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William T. Gibbs

Bill’s Corner

William T. Gibbs

William was appointed the managing editor effective May 1, 2015. He joined the Coin World editorial staff in 1976 as an assistant editor for "Collectors' Clearinghouse" and later became a senior staff writer before being appointed news editor. As managing editor, he manages the day-to-day editorial operations for Coin World, both print and online, and leads the editorial staff. He also serves as chief copy editor for all Coin World publications, including for all books published by Coin World since 1985. He has been project editor of mulitple editions of the Coin World Almanac. Bill began collecting coins at the age of 10 and soon discovered Coin World. As a teen interested in numismatics and journalism, he identified a writing position on the staff of Coin World as a dream job, which was realized shortly after he graduated from Bowling Green State University with a major in journalism. He collects store cards and medals depicting Adm. George Dewey of Spanish-American War fame.

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Archive for '2016'

    Is a smaller coin market in 2016 something to be worried about?

    December 28, 2016 1:55 PM by
    How concerned should those of us in the rare coin market be about market statistics released this year?  
    As we report on Page 1 this week, the Profes­sional Numismatists Guild’s annual market survey of major auction firms suggests auction results and direct sales in 2016 totaled more than $4 billion, not counting bullion coin sales nor sales by the U.S. Mint (more on those later).

    Of that figure, the aggregate prices realized for U.S. coins sold at major public auctions in 2016 totaled $341,815,542. While that auction total is a sizeable sum, the 2016 figure is below totals for other recent years in similar PNG surveys. Totals were $439 million in 2015; $536 million in 2014; and $393 million in 2013.

    However, some factors need to be consider­ed. For example, while the market witnessed two auctions from the D. Brent Pogue Collect­ion in 2016, the third auction (held in February 2016) lacked the seven-figure rarities that were highlights of the first two auctions (both held in 2015), and the fourth sale (May 2016) saw its two stars fail to meet reserves. The $51.4 million realized for the 2015 Pogue auctions was well above the $33.8 million realized for the two 2016 sales. Also, 2016 lacked any installments from another major collection that started to hit the auction circuit in 2015 — that of collector Donald G. Partrick. In January 2015, the first of what was planned as four auctions from the Partrick Collection realized $25.93 million. The second planned sale for 2015 and both 2016 auctions, however, were canceled after the collector decided to hang on to his prized holdings longer. And, 2016 lacked any major offerings from the collection of Eric P. Newman, whose collection made headlines in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and realized tens of millions of dollars.

    The PNG’s report on the market in 2016 followed the October release of sales data for recent years by the U.S. Mint. The Mint, too, has experienced a drop-off in sales, since late in the first decade of the 21st century. Much of the Mint’s sales decline can be attributed to its aging customer base of mostly white men, and to the lack of a program as popular as the State quarter dollars series of 1999 to 2008. The Mint also experienced a decline in sales of its American Eagle silver bullion coin in 2016, to their lowest levels since 2012. However, gold sales were up in 2016, a bright spot.

    The PNG survey of the coin market in the United States in 2016 is only sobering if you expect every year to be bigger and better than the last. As noted in the PNG article, the coin market ebbs and flows in a cycle, with periods of market increases and decreases. While certainly hobby and market leaders need to be concerned about the demographics of the collector base, we should all avoid reading too much into this year’s market figures. 

    From life-changing to geeky, we present Our Top 10 Stories of 2016

    December 22, 2016 8:07 AM by

    I think it safe to say that 2016 was a life-changing year, both in the numismatic com­munity and the nation at large. Some of our Top 10 Stories of 2016 represent those changes.

    At the end of every year, Coin World’s editors propose their top stories for the year. We then vote on everyone’s recommendations, sometimes taking more than one round to determine what stories make the cut. While these stories are often among the most important that we covered during the year, with lasting impact on the hobby, sometimes a story will make the list more because it was interesting than life-changing.


    The discovery of a rare Vigo Bay gold coin in a family heirloom toy box — a coin used in play as “pirate treasure” by several generations of children — falls into the former category of interesting rather than life-altering (except maybe for the family, who benefited from the £280,000 the coin brought when sold at auction).


    However, some stories from 2016 fall into that life-changing category, and none more so than the article about planned changes to the $5, $10, and $20 Federal Reserve notes. When the changes start to appear (maybe in 2020), historic events in civil rights and equal rights will become prominent themes of notes used by Americans every day, and on the $20 note, the portrait of Harriet Tubman will be the first of a historic African-American woman on U.S. currency (and only the second woman to have her portrait appear on federal paper money).


    Similarly, the appearance of the first African-American Liberty on a U.S. coin in 2017 will break down barriers, and like the future changes to our paper money, recognize the diversity that makes America what it is.


    Of course, many of the year’s top stories are the kind that excite coin geeks but probably no one else. The story about the discovery of hubs and dies for a 1964 Morgan dollar fits squarely into that category, as does the discovery of the dies and hubs for the 1964 Peace dollar. The twin discoveries, made in 2015 but not announced until 2016, probably excited hard-core collectors more than any other event.


    The story about the 1974-D Lincoln alum­inum cent also falls into that latter category.
    From the business side of the hobby, the growth in boutique bullion coinage and the fourth auction of coins from the Pogue Collection illustrated the continuing interest in both modern coinage and classic coins (even if the stars of the Pogue IV auction did not sell).


    Not surprisingly, the 2016 Centennial gold coins and 2016 American Liberty silver medals made our list. I can say that both U.S. Mint offerings generated more phone calls and email to me than any other subjects in 2016, and not all in a “the Mint did a good job” way.


    One story that made the list in 2016 is a perennial favorite — the continuing saga of 10 1933 double eagles. Will it make the cut again in 2017?

    Working hard for all of our readers in 2017 | Coin World

    December 16, 2016 10:31 AM by
    Although I write this in mid-December,  the cover for this issue bears the new year’s date, so I am peeking into the future to write a little bit about the coming year. I am hesitant to make predictions, but here are some things I am fairly confident about.

    We have a lot of great features planned for the new year. The Coin World editorial staff — editor-at-large Steve Roach, senior editors Paul Gilkes and Jeff Starck, and copy editor Fern Loomis — plus our talented team of freelance contributors, began thinking in September and October 2016 about features for our 2017 monthly issues.
    Steve’s feature in this first issue of 2017, “The Appeal of Rare Coins,” looks at market dynamics as shown through recent auctions of some of the greatest collections of U.S. coins in existence. And while most of us may never be able to own a great rarity, we can all learn from the lessons Steve discusses in his look at today’s marketplace.

    Other features in the planning include a special one for our April issue that is tied to the 225th anniversary of the United States Mint; while that article hasn’t been turned in just yet, I can guarantee you’ll find it fascinating.

    Additional cover features for 2017 include looks at collecting varieties, the always popular Morgan dollar, and winners and losers among modern U.S. Mint products.

    Throughout the new year, as a news publication (both in print and online), Coin World will continue to keep you informed. Our talented team of reporters will work their beats to bring you the latest news that you will need to know. Obviously, the U.S. Mint’s milestone anniversary celebration will play a big role but we’ll also keep you informed about the latest news involving world coins, paper money, treasure finds, numismatic literature, auctions, important legislation, and more — I’m predicting that we’ll have lots to report about during the year.

    Our columnists and bloggers, too, will offer their special insights weekly, and out Chicago-based online team of Joe O’Donnell and Colin Sallee will continue to help keep our website humming.

    All of us at Coin World promise to do our best in helping you enjoy your collecting pursuits. Please reach out to us whenever you have questions and comments; we want to hear from you. 

    England’s £5 note still causing problems due to secret ingredient

    December 12, 2016 10:38 AM by
    Technological changes can have unintended consequences — they did in India in 1857 and they may again in England today, and for the same reason. As Art Friedberg reports this week, the Bank of England’s troubled £5 note is the subject of what could be its greatest controversy: it contains traces of animal fat.

    To many this might generate a response of, “So what?” However, for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, vegans, vegetarians, and others in the United Kingdom who have to use the notes, the existence of tallow in the notes may be a matter of morality. And lest some brush off their response as an overreaction, let’s not forget the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the British East India Company, which held control of the subcontinent. While that rebellion had many causes, the final spark was the rumor that cow and pig fat was used to grease the gunpowder cartridges for British Enfield rifles. A soldier was expected to tear open the paper cartridge with his teeth, dump its gunpowder into the barrel of the rifle, and then shove the greased paper and ball in after it. Not surprisingly, Hindu and Muslim soldiers objected to this because of their sacred beliefs involving cows and pigs. More than 100,000 would die in the rebellion. 

    This is not to suggest that mass violence could erupt over the tallow ingredient of the new polymer notes. However, the use of tallow, of which Bank of England officials say they were unaware until the recent revelations, is just the latest blow to the bank respecting the note. The bank has been embarrassed by YouTube videos and other social media postings of individuals erasing ink from the notes or applying heat until the notes shrink. Those kinds of problems have been experienced with polymer notes from other issuers, but they still seemed to catch the U.K. population by surprise.

    Preparing a new note, especially in this era when increasingly sophisticated anti-counterfeiting devices are used, takes a lot of work and experimentation, and even then, unexpected problems can still arise, as in the printing of the current generation of $100 Federal Reserve notes. Those problems delayed release of the notes by months while the problems were resolved. Undoubtedly the U.S. government will make every effort to prevent problems with the new $5, $10, and $20 notes being designed. I just personally hope as a vegan that these future notes lack any sort of ingredients derived from animal by-products.

    A century ago, Mint officials were close to missing a deadline

    December 2, 2016 3:04 PM by

    One hundred years this month, Bureau of the Mint officials in Washington and Philadelphia were busy trying to fulfill what they believed to be a statutory requirement to replace the existing designs of the dime, quarter dollar, and half dollar.

    Charles Barber’s designs for those three silver coins were introduced in 1892 and thus celebrated their 25th anniversary in 1916. That anniversary was important, at least in the views of Mint officials, thanks to an 1890 law. That law was intended to prevent the frequent redesign of U.S. coinage; under the law, Mint officials were prohibited from redesigning a coin unless it had been in use for 25 years, though the Mint could seek congressional approval for a waver to the rule.

    By 1915, however, Mint officials had inter­preted the act as requiring design changes every 25 years, not permitting the changes. This interpretation was a misreading of the law and Mint officials were under no requirement to change the Barber designs.

    In 1916, though, Mint officials were nine years into a massive redesign of the coinage that had begun in 1907, all for coins whose designs were well past the 25-year “mandatory requirement” — the $10 eagle and $20 double eagle in 1907, the $2.50 quarter eagle and $5 half eagle in 1908, the cent in 1909, and the 5-cent coin in 1913. Redesigning the three lowest denominations of four silver coins would have made sense in 1916 even without the misinterpretation of the 1890 act.

    As Coin World has reported throughout this centennial year in our news coverage of the gold centennial versions of the three 1916 silver coins, the resultant designs are the most attractive of the three denominations — the Winged Liberty Head dime, the Standing Liberty quarter dollar, and the Walking Liberty half dollar. And yet, as December 1916 began, officials were close to missing their self-imposed goal.

    Numismatist Roger Burdette has done a masterful job of reporting on the 1916 redesign  effort in the final volume of his Renaissance of American Coinage trilogy, a series that belongs on every numismatist’s bookshelf, so we will not attempt to retell the entire story here. We’ll just note that the dime had not been released until Oct. 30, and as December 1916 began, officials had yet to finalize the designs for the quarter dollar and half dollar. However, by the end of the month the Mint had succeeded in striking small numbers of the two larger coins, though neither would be released until early 1917. The wait, however, was well worth it — the three 1916 silver coins are beautiful, and the 1916 quarter dollar and 1916-D dime are the key dates for their respective series.

    So, do you think the 2016 gold versions will be as popular in the future as the originals?

    As current coin series end, what should the Mint do in the future?

    October 31, 2016 2:22 PM by
    The introduction of the State quarter dollars program in 1999 changed how we collected coins from circulation, in a good way. After decades in which coin designs remained static, collectors finally had five new designs to look for in circulation every year. The program was a huge success. At its peak, as many as 140 million individuals were collecting the series, many of them noncollectors who had previously shown little interest in collecting. I remember acquiring rolls of each new design and then sharing them with noncollectors who eagerly awaited each new release.

    The method of distribution for the series made it easy to find each new issue. The authorizing act required the Mint and the Fed­eral Reserve to work in tandem to ensure any bank in the country could order quantities of each new issue. Once local banks recognized the level of interest from their customers, most made sure that they kept their clients happy by ordering each new design.

    The follow-up quarter dollar programs  did not fare as well since no provisions were made to make it easy for banks to order specific designs. Similarly, the program featuring four different cents in 2009 to celebrate President Lincoln’s 200th birthday was only a moderate success, and the Presidential dollars series was a circulation failure since few Americans want to use a dollar coin in commerce. Which brings us to the present and the U.S. Mint’s Oct. 13 Stakeholders Forum in Philadelphia.

    The Presidential dollar series is now done. The America the Beautiful quarter dollars program will run through 2020, with one coin scheduled to be released in 2021. However, the legislation authorizing the America the Beautiful quarters program gives the Mint authority to do a second series if it chooses.

    At the Oct. 13 forum, Mint officials asked a team whether they should issue a second series of quarters, and the team made several recommendations.

    One was a return to the original designs at the end of the first series. However, the legislation authorizing the America the Beautiful series requires the Mint return to the original obverse and a new reverse showing Washington crossing the Delaware River at the conclusion, so the Mint’s options are limited.

    An American Innovators theme was discus­sed (legislation before the current Congress seeks an Innovators dollar coin program) but the team warned against the danger of showing double-headed designs (President Washington on the obverse and an inventor on the reverse), suggesting instead a series showing inventions and not inventors.

    Finally, the team suggested using the Kennedy half dollar for any future multi-design, multi-year series. Team members felt that such a series could help the 50-cent coin circulate, which it does not do now.

    No matter what the Mint does, the key to the success of any program is Mint promotion of the series beyond the numismatic community. That means advertising in general media and making it easy for collectors and noncollectors to find the coins at face value in circulation. Otherwise, the public may not even know a new series of coins exists. 

    Mint forum participants look to the future and call for circulating historic designs

    October 21, 2016 10:46 AM by
    In the United States, the coin collecting  hobby and the United States Mint are in­extricably intertwined, each deeply de­pendent on the other, and while each would survive without the other, both benefit from this symbiotic relationship. That closeness was on display Oct. 13 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia during the Mint’s Stakeholders Forum.

    Approximately 60 hobby “stakeholders” — collectors, dealers, officers from clubs both big and small, and members of the numismatic media, including me — participated in the day-long event at the bank, located a block away from the Philadelphia Mint. The Mint had a full schedule for the day, starting with introductions from Mint officials; in the weeks ahead, I’ll be writing more on some of these topics in our print issues and in my blog.

    This week though, I want to focus on one part of the program. During the afternoon, participants split into teams to discuss such topics as Mint packaging, the setting of mintage maximums and household limits for products, and historic design reproduction, the team of which I was a member.

    Members of this team largely agreed that reusing historic designs can be a good thing for the hobby, but that legal restrictions imposed on the Mint by federal law severely hamper the effectiveness of programs like the 2016 Centennial coin series to draw in new collectors. The Mint struck the three coins, originally issued in silver 100 years ago, in gold because it has broad authority to issue gold coins without seeking congressional approval. However, issuing those coins in silver would have required an act of Congress, literally.

    Many of the team members would like the Mint to issue historic designs in their original specifications for collector sale, and in current compositions for circulation. Furthermore, we liked the idea of issuing the circulating versions in fairly small numbers, randomly salting them among modern designs, and then encouraging young collectors to search for them aided by an app on their phone, as in the recent Pokemon craze. This, however, would require changes to federal law, to give the Mint more leeway than it now has to issue coins. Such changes are possible (for example, the hobby drove passage of the Hobby Protection Act of 1973 and the Bicentennial coin redesign of 1975 and 1976 through concerted lobbying efforts of Congress). However, such changes will require a collaborative effort by many in the hobby. Are we up for that?  

    Sharing some thoughts on the state of U.S. coin grading today

    October 18, 2016 9:45 AM by

    The columns by John Kraljevich, Q. David Bowers and Beth Deisher this week all address the same topic — the grading of coins. 

    Although they are from different generations, John and Dave both became numismatists at very young ages. Each is a talented researcher and cataloger, and they know a thing or two about grading. Beth, on the other hand, came to Coin World as an editor in 1981 with no knowledge of coins but a keen instinct for reporting the news.
    In his column this issue, John examines the concept of grading as a specialist in early American coinage — those issues of the Colonial and Confederation periods that predate the 1792 founding of the federal Mint.

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    “If you’d like to build a collection full of lustrous gems, each perfect and beautiful, Colonial coins may not be for you,” John begins, adding, “Various Colonial coin series, or even individual varieties, appear with their own typical, endemic flaws that help explain how they were made.”
    Because of these natural flaws, “Problems inherent in the production of Colonial coins used to be judged more leniently [by] specialist collectors. Today, however, “in the era of certifi­cation, ... coins are now judged by an uncomfortable standard,” which he explains in his column, lamenting that “many die varieties are lumped under an identical heading.
    While perfection may be elusive in early American coinage, that is no longer the case with coins struck by the United States Mint, “With literally millions of coins encased in plastic holders today bearing the grades MS-70 and Proof 70,” as Beth writes. Perfection was not reached among even modern coinage until 30 years ago, when “Page 1 of the July 30, 1986, issue of Coin World announced the earthshattering news” — that the first coins to ever be awarded a Proof 70 or Mint State 70 grade were revealed, though to “say that the perfect grade raised some eyebrows is an under­statement,” she adds.
    Even today, with “perfect 70” coins common­place, some collectors still “raise their eye­brows” when they point to examples of “perfect 70” coins with no­ticeable flaws, wondering how these coins can still receive 70 grades.
    Finally, in his column, in which he has been writing about the evolution of grading for the past month or so, Dave writes, “The seeming precision of num­bers as compared to adjectives in coin grading has opened the gates for countless thousands of coin buyers. Many, if not most, hope for quick investment profits, then leave when such do not materialize.
    For many of the readers who correspond with me, grading remains an area of great concern, whether it be the specter of “grade­flation,” in which long-established standards are ignored by third-party grading firms, or the high prices charged for coins with lofty grades. 
    They are looking for answers where there may be none, at least for now. 

    Numismatic literature excitement reigns with a sale and a sellout

    September 30, 2016 3:41 PM by

    The Sept. 21 auction by Bonhams’ Fine Books and Manuscripts in New York City of a copy of the 1850 book New Varieties of Gold and Silver Coins, Counterfeit Coins, and Bullion; with Mint Values by Jacob Reese Eckfeldt and William E. Du Bois for an astounding $10,625 is an illustration of the power in the marketplace of numismatic literature.

    This book, written in 1850, includes reports of the new gold finds in California. The historical value of the book is enhanced by the presence of gold fragments and a tiny gold bar from the California fields behind a sheet of mica. The Gold Rush connection gives owners of the book a historical connection that few works provide.
    Numismatic books have been leading the news recently. In the past month, the newly released fifth edition of Q. David Bowers’ A Guide Book of Morgan Silver Dollars sold out almost immediately. Whitman publisher Dennis Tucker explained: “Part of the strong demand for this edition comes from the recently revealed discovery of hubs, dies, and models for a 1964 Morgan dollar. This exciting announcement was made in late August, and demand for the book skyrocketed in September.” The book features on its cover the photograph of a hub for the 1964 Morgan dollar, with more photographs and details of the discovery inside. Since the existence of models, hubs and dies for an 1964 Morgan dollar were unknown until the book was announced, collectors were eager to share in this exciting news by purchasing a copy. (And Dennis promises that thousands more copies of the book will be available soon.)

    Not all books, however, qualify as classic works, as columnist Joel Orosz ex­plains in his “Numismatic Bookie” column in this issue. He cites The Profit March of Your Coin Investment, 1935–1971, written by a man Joel describes as “the Barnumesque” George Haylings. Haylings was wildly optimistic in his 1960 book, in which he predicted that a roll of 1950-D Jefferson 5-cent coins would be worth $10,000 in 1971. They were actually worth $50.

    Numismatic literature can inspire, inform, educate and, on some occasions, give bad advice. For collectors, a good library is a vital tool in their hobby.

    Read any good books lately? 

    Why you won’t see a U.S. Star Trek coin series

    September 16, 2016 11:32 AM by
    World mints generally have much greater latitude than the United States Mint when it comes to selecting coin themes. That is both a good thing and a bad thing

    Our World Coins section this week includes Louis Golino’s Topical Topics article on world coins commemorating the 50th anniversary of the debut of the American television program Star Trek, and Jeff Starck’s New Issues coverage about the Perth Mint’s Star Trek coins for Tuvalu. You won’t be seeing, however, any U.S. coins celebrating the television program.

    In the United States, the legislative branch, Congress, has sole authority over regulating coinage, though it has ceded some authority for gold and platinum coinage to the executive branch, specifically the Treasury Department. This legislative authority dates to the U.S. Constitution’s Section 8: “The Congress shall have power to coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures. ...”

    In the United States, commemorative coin programs originate in Congress, not with the Treasury Department or the U.S. Mint. In other countries, authority over coinage may originate at a nation’s central bank or its mint, with commemorative and coin themes selected at the discretion of those governing bodies. And since sales of commemorative, bullion and other coins can be very lucrative for issuers, many nations are very innovative with their coin programs, as they seek themes that may appeal to coin collectors and noncollectors alike. That is why we see so many coins with pop culture themes — comic book heroes, cartoon characters, popular movie franchises and more. Issuers of these coins hope that a Star Trek coin series might attract Trekkies even if they have no real interest in collecting more traditional coins.

    There is something to be said about this approach. Some of these pop culture themes might attract younger collectors who love, for example, the characters from the movie Frozen. These young collectors may never graduate to, say, Lincoln cents or Indian Head 5-cent coins, but they may keep collecting character-themed coins.

    Please note that I am not advocating the United States go the same route. I'm really not. But is it wise to reject a change in direction without giving it some consideration? What do you think? Would you collect an American Star Trek coin? Or would following the path taken by so many other national and private mints be a huge mistake?

    A possible solution (or not) to the Mint’s fast sellouts of limited products

    September 13, 2016 9:21 AM by
    Our Letters to the Editor page recently has often featured submissions from readers on the same topic — fast sellouts of high-demand limited-edition U.S. Mint products. Readers continue to be angry about the difficulties many experience in ordering products like the 2016 Winged Liberty Head gold dime and 2016 American Liberty silver medals, especially when dealers seem to be able to acquire large numbers.

    Letter writers often offer potential solutions that Mint officials should consider. We also have offered various solutions and here is a another one: The United States Mint should consider emulating the Royal Canadian Mint by introducing a Masters Club — a program that rewards regular customers with advance access to new products, among other benefits.

    Here’s how the RCM describes the program: “Designed by and for the Mint’s most dedicated clientele, our Masters Club program delivers features and benefits providing recognition and rewards that offer innovation, value, and exclusivity.

    Essentially, the RCM tracks a customer’s purchases of qualifying products and enrolls the customer at a Silver, Gold, or Platinum level. The biggest benefit is early access to new products; for example, a customer at the Silver level gains access to a product two days before the rest of the public, while Gold and Platinum customers gain three- and four-day advance access, respectively.

    And how do you qualify? Simply purchase a certain amount of product — coins, sets, medals — during a year. As a customer buys more products, he or she advances from Silver to Gold to Platinum member status.

    This program rewards customer loyalty; if you routinely spend X amount with the Mint every year, you gain recognition for your loyalty, and better access.

    The RCM’s purchase limits are moderately high, with $1,000 in purchases necessary to qualify a customer for Silver member access, $1,500 in purchases for Gold member access, and $2,000 for the Platinum level. The United States Mint would not have to follow these levels since a number of customers might find those bars set too high; the U.S. Mint could set the lowest level much lower if it chose. Still, even at the $1,000 level, many collectors could easily spend that much on annual sets, special sets, and the year’s commemorative coins.

    With such a program at the U.S. Mint, what might the practical effect for collectors be?

    Better luck in snagging a limited-edition product, for one. It is no secret that some retailers and wholesalers commission individuals to purchase high-demand products on their behalf to circumvent household limits. Since it is likely that some if not many of these customers are noncollectors and are infrequent or even first-time Mint customers, they would not gain access to these products until days after qualified longtime customers would have already been able to purchase the coins under a Masters Club program. Of course, wholesalers could still stack the deck in their favor by enlisting clients to buy products at sufficient levels to reach Masters Class levels.

    Nonetheless, early access could also lessen the severity of Mint website crashes and delays, and the inability of customers to connect with customer service representatives by phone, effects that are typically experienced when hot coins go on sale, like the 2016 Standing Liberty gold quarter dollar that went on sale Sept. 8.

    A solution exists. It might not be following the RCM’s approach. Still, Mint officials and collectors should work together on finding a solution that benefits collectors.

    Centennial gold coins make price guide debut

    August 23, 2016 11:12 AM by
    When the U.S. Mint announced that it  would issue gold versions of the Winged Liberty Head dime, Standing Liberty quarter dollar, and Walking Liberty half dollar to celebrate the centennial of their release in silver in 1916, the editors here began planning our coverage of what we knew would be a popular series with collectors. Among our plans were special features on the three original series (we covered the dime in the February monthly issue, the quarter dollar in the May issue, and Gerald Tebben’s take on the half dollar will anchor our October issue). We also planned for senior editor Paul Gilkes to visit the West Point Mint to witness one of the coins being struck; you will find his videos and news coverage of his visit at our website and Facebook page. And we started thinking about how we would list the coins in our print and online price guide.

    The three gold coins make their price guide debut this week, in a special section along with the Mint’s other special gold coins of the past few years. They appear just after listings for the 2009 Ultra High Relief gold $20 double eagle and the American Liberty, High Relief gold $10 series, which debuted in 2015.

    We placed the three coins there after debating several options, including listing them with the original series. For example, that is the approach we took for the 1964–2014-W Kennedy gold half dollar. So why did we not take the same approach for the centennial gold coins?

    The Kennedy half dollar is an ongoing series and even though it has not been struck for circulation since 2001, it is produced every year in multiple versions (circulation, Proof and Uncirculated Mint set strikes, and in copper-nickel clad and 90 percent silver versions). Furthermore, the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy half dollar’s release was celebrated not only by a gold version, but also by other versions with special finishes and unique Mint marks.

    However, the gold centennial editions mark series that have not been struck since 1930 (for the quarter dollar) and the 1940s (for the dime and half dollar). And while it would not have been “wrong” to list the gold coins with their silver counterparts, it made more sense to us to list them in the same section as the other special gold coins.

    The Mint has identified a market for these special gold pieces and their innovation is likely to continue. The American Liberty series should resume in 2017, and other special pieces may be in the early planning stages (a 2021 Peace dollar in gold?). For us, listing the 2016 coins in this section seems to be a reasonable decision. 

    Readers seek advice, reassurance on a wide range of hobby topics

    August 12, 2016 12:36 PM by
    An important part of the job for Coin World’s editorial staff is interacting with the collecting public. While on occasion we can do so in person at conventions like the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money, in progress while I write these words, most of our interaction occurs over the telephone or via email. Still, we can learn a lot from you in these exchanges.

    Take, for example, a phone call from a reader about senior editor Jeff Starck’s recent article that referenced Kurdistan. The caller, who was very pleasant, wanted to point out that no independent nation called Kurdistan exists. When I edited that story, I should have made a revision to clarify the point in the article.

    After we discussed this topic, the caller then asked several questions, including seeking advice on what was the best auction house to which to consign his collection. I noted at the beginning of our conversation that it is inappropriate for editorial staff members to recommend one auction firm or dealer or grading service over a rival. But I was able to discuss the topic in general terms, offering some basic advice. All in all, it was a pleasant 22-minute conversation and we both learned from the exchange.

    Another recent exchange came via email from a reader who wanted to know what safeguards, if any, are in place at grading services to ensure that coins are not switched for inferior examples by the graders or support staff opening customer mail. It appears that this collector did not have much experience, if any, working with a grading service.

    This is a question I get periodically, and while I cannot speak about specific procedures practiced by all of the firms, I rush to reassure readers that grading services are trusted by professionals to grade coins worth thousands, tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. I add that it is unlikely that a professional authenticator or grader would risk their professional reputation or livelihood over a customer’s $100 or $200 coin (most callers on this topic are considering submitting coins of generally low value, though of importance to their owners, of course). All of us in the hobby are security conscious, naturally, so the reader’s apprehension is understandable.

    Another caller had been contacted by a firm wanting to sell him a recent Uncirculated American Eagle 1-ounce gold coin graded Mint State 70 at a price that was well above our price guide values. The firm, according to the caller, was stressing the mintage as being less than 8,000 coins. I explained to the caller that this was not an unusual mintage for coins of recent vintage. And while I couldn’t tell the reader what he should do, I was able to get him thinking about what steps he could take to determine whether a deal offered him was a good one.

    We are always happy to talk with our readers, so don’t hesitate to call me at 937-498-0853

    ANA marks 125 years with annual convention

    July 15, 2016 11:12 AM by

    How do you celebrate your 125th birthday? Attendees at the 2016 American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money will learn how the association celebrates its quasquicentennial when it holds what is traditionally the biggest coin show of the year in the United States.

    The ANA World’s Fair of Money “is the biggest, most educational coin show in the country,” in the association’s own words. This year’s event is scheduled for Aug. 9 to 13 in Anaheim, Calif. Previews of the convention appear here.

    The ANA was founded in 1891 by  Michigan physician George Heath, who operated a small coin business on the side and who since 1888 had published a small periodical that he called The Numismatist. In early 1891, he used the pages of his journal to ask, “Whats the matter of having an American Numismatic Association? ... Would it be practicable?” As columnist Joel Orosz wrote in his “Numismatic Bookie” column in the June 20 issue of Coin World, “Favorable responses abounded; in the June number, he nominated a slate of officers for the association.” 

    For the past 125 years, the ANA has met the needs of coin collectors, offering a club journal (The Numismatist eventually became the property of the ANA), an annual convention, and much more. 
    The ANA has changed over the years. Until 1967 it had no headquarters and all association business was operated out of the officers’ homes. Today it has a headquarters, museum and lending library in Colorado Springs, Colo.
    The ANA has also changed how it welcomes collectors below the age of 18, as longtime Coin World columnist Q. David Bowers recounts, writing about his first experiences with the organization in the 1950s when he was in his mid-teens. In that era, the general reaction of the ANA to a youthful collector was, basically, “Go away kid, you’re bothering me.” 

    Today the ANA wants young collectors to join its ranks. It offers special educational and fun programs, literary contests, scholarships, and much more that is geared specifically at the young numismatist. The ANA leadership recognizes that the hobby needs to continually refresh collector rolls to ensure that the hobby does not die along with aging collectors (a sizeable majority of hobbyists is in the 50- and 60-year age bracket and even older).

    For those of you attending the 2016 convention, have fun looking at and buying coins and notes and more. For those unable to attend the show, try to attend a future show (the location changes from year to year). It is well worth the time and expense.

    And if you are not an ANA member, join. You will get the award-winning The Numismatist, access to the largest lending numismatic library in the world, and much more. 

    What are you waiting on? 

    Congress should let these two commemorative coin bills die

    July 12, 2016 1:40 PM by
    One of the many truisms of the modern U.S. commemorative coin program is that most of the sales in a program occur during the first few weeks or couple of months after sales open.

    So why have two members of Congress from Massachusetts introduced a two-year three-coin program for 2020 to 2021?

    The twin bills call for half dollars, dollars, and half eagles to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the landing and settlement of Plymouth Colony, the signing of the Mayflower Compact, and the role of the indigenous Wampanoag tribes in the realization of the settlement.

    Since the reintroduction of commemorative U.S. coins in 1982, just two programs were authorized to last more than one year. Both marked Summer Olympic Games held in the United States and both featured multiple designs in an effort to encourage buyers to purchase coins over a prolonged period of time.

    The bills now before the House and the Senate, H.R. 5598 and S. 3105, do not follow that model. Both measures seek to authorize three coins of single designs to be issued over a two-year period starting Jan. 1, 2020. However, there is little evidence that the coin collector community will provide a steady source of buyers for the duration of the program. In 2007, when similar Jamestown 400th anniversary coins were sold, the vast majority were purchased in the first few months of sales, with sales then dwindling for the rest of the year

    The two bills have other troubling provisions, these involving the designs and design process. The scope of the program is very broad — capturing all of the history encompassed by the legislation on a single coin would be difficult for designers to attempt.  Furthermore, the bills name 10 entities that the Mint will have to consult with in designing the coins, and that’s before sending the designs to the two federal panels that regularly review coinage designs. Having that many critics involved will be a nightmare for the Mint’s design team.

    Monitors of the legislative process give the bills scant chances of passing, which is a good thing. Neither measure deserves to become law in its current form. 

    Fit for a King; amendment threatened our coins and notes

    June 24, 2016 9:44 AM by

    If Rep. Steve King were, say, king of the United States instead of the Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Iowa, the federal government would have lost the authority to (1) continue enhancing U.S. paper money’s anti-counterfeiting technology, (2) comply with a 2008 court order making Federal Reserve notes accessible to the blind, and (3) depict a black woman and other minorities on the $20 bill.

    King recently proposed an amendment to H.R. 5485, the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, a routine bill that would authorize the Treasury Department’s funding. King’s amendment was intended to modify the following passage in the legislation:
    “Sec. 119. None of the funds appropriated in this Act or otherwise available to the Department of the Treasury or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing may be used to redesign the $1 Federal Reserve note.”

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    The text of Section 119 is nothing more than a piece of boilerplate meant to ensure that the government does not spend any money on a redesign of the $1 Federal Reserve note. The language is unnecessary. Officials of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing have long said that they have no intentions of redesigning the $1 or $2 bills. The costs of upgrading their security would likely exceed any financial benefits from making either denomination harder to counterfeit. And let’s face it — counterfeiters tend to produce higher denomination fakes to get more bang for their bogus bucks.
    King’s amendment, however, would have gone much further and would have threatened the security and appearance of all of the nation’s currency, coins and paper money alike. Here is how Section 119 would be modified to read under King’s proposal (emphasis added):
    “None of the funds appropriated in this Act or otherwise available to the Department of the Treasury or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing may be used to redesign the [sic] any Federal Reserve note or coin.”
    What? Why?
    Here’s Politco’s reporting on King’s explanation, given the evening of June 21: “It’s not about Harriet Tubman, it’s about keeping the picture on the $20,” King said Tuesday evening, pulling a $20 bill from his pocket and pointing at President Andrew Jackson. “Y’know? Why would you want to change that? I am a conservative, I like to keep what we have.” 
    Indeed, King has called plans to displace Jackson's portrait with one of Tubman's both "racist" and "sexist." However, many commenting via social media at various news sites saw King's attempt to maintain the status quo as "racist" and "sexist."
    King had a lot more to say on the changes Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced for $5, $10, and $20 notes, but we won’t go into that here. You can find additional coverage online.
    When Coin World learned of the amendment from an article in The Huffington Post, we immediately recognized the broader dangers of the measure. We contacted King’s office but never received a response. We asked specifically, in part, why Rep. King introduced the amendment — at that point he had not spoken publicly about his reasoning — and whether his office intended a generic change prohibiting coinage and paper money redesign to derail existing programs to upgrade the $10 bill with both better anti-counterfeiting technology and enhancements that will enable the blind and visually impaired to use the notes with confidence. I suspect King’s office, in its zeal to deny Tubman a spot on the $20 note, either did not think about broader ramifications or simply did not care.
    However, the House Rules Committee on June 21 kept the amendment from moving to the House floor. Whatever one’s opinion is on depicting Tubman on federal currency, I think everyone can agree that continuing to combat counterfeiting and helping the visually impaired use our notes are both good things. 

    In the end, the sentimental value outweighs the financial reward

    May 27, 2016 6:52 AM by
    For some observers, the failure of bidders to meet the reserves for the 1804 dollar and 1822 half eagle in the Pogue IV auction was a sign of trouble for the market in high-end coins. However, the real story appears to be that of a collecting family that could not bear to part with two of their favorite coins, even with an offered total price of nearly $18 million.

    The 1804 dollar received a final bid that, with the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee, would have totaled $10,575,000, a world’s record for any coin. The 1822 half eagle garnered a final bid that, with the buyer’s fee, would have totaled $7,285,000, a bid surpassed among gold coins by only the 1933 double eagle that brought $7,590,000 in 2002. Both prices would have well exceeded what the Pogue family paid for the coins ($4.14 million for the dollar in 1999 and $687,500 for the half eagle in 1982). But still, no sale.

    Christine Karstedt, executive vice president of Stack’s Bowers Galleries, said that in the end, the sentimental value outweighed the financial reward and the family decided to keep the coins instead of accepting the bids.

    The 1822 half eagle has been part of the Pogue Collection since the current owner, Brent Pogue, was a teen. His father, Mark, who started the collection, had purchased the coin while Brent competed in a track meet with his high school team, though the younger Pogue had examined the coin during lot viewing.

    The younger Pogue wrote about the family’s purchase of the gold coin in his introduction to the book The 1822 Gold Half Eagle by Q. David Bowers. He noted in that introduction that the two coins the family has elected to keep are among his personal favorites.

    To those who choose to focus on just these two coins and see the situation in a negative light, look at the bigger picture. After four auctions, the Pogue Collection has raised $85,318,218.50. That’s a record already for any single collection, and its sale is not over.
    The Pogue Collection was clearly assembled over the decades by a family of collectors with a deep admiration of early U.S. coins. Who can blame them for deciding to keep a couple of the greatest coins in American numismatics? 

    When U.S. Mint experiments in finishes failed

    May 20, 2016 11:59 AM by

    Our cover feature this week focuses on the Mint’s recent experiments with different finishes on the coins it produces and sells to collectors and dealers. Collector reactions to Reverse Proof and Enhanced Uncirculated coins have differed, though secondary market pricing for many pieces suggests that overall, the response has been positive.

    The Mint has not always received a positive response to experimental finishes for collector coins. Indeed, the failure of experiments at the start of the 20th century actually resulted in the cancellation of sales of Proof coins for two decades.

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    From 1858 to 1915, the Philadelphia Mint struck Proof versions of most coins for customers. Until 1907, the finish on the Proof coins generally consisted of polished surfaces. However, the introduction of the new designs for the gold eagle and double eagle in 1907 and for the gold quarter eagle and half eagle coins in 1908 resulted in changes to the die curvature and texture of the fields that researcher Roger Burdette said made polishing of the surfaces to create a traditional Proof finish impractical.

    Since Mint officials still wanted to sell Proof coins to collectors and wanted those coins to have a distinctive finish to distinguish them from circulation strikes, they introduced a dull Proof finish or what we call today the Sandblast Proof finish. This finish on the 1907 and 1908 gold coins was imposed post striking through light sandblasting. A different approach requiring no post-striking treatment was used on the gold coins of 1909 and 1910, creating the oddly named Roman Proof finish.

    For the next few years, Proof finishes were not uniform, which collectors found unsettling and complained about in correspondence. The new Lincoln cent had a matte finish. The 5-cent coin and three silver coins of the old designs had traditional brilliant finishes but their replacements had die curvature and fields similar to those of the gold coins, making polished surfaces not an option.

    Furthermore, the Mint’s prices for the Proof silver and minor coins would not cover the higher production costs that would be entailed, Burdette writes. The Mint decided the hassle was not worth it, and in 1916 canceled the Proof program.

    Mint officials today must tread the fine line separating an expanded product line with multiple finishes on the same coin that collectors embrace and a product line that collectors find bloated and offputting. Let’s hope that we all benefit from the failures of the past by avoiding repeating them.

    Collectors still peeved at U.S. Mint over gold dime sales

    May 16, 2016 3:22 PM by

    As I write this editorial on May 12 it has been three weeks to the day since the U.S. Mint offered and “sold out” of its 2016 Winged Liberty Head gold dime, and yet, I continue to receive daily email, phone calls and traditional letters from collectors upset with the U.S. Mint and dealers over how sales unfolded in a period of 20 to 40 minutes.

    Meanwhile, as we now know, the program is not sold out. More than 6,200 of the dimes remain unsold because of credit card declines, order cancellations, and returns from buyers (some being returned because of damage to the packaging or coins, and others because of imperfections that might result in a grade that is unacceptable to the customer). Mint officials have said that at least some of the unsold dimes will be offered again but we are still waiting on details of how and when those coins will be sold.

    A Mint spokesman said May 12 that the remaining dimes likely would not be offered until order reconciliation is complete. He could not say how long that might take, so collectors are left wondering whether it be a matter of days or weeks or even months. And when sales resume, how much advance notice will collectors receive.

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    One thing that I can guarantee is that collectors will be even more upset than they are already if the Mint offers the remaining coins under the same 10-coins-per-household limit imposed during the initial day of sales, April 21. That approach made it easier for certain dealers and marketers to purposely circumvent the household limits to snag much larger numbers of the dimes, including at least one television seller who acquired several thousand coins.
    Many collectors who were locked out the first time believe that anyone successful during the first round of sales should be barred from buying any more (especially dealers, they say).
    In addition to waiting on the resumption of sales for the dime, the marketplace is waiting on the Mint to announce plans for the second coin in the gold centennial program — the 2016 edition of the Standing Liberty quarter dollar, which like the dime was struck in 1916 in silver. And after that coin is the 2016 Walking Liberty gold half dollar.
    Will the Mint sales and marketing division learn from the sale of the dimes and make these later offerings fairer, with lower household limits and better monitoring of customers who might be trying to exceed the limit? Or will that division’s officers continue to anger its base — the collectors of U.S. coins?

    Museums big and small benefit from numismatic donations

    May 6, 2016 10:34 AM by

    Two of our news articles this week focus on the generous donations to museums in New York City by two civic-minded and wealthy families. Paul Gilkes reports on the generosity of John E. Herzog, while Steve Roach reports on the donation by Stephen K. and Janie Woo Scher. 

    Herzog is well known within the financial collectibles community. He is chairman emeritus of Spink/Smythe and the founder and chairman emeritus of the Museum of American Finance on Wall Street in New York City. In 2011 he founded the Wall Street Bourse, a now annual coin, paper money and stock certificate show held at the nation’s financial capital.

    His new donation to the museum of $5 million, to be paid out in installments through May 17, is, as Herzog puts it, “a final gift” and “a display of my confidence in the ability of the museum’s leadership to successfully carry it into the future and sustain it as a permanent institution.” 

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    The museum serves as a neutral public forum for addressing topical financial issues and events.

    The Scher donation involves their astounding collection of 450 art medals, donated to The Frick Collection in New York City. 

    The museum says, “Given its sweeping scope across historical periods and the wide range of its subject matter, [the collection] will resonate with almost every work in the Frick’s permanent holdings. As such the Scher medals will enrich the experience of the museum’s viewing audience and stimulate scholarship on existing holdings in previously unanticipated ways.”

    Museums are wonderful places for families to visit, whether they be an art museum like the Frick, a financial museum like that founded by Herzog, or the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force not far from Coin World’s home in western Ohio. And numismatic holdings can enhance a museum’s ability to tell visitors something about history, art, finance, and people.

    Donations of numismatic materials to museums don’t have to be as valuable as those offered by Herzog and the Schers. Even a small local museum might welcome a donation of numismatic material. For a collector who is thinking about what should be done with his or her holdings after death and whose family has no one interested in coins or paper money or medals, a donation to the local history museum is a great solution.

    Is there a better way to sell a hot product like the 2016 gold dime?

    April 29, 2016 10:57 AM by

    Trigger warning — if you were one of the many collectors who were unsuccessful in buying one of the Winged Liberty Head gold dimes from the U.S. Mint on April 21 and you are still upset about being shut out, you might want to pause before reading this next bit.

    Promotional copy at the Home Shopping Network website: “2016 SP70 ANACS First Day of Issue Limited Edition of 1,789 24K Gold Mercury Dime ... $499.95.”

    To translate, the online and television shopping network acquired at minimum nearly 1,800 of the hotly anticipated gold dimes, sold by the Mint for a price of $205 each with a household of 10 coins.

    That represents about 1.4 percent of the 121,201 coins sold in the initial wave of sales from the maximum mintage of 125,000 pieces, and they are now being offered at more than twice the price (cost of grading and encapsulating included).

    The Mint’s sale of the 2016-W Winged Liberty Head gold dime unfolded like many of its long-awaited and hotly anticipated products. The coin went on sale at noon Eastern Time, was switched from “available” to “back order” status about 20 minutes later, and then to “currently unavailable” about 40 minutes into the sale.

    The speed at which the coin sold out was made possible in part by the 10-coin household limit. That bar was too high, collectors have told us, adding that the limit made it easier for retailers to snap up sizeable quantities of the coins.

    My phone started ringing and email inbox beeping around 1 p.m. April 21, maybe even sooner. Collectors were contacting me to complain that they had been unable to buy one of the dimes. Most said the 10-coin household limit was too high; a one- or two-coin limit would have been better. This is a familiar refrain; the collectors make a good point.

    Many of the callers also predicted that dealers would be able to acquire quantities of coins well beyond the household limit. Most were upset with this possibility.

    I think anyone would understand why a collector who was locked out of buying one of the coins would be upset with a retailer offering large numbers of the coins at prices well above the issue price. It is easy to see why some believe that the system is rigged in favor of dealers and not collectors. But is it?

    Companies like HSN and some of Coin World’s advertisers build their inventories in several ways: The firms may have employees order the maximum number of coins on their personal accounts and then reimburse them. Firms also turn to the secondary market, buying coins from their customers or others at a premium; it is not unusual to receive an email from such a company before or after a sale begins, offering to pay a premium for each coin the recipient will sell to the firm. And while the practice does upset some collectors who see such techniques as improperly circumventing the household limits, some collectors already intend to buy the maximum number of coins, pick the best one to keep, and sell the rest to a dealer, often financing the purchase of the coin they kept and making a nice profit beyond that. It is tough to fault any collector for doing that.

    The reality is that the Mint has not found a better way to sell in-demand products. The Mint order system cannot distinguish why a particular buyer is purchasing a coin or coins, whether it is for a collection to be held long term or to be quickly flipped for a profit. I doubt anyone would want the government to tell a buyer what he or she can do with the coins once purchased. If anyone has a better idea that might be feasible, let us hear it.

    However, the Mint can do a better job of determining household limits. Ten was too many for this coin; a better limit would have been one or two coins for the first couple of days of sales, then a higher limit. A lower limit could have helped spread the coins around a little better.

    The Mint still has time before it launches sales of the gold Standing Liberty quarter dollar and Walking Liberty half dollar, part of the same Centennial program celebrating these three beautiful coins. Although the smaller size and lower price made the dime the most desirable coin for collectors on a limited budget, the Mint should still listen to collectors and lower the household limit for both other coins.

    New paper money designs to depict stirring stories of Freedom, Liberty

    April 22, 2016 10:41 AM by
    Good coin and paper money designs tell stories about the nations and the people that issue them. In a few years, U.S. paper money will starting telling new stories — of a refusal to be enslaved, of the fight for women’s suffrage, of the battle for civil rights — by returning historical vignettes to our notes.

    Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew finally ended months of speculation when on April 20 he announced that a portrait of Harriet Tubman would shove Andrew Jackson’s portrait off the face and onto the back of the $20 note.

    Tubman was the popular choice in a poll conducted by Women on 20s, a women’s rights advocacy group. It is easy to understand why Tubman was the popular choice: Born a slave in Maryland circa 1822, she developed a growing thirst for freedom. Escaped in 1849; was returned to her owners. Escaped again, this time for good. Risked her freedom and life again and again by returning to the South to rescue family members and others from bondage. Though an advocate of nonviolence, she nonetheless supported John Brown’s efforts to free slaves and to create a safe home for them. Served in the Union Army during the Civil War as a nurse and spy, even leading men in an armed assault. After the war’s end and the abolition of slavery, she took up a new righteous cause — women’s suffrage, joining with Susan B. Anthony in the good fight. In short, she lived an amazing life.

    But Tubman’s story will not be the only new tale to be told on our future paper money. Lew also announced that the backs of the $5 and $10 notes will be redesigned as well, with the now familiar structures on the two notes (the Lincoln Memorial on the $5 note and the Treasury Building the $10 issue) retained but gaining scenes of historic events conducted in the name of liberty and freedom at both sites.

    The back of the $5 note will show historical vignettes of the growing movement for equal rights for African Americans in the 20th century: Marian Anderson’s triumphal 1939 operatic performance in front of 75,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial after being denied a venue at one of the capital’s segregated concert halls; Martin Luther King’s stirring “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 before a crowd of hundreds of thousands. A portrait of Abraham Lincoln, who preserved the Union and helped end slavery, will remain on the face of the note, the two sides meshing perfectly in telling a shared story.

    Similarly, Alexander Hamilton, our first Treasury secretary and a financial genius, and the Treasury Building will remain on the $10 note, but the back will feature scenes like the March 1913 gathering at the Treasury facility of women’s suffrage advocates and a vignette honoring Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul for their contributions to women’s suffrage.

    Historical vignettes have largely disappeared from our paper money. Their return, with stirring new stories, should be exciting.

    African American Liberty portrait recommendation draws criticism

    April 1, 2016 11:06 AM by

    The recent decision by members of both the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the Commission of Fine Arts to recommend a portrait of an African American woman as the Liberty figure for the 2017 American Liberty silver medal and gold coin has been polarizing, to put it mildly. A lot of collectors are not at all supportive; many of them loathe the idea — and they have not been shy in their comments at Coin World’s Facebook page and in their email to me.

    Supporters of the decision and the design have been a distinct minority; I estimate that some 80 percent or so of those commenting fall into the “anti” camp, with about 20 percent welcoming the recommendation (and I count myself among the latter; a wrongheaded decision, some readers have told me).

    For those who like the idea, introducing new concepts of Liberty not necessarily rooted in ancient Greek art is a wonderful way of recognizing the immense diversity of our nation. As one writes, “It’s about time our money reflects the beauty of America’s racial diversity.”

    The opposition to the design seems to fall into three or four or more categories, with some crossover. Some just don’t like the design on aesthetic grounds. Others are rejecting the design without explicitly saying why. Then there are those who call the idea of an African American Liberty “politically correct garbage,” or another example of an America changing into something they don’t support. Others see the abandoning of the classical Liberty, with its roots in Europe, as tossing tradition out the window. Still others point fingers at President Obama or the U.S. Mint as being responsible, though that is not accurate, as one person intimately involved in the decision explains.

    Heidi Wastweet is a talented sculptor and medalist, and a member of the CCAC. In the March 27 issue of The E-Sylum, the weekly electronic newsletter of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society, she discusses the origins of the American Liberty gold coin and silver medal program, which made its debut in 2015. Some of her comments follow.

    She writes: “The High Relief Liberty series is not Congress driven. It was [a] program recommended by CCAC and adapted by the Mint as is allowed in the Mint parameters.

    “That seems to be common notion that there was some kind of directive saying we were told to do an African American Liberty, or that Obama pushed this agenda or that it is an attempt at radical political correctness. (I’ve been reading the online comments). The truth is much simpler — We members of the CCAC wanted a new medal series to stimulate artistic freedom and creativity and therefore create more interest in collecting. ...”

    She added: “Last year we chose a standing Liberty that was not distinctly caucasian but not specifically any particular race. It was just a solid beautiful design. This year we had many submissions again as you saw and this is the one that got the most votes. There was no direction to choose a black Liberty. The CCAC and the CFA thought this was simply the most intriguing design of the group. 

    “We also asked the Mint to save all the designs that received 10 or more points and add those to the submissions for next year. That group includes another African American face, an Asian face and several more caucasian or non-distinct nationalities. I hope that people will come to look at this series as a whole … a beautiful diverse series.”

    Lest you think that the CCAC is some stereotypical “Washington elites” organization out of touch with the coin collecting community, be aware that the membership is dominated by the numismatic community. Of the 11 current members, 10 are coin collectors, numismatists, or medal/coin designers. “They” are “us.” Some on the panel have been coin collectors for decades; many are award-winning writers, researchers, and artists. Not all of the current members served on the panel when the American Liberty program was first proposed, but the current domination of the CCAC by the collecting community has always been present.

    So why are so many collectors so strongly opposed to the design decision? Why are so many of them so angry about the proposal?

    Some of the anger seems very similar to the anger being expressed in the current presidential campaign, as voiced by both candidates and followers. One only has to follow the daily news to know that the current campaigns have had their ugly moments. Some of those angry about the CCAC/CFA decision seem to be tapping into that same well of anger, aimed at a changing America, an abandonment of tradition, and a climate of what they perceive as political correctness run amuck.

    Getting back to those opposing the design, there is one more category — one with racist undertones — that I and others have found to be especially disheartening. Overtly racist comments have been in a minority, thankfully, but some of those favoring the design have called out what they see as racism in other postings. And this leads to my next observation.

    America is changing. We’re becoming much more diverse on many levels, and while some in the nation are upset with those changes, census studies suggest that those changes are not going to stop. But is the coin collecting community keeping pace with greater America?

    It’s no secret that the hobby (collectors and dealers alike) has long been dominated by older white men (like me; I’m aged 62) and that as the community ages, it is not being replaced at the same rate by younger collectors and dealers. Hobby leaders are worried about declining club membership, declining numbers of dealers, declining advertising space and revenue and editorial space in the numismatic publications. We’d all like to see the hobby grow and expand. But can that happen if white men continue to represent 90 percent of the hobby?

    The hobby needs to diversify. We need new collectors, new dealers. And we should seek to welcome people who fall outside of the current collector community demographics. Unfortunately, though, the level of anger directed at more diverse representations of Liberty isn’t very welcoming. If you were a young black woman, say, happening upon the Coin World Facebook page, how would you feel if you saw so much vitriol directed at a coin design showing someone who might look like you? You probably wouldn’t stick around.

    In the meantime, I welcome your comments. If you don’t like the CCAC/CFA decision, I’d like to know why. We’ll consider comments for publication in Coin World, but please, keep your comments civil. You can reach me at bgibbs@coinworld.com or at 937-498-0853. 

    Unique 1907 gold pattern could be at the same risk as aluminum cent

    March 24, 2016 1:52 PM by

    The 1907 Indian Head gold $20 double eagle is arguably one of the greatest U.S. patterns ever struck. The coin bears a variation of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Liberty portrait eventually adopted for the 1907 Indian Head gold eagle married with a version of the artist’s Flying Eagle design used on the adopted reverse of the 1907 double eagle. The date appears in Roman Numerals at the bottom of the reverse (not the obverse), and LIBERTY is the sole inscription on the obverse, boldly positioned below the portrait. The pattern is unique, entered the marketplace from the estate of Charles Barber (chief engraver of the U.S. Mint when the pattern was struck), and today is in a private anonymous collection. It last sold at auction in 1984 for $467,500.

    So is this 1907 pattern permitted to be in a private collection? After all, the sole 1974-D aluminum cent was just returned to the U.S. Mint by a coin dealer and a second man whose father was given the cent as he retired from a long-held position at the Denver Mint; even the son agreed the Mint made a compelling case. Similarities between the two pieces are striking. Both are unique, both were struck during a period of experimentation at the Mint, and both surfaced in the marketplace from the estates of U.S. Mint employees.

    To many outside the collector community and even for some within it, Barber’s keeping of a historic pattern would not pass the smell test. A current Mint employee would be prosecuted for keeping a modern pattern, justifiably so. Remember, also, that just a few years after the 1907 pattern was struck, the Mint fought hard and successfully to force a private collector to return two unique 1877 gold $50 half union patterns (today, they’re national treasures).

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    Well, according to the U.S. Mint in a March 23 statement in response to my inquiry, the 1907 pattern could be a target for its return. The Mint’s Tom Jurkowsky said this: “If at some point we become aware of specific conclusive information that the 1907 Indian Head Double Eagle experimental piece is United States Mint property that came to be in private hands without proper authority, we will take the appropriate next steps to retrieve it as well.”
    Hobby leaders have worried for years that cases like the Langbord 1933 double eagles could spread unwanted attention to other great rarities. It is a fact that some great coins fall into a gray zone of legality. For example, the five 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coins were unknown to the hobby until some years later when they surfaced in the hands of a newly retired Philadelphia Mint employee. Collectors have long speculated that this employee struck the coins without authority and then spirited them out of the Mint, waiting until after his retirement to reveal their existence (he even bought an advertisement seeking these coins in The Numismatist, and — surprise — a few months later he announced that he had acquired five examples through his ad). 
    Now, new light is being shone on some questionable coins. Some collectors and dealers are certain that requiring certain rare coins to be turned over to the government is wrong, and it is easy to take that point of view. But again, these are gray areas. 
    How many would disagree today that those 1877 half union patterns, now in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, are national treasures that should be owned by the American people, especially given their background? They were thought destroyed by the Mint for their gold content, but Col. A. Loudon Snowden, superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint from 1879 to 1885, apparently spirited them out of the Mint and sold them to a dealer, with the coins eventually sold to the collector who revealed their existence in 1909.
    Interestingly, that collector, pattern specialist William H. Woodin, would become secretary of the Treasury in the early administration of President Franklin Roosevelt and thus in charge of the Mint. While Snowden deserves credit for apparently saving the patterns from destruction, can anyone honestly say that as the man in charge of the Philadelphia Mint, he had the authority to take the patterns from the government and presumably profit from them personally? 
    We likely have not seen the last of Mint action similar to that involving the 1974-D aluminum cent. We will watch with great interest in the months and years ahead, as other great rarities surface and draw attention, some of it unwelcome.

    A bold recommendation for American Liberty

    March 18, 2016 10:55 AM by

    Liberty, that icon who has graced U.S. coinage since 1793, appears poised to have a new face that reflect the nation’s growing diversity.

    During their reviews of designs provided by the U.S. Mint for the 2017 American Liberty, High Relief gold coin and silver medal, the two federal panels that advise the Treasury Department on coinage and medal designs went for the same bold choice. Both panels chose to emphasis the first word of “American Liberty” and to thankfully abandon “traditional” concepts, by selecting a portrait of a woman with distinct African-American features to be the new face of Liberty.

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    Mint artists over the years have interpreted the concept of Liberty in different ways, but until recently, all of the renditions of Liberty were influenced by classical Greek and Roman art, with Liberty represented by a white woman. Sure, James Barton Longacre depicted Liberty masquerading as a Native American on his cent of 1859, but his Indian Head cent shows a woman with a classical profile wearing a Native American headdress. Bela Lyon Pratt and James Earle Fraser later depicted authentic male American Indians on their classic coins, but it wasn’t until 2000 that Glenna Goodacre’s Liberty portrait on the Sacagawea dollar showed a female Liberty who wasn’t white.

    Not long after the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and Commission of Fine Arts made their decisions on the 2017 American Liberty designs, some collectors began to object to the panels’ choice for Liberty. A few of those objecting simply said they didn’t like the portrait, but others trotted out that tiresome phrase “politically correct” in voicing their opposition to the idea of an African-American Liberty.

    Know your U.S. coins? Take our quiz and find out

    The entire idea of the American Liberty program was to highlight a changing America, and the proposed 2017 design does a better job of that than the design on the 2015 American Liberty coin. It’s a fact that national demographics are changing. The U.S. Census Bureau said in 2015 that by 2020, “more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group.”
    Our nation’s coinage, and its paper money, needs to keep pace with the changing faces of Americans. The new face of Liberty is a welcome addition. 

    Boy, do We miss Frank Annunzio and Mike Castle, who did it right

    March 4, 2016 12:24 PM by

    ​Does the investor market really need a palladium bullion coin? That question had been answered but Congress in its “wisdom” has overridden hard data to require the United States Mint to issue such a coin anyway.

    Congress in 2010 authorized the Mint to issue a palladium bullion coin but required Mint officials to study the matter first to determine whether the idea was viable. The Mint released its findings on March 1, 2013.

    As Coin World reported then, “The palladium market study was completed by New York City-based CPM Group under provisions of the American Eagle Palladium Bullion Coin Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-303). CPM Group is a commodities market research, consulting, asset management and investment-banking firm.”

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    The findings were clear. CPM Group researchers found that demand would be insufficient to profitably sustain a palladium bullion coin program.
    Here’s what Coin World’s Paul Gilkes reported after reading the 2013 study: “CPM Group outlined a 10-year demand forecast, suggesting 150,000 troy ounces in total sales the first year — 100,000 ounces in bullion coins, 33,333 ounces in Proof coins and 16,667 ounces in Uncirculated pieces. Demand is projected to slip to 40,000 ounces the second year — 20,000 in bullion coins, 13,333 in Proof pieces and 6,667 in Uncirculated coins. By the 10th year, demand is projected at 4,500 ounces — 3,000 in bullion coins, 1,000 in Proof coins and 500 in Uncirculated coins
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    In general, the study found that a bullion coin program likely would not be profitable on its own though a collector-based program could be. Since 2013, Mint officials had not entirely abandoned the possibility of an American Eagle palladium coin program, but the project was not a high priority.
    Well, whether it needs one or not, it appears that an American Eagle palladium bullion coin is in the nation’s future.
    Legislation passed by Congress in December 2015 has rendered the 2013 survey moot. The Mint must move forward with a 1-ounce .9995 fine palladium bullion coin, no matter if the program will not be viable.
    Congress’ action is all too typical when it comes to coin- and bullion-related legislation. Ignore facts and go ahead anyway. So what if an in-depth survey suggested that a bullion program might not be financially wise.
    Gone are the days when Congress had a legislator who was keenly interested in the hobby and who actually conducted hearings on important legislation. Today commemorative coin and congressional gold medal legislation is passed when enough co-sponsors sign on to move it to the floor of the House and Senate for a vote. No one actually seeks outside expert opinion on the legislation as in the good old days when legislators like Frank Annunzio and Michael Castle really cared about numismatics and actually legislated by scheduling hearings from hobby and industry leaders. Today it is merely who can line up the votes.
    We miss those days, those wise legislators.

    Great rarities can be found in odd places, but do your research first

    February 12, 2016 2:35 PM by
    What should a collector do when he or she finds an online auction of high-powered numismatic material offered by a business whose name is unfamiliar?

    That question arose after a recent telephone call from a reader who believed that he had identified a fraudulent online coin auction by a firm whose name was unfamiliar to him (and to Coin World). We’ll return to that call in a bit.

    Smaller auction firms who generally conduct sales of other materials sometimes offer numismatic gems. Arthur L. Friedberg, who reports on paper money news for Coin World, reported in 2015 on an auction by Duane Merrill & Company, a long-established firm that bills itself as Vermont’s largest auction house since 1967. Duane Merrill does not often offer great numismatic rarities, but its April 18, 2015, auction offered a sleeper — what astute bidders recognized as the first-known example of a Series 1902 Red Seal national bank note from the First National Bank of Ely (Nevada). The $5 note was offered in the auction with a starting bid of $1,000 and a $2,000 to $5,000 estimate, not unreasonable amounts for similar though common national bank notes.

    This note, however, was anything but common, and when the auction was over, the note had realized $120,750. The winning bidder got a great unique note, the elderly consignors realized much more than they expected from their consignment of mostly New England paintings, and the auction house benefitted from bidder fees that were well beyond what they had anticipated. This was the perfect example of why collectors should sometimes seek out gems in unusual places.

    However, it also pays to be wary of auctions by firms who offer little or no history of selling rare and valuable numismatic material, which brings us back to the phone call.

    He had been searching online when he came across an auction that seemed too good to be true. The collector was wary because, he explained, he had been defrauded several years ago in a similar auction. 

    He spent several days researching the coins in the online auction and eventually found some of the same coins (as shown by the serial numbers on the third-party grading service slabs housing them) offered at fixed prices by a longtime Coin World advertiser. He contacted that firm and learned that other collectors had also contacted its owners, all telling our advertiser that it appeared that the auction firm claiming to offer the coins had misappropriated the images from the actual owner’s website. 

    Coin World, too, contacted its longtime advertiser, and representatives confirmed they were aware of the misuse of their images and were working to have the auction taken down

    Collectors can protect themselves in similar situations by doing their research before bidding. In the April 2015 Duane Merrill sale, bidders confirmed the legitimacy of the note and brought a previously unknown issue into the numismatic marketplace. And the recent caller to Coin World and others did their research and may have prevented other collectors from being defrauded.
    “Knowledge is power” is a cliche, but in these cases, the cliche was accurate.

    Open design competitions always exciting for the public and hobby

    February 4, 2016 4:34 PM by
    The United States Mint is ready to kick off the open design competition for the 2018 World War I American Veterans Centennial commemorative silver dollar program, and that is exciting news.

    Open coinage design competitions are fun. It is always exciting to see members of the public interpret themes for the nation’s coinage and generate designs. And while the U.S. Mint’s designers at the Philadelphia Mint are a talented bunch, as are those in the Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program, it is nice to give new artists an opportunity to let their creative juices flow. Just ask Cassie McFarland.

    McFarland was the winning artist in the Mint’s last open design competition, this for the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coin program. She submitted the winning baseball glove obverse design used on three coins in the program (paired with a baseball design by Donald Everhart II on the reverse).

    McFarland was a 27-year-old figurative oil painter, portraitist and sculptor from San Luis Obispo, Calif., when officials announced that she won the competition. Her design was selected over those submitted by 177 other design hopefuls for the Baseball Hall of Fame program. She went from someone whose artistic talents were mostly known locally and at the university level, to a celebrity who was honored nationally for creating a simple yet stirring design reflecting the joys of “America’s pastime.” 

    The history of coinage design competitions in the United States has been mixed. The first were in the 1890s as the Mint sought replacements for the Seated Liberty design on the dime, quarter dollar, and half dollar. Established artists who had been invited to compete in a limited competition roundly rejected the Mint’s terms. A follow-up competition open to the public attracted designs of unsatisfactory quality, apparently. The Mint’s chief engraver, Charles Barber, stepped in to create the new designs.

    However, the limited competition to replace Barber’s designs a quarter of a century later was spectacularly successful, resulting in some of the most beautiful designs to ever grace silver coinage (by coincidence, celebrating their centennial anniversary in 2016). Subsequent design competitions included those resulting in the Washington quarter dollar in 1932, the Jefferson 5-cent coin in 1938, and the Bicentennial designs of 1975 and 1976.

    Senior Editor Paul Gilkes outlines the design competition’s goals and terms in his article. If you are artistically inclined, read them and then get busy creating.

    The winning designer will have to convey the accomplishments and contributions of American veterans who served during World War I. All of those veterans are now gone, but their sacrifice lives on.

    What will the submitted designs look like? Who will be the next Cassie McFarland to win the design competition for the 2018 commemorative silver dollar? We eagerly await the answers. 

    What’s going on with the U.S. Mint and its many packaging problems?

    January 26, 2016 8:43 AM by
    The United States Mint’s packaging woes keep getting worse and they need to stop.

    As Paul Gilkes reports this week, the Mint had to postpone sales of three 2016 annual sets featuring the year’s America the Beautiful quarter dollars because the sales and marketing team messed up, again, in approving the production of packaging with a serious problem. In this case, the error was an “incorrect image of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park,” according to a Jan. 20 press release from the Mint.

    This problem is the latest in a continuing series of packaging problems for the Mint.

    The Mint canceled the Jan. 14 launch of sales for the 2016-P Mark Twain silver dollar when it discovered that the certificate of authenticity cited the wrong novel for the small scene on the reverse of the coin showing Huck and Jim on a raft traveling along the Mississippi River. As anyone who has studied American literature could tell you, that life-changing voyage for the two occurred in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, not in the pages of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as the COA and earlier Mint promotional materials stated.

    On Nov. 4, Mint officials announced that the Nov. 23 launch of sales for the 2015 Limited Edition Silver Proof set had to be postponed because of “issues with the packaging.” While a delay in sales of that annual product ordinarily would not have been catastrophic — the 2014 edition did not go sale until March 2015 — it contributed to the Mint’s later decision to cancel the set altogether. The cancellation was ordered after Congress passed legislation in December requiring that numismatic versions of American Eagle silver dollars sold in 2016 should sport distinctive edges. The 2015 set would have contained a Proof 2015-W American Eagle silver dollar with a standard reeded edge.

    On Sept. 3, the Mint acknowledged that it was “looking into the packaging issues for the 2015 American $1 Coin and Currency sets.” Some customers buying the sets complained that the $1 Federal Reserve note slipped out of position and became stuck to the adhesive intended to keep the packaging together.

    Do you see a really ugly trend here?

    I’ll be the first to admit to being guilty of making errors in the news articles, features, and opinion pieces I have written during the past 39 years. All of us make mistakes. I try to learn from my errors and not repeat them.

    The seemingly never-ending problems the Mint is experiencing suggests two serious problems: a leadership problem at the Mint, especially in the sales and marketing area, and to a lesser degree, a problem with testing packaging before releasing a product to Mint customers.
    Moreover, such errors affect the Mint’s bottom line. Destroying old packaging and replacing it with new costs money. Continued problems threaten to drive away Mint customers. The four agencies that stand to benefit from sales of the Mark Twain silver dollar could end up with lower surcharge payouts because of a shorter sales period and higher costs associated with the program, which have to be recouped before payments to those agencies can begin.

    Most importantly, these kinds of problems make the Mint look stupid. The mistake with the name of Twain’s novel should never have occurred. Huckleberry Finn is one of the greatest works in American literature; how could the Mint sales and marketing staff not catch that error?

    Every time the Mint suspends or postpones sales for a product, Coin World’s editorial and advertising staffs get calls and emails from customer wondering what is going on. Mint customers are clearly upset.

    United States Mint management needs to take immediate steps to stop these kinds of problems from occurring in the future. Otherwise, the Mint could stand to lose future revenue as customers stop purchasing the Mint’s products.

    The unexpected results of an assassination

    January 15, 2016 12:49 PM by
    Senior staff writer Paul Gilkes’ cover  on the centennial anniversary of the Winged Liberty Head dime kicks off our celebration of the 100th birthday for the nation’s most beautiful silver coinage issued for circulation. It’s an event that we might not even be celebrating had an unemployed wire mill worker from Detroit chosen to not attend the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sept. 6, 1901.

    At 4:07 p.m. that afternoon, Leon F. Czolgosz stood in a receiving line at the Temple of Music on the grounds of the exposition. Those standing in line were waiting to greet the distinguished visitor at the expo that day — William McKinley, president of the United States. 

    Czolgosz, however, carried an Iver Johnson revolver in his right hand, which was wrapped in a cloth as though bandaged for an injury. When Czolgosz reached McKinley, he fired two shots at the president. The first was deflected by a button on McKinley’s clothing; the second bullet entered the president’s abdomen. Afterwards, at first McKinley  seemed to be responding to treatment, but then he suffered a relapse and, on Sept. 14, he died.

    Upon McKinley’s death his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, was sworn in as president. At 42, Roosevelt, “that damned cowboy” in the words of Republican boss Mark Hanna, was the youngest man to enter the office of president. With his youth he brought a new outlook to the office, and a goal to make the nation a world power.

    Not long after entering the office, he met, through Henry Adams (grandson and great-grandson of two presidents) the nation’s leading sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The two men became frequent companions and their many discussions led Roosevelt to order a complete redesign of the nation’s coinage. Saint-Gaudens managed to redesign the gold $10 and $20 coins before dying of cancer in 1907, but the process had begun, leading to new designs in 1908 for the rest of the gold coins; to the Lincoln cent in 1909 and the Indian Head 5-cent coin in 1913; and finally to the three silver masterpieces of 1916: the “Mercury” dime, the Standing Liberty quarter dollar, and the Walking Liberty half dollar. The nation was set on a new path in 1901 with an assassin’s bullet, a path that would a few years later lead to the Golden Age of U.S. Coinage Design.