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Jeff Starck

Starck Contrasts

Jeff Starck

Jeff is a senior editor and was Coin World's 2003 Margo Russell intern and joined the staff in 2004. Jeff has been a collector since childhood and fondly remembers the challenges of completing Whitman folders by pulling coins from circulation and searching rolls from the bank. His current collecting interest focuses on Missouri-related numismatics and exonumia. He is the primary writer for the World Coins section in the monthly Special Edition and is responsible for Coin World's coverage of world coins and weekly International page. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Webster University in St. Louis where he was editor-in-chief of its weekly student newspaper.

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Archive for 'June 2014'

    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.