits that were announced well in advance of the sales period.

    Sour grapes may make bitter whine, but this really isn’t a complaint about profit—this rapid sellout means that many collectors will not be able to fill what heretofore had been an inexpensive, educational set with historical implications at a price that even beginning collectors could manage.

    The situation with the Enhanced Uncirculated finish Native American $1 included in the 2014 American $1 Coin & Currency Set has rightfully been described as a rare misstep for the U.S. Mint marketing team.

    The 2014 First Spouse Bronze Medal Set with a phantom mintage limit, is just as much as misstep, and even more disappointing.

    The right thing for the Mint would be to make more 2014 First Spouse Bronze Medal sets, either to a specific limit or to those sold within a specified sales period, with plenty of fair warning for collectors to make plans to get their orders in.

    Until then, four empty holes in a brown Dansco album will serve as a glaring reminder of my failure to act, and of the set that now will remain incomplete.

    More from CoinWorld.com:

    X-ray performed on Boston time capsule that may contain 17th century Pine Tree shilling

    The man who spent $4.76 million on gold Nobel Prize medal has returned it to its owner

    For 2014 Kennedy half dollar, value difference between Specimen 68 and Specimen 69 huge: Market Analysis

    Sold out: 2014 American $1 Coin and Currency set, with 50,000 sets reported sold

    Why is the U.S. Mint selling silver American Eagles at a record-breaking pace?

    Keep up with all of CoinWorld.com's news and insights by signing up for our free eNewslettersliking us on Facebook, and following us on Twitter. We're also on Instagram!

    Proclaim your own nation and issue your own coinage

    November 10, 2014 4:39 PM by
    ​Get taken on a ride to where?

    You won’t find Purple Shaftieuland on a map – but they have“coins”!

    If you’ve always wanted to issue your own coins, but don’t want to go the traditional route (see part one of this blog series), then you could always proclaim your own nation.

    Such a nation doesn’t require land upon which to dwell, and may only occupy space in your imagination.

    In so doing, you would be following a tradition of the last half-century,when “coins” for places like Bermania, Buck Island, the Grandy Duchy of Westarctica, the Ultimate State of TÆDIVM, and many others, have been issued.

    Perhaps the most biting of these issues are the “coins” for the nation of “Purple Shaftieuland.”

    In 1970, coin dealer Bob Kolasa created the coin series as a revolt against the flourishing of noncirculating legal tender coins from barely identifiable places, aimed specifically at collectors (a lament that might ring true even today).

    The “coins” also poked fun at the practice of U.S.government foreign aid, and used stereotypical humor to make the point. The politically incorrect brochure accompanying the pieces also features very thinly veiled comments about some of the companies creating the market for international Proof sets in the late 1960s.

    According to coin dealer Joel Anderson (who provided the brochure to Coin World), Purple Shaftieuland had five denominations: 1 nudge, 1 twist, and quarter-, half- and full-shaft pieces. The coins were issued in two versions, “brilliant brass” and“unanodized aluminum.”

    According to the brochure, the exchange value is fixed: 100 nudges equal 10 twists, which equals one full shaft, which of course equals“nothing U.S.”

    As the brochure also noted, the “coins” had staying power as an investment.

    “The beauty of these, as with many foreign proof sets is that they never go down in true value. They can’t go down because they’re worthless to begin with.”

    Besides its own currency, Purple Shaftieuland had another vestige of statehood, a national anthem. Kolasa helpfully provided it on the brochure so all coin owners could sing proudly the refrain, which ends thusly:“When these sets stop selling, and income does refrain, we’ll form another nation, and do this all again!”

    Though the Purple Shaftieuland coins were created to serve a point, many of these issues are just all about fun. Consider Bermania, a place known to dealer Allen Berman and a few others.

    The “kingdom” has a long history, as detailed by Berman, who created a flag, crowns, titles of nobility and other trappings of a monarchy.This, naturally, includes “coins.”

    The first issue was a hand-hammered piece in the style of a medieval coin, struck on a tree stump and with crude lettering and designs.Another piece is celebratory, marking the “royal wedding” of King Alanus I to Queen Barbara.

    The most recent issue is a Bermanian horse cart token, which is good for one ride “anywhere in Bermania.” Good luck redeeming that token!

    The “coins” of Purple Shaftieuland were alternately described by Kolasa as “transportation tokens” because “you buy and get taken for ride.”

    Micronations are a vast and interesting area, and are popular among some collectors. Dealer Anderson stocks any number of unofficial,fantasy issues, and an organization called the Unrecognized States Numismatic Society flourished as little as five years ago. 

    It’s not an area necessarily popular with serious students of American coinage history, but that isn’t the point — in most cases, it’s all about making the hobby fun. 

    ​So you want to make your own coins?

    October 24, 2014 2:59 PM by
    ​So you want to make your own coins?

    It’s not as hard as you may think

    Anyone who pays attention to the modern new issues market quickly becomes aware of the outpouring of commemoratives, often from far-flung tropical island nations or war-torn African countries, but also from national mints like the Royal Canadian Mint and the Mint of Poland.

    Private issuers abound, with European and Asian and even American companies directing programs intended to capture segments of the market.

    Maybe you want to cash in on that craze by issuing your own coins, with a theme of your choosing? But invading a country is too dangerous, and buying a sovereign island outright is too expensive.

    So, you could always partner with a mint that already has a relationship with an issuing authority like Palau, the Cook Islands, or Somalia. Let’s assume that you will coordinate the program with the Mint of Poland, which issues coins for the National Bank of Poland as well as several other partners.

    A popular size for the many noncirculating legal tender coins struck by the Mint of Poland is a silver, crown-size coin measuring 38.61 millimeters and weighing 28.28 grams. This is a fairly standard size among the Mint of Poland and the Pobjoy Mint, among others.

    Mintages have been getting ever smaller as the market explodes and competing issues clamor for attention. A recent issue for the gold-plated 2015 $1 coin for the Year of the Goat had a mintage of 1,500 pieces.

    Back of the envelope calculations indicate that 1,500 coins, at $17.27 per ounce (the closing London market price on Oct. 22), would have a base precious metals cost of $21,789 U.S. That price doesn’t account for any special technology like gold-plating, color or embedded jewels, some favorite embellishments at the Mint of Poland.

    That price doesn’t include the die-making or manufacturing costs, since artists and other employees have to be paid to do the work. And it also doesn’t include the cost for a license.

    You need a license to drive, but why do you need a license to issue coins?

    Well, in this case, the sovereign privilege of striking coins comes at a price. Each nation is responsible for its money supply, and commemorative coins, though unlikely ever to be cashed, are in accounting-speak potential liabilities to the bottom line. 

    Whether it is Niue or Armenia or Belarus or any other country you want to officially issue the coins, there is a cost that must be paid. Issuers are always quiet about this relationship, but recent news reports about the New Zealand Mint suggest that the company alone pays about half-a-million dollars U.S. every year for the dozens of coin programs it issues under that island’s name.

    Suddenly this proposition seems a little pricey, huh?

    Well, maybe that means you want to consider a different route, without involving national mints and all that legal rigmarole. Next time we’ll explore what it takes to issue your own “coins” for a place that might not be found on the map.

    Relic medal for USS Constitution; putting hands on history

    October 2, 2014 2:36 PM by
    ​If someone told you that you could legally walk around with a piece of the oldest warship in the world in your pocket, would you believe them?

    In one sense, the USS Constitution is owned by every American, but in another, the number of folks who can own a piece of the ship, as preserved in a relic medal, is severely limited.

    Relic medals are medals that are struck containing metal or other substances recovered from, flown in or on famous ships, spacecraft or important historic artifacts, or from historic sites. Many relic medals are decades or centuries old, and signify famous American events (like the 1871 Great Chicago Fire or the 1898 Spanish-American War). On a trip to Boston this summer, I stumbled upon a modern relic medal with major importance.

    The USS Constitution is the world's oldest commissioned warship. The ship, known as "Old Ironsides," was launched Oct. 21, 1797, as one of the first warships authorized by Congress. It currently is docked in the Charlestown (or Boston) Navy Yard.

    Visitors may take a free tour to hear the exploits of the sailors and the ship. The ship received its name from the thick wooden hulls that repelled cannonballs during the War of 1812.

    To mark the bicentennial of its greatest moment, and those who have served aboard the ship in battle and in peace, the USS Constitution Museum commissioned the striking of a medal using copper removed from the ship's hull, and a total of 6,000 medals were struck in 2013 by an unnamed Providence, R.I., company.

    On the obverse of the medal is an image of USS Constitution under full sail with its name and nickname. The image is borrowed from an oil painting by Marshall Johnson that is part of the museum's collection.

    On the reverse side is a design inspired by the sea bag of Gunner John Lord who served on board USS Constitution between 1824 and 1828; the sea bag is also part of the museum's collection.

    Each medal measures 1.52 inches and weigh approximately 20 grams.  Each comes with a certificate of authenticity.

    The medal is sold for $29.95, and is still available through the museum store both at the site and online.

    This is actually not the first time a relic medal has been made from copper recovered from the USS Constitution, as an earlier medal issued in 1999 was struck from metal recovered in 1974. Numerous other medals (not struck with recovered metal) celebrate the USS Constitution, and these may sometimes be found in dealer stock or in online auctions.

    Relic medals literally give collectors affordable ways to put their hands on history, and in the case of this medal is another example of the adage that “the hobby can be found everywhere.”

    Souvenir post cards showcase early 20th century world coin designs

    September 4, 2014 11:00 AM by
    ​I have often described my collecting pursuits as voracious, being a numismatic gourmand in a field of gourmets. The American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont, Ill., from Aug. 5 to 9 was a veritable numismatic buffet, providing another opportunity to increase my collection.

    Perhaps my neatest acquisition at the show wasn’t even a coin, but rather a pair of colorful post cards featuring coin designs from Brazil and France.

    These post cards are from a successor to a series issued for use by cambists (a fancy word for money changers). Today foreign currency exchange rates are available widely in print and online, but 100 years ago, people were on their own when it came to exchanging kroners or marks for pounds or pesetas.

    This situation gave rise to a series of post cards, produced by a German businessman named Hugo Semmler. His cards show embossed images of then-current circulating base metal, silver and gold coins, with a handy exchange-rate chart showing comparable values for common currencies.

    David Gladfelter detailed the history of these postcards in two articles in 2005 and 2006 in The Asylum, a publication of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society.

    These post cards capture in cardboard a snapshot of coins from nearly four dozen countries at around the first decade of the 20th century. Successive issues followed, both by Semmler and other publishers, as the cards gained widespread acceptance as souvenirs, superseding their original purpose.

    On one card, the beauty of iconic French coins designed by Oscar Roty, Augustin Dupre and several others is immediately apparent.

    Roty’s The Sower (La Sameuse) depicts the sun’s rays spoking the horizon behind a personification of Liberty striding toward a new century. The design was no doubt an influence on Adolph Weinman’s Walking Liberty half dollar that would follow a few decades later.

    The Liberty on the 1-, 2-, 5- and 10-centime coins wears a Phryghian cap, a motif familiar to Americans thanks to its place on early coins like the half cent and cent.

    The Brazilian card is beautiful but lacks some of the aesthetic allure of the French coin card. However, the fascinating series (also including designs of Liberty) beckons for its depictions of uncommon denominations like 40-, 200- and 400-real coins.

    These post cards are adjuncts to world coin collecting, and are certainly more affordable than the coins that they show. (Each post card cost $20.) And they are worth a prominent space on my desk. 

    Soaring above it all, and capturing visit in silver

    August 12, 2014 3:05 PM by

    ​One of the great joys in the hobby is sharing it with others.

    It’s all the better when such gifts are unexpected.

    In April, a longtime friend came to Ohio so we could catch up. Because it was the first time we had seen each other since college graduation (a frightening distance in our past), I knew the trip had to be extra special. So, I called in a favor from a friend and fellow hobbyist who happens to be a pilot.

    All three of us soared about the verdant landscape of Shelby County, Ohio, in a tiny plane that, to this untrained aviator, may as well have resembled the one used to spirit Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan on their fateful voyage.

    Flying is no problem (crashing, on the other hand … ) but this was a new vantage point for me, literally and figuratively, never having had so little separating the sky from my seat.

    We took off in misting winds, but the flight was uneventful, save for the train accident we witnessed below. I daresay that the experience was magical, and after that outing I better understood the allure of becoming a pilot.

    Some weeks after my friend returned home to Montana, I decided that the flight should be commemorated. Not having the means to commission a new die, I chose the next best option, finding a silver bar to be engraved with a special legend.

    SilverTowne of Winchester, Ind., which operates its own refinery and retail side of the business, offers an array of stock designs for round and rectangular 1-ounce silver pieces that accommodate engraving on one side. Since there were none with a generic flight motif, the American flag bar was chosen for the obverse.

    On the reverse, the inscription MONTANA VISITS OHIO / APRIL 3, 2014 FLIGHT appears on two lines. Unfortunately, space did not allow me to designate the roles each of us played on the flight, with my college friend the “co-pilot” and myself acting as “photographer.”

    The pieces arrived a few days after they were ordered. Both the pilot and co-pilot expressed gratitude for the surprise memento of our fantastic flight.

    Only three examples of this very specific commemorative exist, but each will be cherished by its owner. As it turns out, it was another way to share a very small part of the hobby with friends.

    Collectors have their say in choice for favorite world commemorative coin

    July 23, 2014 10:27 AM by

    The market for new world coin issues is surprisingly active with a diverse number of topics and themes issued by national and private mints all competing for market attention.

    The rapid growth in the number of limited mintage issues has only enlarged the number of new issues coming out for collectors. Reporting on these new issues is one of the more active responsibilities I have.  

    In this role for Coin World, I am exposed to thousands of new collector coins from around the globe every year. Since 2013, that fortuitous position has allowed me to be one of about 50 judges in the Coin Constellation contest, which honors technical innovation, artistry, concept and design, and other attributes, in the ultra-modern coin market.

    While panelists select first, second and third place winners across nine categories, collectors are asked to select the top honor, the People’s Choice Award.

    The 2014 contest features more than 260 coins and 25 commemorative coin series, issued during calendar year 2013, from 31 countries. Central banks, national mints and private issuers are all eligible for the contest but, for the first time, the 2014 contest includes entries from the Royal Australian Mint and the central bank of the Philippines.

    The contest is decidedly tilted toward European and Asian entrants, though North America is represented by the Royal Canadian Mint and the Banco Central de Mexico.

    Winners will be announced in September in Moscow during Coins 2014, the fifth international coin conference and exhibition, a biennial gathering of collectors and dealers in Russia. The 2014 conference is scheduled for Sept. 18 to 20.

    All of the coins in all of the categories are eligible for the People’s Choice Award. The coin that receives the most votes will be declared the winner.

    Voting opened June 1 and continues through Sept. 1. Voters are eligible for prizes, including precious metal coins or subscriptions to a Russian hobby magazine. The most prolific commenters during the voting process will also receive an award.

    Coin Constellation is the only international contest of commemorative coins held in Russia, and is one of just a few similar programs around the world.

    It’s a chance for your voice to be heard, and to reward coin producers for their ingenuity, technology and market receptivity.

    To learn more about the conference itself, visit the exhibition website.

    Connecting Hollywood to numismatics through coal scrip

    June 30, 2014 11:17 AM by

    One of the fascinating things about this hobby is that you can find connections everywhere.

    This is especially true when considering exonumia, that area outside traditional government-issued coins or paper money.

    I was reminded of this recently while reading Sky of Stone by Homer Hickam. If the name sounds familiar, it is probably because of the Jake Gyllenhaal movie October Sky, and his book upon which the movie was based, Rocket Boys.

    Hickam, the son of a stern, taciturn coal mine superintendent in Coalwood, W.Va., was in high school when Russia’s Sputnik streaked across the October sky in 1957, and he was inspired to build rockets. Hickam wrote three books about time spent in – and trying to get out of – McDowell County, at the bottom of the state, deep in the “billion dollar coalfield.”

    Hickam and three friends wound up winning a gold and silver medal at the National Science Fair for their rocketry, and college scholarships followed. But Hickam was forced to spend one college summer working in the last place he wanted to be, below that “sky of stone.”

    There on page 87, the younger Hickam (known at the time as “Sonny”) writes about entering the company store and requesting $20 in scrip against his wages at the mine.

    Like most coal mining operations in the United States, the company store at Olga Coal Co. used tokens. Today these tokens and thousands like it are remnants of the once-widespread substitute economy.

    Coal tokens and company stores have drawn their criticism in popular culture, notably in Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song Sixteen Tons. But Doug Tolley, a member of the National Scrip Collectors Association, disagrees with that characterization.

    “Coal mine scrip was not nearly as onerous as credit cards,” said Tolley. “There was no debt to it – it’s simply an advance on wages already earned. It’s no different than people today who can’t handle credit cards.”
    Tolley, 85, worked in the mines for 46 years before retiring 22 years ago. Now he sells scrip in online auctions.

    Tolley knew the elder Hickam, also named Homer.

    “Homer was just as [darn] tough as they say he was,” said Tolley.

    Since the movie was released in 1999, “everyone wants a piece of Olga scrip,” Tolley said.

    A 1-cent token can be found below $20 in various grades. Pieces from the Carter Coal Co., which owned Coalwood before Olga took over in 1948, are more affordable, and still represent a period when the elder Hickam worked at the mine. Whether they were used after the sale is unclear, but older tokens circulated after sales at other mines in some cases, Tolley said.

    Today, Coalwood is a shell of its former self, with hardly any people left.

    Tolley said, “It’s just like the gold mines out west – when the coal gets gone, the people get gone.”

    Fiasco erupts over the 1965 Canadian annual set

    June 2, 2014 11:48 AM by

    What happens when a Mint’s only product for the year sells out the first day it goes on sale?

    Any collector remotely familiar with the Royal Canadian Mint’s current output of commemorative coins,  which on a monthly basis alone seems to eclipse the Gross Domestic Product of a Pacific Ocean island nation, might be hard-pressed to recall a time when the annual output was a simple set in plastic with one example of each denomination.

    But that was the case in the 1960s, when a furor erupted over the 1965 Prooflike set.

    In the fall of 1964, the RCM was clear: orders would be accepted beginning on Jan. 2, following the New Year’s Day holiday. Buyers could purchase up to five sets at $4 each (the set has a face value of $1.91.) Enough orders flooded the RCM that the initial maximum, two million sets, sold within just a few hours, despite a price tag that was $1 per set higher than the year before.

    The Toronto Globe and Mail  called it “the slaughter of the Royal Canadian Mint,” but noted that the storm was predictable after 1964, when the RCM halted orders for the annual set on April 30 amid strong demand. The RCM eventually produced some 1.6 million of the 1964 sets, compared to 18,000 sets sold six years earlier (1958).

    Collectors who think gaming the system is a pox of modern coin sales need only witness this episode.

    Dealers and collectors from across the U.S. and Canada flooded Ottawa via plane, bus or car with multiple orders, bound for the post office nearest the Mint. 

    Demand was so great it forced the RCM to order high-speed presses, but those would take six months to arrive. In the interim, the RCM grabbed a bit more than 10 pounds of orders from each bag of mail that poured in that first day, estimating how many mailpieces it would take to meet the limit. Temporary workers were hired to process the orders, and orders not set aside were sent back immediately.

    Finally, on April 29, Canada’s finance minister announced that sales would resume immediately, limited to either one, three or five sets per individual.

    Coin World reported at the time that sets in the market were selling for $5, not much of a premium considering the lengths some hobbyists went to obtain them.

    This time, the Mint promised to fill all orders, even if it took into 1966.

    All told, the RCM sold 2,904,352 of the 1965 Prooflike sets, making it the most common annual set in RCM history.

    Each set contains 1.109 ounces of silver, in the 10-cent, 25-cent, 50-cent and dollar coins included in the set (the cent and 5-cent coins are base metal), and online auction sales suggest the set is valued at about $22 to $25, or not much more than its silver value.

    Tackling touchy topics on commemorative coins: Poland celebrates women who saved Jewish children during the Holocaust

    May 9, 2014 9:08 PM by

    Poland, more than any other country, has commemorated tough, even unpleasant themes on its modern commemorative coins, including dozens related to the Holocaust and persecution of Jews.

    In 2009 Poland honored Irena Sendler and two others who helped rescue some 2,500 Jews (mostly children) during World War II.

    Sendler had been posing as a nurse so she could treat victims in the Warsaw Ghetto when she joined Zegota, an underground resistance organization, in 1942. With Sendler’s lead, some two dozen people – almost all women – spirited children to safety, using secret passageways or placing children inside luggage, even sedating them so their cries would not reveal the operation.

    However, the operation was discovered, and Sendler was imprisoned. She slipped through the hands of the Grim Reaper many times in her career as a resister, and did so this time when her compatriots bribed a guard and she was allowed to escape instead of being executed.

    Such a fate, however, befell many of the parents whose children were rescued. Though the children were provided false documents, Sendler created lists of their real names, burying them in jars, hidden to allow for reunions after the war. But reunions simply were not possible for most children as their parents were killed in concentration camps or otherwise scattered.

    Sendler’s story may have remained unknown to the world, but for four Kansas students who traced it for a school project that resulted in the play, Life in a Jar.

    In 2008, at 98 years old, Sendler died, having seen her legacy cemented through the play, which was turned into a Hallmark movie with Anna Paquin.

    For coin collectors, the honor she received in 2009 is even better.

    Sendler, Zofia Kossak-Szczucka and Sister Matylda Getter were honored on two coins in the “Poles Who Saved Jews” series. A circulating 2-zloty coin shows a hand breaking through a brick-and-barbed-wire barrier with the name of Zegota. Image of all three women appear on the Proof silver 20-zloty collector coin.

    In 1965 the trio was proclaimed among the Polish Righteous Among the Nations recipients from Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, awarded to those who saved Jews from extermination during the war.