US Coins

Young collector recognized in world of Bust half dollars

Pennsylvania collector Garrett Ziss attended his first coin show at age 9, two years after developing an interest numismatics.

Now 12, the budding numismatist is contributing research articles to the John Reich Journal, the official print journal of the John Reich Collectors Society. He’s also participating in discussions on the JRCS’s weekly email outlet, JR Newsletter.

When I first met Garrett at the U.S. Mint booth during the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Philadelphia in 2012, U.S. Mint Medallic Sculptor Joseph F. Menna was illustrating the intricacies of digitally sculpturing U.S. coins and medals.

Garrett was extremely attentive to Menna, and genuinely intrigued. It is often said that young people are the future of numismatics. Garrett is definitely part of the hobby’s future, based on his demonstrated interest.

It was during the 2012 ANA convention, his first coin show, that the numismatic sparks for Garrett really began to ignite.

Garrett attended the free Young Numismatist activities at the convention, which included a YN auction of donated numismatic items. 

Conducting the auction was Bradley S. Karoleff from Coins +, JRCS president and John Reich Journal editor.

Karoleff witnessed the interest Garrett showed in Bust half dollars, which is also Karoleff’s specialty. Karoleff said he invited Garrett and his parents to attend a JRCS meeting, which he did at the 2014 ANA convention. Garrett is now a JRCS member.

“Garrett has always shown an interest in the early half dollars,” Karoleff said, and the dealer and other adult specialists have encouraged the young collector’s interests.

Karoleff noted that Garrett belongs to the Wilmington Coin Club in Delaware, where celebrated numismatist and author Jules Reiver, who died in 2004, was a longtime member.

“I told him about Jules and his involvement in JRCS and that he was instrumental in my becoming a member,” Karoleff said. “I arranged for Mark Borckardt [senior cataloger at Heritage Auctions] to send him a catalog from his [Reiver’s 1990s] sale, which Mark was generous enough to do.”

Karoleff continued about Garrett: “He has shown an interest in the provenance of the coins he purchases. He insisted [on] obtaining a coin directly from my collection and has obtained one from the [late Russell J.] Logan collection as well. I think he may have a Reiver coin, but do not know for sure. He asks for a complete description of the coins including die state, surface preservation and provenance. He is developing a good eye and wants his halves ‘crusty,’ much like I do. He does not like certified coins as he can not handle them and view the edges.”

Karoleff said that, at the 2014 ANA World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont, Ill., he introduced Garrett to a number of numismatic contacts in his areas of collecting interests as well as numismatic booksellers to help build a numismatic library.

“One of the most important contacts he made at the show was when I introduced him, and his parents, to Katie Heinrich,” Karoleff said. As a former Young Numismatist, “She has been through everything he will experience over the next few years and I believe will give him great insight into what he can expect from the hobby as a YN.

“We encouraged them [the family] to explore the ANA Summer Seminar and he won a scholarship with his display.”

A seed planted

Garrett said he first became interested in coins when, in January 2011 as part of a second grade math assignment, he had to take a dollar’s worth of coins to class to learn how to count and add money.

Garrett and his classmates instead looked at the date on each coin. Garrett found three 1941 Jefferson 5-cent coins, which became the foundation for his coin collection. He added additional pre-1970 coins to his collection from helping his dad roll his loose change.

For his eighth birthday, Garrett received copies of A Guide Book of United States Coins, commonly called the “Red Book,” and History of the U.S. Mint and Its Coinage, that he studied from cover to cover. Then came coin folders to organize his finds.

Garrett started with Lincoln cents and State quarter dollars, and expanded his interests to include Winged Liberty Head dimes.

While his main collecting focus is now Capped Bust half dollars, Garrett says he has also been collecting small-size $1 and $5 silver certificates; $1, $2 and $5 United States notes; and select large-size notes.

Garrett said he became enamored with Capped Bust half dollars while reading the Red Book, never believing he’d be able to own an example of a Capped Bust half dollar. He learned more when he checked out a copy of Early Half Dollar Die Varieties 1794-1836 by Al C. Overton, with Donald Parsley, from his local library

At the ANA YN auction in 2012, Garrett said he was able to answer Karoleff’s questions about the lettered edge on Capped Bust half dollars, prompting Karoleff to subsequently send Garrett the 1834 half dollar with instructions to attribute it. Garrett did, using the Overton book he had checked out from the library.

Garrett said it took him some time to attribute the half dollar as an Overton 117 variety, but he relished the challenge that has deepened his interest in the series to collect by die variety.

“Most of my Capped Bust halves are Very Fine,” Garrett says. “My target grades are Very Fine to Extremely Fine. Below VF, the coins may not hold their value as well, and my YN budget can’t handle coins above EF.”

Garrett said he looks for coins that have original surfaces or were lightly cleaned a long time ago, which does present an obstacle in some cases.

Garrett tied his love of history to one special coin in his collection — an Overton 103 1814 Capped Bust half dollar he managed to acquire on Sept. 13, 2014, at a coin show in Lancaster, Pa., the day before the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Fort McHenry and the Star Spangled Banner.

Garrett says he was able to determine the coin’s emission sequence from a 1986 Coinage of the America’s Conference book from the American Numismatic Society. That, along with delivery warrant information from Bust half specialist Steve Tompkins, led to the conclusion that “it is possible that my coin could have been made during the Battle of Ft. McHenry on September 13/14, 1814. This is a really cool tie to an important part of American history,” Garrett said.

What attracted him to the Capped Bust half dollar series and has kept him hooked?

“The coins from this time period fascinate me because of their historical significance,” Garrett says. “The U.S. Mint was struggling to survive during the time it produced Bust coinage, so they had to be very clever to overcome their obstacles. 

“Many of the design features on Capped Bust half dollars were hand-punched into the dies, which gives us the individuality of die varieties. I have gotten to know my Capped Bust half dollars much better than the other coins I collect because of the time I spend researching their die varieties.

“You form a definite connection with these coins.”

Thankful for support

Garrett’s mother, Lynne Ziss, is appreciative of the support and encouragement that hobby’s has given Garrett over such a short period of time. 

She says her son “lives and breathes” numismatics.

“As a parent, I can’t say enough good things about the members of the JRCS,” she said. “They were very generous and welcoming and treated Garrett like a young adult rather than a kid. Several members spent a lot of time talking with him at the convention and many have been e-chatting with him since then. 

“Neither my husband nor I are coin collectors, so we are grateful that Garrett has such a good support system for his hobby.”

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