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Gerald Tebben

Five Facts

Gerald Tebben

Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.

Coin World’s bloggers are not edited by Coin World’s editorial staff and blog posts reflect the views of the individual author.

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Archive for '2015'

    Saint 2: A visionary saint

    December 23, 2015 1:10 PM by


    The world changed Oct. 28, 312, at the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber north of Rome and hasn’t been the same since. On that day, Constantine the Great, fighting beneath Christian banners, defeated Maxentius, winning control of the western half of the Roman Empire.

    The day before, Constantine had a vision. In the sky appeared a Christian symbol (either a cross or the Chi-Rho XP monogram, depending on the account) and the Greek words for “In This Sign You Shall Conquer.”

    That night in a dream, Christ appeared to Constantine and told him to paint the sign on the shields of his soldiers before they went into battle.

    Maxentius drowned in the battle, and his head was paraded through the streets of Rome the next day.

    Four months later, Constantine and Licinius, who ruled the East, issued the Edict of Milan, permanently ending persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. While no copies of the edict exist, a rescript sent by Licinius to the governor of Bithynia says, “Our purpose is to grant both to the Christians and to all others full authority to follow whatever worship each person has desired, whereby whatsoever Divinity dwells in heaven may be benevolent and propitious to us, and to all who are placed under our authority.”

    The Catholic Encyclopedia says, “Constantine showed equal favour to both religious. As pontifex maximus (chief priest, a title traditionally held by Rome’s emperors) he watched over the heathen worship and protected its rights.”

    Over time, Christianity replaced the old religions as the religion of the state. Constantine was baptized a Christian on his deathbed by Eusebius of Nicomedia in 337. He is especially revered as a saint by Orthodox Christians.

    Lifetime coins of Constantine the Great are cheap and plentiful. Most show Constantine on the obverse and a god or military representation on the reverse. A few have the Chi Rho (XP  the first letters of Christ in Greek) symbol in the design. Ancient coin dealers often heap piles of Constantine’s bronze coins on their tables at coin shows, offering them for as little as $5 or $10.

    Next: Mom’s a saint, too

    Saint 1: ​The saintly mint master

    December 18, 2015 10:50 AM by


    St. Eligius (588 to 659 or 660) apparently took to heart the New Testament proposition that the want of money is the root of all evil and aimed to do something about it. He made money as mint master of Marseilles.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia says that the saint’s father sent him to work with the noted goldsmith Abbo, master of the mint at Limoges, as a youth.

    His skill and honesty were recognized by Frankish king Clotaire II, who commissioned him to make a throne of gold adorned with precious stones. The encyclopedia says, “His honesty in this so pleased the king that he appointed him master of the mint at Marseilles.”

    After Clotaire II died in 629, the successor, Dagobert, named him chief councilor. The Catholic News Agency writes, “The charitable and honest Eligius took advantage of his status to obtain alms for the poor and to ransom Roman, Gallic, Breton, Saxon, and Moorish captives who were arriving at Marseilles daily. He was able to get the king’s approval to send his servants through towns and villages in order to take down and bury the bodies of the criminals whose bodies were executed and displayed as a further punishment. He founded several monasteries … built the basilica of St. Paul and restored the basilica of St. Martial in Paris. In honor of the relics of St. Martin of Tours, the national saint of the Franks, he had several churches built. He did the same thing for St. Denis, whom the king had taken as a patron saint.”

    Eligius was consecrated as a bishop in 641 and died Dec. 1, 660. Over the years, he became venerated as a saint and is recognized today as the patron saint of goldsmiths and coin collectors.

    Inge Lyse Hansen and Chris Wickham, writing in “The Long Eighth Century,” note, “The legend Eligius monet(arius) appears on coins struck at Marseille between c.625 and c.638 and … at Arles between c. 638 and 641, before Eligius returned north to be consecrated bishop of Noyon.” His name and title - ELIGIUS MVN - also appear on coins issued in Paris.

    Eligius’ coins are scarce and highly sought after. In 2013 a tiny gold tremissis sold for 7,000 euro ($9,500) at a Fritz Rudolf Künker auction in Germany. The undated coin shows Clotaire II on the obverse and a cross-anchor symbol known as the Eligius Cross surrounded by the saint’s name on the reverse.

    Less well-heeled collectors can buy medals showing the saint. The Austrian Mint sells a medal depicting Eligius as a bishop striking coins on the obverse. The reverse shows the anchor-cross. The bronze medal sells for 18 euro.

    The Paris Mint struck a large format — 115 mm — bronze medal honoring the saint. The obverse shows the saint. The reverse shows the famed throne surrounded by a dozen of his coins.

    In 1966 the Van Brook Mint of Lexington, Ky., stuck antiqued bronze and silver medals show Eligius at work. These turn up on eBay from time to time, with bronze pieces generally selling for less than $10.

    Next: A visionary saint

    ​Saints on coins

    December 10, 2015 1:03 PM by

    Religion and money have a long history, dating at least as far back as the time of Moses.

    As the Jews wandered in the desert, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. ‘Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the Lord.’ ” (Exodus 30:13)

    That temple tax was collected even during Christ’s lifetime and is referenced in the New Testament.

    “Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.” Matthew 21:12

    The money changers provided the silver shekels of Tyre that were used to pay the temple tax. No other coin would do.

    From the time of Constantine the Great (306 to 337) Christian religious references have appeared on European coins and even a few Colonial pieces.

    In 1790 the First Presbyterian Church of Albany even issued its own pennies. The church pennies were struck to stop churchgoers from placing worn or counterfeit coins in the collection plate. Church pennies are worth a pretty penny today. They catalog for upwards of $12,500 and can top $100,000.

    Today, houses of worship everywhere accept money as donations.

    For the next five weeks I’ll be discussing five saints who either appeared on coins during their lifetimes or, in one case, struck coins. Most of their coins are incredibly historic and uncommonly inexpensive.

    Next: The saintly mint master

    ​Leopold’s private hell: Leopold II of Belgium

    November 11, 2015 9:46 AM by

    ​At first glance Leopold II, who ruled Belgium from 1865 to 1909, looks like just another bearded 19th century European monarch. 

    Benevolent at home, Leopold gave workers the right to form unions and take Sundays off. Child labor was restricted. All men were given the right to vote.

    Abroad, though, he was a monster, running the Congo as his private colony, enslaving the populace and killing and maiming millions.

    "He turned his 'Congo Free State' into a massive labour camp, made a fortune for himself from the harvest of its wild rubber, and contributed in a large way to the death of perhaps 10 million innocent people,” the BBC reported in a 2004 story on the murderous king’s legacy.

    Leopold’s private army, Force Publique, murdered men who failed to harvest enough rubber, and killed their wives and children, too. Leopold’s soldiers cut the hands and feet off children and the penises off men and routinely beat natives to death.

    While many of history’s mass murderers were held to account for their sins against humanity, Leopold came out smelling like a well-fertilized rose. The Belgian government bought him out in 1908, extracting the payment, of course, from the Congolese.

    In 1914, American poet Vachel Lindsay included these lines in a work called The Congo: A Study of the Negro Race:

    Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost
    Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host,
    Hear how the demons chuckle and yell
    Cutting his hands off, down in Hell.
    Leopold’s portrait appears on the European nation’s late 19th and early 20th century silver and gold coins.  
    Leopold’s coinage, unfortunately, had a long run. They are common and plentiful.

    ​A dynasty of mad men: Kim Jong-Il

    November 2, 2015 3:09 PM by
    Kim Jong-il was North Korea’s supreme leader from 1994 to his death in 2011. Dear Leader (Really, that’s what he was called) succeeded his father, Great Leader Kim Il-sung, and was father to Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong-un, the hermit kingdom’s current ruler.
    Language doesn’t have words bad enough to describe Kim Jong-Il, his dad and his chubby son. An estimated 1 million to 3 million North Koreans starved to death in a needless famine during the early years of Kim Jong-il’s reign.
    God, though, apparently thought he wasn’t so bad.  According to North Korean media, the heavens cried when Kim Jong-il met his maker. The BBC relayed the report Dec. 22, 2011. “Ice cracked on a famous lake ‘so loud, it seemed to shake the Heavens and the Earth’, and a mysterious glow was seen on a revered mountain top, KCNA said.”
    The report continued, “Following the storm's sudden end at dawn on Tuesday, a message carved in rock — ‘Mount Paektu, holy mountain of revolution. Kim Jong-il’ — glowed brightly, it said. It remained there until sunset.”
    Dear Leader appears on several coins from the 1990s and 2000s,  mostly showing half and three quarter portraits of Mr. Misery greeting diplomats. The most entertaining is a 1992 50-won silver piece celebrating Kim Jong-il’s 50th birthday. The coin has the nation’s coat of arms on the obverse and a facing bust of Dear Leader on the reverse. 
    If you squint a bit while looking at the coin, the high-haired murderer looks just like his idol, Elvis Presley. Dear Leader, it turns out, was a huge Elvis fan, adopting the King’s jumpsuit, sunglasses and even his bouffant hairstyle.
    The coin can be difficult to locate. In July, a deep cameo Proof sold for $305 on eBay.
    Next: Leopold’s private hell

    Law and order or anarchy: Diocletian

    October 23, 2015 1:14 PM by

    The forces of good and evil collided cataclysmically during the reign of Roman emperor Diocletian (285-304). Which was which, though depended on your perspective. 

    The relationship between Christians and the Roman government was inconsistent. Sometimes the church was persecuted.  Other times it was tolerated. The seesaw teetered for three centuries. Peter and Paul were martyred during the reign of Nero. Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan in 313, setting the empire’s official position as toleration forevermore.
    Conservative Romans viewed Christianity as seditious superstition that threatened the state’s true religion and an orderly society in general. Christians, of course, thought otherwise.
    At any rate, the emperor Diocletian attacked Christians with a fervor in 303 A.D., in an event known to history as the Great Persecution. The emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius issued edicts ordering Christians to comply with traditional Roman religious practices. A Christian named Eutius was the first to fall after tearing down Diocletian’s edict in Nicomedia. He was charged with treason, tortured and burned alive. Countless others followed, refusing to sacrifice to Roman gods and paying the ultimate price.
    Diocletian’s coins are common and cheap, especially the bronze antoninianus. The coins tend to show the emperor on the obverse and a Roman god on the reverse. 
    Common, worn coins of the last emperor to persecute Christians can frequently be bought for less than $10.
    Next: A dynasty of mad men

    The people’s paradise: Which coins did Joseph Stalin appear on?

    October 19, 2015 10:07 AM by
    This is the third in a five-post series about Evil People on Coins.
    Read the rest of the series: Adolf Hitler | Pol Pot
    Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who made common cause with Hitler until the untrustworthy German attacked him, never appeared on a Soviet coin. But that didn’t stop sycophants from placing his likeness on the coins of another country.
    Soviet Union coins of the era were about as uninspired as possible. They typically showed the denomination on one side and the hammer and sickle superimposed on a globe on the other. 
    Stalin, who ordered or caused the deaths of countless millions of his countrymen, did appear, curiously, on a 1949 Czech coin celebrating the evil one’s 70th birthday. The coins were issued a year after communists took over the nation in a coup.
    The .500 silver 50- and 100-korun pieces are plentiful and inexpensive. Czechoslovakia produced 1 million of each coin. They catalog today for less than $10 each in circulated condition and not much more in Uncirculated.
    They show a lion on one side and Stalin on the other. The legend J V STALIN 21 XII 1949 – Stalin’s birthday – surrounds the bust.
    Next: Law and order or anarchy

    'Heil Hitler'

    October 12, 2015 10:14 AM by

    This is the second in a five-post series about Evil People on Coins.

    Read the rest of the series: Pol Pot | Joseph Stalin

    Adolf Hitler’s face was all over the place in Nazi Germany, but not on coins. The central design element of Nazi coins, by and large, was an eagle holding a swastika. The only person to appear on coins – and only on pre-war coins at that – was Paul von Hindenburg, the German president who appointed Hitler chancellor and signed the Enabling Act of 1933 giving Hitler’s decrees the force of law.

    The only wartime coins to show Hitler’s face were patterns produced as part of a 1941 design competition. Hitler, by many accounts, rejected the pieces, saying he didn’t want his portrait to appear on coins until after Germany had won the war.

    Hitler’s face also appears on a pair of gold 20- and 100-mark pieces cataloged in Colin R. Bruce II’s Unusual World Coins. These pieces show the Brandenburg Gate surreally topped by a swastika on the reverse.

    Bruce notes the pieces were possibly produced in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1959 as souvenirs for Nazis who escaped to South America after World War II.


    Next: The people’s paradise

    Evil people on coins

    October 2, 2015 4:05 PM by

    The evil that men do lives after them;

    The good is oft interred with their bones.

    Antony famously observed is his “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that good disappears with the passing of the second hand, but evil remains long after the clock has stopped working.

    For coin collectors, the visages of evil people often live on, too, for decades, centuries and even millennia.

    For the next few weeks, Five Facts will look at coins depicting five truly evil people who were responsible for endless human misery and millions upon millions of deaths.

    Some will be obvious. What list of mass murderers wouldn’t have Adolf Hitler on it? Some didn’t make the list — think Pol Pot — because no coins were issued with their portraits. 

    Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge decimated Cambodia, forcing millions to work on collective farms and killing a quarter of the nation’s population in what became known as killing fields. Neighboring Vietnam invaded in 1979, ending the slaughter.

    One of the numismatically important 20th century evildoers is a real surprise. 

    This is the first in a five-post series about Evil People on Coins.

    Read the rest of the series: Adolf Hitler | Joseph Stalin

    One that paid off

    September 26, 2015 1:11 PM by

    The Franklin Mint was a marvel of marketing and good design.

    Entrepreneur Joseph Segel (who would go on to found QVC shopping network) created Franklin Mint in 1964 to craft and sell commemorative medals and coins. Former U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts, who designed the obverse of the Kennedy half dollar, signed on to head the artistic side of the enterprise.
    The result was set after set of beautifully designed commemorative medals that were sold to the public through ubiquitous newspaper, magazine and direct mail advertising in the 1960s and ’70s.
    The advertising fostered the belief that future generations would want the “heirloom” pieces and pay big money for them. Noncollectors bought the company’s medals by the millions, apparently unaware that few people actually collect medals.
    Buyers bought the medals – usually sterling (0.925 fine) silver – on a subscription basis, at the rate of one or two medals a month until a set was completed.  
    The 1971 20-medal Great American Landmarks set is fairly representative of the mint’s products. Each 39-millimeter medal contained 1.04 ounces of silver and depicted a historic place, such as Mount Rushmore and the Alamo. The medals sold for $9.50 each.
    At the time, silver was selling for $1.55 an ounce, giving the Franklin Mint a handsome profit. The situation was ripe for disaster for buyers who tried to sell.
    However, the rising price of silver saved Franklin Mint material from the dismal fate of Avon bottles and Beanie Babies. Silver soared in the ’70s, briefly topping $50 an ounce in 1980. Franklin Mint buyers were in clover.
    While a few sought-after Franklin Mint medals sell at a premium to silver because of their subject matter, most of the private mint’s products trade as bullion.
    Even with silver trading at $14.89 an ounce as I write this, the original buyers of most Franklin Mint medals are above water, giving them a rare win in the collectibles marketplace.
    Next: Evil people on coins

    ​Put it on the wall

    September 22, 2015 10:14 AM by

    Collector plates enjoy a long history, but in the 1970s interest notched way up as marketing firms promoted plates as collectibles.

    You couldn’t open a Sunday paper or magazine without stumbling across advertisements for luscious creations marking holidays, current events, movies and art themes. Norman Rockwell never had it so good.

    The history of commemorative plates dates back to the 1700s when factories started producing plates, bowls and mugs marking royal events in Europe and political events in America.

    These have always enjoyed support from a small group of collectors. Prices are stable for these genuinely historic items.

    In 1895 Danish porcelain manufacturer Bing & Grøndahl produced the first series collectible plate, a dated Christmas commemorative. Royal Copenhagen joined the club in 1908. While the companies have since merged, the Bing and Royal plates are still produced each year.

    The two series enjoy a collector base that has largely supported prices over the years – except for plates issued during the boom years of the 1970s and early 1980s. Supply for these dates far exceeds demand, with the most common pieces cataloging for as little as $15 and often selling for less.

    Royal Copenhagen and Bing have priced this year’s plates at $120 each.

    Beyond these narrow areas, the market for collector plates pretty much went bust in the early 1980s. There was no secondary market to create price appreciation. Nobody really wanted a 1976 Mother’s Day plate in 1987.

    In early August eBay had 163,544 listings for collector plates. Most had no bids. Among completed auctions, a Princes Diana collector plate went for 99 cents and a 1994 numbered, “limited-edition” Danbury Mint Betty Boop plate fetched $1.29.

    As the original purchasers of collectible plates in the 1970s retire, die and downsize, more and more material is coming on the market. EBay listings are full of complete collections of various series of plates – often 20 and more – complete with boxes and certificates of authenticity that attract no bids.

    Next: One that paid off


    ​I’ll drink to that

    September 10, 2015 3:40 PM by
    Jim Beam, now part of a Japanese conglomerate, has been making good booze for decades. The Beam family started making whiskey in 1795. After Prohibition the present James B. Beam Distilling Co. was formed to rekindle the family profession.
    To push product, the company began selling alcohol in ceramic decanters 60 years ago. Some decanters were just decorative, often featuring a dog, and were produced solely to look good on the shelf behind the bar. Others commemorated events, such as Alaska statehood. Some were specially crafted for companies to give – filled, of course – to special clients or officials.
    In the 1970s coin collecting and Beam bottle collecting briefly merged. Booze and coins seemed like a match made in heaven. Dealers started advertising Beam bottles in the pages of Coin World. Ads touted the investment potential. The star of the series was the 1964 First National Bank of Chicago decanter. 

    Connect with Coin World:  

    Michael Polak’s Antique Trader book Bottles Identification and Price Guide notes about that bottle, “Commemorates the 100th anniversary of the First National Bank of Chicago. Approximately 130 were issued with 117 being given as mementoes to the bank directors with none for public distribution. This is the most valuable Beam Bottle known. Also, beware of reproductions. “
    Prices for that genuine rare piece have been all over the place, reaching several thousand dollars during the Beam bottle collecting heydays of the 1970s.
    In June, a First National bottle with a “firing flaw” sold for $588 on eBay. The seller maintained he had recently sold an unflawed decanter for $1,200.
    Beam bottle collecting started to wane in the 1980s, about the time ads ceased appearing in Coin World. Today most bottles go for just a couple dollars apiece, when they sell at all.
    Author Darryl (no last name given) writes on World Collectors Net, “What caused this demise in the hobby? I think there are a few factors that went into this. The distillers were having such success at making decanters that they continued to make more and more each year. They actually flooded the market with bottles. Buying these bottles new from your local liquor store was not cheap. The new decanters cost far more than the standard off-the-shelf bottles. I started out by collecting Political bottles. I remember paying $89.00 each for the last Politicals in 1988. Today these bottles aren’t worth half that. It all comes down to supply and demand.”
    Next: Put it on the wall

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    The collectible that smells

    August 28, 2015 12:31 PM by
    In the early 1970s, when my wife and I were young and poor, Olga sold Avon products door-to-door in our Ohio State University campus-area neighborhood.

    “Avon calling” was the company’s advertising catchphrase, and women brought the firm’s lotions, perfumes and beauty products in their homes, much to our good fortune.

    In the 1960s, the company’s marketing focus shifted from products to packaging. Aftershave might be sold in a bottle made to look like a car one month and a fish the next.  

    Customers began buying the products for the bottles. The bottles themselves moved out of the bathroom and onto display shelves in the living room. Collectors followed. Production increased to meet expanding demand. Collectors started chasing vintage bottles from the 1950s – produced before the collecting frenzy began. Prices rose.

    Price guides, with often wishful-thinking values, were produced by several publishers. Sellers moved the bottles to the front of their displays. Avon was hot – until it wasn’t.

    In the 1980s, the market dissipated. Today more than 7,000 Avon bottles are listed on eBay. Most have no bids. The few that do sell go for a few cents to a few dollars each. 

    This summer the Central Ohio Numismatic Association’s club auction featured a 1970s Avon aftershave in a bottle shaped like an 1877 Indian head cent. It sold for a buck amid much joking about what it must smell like.

    An article in the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call a few years ago noted, “Smell aside, what should you do with your bottles? Junking them is a very viable approach. If you have a garage sale scheduled in the months ahead, put them in a box with a sign reading ‘Your Choice: 50 cents.’ Have two other signs in reserve, one reading ‘Your Choice: 25 cents’ and the other reading ‘Free For The Taking.’ "
    Next: I’ll drink to that

    It’s all beans

    August 21, 2015 2:35 PM by
    In 1999, theater students at Fort Hayes High School in Columbus, Ohio, were raising money for a summer trip to Scotland by holding benefit performances, bake sales, a grand yard sale and even an auction of donated items.

    As I recall, I donated some old coins. A lawyer put up a will. Several artists offered their work. What I remember most, though, was a dear girl who placed her Beanie Baby collection in the auction.

    Beanie Babies were “the thing” in the 1990s. They were (and still are) hand-size toy animals stuffed with plastic pellets – their namesake beans. Each came with a heart-shaped hangtag. Experts could discern which factory produced the toy and when by deciphering such things as the spacing of the wording on the tag. 

    Prices skyrocketed as more as more people chased sometimes-elusive versions of the animals. Some were produced for just a few months before being “retired,” in the language of the day. A 1997 “commemorative” bear honoring Diana, princess of Wales, after her death was especially sought after, jumping from an issue price of $5 to several hundred dollars. When McDonald’s offered 100 million tiny versions of Beanie Babies as a promotion for its children’s Happy Meals, adults stormed the stores.

    In 1998, the fad’s peak year, Ty Inc. sold $1.3 billion of the toys to retailers.

    Les and Sue Fox, known to coin collectors for their “Fortune Telling” silver dollar books of the 1970s, even produced The Beanie Baby Handbook, a catalog that showed number made, issue price, 1998 price and estimated 2008 price.

    The Foxes advised, “Basically, if you can afford to do this, simply putting away five or ten of each and every new Beanie Baby in super mint condition isn’t a bad idea.”

    The book reported that a 1995 Stripes (The Dark Tiger) toy, issued for $5, was worth $250 in 1998 and would be worth $1,000 in 2008.  

    In 1999 the Beanie Baby craze went bust. The valuable toys the high school student donated were worth next to nothing by the time of the auction. 

    Today the toys turn up on eBay with great frequency. Princess Diana bears are priced from 99 cents to $500,000. Of 361 Diana bears listed in early August, only nine had bids. Of the few bears that sell, most go for just a few dollars. 

    Next: The collectible that smells


    August 17, 2015 10:55 AM by

    Coins are often unfairly classified as collectibles.

    Collectibles are made specifically to be collected. They have little to no utility. You take them home and put them on the shelf where they gather dust for decades. Or maybe you carefully store them in a climate-controlled dry place in their original boxes along with their all-important certificates of authenticity for decades. You hope, vainly in almost every case, that they will appreciate in value. Because if you were foolish enough to buy them in the first place, there surely must be a greater fool somewhere willing to pay more than you did.
    Coins, on the other hand, are made to serve commerce. For most of the 2,500-plus years coins have been minted, they have had an intrinsic or metal value that approached or equaled their face value. While coins can be collected, to my mind they are not collectibles. 
    In the next few weeks I’m going to explore the world of collectibles, focusing on five heavily promoted products from the past 50 years, including one numismatic one. From an investment perspective, four of the five went bust. The fifth – the numismatic one – actually provided a fair return, but not for the reason promoters advanced all those years ago. If you’re middle-aged or better or have walked through a flea market or antique mall, you’ve probably seen them all and wondered why anyone ever thought those things would be worth anything at all.
    Feel free to comment in the comments section with your guesses and experiences.
    Next: It’s all beans 

    Worthless cents and a partial country

    July 31, 2015 2:47 PM by

    In the early days of the United States Mint, dies were created by hand using punches to place design elements, letters and numbers. In some cases, mint workers grabbed the wrong punch or failed to properly space the lettering.

    Large cents produced from late 1793 to 1807 expressed the value as a fraction 1/100 on the reverse, except when it didn’t. 

    In 1801 a die cutter botched three reverse dies. All expressed the value as 1/000 – zip, zero, nothing. He caught the error on one of the three dies, punching a 1 over the first zero in the denominator, the lower set of numerals in the fraction. His third die was spectacularly bad. In addition to the nonsensical value, he used two I’s for a U in the word United and left off part of the wreath – the central design element.

    Because dies were expensive, even bungled ones were used to produce coins until they wore out. One of them was still going strong in 1803.

    Coins struck by the bungled dies tend to be worth more than regular coins, especially in higher grades.

    In 1793, the engraver producing the first die for the first cent abbreviated America as AMERI.

    Why remains a mystery. There was plenty of space for the last two letters. Some believe the engraver thought the completed word would end too close to the next word – UNITED in UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The late researcher Walter Breen speculated it was done on purpose, somehow in sympathy with the unfinished pyramid on the Great Seal of the United States.

    Whatever the reason, only about 7,000 were struck before the die broke, making a rarity for the start of the now 222-year-old 1-cent series.

    Less is more when it comes to the nation’s first cent. The Ameri. coin catalogs for $10,000 in Good condition in Coin World Coin Values. Coins with the whole word catalog for $7,500.

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    The amusement park dime

    July 23, 2015 5:34 PM by
    The 1982-P Roosevelt No P dime touched off a wave of change-scouring when stories started appearing in Ohio and Pennsylvania newspapers about the discovery of odd dimes that did not have a Mint mark.   Since 1980, every circulating coin, except cents, has a Mint mark above the date. These dimes, though, were blank.

    The Philadelphia Mint had neglected to place a Mint mark on one or two dies.  Coins with a noticeably strong strike surfaced in Sandusky, Ohio. Many were unknowingly given out in change at the city’s Cedar Point Amusement Park. 

    In an article in the Central State Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel, Steven Bieda wrote, “In March or April of 1982 the amusement park requested its seasonal allotment of coins through Citizens Bank. The bank ordered the coinage from the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland. As it turned out, the vast majority of the 1982 No-Mint Mark dimes were contained in this order.”

    Less desirable coins with a weak strike were released in Pittsburgh.

    Bieda noted that some think that all the No P dimes were struck from the same set of dies, but that the pressure used to strike the coins was raised during the production cycle, resulting in a sharper strike.

    Strong-strike 1982 No P dimes catalog for $300 in Mint State 65 in Coin World’s Coin Values.  Weak-strike coins are not cataloged there, but tend to sell for less than half the value of strong-strike coins.

    Less, once again, is more when it comes to numismatics.


    Next: Worthless cents and a partial country

    The Philadelphia coin that wasn’t

    July 14, 2015 3:12 PM by

    Collectors knew something was up in 1922 when cents without a Mint mark started showing up in circulation. For the first time since 1815, the Philadelphia Mint was not striking cents that year. Only the Denver Mint was coining Lincoln cents. All Denver Mint cents should have had a D below the date. These didn’t.

    The 1922 cents without a Mint mark weren’t Philadelphia products. They were Denver cents without a Mint mark. Here’s how it happened.

    During the production of some 7 million cents that year, several dies clashed – banged against each other without a cent blank between them – because of a mechanical error. Clashed obverse dies showed parts of the reverse. Clashed reverse dies showed parts of the obverse.

    The standard remedy was to grind off the clashed parts and place the dies back in service. Sometimes, though, the grinders got overly enthusiastic. On at least one die, they ground off the Mint mark. True 1922 No D cents – called Die Pair 2 by collectors – have a strong reverse.

    Three other dies also produced cents with a very weak or in some cases missing Mint mark. These coins were probably created by worn dies – Die Pairs 1, 3 and 4 – on which the D Mint mark recess gradually filled with debris or grease – a not uncommon occurrence – until the D entirely disappeared.

    These varieties have a mushy, poorly defined reverse. Coins with a weak D command a small premium over regular 1922-D cents. Coins on which the D is entirely filled command a larger premium, but much less than the No D cents with a strong reverse

    Less is more when it comes to 1922 cents. In Good condition, regular 1922-D cents catalog for $20 in Coin Values, Weak D cent go for $30, and No D cents struck from Die Pair 2 fetch $600.

    Next: The amusement park dime

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    A crippled buffalo

    July 10, 2015 3:18 PM by
    A press striking Indian Head 5-cent pieces in Denver misfired in 1937. No blank was in the press when the obverse and reverse dies slammed into each other. Part of the Indian’s head was impressed into the reverse die, just below the left side of the buffalo.

    As usual, Mint workers tried to fix the reverse die by grinding away the clash marks. However, this time they got carried away, removing not only the offending clash marks but most of the creature’s foremost leg.

    When the die was placed back in service, only the animal’s hoof remained. The buffalo on coins struck from it hobbled along on only three legs.

    Collectors immediately seized upon the coin, which apparently was released mostly in Montana.

    Collector Aubrey Bebee, who later gave much of his collection to the American Numismatic Association, reported in a 1943 article in Numismatic Scrapbook. “While touring the West for several months in 1939, we stopped at Bozeman, Montana, for several days, where Mrs. Bebee and I had the great pleasure of meeting Harold C. White, who informed us of the existence of this freak. I bought several of these nickels from Mr. White, as I doubted that I would be able to find any as late as 1939. However, the next day I went to the banks there and from four $50.00 bags found about 30 specimens.”

    Collectors sucked up the coins. Most grade Extra Fine or better. David W. Lange, author of The Complete Guide to Buffalo Nickels, says, “Low grade specimens are somewhat scarce.”

    In About Uncirculated condition, a standard 1937-D 5-cent piece fetches about $10. Grind off a leg and the value jumps to $1,000.

    With Indian Head 5-cent pieces, less is more.


    Next: The Philadelphia coin that wasn’t

    The case of the missing signature

    July 8, 2015 11:01 AM by

    The Provincial Congress of New Jersey authorized a 30,000-pound (later raised to 50,000 pounds) paper money issue Feb. 20, 1776. Nineteen people were authorized to sign the bills, and each bill had to be signed by three men before being released into circulation. 

    John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was one of the signers. Notes signed by him command a premium of several hundred dollars over other New Jersey notes. Hart, for his part, was paid £12 10s & 10d by New Jersey to sign 15,600 notes.

    In late 1776, notes that had been signed by two people – Hart and Samuel How – were sitting in the state’s treasury awaiting the third signature. As the British advanced on Trenton, the treasury, consisting of fully signed bills and partially signed ones, was moved to John Abbot’s farm.

    The partially signed bills were placed in a trunk in the attic. The fully signed bills were hidden under broken pottery and other debris in tubs in the basement.

    On Dec. 9, 1776, British Lt. Thomas Hawkshaw in command of 20 troops searched the farmhouse after being tipped off by a loyalist local. They found the partially signed bills, but not the fully signed ones.

    Colonial Williamsburg reports, “Apparently the British released these non-monetized notes into circulation, no doubt as a form of economic warfare. A warning against the acceptance of these incompletely-signed notes appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal.”

    The Feb. 26, 1777, article read, “The PUBLIC are hereby cautioned not to receive any of the Paper Bills emitted by the Convention of the State of New-Jersey, dated the 20th of February, 1776, unless they have three signers names thereto; as a quantity of those Bills were plundered by the enemy from one of the person’s appointed by the said Convention to sign them, before he had put his name to the same; some of which have been since circulated through New-Jersey and Pennsylvania. As they are not perfect, and of consequence not a legal tender, and being the property of the State of New-Jersey, the public are requested to stop such as are offered in payment.

    N.B. [Nota bene, that is, “note well”:] The names of the two persons who have signed the said Bills, are JOHN HART and SAMUEL HOW.”

    The bills, called raid notes by collectors, are especially prized. They are dated 1776, were signed by a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and played a real part in the Revolutionary War.

    Raid notes typically command a premium of two to three times the value of notes with all three signatures. Less is more when it comes to Colonial paper money. (Note to grammarians: Get over it. “Less” works better than “fewer” in this entry.)

    Next: A crippled buffalo

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    Less is more

    June 30, 2015 5:48 PM by

    Less is more. 

    You’ve heard the phrase, maybe even bought into it. 

    Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe used the phrase in the 1960s to describe his minimalist style.  Living simply advocates adopted the phrase in recent years to describe how a fuller life can be lived with fewer possessions. 

    In the workplace, though, duck your head when your boss babbles the chant, often in conjunction with some blather about right sizing.  Less is more, means less money for you, more for him.  If you’re lucky enough to be on the right size of a corporate right-sizing, less is more means more work for you with fewer co-workers to share it.  In the corporate world less is never really more. Only more is more.

    However, in numismatics, sometimes less is more.

    Some coins and pieces of paper money are worth more because of what’s missing, not what’s there.  For the next few weeks, Five Facts will be exploring five numismatic items that are worth more than their full-bodied counterparts.

    Next: The case of the missing signature 

    Antebellum enigma

    June 12, 2015 2:53 PM by
    Probably the most interesting thing about late-date large cents is the catalog that describes them. Howard R. Newcomb’s 1944 United States Copper Cents 1816-1857 is hand-printed and meticulously illustrated with line drawings.

    One coin in the series, though, stands out as something very special – the 1848 small date cent. The coin, which is known by only 10 specimens, gets two pages in the Newcomb catalog, but no catalog number. R.S. Yeoman’s A Guide Book of United States Coins gives it a footnote: “The 1848 small date cent is a rare contemporary counterfeit.”

    Advanced collectors, though, are eager to pick up the coin on the rare occasion that one is offered at auction. A Mint-struck 1848 large cent in Very Good condition sells for about $25. The small date, though, fetches $4,000.

    Newcomb wrote the coins have a good ring when dropped but have inferior workmanship, especially in the leaves that make up the wreath on the reverse. “Personally,” he wrote, “I believe these pieces to be counterfeits of the time.”

    All of the pieces known show evidence of circulation, indicating they passed as cents during the decade before large cents were replaced in 1857 by the current-size small cents. Numismatic researcher Walter Breen traced the coin’s first appearance at auction back to a May 29, 1865, sale.

    Why was it produced? No one knows.

    Copper prices were rising at the time, and the Mint was actively searching for a less-expensive cent. It seems a losing proposition that anyone would really try to counterfeit large cents for circulation.

    Adding to the mystery is that most if not all of the coins were overstruck on existing large cents – one on a regular issue 1848 cent.

    Scrap-pile rescue

    June 5, 2015 3:12 PM by

    Arguably the most famous “counterfeit” early copper coin is the 1804 restrike cent, a coin struck with dies salvaged from the scrap pile. Since about 1860 bargain-minded collectors have been able to fill the 1804 hole in their large cent albums with this jury-rigged substitute.

    Authentic 1804 large cents are all but unavailable in high grades and run hundreds of thousands in About Uncirculated. A PCGS AU-55 coin with a gold CAC sticker sold for $223,500 at a 2013 Stack’s Bowers sale.

    The restrike is all but unavailable in circulated condition and runs just $1,250 in Uncirculated condition.

    Its origin remains a mystery more than 150 years after it was produced, though the finger of suspicion has long pointed at unscrupulous Mint insiders.

    In 1910, Charles K. Warner, son of early American medalist John S. Warner reminisced about his childhood in an article that appeared in The Numismatist. In the 1850s, the younger Warner related, silversmith William Sellers conducted his business in the old Philadelphia Mint building. In the basement was a pile of scrap metal, including old, rusted, cracked and chipped coinage dies. In late 1857 Sellers gave the dies to medalist John S. Warner, who, in turn gave them to his friend, Chief Coiner George K. Childs.

    It is not recorded which dies were in the lot, but two years later restrike 1804 cents began appearing on the numismatic market. The pieces were struck from an altered rusted and cracked 1803 die (S-261) and an 1820 reverse (N-12).

    In his definitive large-cent book, Penny Whimsy, author William H. Sheldon quoted turn-of-the-20th-century coin dealers F. W. Doughty and David Proskey about the source of the coins.

    “This singular example of the low moral tone of some of our public officials made its appearance about the year 1860,” Sheldon quoted the pair. The piece was “manufactured for the sole purpose of supplying coin dealers with a cent they could sell to young and ignorant collectors.”

    Breen speculated they were struck for prominent coin dealers Joseph A. Mickley or Dr. Montroville Dickeson during the freewheeling administration of Mint Director James Ross Snowden.

    Today, the pieces, with their crude appearance and rough rusted surfaces are prized by large cent collectors, counterfeit collectors and those who appreciate a mystery.

    Next: Antebellum enigma


    Copy or counterfeit?

    May 29, 2015 4:54 PM by

    1796 half cent copies or counterfeits?

    With a reported mintage of just 1,390, the 1796 half cents are scarce, but pieces known as Edwards’ copies are rarer – just a dozen are believed to exist.

    Dr. Frank (or Francis, depending on the source) Smith Edwards of New York City, who died in 1865, cut his own 1796 Liberty With Pole dies and used them to strike half cents on somewhat thin planchets.

    In his 1952 book, Struck Copies of Early American Coins, Richard Kenney described Edwards as a serious collector of U.S. coins

    Edward Cogan destroyed the Edwards dies after his death and all but 12 “coins,” one of which appeared at auction the following year. (Sylvester Crosby, who wrote the seminal Early Coins of America, was the high bidder at $5.50 in the April 1866, W. Elliot Woodward sale. The sum was equal to a week’s wages for a laborer.)

    Edwards’ delicacies are still prized by collectors today. Last year Ira and Larry Goldberg sold the finest known, a PCGS MS-67 red and brown piece, for $37,950. While a goodly sum, the hammer price is just 5 percent to 10 percent of what a real high-grade 1796 Liberty Cap With Pole half cent would go for.

    The Goldbergs noted in that sale, “The dies were handmade and the workmanship is of good quality. The resulting design is a fairly accurate representation of the genuine article, but it is far from perfect.”

    The pieces, which are often out of round, are commonly referred to as copies. They are close enough to originals, though, that the Red Book (R.S. Yeoman’s A Guide Book of United States Coins) warns about them.

      Next: Scrap-pile rescue

    A genuine counterfeit

    May 22, 2015 3:50 PM by

    About the same time that Philadelphia coin dealer Ebenezer Locke Mason Jr. was creating electrotypes of Jefferson head cents (in the 1860s), New York dealer William D. Smith was creating his own 1793 cents from well-worn 1793 and 1794 cents.


    The coins, largely unknown to the collector community, are called Smith counterfeits by cognoscenti. In a 2013 article on contemporary counterfeits, Coin World’s Paul Gilkes wrote, “Some collectors suggest the Smith counterfeits are not counterfeits at all, but simply alterations to genuine U.S. Mint cents.”

    Smith took well-worn cents and extensively engraved the remaining surface, rounding Liberty’s cheeks and giving definition to her hair strands. The result — lightweight by necessity — is nowhere near original looking but has a not-unattractive, otherworldly presence that attracts collectors.

    Stack’s in its 2007 John Ford XVII sale catalog, wrote that Smith was noted for his “trademark smiling Liberty, bold date, and abundant reverse berries.”

    The description for an Extra Fine Smith counterfeit that fetched $2,990, said, “Their manufacture in the 1860s was not meant to fool anyone, but rather to make a nearly worthless cent (like a low-grade and granular Wreath cent, worth just pennies in the 1860s) into something admirable and perhaps suitable as a hole-filler in the place of the elusive high-grade cents of 1793.”

    In January, Ira and Larry Goldberg sold a Fine 12 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath Reverse cent for $2,585. The price was about a third of what an unaltered Fine 12 piece would bring, but more than an unaltered poor coin would sell for.

    The intriguing pieces are prized today for their whimsy and connection to mid-19th century collecting, when the hobby was young.

    Next: Copy or counterfeit?


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    The saw-maker’s patterns

    May 15, 2015 3:42 PM by

    For more than a century, odd looking, extra heavy 1795 cents confounded collectors. Everyone knew they were not of the same quality as the 1795 cents produced by the Philadelphia Mint, but no one knew where they came from.

    In the 1860s coin dealer Ebenezer Locke Mason Jr. referred to them as Jefferson cents, presumable because the image of Miss Liberty on the front bore a vague resemblance to Thomas Jefferson. He liked the scarce and odd coins so much he even made and sold electrotypes of them – a kind of counterfeit counterfeit.

    The mystery was not solved until 1952 when researcher Walter Breen connected several 18th century dots to posit that Philadelphia saw maker John Harper produced the pieces in an attempt to wrest coinage of the nation’s coins from the U.S. Mint.

    The coins, Breen wrote in his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, “are obviously not productions of the federal Mint, but which are too heavy to have been a practical exercise in counterfeiting.”

    In 1795, Congress held hearings of the possibility of replacing the inefficient and expensive government mint with a private one. Harper, who provided equipment to the Mint and who had been involved with the private minting of state coinage, testified in February that he could do the job and produced his own coins to show the congressmen.

    At the hearing, several congressmen bought examples of the coin from Harper, giving them a semi-official status.

    Mint Director Elias Boudinot, concerned about the possible nefarious use of the dies, confiscated them and reimbursed Harper the $100 value of the dies.

    Writing on the PCGS CoinFacts site, Ron Guth notes, “Harper intended to mimic the designs on 1795 Liberty Cap Cents, but his skill was as a machinist, not as a die-cutter. Thus, his attempts at replicating the designs, though admirable, were clearly different and off the mark.”

    Today, about 30 Jefferson head cents are known, all well circulated. The finest grades just Very Fine. One sold for $184,000 in 2012.


    Next: A genuine counterfeit


    May 11, 2015 2:31 PM by

    Counterfeits from China bedevil us, but contemporary counterfeits, especially those from the early days of the Republic delight us.

    For the next five weeks, I’m going to look at copper “cents” and “half cents” that mimic regular-issue United States coins. Some were produced possibly to fool merchants, others to provide collectors with otherwise unobtainable rarities. One was a pattern for an attempt to replace the government mint with a private one.

    For the most part these items – Can you call them coins? – are collected, by tradition, as part of the regular-issue series. In auction catalogs, many appear with the word counterfeit in quotes, denoting their special status as somewhere between Mint products and out-and-out fakes.

    Because of their indistinct status, all occupy a special spot in the hearts of collectors.

    Next: The saw-maker’s patterns

    ​Tax on checks

    April 27, 2015 3:30 PM by

      With the nation at war with itself, the United States government shook every tree it could find to raise money to prosecute the Civil War. It issued paper money that was backed by nothing more than the government’s full faith and taxed everything it could.

    The newly created Internal Revenue Service taxed mortgages, bonds, contracts, bank checks and a host of other documents.

    The initial bank check tax, instituted in 1862, was 2 cents on checks drawn for $20.01 and more. Tax dodgers quickly figured out that if they wrote a bunch of $20 checks instead of one big one they could avoid the tax.

    The government wised up in 1864 and applied the tax to all checks.

    Not surprisingly, the tax didn’t disappear after the Civil War or after the Indian Wars. It didn’t go away until years after the Spanish American War.

    For decades checks bore stamps that looked much like postal stamps.  Most stamps on 19th century checks are specially issued BANK CHECK stamps. But in the early years, when the government was not able to provide enough of the special check stamps, general U.S. Internal Revenue stamps were OK. The stamps were “canceled” by being written on in ink so they could not be reused.

    Sharpies figured out they could bleach out the ink cancelations and reuse the stamps, much to the government’s consternation.

    Philatelists have studied the 19th century revenue stamps extensively, but few people collect them. Despite their great history and Civil War connection, canceled bank check stamps tend to catalog for 50 cents or less.

    For check collectors, the stamps add a bit of sparkle, but a check’s primary value comes from who signed it, what’s pictured on it, which bank it was drawn on and where it was issued.

    Tiny tax tokens

    April 21, 2015 10:57 AM by
    Sales taxes, a regressive form of taxation enjoying new popularity among tax hikers across the country, owe their birth to the Great Depression. As income and therefore income tax receipts fell in the early 1930s, state after state turned to consumption taxes.

     A problem, though, quickly developed. While a 1 percent tax on a $1 purchase worked out to an even cent, no smaller coin was available for the tax on amounts of less than $1.

     To avoid overcharging people, 12 states – Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Washington – issued their own tokens in denominations as small as 1/10th of a cent to make change.

     The tokens – tiny in size and tiny in value – proved to be too much of a bother. Most states discontinued their usage before World War II, though Missouri tokens lasted into the early 1960s.

     The tokens tend to be simple affairs – often with just the state’s name and denomination. New Mexico’s are noteworthy in that they show a saguaro cactus. Sales tax tokens were made in fiber, plastic, aluminum, zinc and bronze and were often holed.

     The tokens are avidly sought after by a small group of collectors – many of whom are members of the American Tax Token Society. Sales tax tokens tend to be junk box material, often selling for a dime or so. Some rare varieties, though, have sold for as much as $500.

     Next: Tax on checks


    ​Peter the Great’s beard tax

    April 15, 2015 10:48 AM by

    Taxes serve three purposes: raise money for government functions, encourage activities (such as tax credits for energy efficient furnaces) and discourage activities (think cigarette taxes.)

    In 1705, Russian Czar Peter the Great instituted a tax on beards as part of his plan to modernize and westernize his backward country.

    Peasants and clerics were exempt, but everyone else who wanted to wear a beard had to pay an annual fee and carry a medal as proof of payment.  The first medals were round affairs showing a nose, mustache and beard on one side and the imperial eagle on the reverse.  Later issues were diamond shaped and dropped the images but bore the legend, “The beard is an unnecessary burden.”

    Randolph Zander, writing in The Numismatist (“Russian Beard Tokens,” December 1948), noted: “The law provided for check-points at the entrance to towns, where officials would deny passage to any bearded person who could not produce a beard token. In addition, law enforcement agencies were enjoined to arrest and fine bewhiskered individuals on sight if they carried no beard license.”

    The tax was collected from 1705 to 1772. It was levied according to rank, topping out at 100 rubles for wealthy merchants.

    Beard tax tokens are prized by collectors, partly for their novelty and partly for their sheer ridiculousness.  They are scarce and often sell for thousands of dollars when they appear at auction.

    Next: Tiny tax tokens

    Lady Godiva's tax protest

    April 8, 2015 4:54 PM by

    Seventeen a beauty queen
    She made a ride that caused a scene
    In the town

    Her long blonde hair
    Hangin' down around her knees
    All the cats who dig striptease
    Prayin' for a little breeze
    Her long blonde hair
    Falling down across her arms
    Hiding all the lady's charms
    Lady Godiva


    Peter and Gordon’s 1966 chart topper celebrates the world’s most famous tax protest, the fabled and likely fictitious 11th century ride of Lady Godiva, wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia in Anglo-Saxon England.

    The story of the lady’s naked ride was first recorded in Roger of Wendover’s 13th century book Flores Historiarum or Flowers of History. Despite its title, the book is a chronicle of events not a gardening guide.

    The tale has been embellished over the centuries, but the plot remains the same: Leofric refuses Godiva’s entreaties to lower the taxes on the oppressed residents of Coventry. One day, though, Leofric gives in, saying he’ll cut taxes if she rides naked through the town at midday.

    In a report on the historic person, the BBC wrote, “The rest of the story is not documented at all, but it is said that so great was her compassion for the people of Coventry that Godiva overcame her horror of doing this. She ordered the people to remain indoors with their windows and doors barred. Loosening her long hair to cover her as a cloak, she mounted her waiting horse.

    “Then she rode through the silent streets unseen by the people, who had obeyed her command because of their respect for her.”

    Peeping Tom, the tailor who was struck blind for looking, was added to the story in the 17th century.

    Lady Godiva appeared on a privately minted 1792-1794 halfpenny token issued during Great Britain’s Condor token craze. The token, which was designed by William Mainwaring and struck by William Lutwyche, shows a not-too-pretty nude equestrian on one side along with the date and the legend PRO BONO PUBLICO, a wording with a double meaning on this piece.

    With small change in short supply, private mints struck hundreds of trade tokens, often with imaginative designs, to meet the English public’s need. The legend PRO BONO PUBLICO appears on many Condor tokens, meaning that they were struck for the public good. Lady Godiva’s ride, too, was for the public good.

    The other side of the Godiva token shows Coventry’s symbol – an elephant with a castle turret in place of a saddle – and the legend COVENTRY HALFPENNY. The edge says where it was payable and by whom.

    Circulated examples are common and generally sell for $50 or less.

    The public grew tired of the collectible tokens in 1795 as supply exceeded demand. The need for the unofficial coinage ended in 1797 when Great Britain started striking copper half pennies and pennies.

    The token series takes its name from James Condor (1761–1823) who cataloged the pieces in his 1798 book, An arrangement of Provincial Coins, tokens, and medalets issued in Great Britain, Ireland, and the colonies, within the last twenty years, from the farthing to the penny size.

    Next: Trimming the hirsute

    Rome's insulting Jewish tax

    March 23, 2015 4:56 PM by

    This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD. Exodus 30:13


    Before Rome conquered Judea in 70 A.D., Jews paid a tax of a silver half shekel to the temple each year. In 71 A.D., Emperor Vespasian ordered that the Jewish tax – fiscus iudaicus – continue to be collected, but for the benefit of Rome, not the destroyed temple.

    Rome’s tax collectors were brutal in their methods and despised for their profession. To determine if a man was Jewish and thus subject to the tax, tax collectors were known for ordering Jews to disrobe, often in public places.

    Historian Suetonius noted, “Besides other taxes, that on the Jews was levied with the utmost rigor, and those were prosecuted who, without publicly acknowledging that faith, yet lived as Jews, as well as those who concealed their origin and did not pay the tribute levied upon their people I recall being present in my youth when the person of a man 90 years old was examined before the procurator and a very crowded court, to see whether he was circumcised.”

    After assuming the throne in 96, the Emperor Nerva issued a sestertius – a large bronze coin about the size of a half dollar – that showed his portrait on the obverse and a palm tree on the back. The legend FISCI IVDAICI CALVMNIA SVBLATA surrounds the palm.

    The legend translates as “The insult of the Jewish tax has been removed.”

    What that means, though, is open to interpretation.

    In his Guide to Biblical Coins, David Hendin, writes, “Nerva instituted an extensive series of popular changes, one of which was the abolition of the insulting method of collecting the Jewish tax. The tax itself was not revoked, only the degrading method of collecting it. To proclaim his benevolence, Nerva ordered a coin to be issued.”

    The coin, Hendin believes, celebrates Nerva’s decision to make tax collecting less abusive.

    However, Hendin’s book also reports an alternative theory posited by David Vagi, author of Coinage and History of the Roman Empire.

    Vagi believes the Romans weren’t being nice at all.

    Rome redirected the tax from the Jew’s Jerusalem temple to Rome’s Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus. When the tax was collected for the Jews, Vagi contents, it was an “insult” to Rome. Nerva’s coin celebrates the removal of that insult.


    March 13, 2015 1:21 PM by

    If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street.

    If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.

    If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat. 

    If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

    George Harrison’s 1966 song was a rock 'n' roll protest against England's confiscatory 95 percent tax rate on high-income individuals, especially musicians. With April 15 fast approaching, the song is the theme of the season.

    Everything the late Beatle mentioned in his song almost 60 years ago is subject to taxation in the United States today. Sales and use taxes are levied on cars,roads, chairs, fuel and shoes. Politicians leave few stones unturned in their quest to reward campaign contributors with the stolen fruit of honest labor.

    For the next five weeks, Five Facts will look at five numismatic tax touchstones dating back to antiquity. Some are amusing. Some are titillating. Hopefully all are interesting.

    Next: Rome’s insulting Jewish tax. 

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    As seen on TV: 'Rockford Files' episode shot in real California coin store

    February 6, 2015 5:35 PM by

    Over five weeks, ​I’m highlighting shows from the golden age of television that featured coins in pivotal roles.

    What we've covered so far:

    No. 5: The Rockford Files, Sept. 24, 1976

    An unseen 1838-O Seated Liberty half dollar played a key part in The Rockford Files show   The Fourth Man (season 3, episode 2). Interestingly, much of the show was shot in a real coin store - American Coin Co., 12164 N. Ventra Blvd., Studio City, Calif.

    In the story, coin dealer Timson Farrell, played by actor John McMartin, is a hit man who uses his coin shop as a cover for his life of crime. His latest job is to eliminate four gangsters who were going to appear before a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating organized crime.

    A friend of private investigator Jim Rockford becomes unwittingly involved when she recognizes Farrell at the airport returning from a Miami trip a short time after traveling to Detroit. Farrell figures he has to execute her, too.

    The killer coin dealer maintained a trip to Miami to rub out a fink gangster was actually a buying trip. He said he traveled to Miami to try to buy an 1838-0 half dollar, but was beaten out by a rival dealer.  The coin, with only a handful known, is a major rarity. In 1974, a Specimen 64 piece sold for $43,000 at auction. That same coin, now labeled a Proof 64, sold for $732,500 at a Heritage auction in 2013. Fewer than 20 1838-O branch mint proofs were struck in early 1839, ostensibly “to test a press” in the early days of the New Orleans Mint.

    Farrell’s fourth hit is thwarted when the target’s bodyguard kills him.

    American Coin Co., which was established in 1959, advertised nationally in the 1970s, offering gold Bicentennial medals to non-collectors.  Today its building is home to Dilbeck Real Estate. The coin company’s large sign, visible in the television show, remains but has been repurposed for the new tenant. In the show, the store has ashtrays on the counters, coins in two-by-twos in the display cases and books and folders along the walls.

    The episode can be watched free on Hulu.

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    As seen on TV: 'Hawaii Five-0' episode likely the most famous coin-themed show

    January 30, 2015 12:22 PM by

    Over five weeks, ​ I’m highlighting shows from the golden age of television that featured coins in pivotal roles.

    What we've covered so far:

    No. 4: Hawaii Five-0, Dec. 11, 1973

    An Hawaii Five-0 episode titled,  The $100,000 Nickel  is probably the most famous television show with a coin theme.  Producers built the episode (season 6, episode 14) around the Olsen specimen of the 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent piece. In late 1972 the coin was the first coin to hit $100,000. The coin, graded Proof 64 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., sold for $3.3 million at the 2014 FUN show.

    The show opens with a forger altering a 1903 nickel to look like a 1913. The action then shifts to a courier taking a locked briefcase to the security room at the Pacific Coin Convention Coin Bourse and Auction. He takes out a box holding the coin. “It’s insured for $100,000. There are only five like it in the world,” he says. The actual coin is show full screen before it is locked in a safe.

    The action then shifts to an oceanfront park. The forger is holding the altered coin with his fingers and says, “Virtually undetectable without high magnification. I think you will find it well worth $1,000.” A killer then takes the coin in a gloved hand, places it in his pocket and pulls out a pistol. He plugs the forger and walks away.

    A con man is then hired for $10,000 to switch coins. At the coin show, the carnival slight-of-hand expert casually asks to look at the coin, which is promptly handed to him. Wearing a white glove, he picks it up and switches it out. As he’s leaving the show, an alarm sounds. The con man uses the coin to buy a 15-cent newspaper, effectively stashing the coin until he can retrieve it; only he doesn’t get back to it in time.

    The coin bounces from the vending machine to a child’s pocket to a candy store before ending up as change at a bar after the con man buys a drink.

    The coin, which is still known for its TV exposure more than 40 years later, benefited from the publicity. In 1978 Superior Galleries paid $200,000 for the coin, double its 1972 price.

    The video can be seen free at YouTube.

    Next: The Rockford Files

    As seen on TV: Murderous coin dealer in 'Streets of San Francisco' strikes fake double eagles

    January 22, 2015 10:40 AM by

    Over five weeks, ​I’m highlighting shows from the golden age of television that featured coins in pivotal roles.

    What we've covered so far:

    No. 2 : Streets of San Francisco, Feb. 1, 1973

    Actor Jamie Farr (later Klinger on MASH) is offed at the beginning of this episode of The Streets of San Francisco after smuggling blank double-eagle size gold planchets into the country. (From the Great Depression until 1975, private ownership of gold was highly restricted in the United States.)

    In A Collection of Eagles  (season 1, episode 18) murderous coin dealer Vincent Hagopian Jr. uses the planchets to strike fake double eagles, including a 1907 Ultra High Relief, in the basement of his coin shop in Maiden Lane off San Francisco’s Union Square.

    Hagopian, played by veteran character actor John Saxon, strikes his counterfeits on a small screw press after hand-engraving the dies himself. He’s careful not to leave any “hair lines,” which he says are telltale casting flaws, on his fakes. His plan is to substitute the counterfeits for real coins in a 40-coin collection that his late father, an honest coin dealer, had built for client John R. James.

    The episode has several shots of James’ collection, but no close ups of individual coins. James, according to the story, had purchased the 1907 coin for $22,500 in 1962. With about 15 known, the coin remains a rarity today, often topping $2 million when it appears at auction.

    After killing yet another of his accomplices, Hagopian makes the switch. Later he’s captured after a fight at his coin store and the attempted murder of one more associate.

    At the end, collector James sends a pair of uncirculated 1882 Morgan dollars to detectives Mike Stone (Karl Malden) and Steve Keller (Michael Douglas) as a thank you. Keller looks them up in A Guide Book of United States Coins and says, “We’re rich — $4 apiece.” Today, they’re $50 coins.

    It can be watched free on YouTube.

    Next: Hawaii Five-0

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    As seen on TV: 'Dennis the Menace' tosses away rare gold coin

    January 15, 2015 11:39 AM by

    Over five weeks, ​I’m highlighting shows from the golden age of television that featured coins in pivotal roles.

    What we've covered so far:

    No. 2: Dennis the Menace, Jan. 17, 1960

    Dennis the Menace, the early 1960s television version of Hank Ketcham’s comic strip, frequently had a numismatic theme. In one episode Dennis can be seen placing cents in a Whitman folder. The writers knew coins, giving a sense of authenticity to the stories.

    Dennis and the Rare Coin  (Season 1, Episode 15) revolves around a 1907 Rounded Rims with Periods Indian Head $10 gold eagle. At the start, Dennis’ long-suffering neighbor, “good old Mr. Wilson,” buys the rare coin from big time dealer Mr. Hathaway for $250.

    The coin is a notable rarity that comes with a great story, but the Dennis the Menace episode does not go into the coin’s history. Philadelphia Mint Superintendent John Landis said 31,500 were minted but all but about 50 were melted. The coin, an early version of Saint Gaudens’ design, is a great rarity worth $100,000 and up in Uncirculated condition.

    The condition of Mr. Wilson’s coin isn’t mentioned, but it gets some rough treatment. Mrs. Wilson inadvertently brushes it onto the floor where Dennis finds it. “Finder’s keepers?” Dennis asks Mrs. Wilson. “Loser’s weepers,” she affirms. The coin is briefly visible on the floor and is clearly an Indian Head eagle.

    Dennis puts it in his pocket where it jostles with other coins until he throws it in a wishing fountain.

    When Mr. Wilson and Dennis try to retrieve the coin from the water, they’re arrested and taken to the police station to sort things out.  While they’re there, Mr. Hathaway is led in in handcuffs.  An officer says coin dealer Hathaway is actually con man John Higgins.  “He’s flooding the town with phony old coins,” the officer says.

    The episode is online at Hulu and can be viewed at no charge. 

     Next: Streets of San Francisco

    As seen on TV: 'Mickey Mouse Club' series enthralled young collectors

    January 7, 2015 11:06 AM by

    Since antiquity, coins have played a part in theater. The ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes referred to the owls of Athens (tetradrachms showing an owl on the reverse) in his fifth century BC comedy, The Birds. Shakespeare mentioned coins so many times in his plays that a whole book - Coins in Shakespeare by J. Eric Engstrom - has been written about it.

    Though Aristophanes’ and Shakespeare’s plays have been staged for centuries, they never had the reach of television in the 1950s, ‘60s and  ‘70s.  In the days before cable, the three main television channels pretty much split the nation.  If a person wasn’t watching NBC, he was watching CBS or ABC. The most popular shows in the era drew as many as 100 million viewers. Today popular shows are happy to hit 20 percent of that number.
    For the next five weeks, I’m going to highlight shows from the golden age of television that featured coins in pivotal roles.
    No. 1: The Mickey Mouse Club, Oct. 1, 1956
    The Mickey Mouse Club was must-see TV for baby boomers in the 1950s.  Every school day afternoon Walt Disney’s mouse led a parade to start the show, which featured dancing and singing Mouseketeers, words of wisdom from Head Mouseketeer Jimmie Dodd and a really old cartoon or a serial adventure.
    One of the serials, The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure, revolved around a missing pirate treasure and enthralled a generation of budding collectors.
    Each of the 19 10-minute episodes began with a pirate-ish theme song backing bony hands ruffling through a treasure chest filled with coins.
    The theme song jauntily stated the serial’s premise: a pirate treasure that had been handed down to Bayport’s Silas Applegate had gone missing.
    “Gold doubloons and pieces of eight, handed down to Applegate? From buccaneers who fought for years for gold doubloons and pieces of eight.  Handed down in a pirate chest, the gold they sailed for east and west.  The treasure bright that made men fight, till none were left to bury the chest.  So now the gold and pieces of eight all belong to Applegate.  The chest is here but wait ... now where are those gold doubloons and pieces of eight?”
    The story is a reimagining of the Hardy Boys mystery, The Tower Treasure. Applegate’s pirate chest has been missing for a decade when Frank and Joe Hardy stumble across a gold doubloon. Over the next few weeks, the boys follow red herrings and real clues to eventually end up in an old water tower with a couple villains. After a fight in which the bad guys fall through the tower’s rotten floor, the boys celebrate the discovery of the treasure chest.
    The treasure chest appears to be filled with stage coins showing a portrait surrounded by stars on the obverse and a sold line on the back.  The one real coin shown – the one the boys stumble across -  is a lustrous 1808 Mexico City gold 8 escudos showing Ferdinand VII on the obverse and the Spanish coat of arms on the reverse. A common coin, the piece retails for about $2,250 in Extra Fine condition.
    The episodes are not online, but the theme song can be found on YouTube here
    Next: Dennis the Menace

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