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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 '2017'

    A dollar so rare it doesn’t exist

    December 19, 2017 5:16 PM by

    With a mintage of more than 300,000, the last regular issue silver dollar – the 1964-D Peace dollar – should be an easily accessible piece. However, none is known.

    In the early 1960s as silver dollars were diverted into the numismatic market, gambling casinos became concerned about the sudden disappearance of what was, in effect, a government issued gambling chip and prevailed upon Congress to authorize replacement.

    The last shipment of silver dollars – a reported 1 million pieces ordered by Heralds Club – occurred in 1964. The few silver dollars the casinos had on hand quickly walked out the door. One casino reported losing an astounding 45,000 coins a day before quitting the dollars.

    On Aug. 3, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation authorizing minting of some 45 million silver dollars. In mid-May, the Denver Mint produced 300,000-plus trial strikes. However, Congress, acting wisely for once, called a halt, and the coins were ordered destroyed.

    Not one is known to have survived the melt. Reports, though, periodically surface of survivors – including one that was supposedly given to Johnson.

    The casinos quickly found an alternative – issuing their own metal chips. The Franklin Mint eventually dominated that market.

    The story of the 1964-D Peace dollar has a postscript. In 2015 researchers including Q. David Bowers discovered among the Mint’s archived treasures the models, hubs and master dies for a 1964 Morgan dollar. No trial strikes are known to have been made from those dies. But wow, what a coin it would be.

    Rare coins by the bagful

    December 8, 2017 4:27 PM by

    In the early 1960s, as silver rose above $1.29 an ounce, the value at which a silver dollar is worth more as metal than money, collectors, dealers and bullion merchants formed long lines outside the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C., to buy $1,000 bags of silver dollars.

    The payoff was guaranteed, and in some cases it was incredible.

    Because few people wanted silver dollars when they were minted in the late 1800s and early 1900s the Mint stored them by the bag for decades, periodically inventorying them by weighing them.

    Bag by bag the piles were depleted, as coins minted as long ago as the 1850s came out. Rare coins became common and none so dramatically as the 1903-O Morgan dollar.

    It had been the star of the Morgan dollar series. Q. David Bowers estimates, in his Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia, that fewer than 10 uncirculated pieces were known before October 1962, when the Treasury Department released bags and bags of them.

    Bowers estimates 200,000 or more Uncirculated 1903-O dollars exist today. Before the Treasury release, the coin cataloged for $1,500, more than any other Morgan. The price fell off a cliff in 1963, dropping to as low as a reported $7.

    Dealers still tell stories 50 years on about lucky people who glommed onto a roll or a bag of the just released coins and sold them one at a time to unsuspecting dealers at their pre-flood prices.

    Today the coin lists in Coin World’s Coin Values at $425 in MS-63. The value and the demand for the coin are in no small part based on its fabled history.

      Next: A dollar so rare it doesn’t exist

    The hot dollar

    November 30, 2017 4:20 PM by
    While the 1804 dollar was produced only for foreign dignitaries in the 1830s and a handful of well-connected collectors in the 1850s or ’60s, the coin keeps turning up in the unlikeliest of places.

    Contemporary newspapers report:

    ■ In 1897, Chateau, Mont., bartender Billy Seymour received one in change.

    ■ In 1912, a Defiance, Ohio, widow faced a comfortable old age because her late husband had bought one from a passing tramp years before.

    ■ In 1914, a laborer excavating a site for the Yale hockey rink found one in a buried jar of coins.

    Nothing more has been heard about these fantastic finds, but in 1913 famed dealer B. Max Mehl placed a well-worn 1804 dollar in the H.O. Granberg Collection sale.

    Auction commentary reported the coin was found in Maine and was owned by a Pinkerton Detective Agency employee when Granberg bought it in 1906.

    But there was a problem with the piece. It was unlike any 1804 dollar ever seen before. The 4 was too far to the right.  

    But Mehl claimed the coin had passed the “heat test” with flying colors, proving “beyond a doubt” that it was not only a genuine 1804 dollar but that it was a genuine 1804 dollar struck in 1804.

    Granberg, he said, had prevailed upon the Mint to test the coin. A 1906 report by Pinkerton operative Charles F. Dahlen was included in the auction description, where he is quoted as saying the Mint’s curator “took me to the Chief Engraver, who gave the dollar what he termed ‘a severe heat test,’ by heating the ‘4’ and endeavored to pick and knock it off, BUT IT REMAINED FAST.”

    Heat test or no, critics abounded, and Mehl withdrew the coin from the sale.

    That coin, actually an altered 1800 dollar, remained in the Granberg family for decades and was exhibited at the 2011 ANA Word’s Fair of Money.

    Granberg also owned a genuine 1804 dollar, the Idler specimen, which was donated to the ANA museum in 1991 by Aubrey and Adeline Bebee.

    Next: Rare coins by the bagful

    Marked money

    November 13, 2017 4:21 PM by
    One of the rarest silver dollars is known as much for what was done to it as for what it is.

    The 1804 silver dollar has been a fabled rarity for more than a century. While dated 1804, the coin was actually struck years later, first in the 1830s to provide gifts to foreign dignitaries, and later in the 1850s to satisfy well-connected collectors.

    One of the most intriguing 1804 dollars is known as the Dexter specimen. You can tell it from all other 1804 dollars because James V. Dexter stamped a tiny D into the cloud below the O in OF on the reverse.

    The counterstamp, curiously, does not detract from the coin’s value, but in its own way makes it more desirable because it now comes with a story.

    The coin was the subject of controversy and accusation in the late 1800s. Its existence unknown to collectors, the coin surfaced at an 1884 auction in Berlin, of all places, where American dealers Henry and Samuel Chapman bought it for 900.5 marks, or about $225 U.S.

    The next year the Philadelphia brothers sold it at auction. Bidding started at $500 (easily a year’s wages for a working man) and topped out at $1,000, with Dexter’s agent placing the winning bid.

    The Coin Collector's Journal said the purchase price was “the highest price ever actually paid for a single coin.”

    David Stone, Zeke Wischer, and John Sculley reported last year in Coin World , “The huge profit the Chapmans realized and the mysterious origin of the coin caused Dexter to become suspicious of its authenticity. He filed suit against the Chapman brothers for fraudulently selling the coin, which he believed to be a recent restrike, and was only mollified after a prolonged legal scuffle, when affidavits of authenticity signed by various Mint officials convinced him the coin was genuine.”

    Dexter, who died in 1899, counterstamped the coin sometime during the 14 years he owned it with a tiny D so he could identity it if it were stolen.

    The coin, which is currently graded Proof 65 by PCGS, changed hands twice this spring over one weekend. The coin fetched $3.29 million at the Friday March 31 Stack’s Bowers sale of the D. Brent Pogue collection. The buyers, who bought the coin on speculation, sold it that Sunday for an undisclosed price to well-known collector Bruce Morelan.

      Next: The hot dollar

    A fantastically fortuitous visit

    November 1, 2017 11:06 AM by

    While the United States Mint began operation in 1792, it did not try to strike silver dollars until two years later – the Mint just didn’t have the equipment to do the job.

    In October 1794, when the first silver dollars were struck, the Mint still lacked proper equipment, but made a go of it anyway.

    The Mint jury-rigged a half dollar press to strike the large coins, with predictable results. The coins were weakly struck in some areas. Some were so poorly struck that they were never placed in circulation.

    Researcher Walter Breen estimated 2,000 coins were struck, but about 242 were rejected. What became of those imperfect coins is unknown, but one 1795 dollar is known to have been overstruck on a 1794 dollar, suggesting the unreleased coins were reused as planchets.

    On Oct. 15, 1794, 1,758 acceptable dollars were delivered by the coiner, and the denomination was abandoned until the following year when a larger press was built.

    The letter punches used to impress UNITED STATES OF AMERICA into the dies come with their own story. Frederick Geiger, who came to America from Germany as a servant indentured to Benjamin Franklin Bache (Ben Franklin’s grandson), executed the punches. He left the Mint shortly after to work on a perpetual motion machine, which presumably never reached perfection.

    Collectors prize the coins as the nation’s first silver dollars, but two specimens especially stand out, the Lord St. Oswald coins, which were picked up as numismatic mementos in late 1794 or 1795 by William Strickland, an ancestor of Lord St. Oswald, on a visit to Philadelphia.

    The coins remained in the lord’s family for the next 170 years, housed along with other coins (including 22 1794 cents) in a purpose-built Chippendale coin cabinet at Nostell Priory in Wakefield, Yorkshire.

    American collectors were astonished to learn about the coins in 1964 when they were placed at auction by Christie’s, Manson & Woods, Ltd. in London.

    The coins, described as Mint State, fetched £ 4,000 ($11,200) each. In subsequent sales, the two fabled specimens have sold for multiples of that.

    One sold in 1988 for $242,000 as part of the Bowers and Merena Galleries Norweb sale. Offered during the Aug. 3 Rarities Night auction by Stack’s Bowers Galleries at the 2017 ANA auctions, the same coin brought $2.82 million.

    In 2015, Stack’s Bowers sold the other Lord St. Oswald coin for $4,993,750 in the September D. Brent Pogue sale.

    A third 1794 dollar in British hands also has a long and regal history. The British Museum’s specimen came from the estate of Sara Sophia Banks, sister of King George III’s friend, Sir Joseph Banks. She, depending on the source, either bought the coin from Admiral Sir James Hawkins-Whitshed in 1796 or directly from the Mint by mail.

    Next: Marked money

    Some silver dollar stories

    October 20, 2017 5:11 PM by
    The silver dollar is an asterisk coin. You can’t write about the series without putting an * or two in your post.

    For example: The series was coined over 141 years*

                                    *except when it was coined over 170 years*

                                    *except when it was coined over 171 years.**

    The rarest dates don’t official exist*

                                    *but collectors own them.***

    One coin exists in official records*

                                    *but no one’s ever seen one.****

    The United States boldly proclaimed its sovereignty with the coinage of the silver dollar in 1794, pressing into service a half-dollar press that was jury-rigged to coin broader dollars.

    The first and all subsequent regular-issue silver dollars show a personification of Liberty on the obverse and an eagle and the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA on the reverse.

    Those first dollars, coined in October of 1794, can trace their history and name back hundreds of years to St. Joachim's Valley – Joachimsthal – in what is now the Czech Republic. The valley was the source of silver for dollar-size Joachimsthalers that were coined in the 15th century. By the time of the American Revolution, the word thaler had morphed into dollar in English-speaking countries.

    Silver dollar-size eight-real pieces struck in Mexico and South and Central America were widely used in the colonies, but they weren’t referred to by their proper Spanish name; they were called dollars. Colonial and Continental currency was commonly denominated in dollars.

    The Spanish milled dollar was the cornerstone of American commerce in 1794 when the fledgling country decided to coin its own dollars.

    Those asterisks

    ** Peace dollar coinage ended in 1935, but 1964-dated coins were struck in 1965

    *** 1870-S and 1804 dollars are not listed in Mint reports.

    **** Some 12,000 1895 dollars were struck, but none survive.

    During the next five weeks, this blog will explore some of the stories behind the denomination.

    Next: A fantastically fortuitous visit.

    When’s a half dollar not a half dollar?

    September 21, 2017 4:32 PM by

    One of the most elusive half dollars doesn’t say half dollar on it and never circulated as money.

    In 1964 as the price of silver rose above $1.29 an ounce the point at which a silver dollar is worth more as metal than as money the Mint began searching for alternatives.

    The Mint hired Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, Ohio, to research substitutes for then-current 90 percent silver coinage. To test possible replacements 17 were considered the Mint prepared dies in dime, quarter dollar and half dollar size.

    In its Feb. 12, 1965, “Final Report on A Study of Alloys Suitable for Use as United States Coinage,” Battelle reported, “A number of possible candidate materials were selected and taken to the Philadelphia Mint in the form of rolled strip to determine how well they could be blanked and upset, and coined. ... For the actual coining process, special dies were prepared by the Mint designers and engravers, which would duplicate as nearly as possible both the obverse and reverse design features of a typical dime, quarter, and half-dollar.”

    The three Battelle pattern “denominations” show a bust of Martha Washington on the obverse and Mount Vernon on the reverse. All are dated 1759, the year George wed Martha.

    U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Edward R. Grove designed the obverse and signed it with his initials below Martha’s bust. U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Philip Fowler designed the reverse. His initials appear below the right side of Mount Vernon.

    The designs were reprised in 1982 and 1999 for the striking of “cent” and “dollar” patterns before the metals for those two denominations were changed.

    For the Battelle study, the Philadelphia Mint produced “dimes” in 15 metals, ranging from an alloy of 50 percent silver and 50 percent copper to the adopted layered composition of copper-nickel-clad copper. The “quarter dollar” was tested in 17 metals, and the “half dollar” in just four.

    The Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors’ website, uspatterns.com, reports the Smithsonian has two blue Lucite blocks, each containing a “dime,” “quarter dollar” and “half dollar.”

    The website notes two clad “dimes,” ten clad “quarter dollars,” one nickel “half dollar” and about half a dozen clad “half dollars” are known to exist.

    Despite their great rarity, the pieces tend to sell for a few thousand dollars on the rare occasion that they appear at auction. In 2014, one sold for $4,112.50 at a Heritage auction.

    The 69-day project that took two years

    September 8, 2017 4:09 PM by

    The Kennedy half dollar was a rush job that was two years in the making.

    From the time President John F. Kennedy was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963, to the Jan. 30, 1964, start of the coin’s production for circulation was just 69 days.

    Mint reports and U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts’s recollections tell the story.

    In an April 29, 1964, report to Mint Director Eva Adams, Roberts recalled, “Shortly after the tragedy of President Kennedy’s death, Nov. 22, 1963, Miss Eva Adams, the director of the mint, telephoned me here at the Philadelphia Mint and explained that serious consideration was being given to placing President Kennedy’s portrait on a new design U.S. silver coin.”

    The order came Nov. 27 – five days after the assassination – to begin work on the new half dollar.

    Much of the work had actually been done two years earlier. Roberts modified the Kennedy portrait he had prepared in 1961 for the Mint’s presidential series medal. Frank Gasparro’s presidential-seal reverse was repurposed, too, from the same medal.

    Roberts said the president had personally approved the medal’s portrait.

    In his report to Adams on April 29, Gasparro wrote, “At 9 a.m. on Dec. 13th we struck our first trial (pattern) pieces.” That same day he flew to Washington to deliver the coins to Adams who, in turn, sent them to Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon and President Johnson.

    On Dec. 17, Roberts showed a prototype of the coin to the president’s widow, who suggested “mussing” up Kennedy’s hair.

    Dies were completed Jan. 2, and Proof production began almost immediately. Roberts reported that the first circulation-strike coins were produced at Denver Jan. 30. Philadelphia ramped up production the following week. Ceremonial first strikes were made at 11 a.m. EST Feb. 11, simultaneously, at the Philadelphia and Denver mints.

    On March 6, 1964, the Mint shipped the first coins to Federal Reserve banks.

    The coin proved immensely popular. Banks across the country quickly exhausted their supply. Those lucky enough to get some found a ready market at home and abroad.

    Writing in the St. Petersburg Independent in 1967, coin columnist Earl Campbell recalled those days: “Next it was found that people in many foreign countries also wanted the coins as keepsakes,” he wrote. “There were stories of people financing trips to Hong Kong with a few rolls of Kennedy halves. American tourists exchanging the halves, one or two, for a night’s lodging in the best hotels in Europe, and a great underground network that was quietly sending the half dollars into the foreign market to meet the demand.”

    Next: When’s a half dollar not a half dollar?

    Half dollars: A mysterious rarity

    September 6, 2017 4:52 PM by

    With a mintage of just 12,000, the 1878-S half dollar should be scarce but not rare. Ten other dates have lower mintages.

    Yet, Uncirculated 1878-S half dollars are worth upwards of $100,000 each, while the 1879 coins, in a mintage of just 4,800, sell for just $1,000 in the same grade.

    The 1879-S half dollar was rare from the get-go. One reportedly appeared at auction as early as 1882. Augustus Heaton, in his landmark 1893 A Treatise on the Coinage of the United States Branch Mints, called the coin a “great rarity.”

    For reasons no one knows, fewer than 60 1878-S half dollars have survived. In comparison, the grading services had graded about 750 of the 1879 coins.

    Heritage Auctions notes in auction listings for the coin, “The introduction of the Morgan dollar in 1878 is part and parcel of the rarity of the 1878-S half dollars. As mandated by the Bland-Allison Act authorized on February 28, 1878, the Treasury Department was ordered to resume coinage of the silver dollar denomination.”

    The auction house speculated, “The quickest and easiest solution was to mint more silver dollars in preference over smaller denomination silver coins – far more dollars than were wanted or needed in commerce. Mintages of quarters and half dollars diminished to only token amounts.”

    In 1878, the San Francisco Mint struck nearly 10 million Morgan silver dollars.

    What happened to the remainder of the 12,000 1878-S half dollars has been the subject of speculation over the decades.

    Were the coins melted, with the silver redirected to silver dollar coinage? Were they, like so many 19th century U.S. silver coins, shipped overseas as so much bullion? And, if they were shipped overseas, were they melted, as is most likely, or do there exist, in some Oriental warehouse, bags of gleaming 1878-S half dollars?

    Next: The 69-day project that took two years

    Half dollars: The quarter million dollar dirt pile

    September 1, 2017 4:52 PM by

    New York contractor George Williams struck it rich in 2005 when he discovered the eighth known specimen of the ultra-rare 1817/4 half dollar in a pile of dirt.

    Heritage Auctions placed the coin in the 2006 Winter FUN sale. The catalog entry tells the story: “News of the discovery appeared in the October 24, 2005, edition of Coin World. Williams said he ordered a load of fill for some foundation work he was doing. He was raking the soil when he heard a ‘cling.’ His son Nial, 19, turned the hose on the object and revealed an early date half dollar.

    “The Coin World article goes on to say that when Williams returned home with the coin, his 14-year-old coin-collecting son, Cullinan, looked it up in A Guide Book of United States Coins (the ‘Red Book’). The boy then printed a copy of Sheridan Downey’s commentary on the 1817/4 half dollar in Collectors Universe’s CoinFacts.com [http://www.pcgscoinfacts.com/] web site that revealed more details about the rare overdate. The entire family then became increasingly excited about the find. The coin was certified by ANACS with XF Details and some corrosion.”

    The coin, considered to be the second finest of the 11 1817/4 half dollars now known, sold for a breathtaking $253,000 at the sale.

    History, though, has not been kind to the coin’s value. It sold for $109,250 in 2009, less than half its initial sale price. The value rebounded somewhat to $164,500 in 2009, the last time it was placed at auction.

    The coin was unknown to collectors until October 1930 when a brief item about it appeared in The Numismatist.

    The magazine reported, “E.T Wallis, of Los Angeles, Cal., writes that he has recently discovered a heretofore unknown variety of the 1817 half dollar, the last figure of the date being cut over a 4.... Mr. Wallis thinks the die may have been cracked when the 7 was cut over the 4 and the die may have been broken when the striking began.”

    Some collectors think the die was weakened when the 4 was mostly ground off, causing the overdate die to fail after only a few coins were struck. Others speculate the die just wasn’t properly hardened.

    Half of the known specimens have a jagged die crack running across the entire obverse from above Liberty’s cap to the edge below the 7 in the date, indicating die failure was imminent when the coins were struck.

    Next: A mysterious rarity

    Thirty-three Ps

    August 21, 2017 5:06 PM by
    Platinum was an exotic metal in the early 1800s, of uncertain utility and value. Crooks took to it, hollowing out the interior of genuine gold coins and replacing the gold with less expensive platinum. Platinum has a similar specific gravity to gold and the deceit was therefore not easily detected.

    In 1860 and again in 1878 the Philadelphia Mint experimented with extra wide gold pieces that were designed to be too thin to hollow out. Nothing came of the experiment, except for a few odd pattern coins.

    Russia, which became a prime source of the elusive metal in 1819, produced platinum 3, 6 and 12 ruble coins from the late 1820s through 1845. Platinum then was valued at six times the value of silver, or a little less than 1/3 the value of gold.

    The United States Mint played with platinum, too, producing two or three 1814-dated half dollars from the metal. Two examples – one is in the Smithsonian Institution – are known to collectors today. Researcher Walter Breen wrote about a third specimen in 1974, but it has not been confirmed.

    Andrew W. Pollock III, said in United States Patterns and Related Issues, the piece “was coined using the dies of Overton-107. This demonstrates that 1814, in all probability, was the actual year in which the platinum coins were made. If the pieces were made in a later year it is likely that they would have been struck from an incongruously matched pair of dies that had no counterpart in the regular issue half dollar series.”

    J. Ross Snowden, Mint director from 1853 to 1861, wrote about the coin in his 1860 book A Description of Ancient and Modern Coins in the Cabinet of the United States. He recorded “a platina piece struck from the dies for the legal tender half dollar of that year. It was an experiment, platina being a new metal.”

    The Smithsonian’s coin looks like the regular half dollar. The other coin, though, is markedly different. After striking, the letter P was punched into the obverse 33 times, and the world PLATINA was engraved on the reverse. That unique piece sold for $138,000 at auction in 2011.

    While a handful of other half dollars have sold for more, the 1814 platinum half dollar, which weighs almost twice as much as a silver half dollar, remains the ultimate half dollar.

    Next: The quarter million dollar dirt pile

    Half dollars: from asset to irrelevance

    August 10, 2017 3:20 PM by

    The half dollar, which once supported the backbone of the nation’s economy, hasn’t been relevant for more than a decade. Since 2002, it’s been struck only for the benefit of collectors. Any coins of that date or later, if found in circulation, were likely placed there by accident (or by a quixotic collector determined to keep the denomination alive).

    In the early years of the nation, the coin was king. According to the Philadelphia Federal Reserve bank’s web site, “Coinage of silver began in 1794 and only the half dollar and the dollar were struck consistently; smaller denominations were coined only on demand of depositors.”

    Between 1803 and 1840, the Mint struck no silver dollars for circulation and didn’t produce the denomination in meaningful amounts again until 1878 when production of the Morgan dollar began. That left the half dollar to fill the larger coin’s role in bank transactions.

    Neil Carothers reports in Fractional Money: A History of Small Coins and Fractional Paper Currency of the United States, “(T)he half dollar was the desirable coin for major transactions, bank reserves and payment abroad. The coins did not circulate widely.”

    Before the Civil War when private banks issued their own paper money, bank reserves typically consisted of casks of half dollars. There are reports that the kegs were often transferred from bank to bank in advance of the bank examiner, leaving one bank as soon as the official was gone and arriving at the next bank just before he got there.

    Writing on wildcat banks in Ypsilanti Gleanings in 2005, researcher Gerry Petty noted, “The failure of the Bank of Ypsilanti in 1838 occurred when it was discovered that the assets of the bank had been ‘borrowed’ from another bank. In fact, the same barrel of silver half dollars had been noticed by the bank examiner as the same one that he had just audited the week before at another bank in Oswego.”

    Because of their use as bank reserves, half dollars did not circulate much during the first half of the 19th century. This accounts for the fact that Bust half dollars routinely are graded as About Uncirculated and better.

    Next: Thirty-three Ps

    Quarter dollars: Circulation search stampede

    July 25, 2017 2:52 PM by

    Collectors were electrified in late 2004 when word came from Tucson, Arizona, of all places, that extra leaves had sprouted on the ear of corn on the reverse of some Denver Mint Wisconsin 50 State quarter dollars.

    The corn, which is to the right of the cow and above the round of cheese (this represents Wisconsin, after all) is nestled in a few leaves or husks. What appeared to be an extra leaf sprouted on two varieties. One shows the “leaf” in a high position and another shows it low. The high-leaf variety was rarer than the low-leaf one, and both were scarce enough to warrant a stampede of change searching across the country.

    Most, though, appear to have been released in the Tucson area.

    USA Today reported Feb. 10, 2005, “News that some of the Wisconsin state quarters are flawed and worth big bucks is generating renewed interest in the 50-state quarters a little more than halfway through the program's 10-year lifespan.

    “‘The phones have been ringing off the hook,’ says Jack Chapman, owner of usstatequarters.com in Springbrook, Wis. Sales have doubled in the past few days on both the Web and on the phone.”

    The source of the error was immediately the cause of collector speculation.

    Romantics mulled that it was the result of midnight mischief at the Mint, a practice not unheard of.

    Others noted that the leaves were not so much leaves as parts of a circle and figured something circular had dropped on the dies while they were in an annealed, softened state, leaving the appearance of extra leaves.

    The Mint investigated the coins and determined that 50,000 flawed coins were produced by accident in November 2004. A press operator working the Friday night shift noticed the error coins but left for a break before changing out the die. When he returned to work he noticed his press was running and assumed someone else had fixed the problem.

    Tucson dealer Rick Snow, operating as Eagle Eye Rare Coins, made a market in the errors early on, offering $50 apiece for the coins before their rarity became known. The company’s website notes, “These dramatic errors were discovered in late 2004 by Bob Ford in Tucson, Arizona. Within a year they became the subject of extreme speculation and debate over their cause.

    “Now, over ten years later, they are known,” Snow’s website claims, “to have been deliberately created at the Denver Mint by someone who sabotaged two different dies with a small tool.

    “Their overall rarity has now been determined to be similar to that of classic die errors like the 1955 Doubled die cent and 1937-D 3-leg Buffalo nickel,” Snow’s website continues.

    Three-sets of regular, high leaf and low leaf coins traded briefly at the $7,000 level during a bubble in early 2006, Snow said.

    While interest in the 50 State Quarters program and the Wisconsin errors has flagged since that program ended in 2008, the Wisconsin quarters still command a hefty premium. Coin World’s Coin Values pegs the MS-67 value of the Extra Leaf, High variety at $2,000 and the Extra Leaf, Low one at $1,400.

    In MS-63 the high leaf variety lists at $175 and the low leaf at $125.

    Circulated examples tend to run $100 and less, still enough to make searching pocket change worthwhile.

    The coinage cover-up

    July 21, 2017 3:38 PM by

    For 101 years, every 12-year-old boy in America has aspired to own a 1916 Standing Liberty quarter dollar. Liberty on 1916 and early 1917 quarter dollars has a bare breast.

    Researcher Walter Breen noted that fully struck examples showed not only Miss Liberty’s nipple but the areola surrounding it.

    However, the erotic coin has always been pricey and generally out of reach for pre-teen boys. Only 52,000 Standing Liberty quarter dollars were struck in 1916, making it the series’ key. Good condition coins, coins worn so smooth that it’s impossible to tell Miss Liberty is going braless, start at $2,300. High-grade, full-head coins sell for as much as $150,000.

    In 1917, the coin was modified to place chainmail – fitting for a country entering World War I – on Miss Liberty’s top and three stars below the eagle on the reverse.

    Why the offending breast was covered has been the subject of speculation and declaration over the decades.

    Breen maintained, the “Society for the Suppression of Vice, the guardians of prudery once began exerting political pressure on the Treasury Department to revoke authorization for these ‘immoral’ coins, and to withdraw them from circulation.”

    The problem with Breen’s explanation is that no evidence supports it. The pressure, if it existed, did not garner any publicity in the day’s newspapers.

    A 2005 Heritage Auctions catalog entry for an NGC MS-67 1916 quarter dollar that fetched $97,750, attributed the change to a politician seeking advancement.

    The catalog notes, “[T]he real culprit was actually [Treasury Secretary William G.] McAdoo himself, who had married President Woodrow Wilson's daughter in 1914. Through this familial alliance, as well as his position as Secretary of the Treasury, McAdoo hoped to springboard himself into the White House after Wilson stepped down. However trivial the complaints from the Society for the Suppression of Vice may have seemed to many Americans, an aspiring politician such as McAdoo could not afford to ignore them.”

    Or, it might just be that coin designer Hermon Atkins MacNeil changed his mind.

    MacNeil was not happy with modifications Charles E. Barber had made to the coin and asked permission in early 1917 to rework the design.


    Miss Liberty was wearing chainmail on MacNeil’s next effort, delivered in mid-February, 1917.

    In 2016 the Mint struck a gold version of the coin to mark its centennial. That coin shows a fully liberated, anatomically correct Miss Liberty.

    Quarter dollars: The third time’s the charm

    July 6, 2017 4:36 PM by
    The 1827 quarter dollar is a legendary rarity with three great stories.

    While Mint records show 4,000 quarter dollars were struck in late December 1827, most were likely struck with 1828-dated dies prepared for the next year’s coinage. No business strike original 1827 quarters dollars are known. The nine original 1827 quarter dollars known are all Proof strikes.

    Story I – Rory R. Rea, Dr. Glenn Peterson, Bradley S. Karoleff and John J. Kovach Jr. report in Early Quarter Dollars of the United States Mint that the coins “may have been given to mint staff as presents late in 1827. These officials maintaining their keepsakes could account for the presence of the 1827 quarter being unknown to collectors for decades.” The coin became known to collectors in 1857 when a brief article appeared in a New York City newspaper.

    Story II – At some point – when and how are open to speculation – an original 1827 obverse die was paired with an 1819 reverse die, identifiable by the square-base 2 in the denomination. The dies, at this point, were fairly new and left no rough patches on the struck coins – no signs of a rusted die. Two of the coins were struck over 1806 quarters. Rea, et al, report: “Karl Moulton believes that these two strikes were produced in 1827 as an experiment with use of a ‘close collar.’ ” Close collars are used to form the edges of a coin. Open collars, used well into the 1820s, resulted in coins of varying diameter.

    Story III – Rea, et al, report further: “Later, possibly in the 1850s these dies, now rusted, were resurrected and used to produce a dozen or so restrikes. Some of these restrikes were made from copper planchets and one of those copper planchets was silver plated.”

    Breen speculated, “In 1858-59 workmen in collusion with Theodore Eckfeldt (the Mint’s night watchman and fence) retrieved the 1827 obv. from the Coiner’s vault and surreptitiously made about a dozen silver restrikes and possibly five copper ones.”

    Breen noted Mint Director James Ross Snowden put a stop to the coinage shenanigans on July 30, 1860, by seizing all the Mint’s dies and storing them in his own vault.

    Heritage Auctions set the date of the rusted restrikes about 1876, when Henry R. Linderman was Mint Director. Linderman’s estate (he died in 1879) included two restrikes, providing credence to the Heritage speculation.

    Originals and restrikes are just about unavailable to collectors. In 2014, an original coin, graded Proof 64 by PCGS, sold for $411,250 at auction. Restrikes cost less, but still fetch high prices. A restrike from rusted dies graded Proof 63 by PCGS sold for $51,700 at auction in 2015.

    Next: The coinage cover-up

    Too soon for Tennessee

    June 23, 2017 4:16 PM by

    The first quarter dollar was coined too soon for Tennessee.

    When the United States Mint began operation in 1792 the original 13 states had been joined by two more – Vermont in 1791 and Kentucky in 1792. That’s why the chain on the 1793 Chain Cent has 15 links and the portraits of Liberty on early silver coins are flanked by 15 stars.

    Tennessee, the 16th state, joined the Union on June 1, 1796, nearly 90 days after the first quarter dollars were struck on April 9, 1796. The quarter dollar had just 15 stars.

    While most other denominations picked up a star for Tennessee in mid-1796 or the next year, the quarter dollar never would have 16 stars. By the time the next quarter dollar was minted in 1804, Mint officials had decided to trim the number of stars on most coins to 13 and hold it there forever.

    Mint Director Elias Boudinot realized at some point in 1797 that a multiplicity of stars could become unworkable, making it so that Ohio, the 17th state, would rarely see its star on a circulating coin.

    Ohio wouldn’t get its due until more than a century later, when Augustus Saint-Gaudens placed a multitude of tiny stars on the obverse of his eponymous double eagle, minted from 1907 to 1933, one star for each state in the Union – 46 initially, then 48 starting in 1912.

    Tennessee did get special treatment on the first $2.50 gold pieces issued. The 1796 coin comes in two varieties. The first has no stars on the obverse. The second has eight stars on either side of Liberty. The starred-obverse coin has invited speculation, over the centuries, that it was struck to commemorate Tennessee’s admission to the Union. A trio of presentation strikings lend credence to the speculation, but could also just evidence interest in the denomination’s first appearance.

    A scant 6,146 quarter dollars were coined in 1796. Few were needed, argue Rory R. Rea, Dr. Glenn Peterson, Bradley S. Karoleff and John J. Kovach Jr., in their 2010 book Early Quarter Dollars of the United States Mint, because of the “regular availability of the Spanish Colonial 2-reales silver coins.”

    The 1796 quarter dollar is notable, too, because collectors believed for decades that it was an object of fascination by the legendary collector Col. E.H.R. Green.

    Green, who at one point owned all five 1913 Liberty Head five-cent pieces and all 100 Inverted Jenny stamps, was a collector of enormous appetites.

    Researcher Walter Breen reported in his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins that Green amassed 200 uncirculated coins, “at least 100 more or less prooflike.”

    However, the number is nowhere near accurate. Rea, et al, estimate that only 56 to 75 uncirculated 1796 quarter dollars exist, and apparently Green owned just one.

    In its 2013 Selections from the Eric P. Newman Collection Part II sale, Heritage Auctions reported, “His (Green’s) original inventory survives, and lists exactly six Mint State Draped Bust quarters, most likely a date set including one 1796, and one each of the 1804 through 1807 issues, including the overdate.”

    That sale included a 1796 quarter dollar pedigreed to Green. It was graded Mint State 67+ by NGC and sold for $1,527,500.

    Next: The third time’s the charm

    Five facts: The earliest quarter

    June 16, 2017 4:16 PM by
    The quarter dollar predates the 1792 founding of the United States Mint by more than two centuries.

    Less than 50 years after Columbus’ first voyage to America, the Spanish government set up a mint at Mexico City in the 1530s to convert the New World’s vast silver deposits to coin. The largest coin was the silver-dollar size 8-real piece, the forerunner of the United States silver dollar. Spanish Mints throughout Mexico, Central and South America also coined subdivisions of the piece of eight — ¼-. ½-, 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-real pieces.

    All of them found their way into the English colonies and later the United States where merchants often kept accounts in three formats at the same time — decimal United States coins, English pounds, shillings and pence and Spanish 8 reals.

    The three formats crossed approximately at the quarter dollar point. The United States quarter dollar had 0.1933 ounce of silver, the 2-real piece had 0.1995 ounce of silver and the English shilling had 0.179 ounce.

    For years, Spanish pieces formed the bulk of the circulating coins in the United States. Surviving coins are frequently found worn almost smooth from decades of circulation

    Foreign coins were legal tender in the United States until 1857, when the federal government seized upon the worn coins as a way to ease acceptance and circulation of the new small cents.

    Many of the Spanish colonial coins were lightweight from extensive wear or even counterfeit. Bullion merchants valued them by weight, but still they continued to circulate at full face value for years for want of an alternative. It made no difference to the Mint. On May 25, 1857, the Mint set up stands on the its grounds where clerks paid out canvas bags of 500 new Flying Eagle cents for $5 face value of Spanish coins or $5 worth of old large cents and half cents.

    More than 1,000 people reportedly turned up to exchange Spanish silver and obsolete U.S. coins for the new copper-nickel cents. When the clock on Independence Hall struck 9 a.m., the crowd surged forward.

    Remnants of the Spanish system still survive. Until 2001, stock prices on American stock exchanges were quoted by the 1/8th or 1 real. Even today, the quarter-dollar is widely known as two bits for its Spanish value of 2 real.

    Next: Too soon for Tennessee

    Quarter dollar: the last coin standing

    June 6, 2017 5:09 PM by

    The quarter dollar is just about the last coin standing.

    The cent, nickel and dime ceased to have any real value decades ago.  The half dollar and the dollar coins, too, have no real place in commerce. The half dollar dropped out of sight in the 1960s. The few half dollars the Mint produces now are made only for sale to collectors.

    The traditional silver-dollar-sized Eisenhower dollar of the early 1970s flopped because people didn’t want to deal with a pocketbuster. The small dollar, introduced in 1979, never caught on either. It, too, is made just for sale to collectors today.

    When Canada switched to smaller dollars in 1987, the country also stopped issuing $1 bills. Consumers were forced to use (and eventually embraced) the loonie, a small dollar named after the bird that appears on the coin’s reverse.

    The United States kept the dollar bill, though it’s worth less than half of what it was in 1987 and only a quarter of its value in 1977.

    The quarter dollar coin, however, still is useful. If you’re stuck in an airport or hotel after the stores and restaurants have closed, it just might provide amusement and sugary sustenance. Most vending machines accept quarter dollars, though it often takes more than four to buy a newspaper (7 cents in the early 1960s) or a bottle of pop (a dime 50 years ago, when many of today’s collectors were children).

    For its next five installments, this blog will explore some significant moments in the denomination’s history, from the days before the United States Mint started operation through private minting of the 19th century, possible prudery of the 20th century and a notable error or example of Mint mischief of this millennium.

    Next: The earliest quarter

    The 50th anniversary dime

    May 31, 2017 4:08 PM by
    The Roosevelt dime doesn’t get much respect. It’s a low-relief design (Chief Engraver Joseph Sinnock’s signature style) struck on clad planchets and has essentially no purchasing power.

    Nonetheless, in 1946 it was first coined to honor a towering figure in American history and to raise money for the fight against polio, a debilitating scourge of childhood.

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who led the nation through the twin perils of the Great Depression and World War II, was crippled by polio as a young man. In 1938 he founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, whose chief fundraising event was the annual door-to-door March of Dimes campaign.

    Shortly after Roosevelt died April 12, 1945, Sinnock began work on the Roosevelt dime — a singularly appropriate denomination for a Roosevelt memorial. Production began Jan. 30, 1946, the president’s birthday, toward the end of that year’s March of Dimes campaign.

    Polio was a scourge of childhood until it was vanquished by Jonas Salk’s vaccine in the 1950s. Every child of the time remembers lining up for shots in the 1950s and, later, sugar cubes dosed with oral vaccine in the early 1960s.

    The March of Dimes still exists as an organization, now dedicated to fight against birth defects, but has long since abandoned door-to-door fundraising.

    In 1996, the Mint struck 1.5 million Roosevelt dimes at the West Point Mint to mark the coin’s 50th anniversary. The coin was available only through that year’s Mint sets.

    The 1996-W Roosevelt dime is an inexpensive numismatic delicacy, listing for just $12 in Mint State 63 in Coin World’s Coin Values. It is the first dime to bear a W Mint mark (the second is the 2016-W Winged Liberty Head Centennial gold dime) and is one of the few coins struck to commemorate an anniversary of the coin itself.

    In 2015, the Mint struck a commemorative silver dollar marking the March of Dime’s 75th anniversary. The coin features busts of Roosevelt and Salk on the obverse and a baby on the reverse.


    Dime series: The amusement park rarity

    May 23, 2017 4:40 PM by

    In late 1982 and early 1983, collectors in northwestern Ohio and the Pittsburgh, Pa., area noticed that some 1982 dimes lacked a Mint mark.

    Before 1980, Philadelphia coins traditionally did not have a Mint mark. (The P Mint mark was placed only on silver World War II era nickels to differentiate them from pre-war non-silver issues.) That changed in 1980, when the P Mint mark was added to all denominations above the cent.

    However, in 1982, the Philadelphia Mint neglected to place a P Mint mark onto one die. The die was placed in production. Apparently workers noticed that coins produced by the die were not well struck and increase the striking pressure after a short while.

    The Pittsburgh-found coins were struck before the pressure was increased, and are known to collectors as the less valuable “weak” variety. The “strong” strike coins were released into circulation in northwest Ohio.

    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.

    The strong-strike coins have a strong association with the nearly 150-year-old Cedar Point Amusement Park.

    In an article in the Fall 2012 issue of Central States Numismatic Society’s magazine, The Centinel, Steven Bieda wrote, “In March or April of 1982 the amusement park requested its seasonal allotment of coins through Citizens Bank (of Sandusky). 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.”

    The dimes apparently were paid out in change to customers throughout the 1982 season, providing a boost to circulation searchers.

    Next: The 50th anniversary dime

    ​A most uncommon common dime

    May 5, 2017 4:55 PM by

    With a mintage of more than 159 million, the 1945 Philadelphia dime is the fifth most common Winged Liberty Head (Mercury) dime. Circulated examples trade for silver bullion value and Uncirculated ones catalog for $7.

    However, if the coin is sharply struck, the value can climb to $20,000, the Coin World Coin Values listing for a coin in Mint State 66 with Full Split Bands.

    The fasces on the coin’s reverse is bound with a pair of bands at top, bottom and middle. The top and bottom bands are nearly always separated, but the center bands not so much. The center bands are the high point of the reverse design. If the strike isn’t sharp, the metal fails to flow into the die’s cavity allowing the pair of center bands to merge. Only on fully struck coins are the bands entirely separated – fully split.

    Writing on the PCGS Coin Facts website, PCGS President Ron Guth wrote, “The 1945 Mercury Head Dime is a very common coin with one exception – if it has Full Bands. Thousands of 1945 Dimes have been certified in Mint State (almost 7,000 at PCGS alone), but barely over a hundred show full Bands. For collectors looking for fully struck Dimes, the 1945 Dime with Full Bands is the ultimate condition-rarity.”

    Writing on the same website, David Hall, said, “I first became aware of the ‘Full band’ situation with Mercury dimes in about 1975. I was at a coin show and the late Tom MacAfee said to me, ‘I want to show you something very special and teach you something about Mercury dimes.’ So he pulled out a 1945-P and told me he had just sold it to a customer for $50. Since this was a $2 coin as far as I knew, I was pretty puzzled. Tom told me to look at the bands on the reverse. He said if I could find another one with full bands he'd pay me $40. And so I started looking for that date and others and soon discovered that some Mercury dimes...1943-D, 1944-D, etc...always come with full bands, and some so-called easy dates in Uncirculated condition are really rare with full bands.”

    Knowledgeable collectors became aware of the importance of the center bands in the 1970s. By the 1980s some dealers began catering to the cognoscenti.

    The 1945 Philadelphia dime with full split bands is an extremely uncommon common coin and one of the most valuable.

    In his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, researcher Walter Breen cautioned, “occasional separations have been fraudulently enhanced by hand tooling.”

    A skillful crook can raise a $7 coin to a $20,000 one.

    Next: The amusement park rarity

    The ice cream dime

    May 1, 2017 5:15 PM by

    Hallie Daggett of 1894-S dime fame served 15 years as a fire lookout atop a mountain. The Forest Service magazine ran an article about her in 1914 that is an interesting read about an interesting person in the history of numismatics. It is attached as a special extra segment after the blog.

    The ice cream dime

    The 1894-S dime, a fabled rarity sometimes selling for more than $2 million, comes with one of coin collecting’s most endearing stories – the ice cream dime.

    The story requires several leaps of faith and researchers have cast serious doubts about its authenticity. Nonetheless, the story endures, perhaps more as a fairy tale than a truth, but a good yarn nonetheless.

    The story builds on one fact, a fact documented in Mint records and on pages 212-213 of the massive 1895 Report of the Director of the Mint: the San Francisco mint struck 24 dimes in 1894.

    The whys, wherefores and whos differ in each version of the coin’s story and there are even two versions of just the ice cream story.

    The most famous one begins with San Francisco Mint Supt. John Daggett ordering the 24 coins struck to end the fiscal year on an even dollar amount. He gave three each to seven of his banker friends and to his daughter Hallie, telling her to keep them until she was as old as he was (61 in 1894) at which time they would be very valuable.

    On her way home from the Mint, the story goes, she spent one of the dimes on ice cream. The fact that three of the known 1894-S dimes bear evidence of circulation is often cited as proof of the story’s veracity.

    The story traces its origin to a 1954 meeting of the Redwood Empire Coin Club of Santa Barbara, Calif., where San Francisco coin dealer Earl Parker reportedly said Hallie Daggett told him the story in 1949 when he bought her remaining two 1894-S dimes. Another version of the ice cream story says the daughter of a Ukiah, Calif., banker was given three of the coins in 1894 but spent one on ice cream.

    The Ukiah story predates the Hallie Daggett story by three years. It was first reported in the February 1951 issue of Numismatic Scrapbook magazine, but disappeared into obscurity, largely forgotten by the collector community.

    Of the 24 dimes, five were reserved for assay, leaving a possible 19 for collectors. Only nine are known to collectors today, leaving open the possibility that some may exist out there in unsearched rolls and bags of worn Barber dimes.

    The last one to surface appeared in 1957 when its finder sold it over the counter to the coin department at New York City’s Gimbels Department Store. That coin, grading Good 4, sold for $33,000 in 1989 and is traditionally described as Hallie Daggett’s ice cream coin.

    Believe what you will, but I know just as surely as there is a Santa Claus that young Hallie Daggett spent the 2 million-dollar dime on ice cream on a hot summer’s day in the Gay ’90s.

    Hallie Daggett achieved a sort of fame later in life when she became the first woman fire spotter in the United States Forest Service. You can read about her years on the mountain in this 1914 article from the May 1914 issue of American Forestry, the magazine of the American Forestry Association.


      In May 1914, American Forestry, the magazine of the American Forestry Association ran this article on Hallie Daggett’s work as the United States Forest Service’s first woman fire lookout.

    The article provides an unusual insight into Hallie Daggett’s childhood and life. Daggett, who was 35 when she began working for the Forest Service, died in 1964.


    All alone, 6,444 feet above sea level, on top of Klamath Peak in Siskiyou County, California, a young woman for months at a time during the prevalence of the forest fire season, did her part, and did it well, in the effort the Government is making to preserve the forests of the country from the destructive flames which have for years past caused an average annual property loss of twenty- five million dollars, and cost annually an average of seventy-five human lives. She is Miss Hallie M. Daggett, and she is the only woman lookout employed by the Forest Service. Posted in her small cabin on top of the mountain peak it was her duty to scan the vast forest in every direction as far as she could see by naked eye and telescope by day for smoke, and for the red glare of fire by night, and report the result of her observations by telephone to the main office of the forest patrol miles and miles away. 

    Few women would care for such a job, fewer still would seek it, and still less would be able to stand the strain of the infinite loneliness, or the roar of the violent storms which sweep the peak, or the menace of the wild beasts which roam the heavily wooded ridges. Miss Daggett, however, not only eagerly longed for the station but secured it after considerable exertion and now she declares that she enjoyed the life and was intensely interested in the work she had to do. 

    Perhaps the call of the wild is in her blood. Her parents are pioneers, her father, John Daggett, having crossed the Isthmus in 1852 and her mother, a mere baby, being taken across the plains from Kentucky the same year. Miss Daggett was born at the Klamath mine, in the shadow of the peak on which the lookout station is perched. She spent most of her early years out of doors riding and tramping over the hills with her brother, so that it was natural that with her inborn love of the forests she should be anxious to take part in the fight which the Forest Service men are making for the protection of the forests. Debarred by her sex, however, from the kind of work which most of the Service men are doing she saw no opportunity until lookout stations were established, and then after earnest solicitation secured the place she held so well. 

    Some of the Service men predicted that after a few days of life on the peak she would telephone that she was frightened by the loneliness and the danger, but she was full of pluck and high spirit, and day after day as her keen eyes ranged the hills which constitute the Salmon River watershed and as she made her daily reports by telephone she grew more and more in love with the work. Even when the telephone wires were broken and when for a long time she was cut off from communication with the world below she did not lose heart. She not only filled the place with all the skill which a trained man could have shown but she desires to be reappointed when the fire season opens this year. 

    The story of her experiences she has told for American Forestry and here it is: 

    “My earliest recollections abound with smoke-clouded summer days and fires that wandered over the country at their own sweet will, unchecked unless they happened to interfere seriously with someone's claim or woodpile, when they were usually turned off by back firing and headed in another direction, to continue their mischief till they either died for lack of fuel or were quenched by the fall rains. Such being the case, it is easy to see that I grew up with a fierce hatred of the devastating fires, and welcomed the force which arrived to combat them. But not until the lookout stations were installed did there come an opportunity to join what had up till then been a man's fight; although my sister and I had frequently been able to help on the small things, such as extinguishing spreading camp fires or carrying supplies to the firing line. 

    "Then, thanks to the liberal mindedness and courtesy of the officials in charge of our district, I was given the position of lookout at the Eddy's Gulch Station in the fourth District of the Klamath National Forest; and entered upon my work the first day of June, 1913, with a firm determination to make good, for I knew that the appointment of a woman was rather in the nature of an experiment, and naturally felt that there was a great deal due the men who had been willing to give me the chance. 

    "It was quite a swift change in three days, from San Francisco, civilization and sea level, to a solitary cabin on a still more solitary mountain, 6,444 feet elevation and three hours' hard climb from everywhere, but in spite of the fact that almost the very first question asked by everyone was 'Isn't it awfully lonesome up there?' I never felt a moment's longing to retrace the step, that is, not after the first half hour following my sister's departure with the pack animals, when I had a chance to look around. Of course I had been on the peak before during my early rambles, but had never thought of it as a possible home. One of my pet dreams had always been of a log cabin, and here was an ideal one, brand new the summer before, and indoors as cozy as could be wished; while outdoors, all outdoors, was a grander dooryard than any estate in the land could boast; and, oh, what a prospect of glorious freedom from four walls and a time clock! 

    “Klamath Peak is not really a peak in the conventional sense of the word, but as can be seen from the picture, is rather the culmination of a long series of ridges running up from the watersheds of the north and south forks of the Salmon River. Its central location in the district makes it, however, an ideal spot for a station. I can think of no better description of it than the hub of a wheel with the lines of ridges as spokes, and an unbroken rim of peaks circling around it; some eternally snow capped, and most all of them higher than itself. 

    "To the east, a shoulder of snowy Shasta and an unseen neighbor lookout on Eagle Peak; further to the south, the high jagged edge of Trinity County and, just discernible with the glasses, a shining new cabin on Packers Peak; in the west, behind Orleans Mountain with its ever watchful occupant, a faint glimpse of the shining Pacific showing with a favorable sunset; and all in between, a seeming wilderness of ridges and gulches, making up what is said to be one of the finest continuous views in this western country. 

    “However that may be, it was certainly a never-ending pleasure to search its vast acres for new beauties at every changing hour, from sunrise to sunrise again. 

    "Added to the view was a constantly spreading, gaily tinted carpet of flowers to the very edges of the snow banks. These all summer and then the gorgeous autumn coloring on the hillsides later on, when the whole country seemed one vast Persian rug. 

    "Bird and animal life was also very plentiful, filling the air with songs and chatter; coming to the doorstep for food, and often invading the cabin itself. I positively declined owning a cat on account of its destructive intentions on small life, — a pair of owls proving satisfactory as mouse catchers, and being amusing neighbors as well. Several deer often fed around evenings; there was a small bear down near the spring, besides several larger ones whose tracks I often saw on the trail; and a couple of porcupines also helped to keep from being lonesome, by using various means to find a way into the cabin at night. 

    "All these animals being harmless, it had never been my custom to carry a gun in so-called western fashion, until one morning I discovered a big panther track out on the trail, and then in deference to my family's united request, I buckled on the orthodox weapon, which had been accumulating dust on the cabin shelf, and proceeded to be picturesque, but to no avail, as the beast did not again return. 

    "At many of the stations the question of wood and water is a serious one on account of the elevation; but I was especially favored, as wood lies about in all shapes and quantities, only waiting for an ax to convert it into suitable lengths; and water unlimited could be melted from the snow banks which lingered until the last of July, although it did seem a little odd to go for water with a shovel in addition to a bucket. Later the supply was packed in canvas sacks from a spring about a mile away in the timber. This was always a job sought for by anyone coming up on horseback; and thanks to the kindly efforts of the guards who passed that way, and my few visitors, it was always easy to keep the kettle boiling. So I did not need a horse myself, there being, contrary to the general impression, no patrol work in connection with look- out duties, and my sister bringing up my supplies and mail from home every week, a distance of nine miles. 

    "The daily duties of life on top were small, merely consisting of an early morning and late evening tramp of half a mile to the point of the ridge where the trees obscured the north view from the cabin; and a constant watch on all sides for a trace of smoke, a watch which soon became a sort of instinct, often awaking one in the night for a look around; for I soon came to feel that the lookout was, what one friend so aptly called it, 'an ounce of prevention.' Then there were the three daily reports to the district headquarters in town, to prove that everything was serene, also the extra reports if they were not; and a little, very little, house-work to do. 

    "Taking it all in all, not a very busy day, as judged by modern standards of rush, but a lookout's motto might well be 'They also serve who only stand and wait,' and there was always the great map spread out at one's feet to study by new lights and shadows while waiting, and the ever busy phone with its numerous calls, which must be kept within hearing, so one could not wander far. 

    "That phone, with its gradually extending feelers through the district, made me feel exactly like a big spider in the center of a web, with the fires for flies; and those fires were certainly treated to exactly the speedy fate of the other unworthy pests. Through all the days up to the close of the term on November 6th, when a light fall of snow put an end to all danger of fires, there was an ever growing sense of responsibility which finally came to be almost a feeling of proprietorship, resulting in the desire to punish anyone careless enough to set fires in my dooryard. 

    "The utter dependence on the telephone was brought vividly to my mind one afternoon, soon after my arrival, when an extra heavy electrical storm which broke close by caused one of the lightning arresters on the outside of the cabin to burn out, quite contrary to precedent, and I was cut off from the world till the next day, when someone from the office came up in haste to find out the cause of the silence and set things aright. They often joke now about expecting to have found me hidden under some log for safety, but it wasn't quite so funny then. 

    "However, there seems to be very little actual danger from these storms, in spite of the fact that they are very heavy and numerous at that elevation. One soon becomes accustomed to the racket. But in the damage they cause starting fires lies their chief interest to the lookout, for it requires a quick eye to detect, in among the rags of fog which arise in their wake, the small puff of smoke which tells of some tree struck in a burnable spot. Generally it shows at once, but in one instance there was a lapse of nearly two weeks before the fall of the smouldering top fanned up enough smoke to be seen. 

    "At night the new fires show up like tiny candle flames, and are easily spotted against the dark background of the ridges, but are not so easy to exactly locate for an immediate report. Upon the speed and accuracy of this report, however, the efficiency of the Service depends, as was proven by the summer's record of extra small acreage burned in spite of over forty fires reported. 

    "To the electrical storms are easily attributed most of our present-day fires, as traveler and citizen alike are daily feeling more responsible for the preservation of the riches bestowed by nature, and although some still hold to the same views as one old timer, who recently made the comment, when lightning fires were being discussed, 'that he guessed that was the Almighty's way of clearing out the forest,' the general trend of opinion seems to be that man, in the form of the Forest Service, is doing an excellent work in keeping a watchful eye on the limits of that hitherto wholesale clearing. A good work and long may it prosper, is the earnest wish of one humble unit, who thanks the men of the Service one and all, for the courtesy and consideration which gave her the happiest summer of her life."  

     Next: A most uncommon common dime 

    Dime series: A coin for a man without a country

    April 18, 2017 5:26 PM by

    A coin for a man without a country

    I SUPPOSE that very few casual readers of the “New York Herald” of August 13, 1863, observed, in an obscure corner, among the “Deaths,” the announcement, —

    “NOLAN. Died, on board U. S. Corvette ‘Levant,’ Lat. 2° 11' S., Long. 131° W., on the 11th of May, PHILIP NOLAN.” ...

    There are hundreds of readers who would have paused at that announcement, if the officer of the “Levant” who reported it had chosen to make it thus: “Died, May 11, THE MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY.”    The Man Without a Country

      Edward Everett Hale wrote The Man Without a Country in 1863 to promote patriotism in the North during the Civil War. The fictional short story told the tale of Army Lt. Philip Nolan who is court martial for joining Aaron Burr in an early 19th century plot against the United States.

    At his sentencing, Hale wrote, “he cried out, in a fit of frenzy, ‘Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again.’”

    His wish was granted

    Hale wrote:

      “Prisoner, hear the sentence of the Court! The Court decides, subject to the approval of the President, that you never hear the name of the United States again.”

    Nolan laughed. But nobody else laughed. Old Morgan (who was holding the court) was too solemn, and the whole room was hushed dead as night for a minute. Even Nolan lost his swagger in a moment. Then Morgan added,—

    “Mr. Marshal, take the prisoner to Orleans in an armed boat, and deliver him to the naval commander there.”

    The marshal gave his orders and the prisoner was taken out of court.

    “Mr. Marshal,” continued old Morgan, “see that no one mentions the United States to the prisoner. Mr. Marshal, make my respects to Lieutenant Mitchell at Orleans, and request him to order that no one shall mention the United States to the prisoner while he is on board ship. You will receive your written orders from the officer on duty here this evening. The court is adjourned without day.”

      For the next 50 years Nolan served his sentence aboard a succession of ships, never to hear the words United States of America again until he was on his deathbed.

    Hale makes no mention of the coins Nolan could have used during his confinement, but there is only one option the pattern 1859 half dimes and dimes struck with an 1859 obverse and an 1860 reverse.

    The 1859 obverse shows a Seated Liberty surrounded by 13 stars and the date. The 1860 reverse shows a wreath of cereals (corn and wheat as well as oak and maple leaves) and the denomination.  

    Neither side says UNITED STATES OF AMERICA making the coin without a country the perfect piece for the man without a country.

    An estimated 12 to 15 such coins exist, all in Proof.  Their origin is a mystery. However, they are generally believed to be what researcher Walter Breen called “pieces de caprice” coined at the direction of either Mint Director James Ross Snowden in 1860 or Mint Director Henry Linderman as late as 1868, like so many other pattern coins of the period, for sale to favored collectors.

    The coins, which by tradition are collected as part of the regular-issue Seated Liberty dime set, have a value in Coin World’s Coin Values of $15,000 in Proof 63 and $40,000 in Proof 66.

      Next: The ice cream dime

    One thin dime

    April 13, 2017 6:03 PM by
    One thin dime won’t buy much now. But, time was when a dime would buy a Coke, a comic book, a phone call at a pay phone or play Teresa Brewer’s 1950 78-rpm record “Music! Music! Music!”   not once but twice on a jukebox:


    Put another nickel in

    In the nickelodeon

    All I want is having you

    And music, music, music


    By 1986 when Reba McEntire recorded the song “One Thin Dime,” 78s had been replaced by 45s, and 45s were being replaced by CDs. A jukebox song cost a quarter dollar then, but pay phones, at least in song, were still a dime.

    Mcentire sang:


    One thin dime

    Is all it takes

    When you need someone who cares

    These arms of mine

    Are always open

    One thin dime is all you need

    And I'll be there


    With the rise of cell phones since the 1990s, pay phones have become an endangered species. Dimes aren’t as useful as they used to be.

    When the United States Mint produced the first dime in 1796 – spelled disme then – the coin marked a radical departure from earlier English (pounds, shillings, pence) and Spanish (8 reals and its subdivisions) monetary systems.

    Since the colonies were mostly English in origin, the British system of 12 pence to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound prevailed across much of North America. Competing with it, primarily because of the sheer abundance of Mexican and South American coins, was the Spanish colonial system, in which a silver dollar-size coin was divided into eight real.

    The Spanish milled dollar and its divisions were widely used across the Americas and translated easily to the fledgling decimal system, with an 8-real coin equaling $1 and a 2-real coin roughly equaling a quarter dollar.

    However, the commonly used 1 real coin, or bit, was equal to 12.5 cents U.S. The dime was an awkward fit and would not be fully integrated into commerce until 1857 when the Spanish colonial coins were no longer recognized as legal tender in the United States.

    The real denomination – 1/8th of a dollar – actually hung on in the stock market until the start of this millennium. Stocks were priced by the eighth of a dollar until April 9, 2001, when the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered the nation’s stock exchanges to convert to decimal pricing.

    Next: A coin for the man without a country

    1/20 of a dollar: Speculation gone mad

    March 27, 2017 4:30 PM by
    The rarestcoin in America might very well be a circulated 1950-D Jefferson 5-cent piece.

    In the 1950sand ’60s, coin collecting boomed. Children filled blue Whitman folders withchange from circulation. Mindful of rapidly rising prices, investors boughtcoins by the roll and bag.

    When collectorslearned that the Denver Mint produced only 2.6 million nickels in 1950,investors jumped. The 1950-D 5-cent piece was rarer than the series’ key, the1939-D 5-cent piece, which had a mintage of 3.5 million.

    In 1962, A Guide Book of United States Coins (theRed Book) gave the coin a value of $5 in Uncirculated condition and placed anasterisk beside it, indicating the value was speculative. The value jumped to$6.50 a year later and kept climbing.

    If the 1939-D 5-centpiece was worth $40 in Uncirculated condition, the reasoning went, the rarer1950-D 5-cent piece will be worth more.

    The coin washoarded from the start. Researcher and dealer Q. David Bowers has written thata Milwaukee dealer amassed 8,000 rolls (320,000 coins) and that a Texas dealeracquired about 1 million coins, which he sold to investors through ads in Numismatic Scrapbook magazine andwholesaled to dealers for years.

    In his 1964book, The Profit March of Your CoinInvestment 1935-1971, author George Haylings called the 1950-D 5-cent piece “The king of all rolls! Number one on the ‘top’ list! Without adoubt the gilt-edged security in the coin investment field. I am predictingthat the price will be $10,000 per roll … in 1971.” 

    Not even close.

    In November1964, Denver dealer Walter Laub was offering the coin through advertisements inThe Numismatist for $925 a roll —$23.12 apiece.

    Laub’s pricedropped to $525 a roll in 1966, $450 in 1967 and $310 in 1972.

    When I was aboy I knew a jeweler who “invested” in the coin at $700 a roll in the early1960s and never saw his money again. If he ever sold, it was likely at lessthan half his investment.

    The coinbecame a dog as investors realized that the market wasn’t deep enough to createdemand for 2.6 million Brilliant Uncirculated nickels. On the bourse floor, thecoin kept dropping. I remember seeing the coin at $10, then $7.50 and finally$5, where it seemed to find a support level. Today, the coin tends to be pricedat $10 to $15, with few takers.

    In his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and ColonialCoins, Walter Breen, now deceased, wrote about the 1950-D 5-cent piece,“Rarely found circulated. Most of the mintage went in rolls and bags tospeculators.”

    That’s why acirculated 1950-D 5-cent piece might just be the rarest coin in America.

    1/20 of a dollar: The nickel that doesn’t officially exist

    March 17, 2017 4:27 PM by
    Millions of Americans were enticed into buying B. Max Mehl’s $1-a-copy Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia during the Great Depression by ads Mehl plastered nationwide offering to pay $50 (nearly $1,000 in today’s money) for a 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent piece.

    The book, which was issued through the 1950s, ostensibly listed the prices the Texas coin dealer would pay for rare coins, but mostly it was a way for Mehl to make money by selling books. The $1 price in 1932, for example, is equal to almost $18 today.

    Mehl never had to pay off on his advertising because only five 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent pieces were minted, and Mehl knew where they all were.

    The coin doesn’t official exist. Mint records show coinage of Liberty Head 5-cent pieces ceased at Philadelphia on Dec. 12, 1912.  Mint Director George H. Roberts advised Philadelphia Mint Supt. John H. Landis, “Do nothing about the 5 cent coinage for 1913 until the new (Indian Head) designs are ready for use.” The first Indian Head 5-cent pieces were struck Feb. 21, 1913.

    Nonetheless five 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent pieces were clandestinely produced, likely at the request of mint storekeeper Samuel W. Brown. Brown kept quiet about his coins until December 1919 when he placed an ad in The Numismatist offering to pay $500 ($12,250 in today’s money) for one.

    The next year he showed up at the American Numismatic Association convention with one and offered to pay $600 apiece for any more. He later apparently sold or consigned his five coins to Philadelphia coin dealer August Wagner.

    In 1924 Wagner placed an ad in The Numismatist offering the five for sale. The price, not stated in the ad, was a reported $2,000 ($28,000 in today’s money. The nation experienced terrible inflation during World War I, causing the value of money to decrease by more than 50 percent).

    Legendary collector Col. E.H.R. Green ended up with them in the mid-1920s. After Green’s death in 1936, the coins once again entered the numismatic marketplace and were widely dispersed.

    Today, the rare coin sells for north of $3 million on the rare occasion that one is offered at auction.

      Next: Speculation gone mad

    1/20 of a dollar: The con man’s coin

    March 10, 2017 4:24 PM by
    The seeds for the debacle were planted in 1881 by Philadelphia Mint Supt. A. Loudon Snowden. Mint Engraver Charles E. Barber nurtured it to fruition over the next two years.

    Snowden wanted the Mint to the shrink the cent, slightly enlarge the nickel 3-cent and 5-cent pieces and strike all three in an alloy of 75 percent copper, 25 percent nickel.

    Snowden reportedly wrote that year, “I have recommended and shall earnestly advocate the adoption by Congress of a comprehensive plan or system which will bring order out of chaos and establish what should long since have been fixed, to wit, a simple yet comprehensive plan under which all the coinage should range itself.

    First. I would have uniformity of alloy

    Second. Due proportions of weight in each piece

    Third. Uniformity of device

    Fourth. Due proportions in the sizes of thecoins.”

    The obverse, he wrote, would include “a classical head of Liberty, surrounded by the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the date below. On the reverse, I would have a wreath composed of wheat, corn and cotton, products of the country, surrounding the Roman V, III, I on the 5, 3 and 1-cent pieces respectively.”

    Barber executed Snowden’s directions, producing a series of patterns in 1881, 1882 and 1883.

    The copper nickel cent and revised 3-cent piece died aborning, but the 5-cent piece made it to production.

    In his 1883 Director of the Mint Report, Horatio C. Burchard reported, “It seeming probable that the coinage of a considerable number of these coins (5-cent pieces) would be required, the superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint believed it to be a favorable opportunity for issuing a coin more artistic in its appearance and execution, having the same weight but an increased diameter, and more nearly complying, as to devices and legends, with the requirements of the law.

    “Specimen coins were accordingly prepared by him and submitted to the Director of the Mint and the Secretary of the Treasury, and on the 8th of January, 1883, he was authorized to issue coins of the weight, size, and having the devices proposed.“

    The larger Liberty head 5-cent piece replaced the smaller Shield nickel. The new coin had a diameter of 21.2mm, nearly 2mm larger than the 20.5mm Shield 5-cent piece. 

    However, a fatal flaw was in the details. The Shield 5-cent piece recorded the denomination as 5 CENTS. The new coin, in accord with Snowden’s directive, had a big V on the reverse, but the word CENTS was nowhere to be found.

    The new coin, too, was close to the size of the $5 gold piece, which differed imperceptibly at 21.6mm.

    It didn’t take sharpies long to figure out that they could gold-plate the 5-cent piece and pass it off as a $5 gold piece. The gold-plated coin, called a racketeer’s nickel by collectors, has taken on a life of its own and now occupies a unique place in the folklore of numismatics.

    For decades, collectors repeated the story of Josh Tatum, a deaf mute who supposedly passed off the gold-plated nickels as $5 gold pieces but avoided prosecution because he never said the coins were half eagles. The story, since debunked, goes that Tatum would place a gold-plated coin on the counter in payment for an item costing a penny or two and pocket whatever change was offered, even if it was $4.99.

    Researchers have concluded that the story was made up of whole cloth sometime in the 1960s and repeated as gospel ever since.

    While Tatum turned out to be fraud, the underlying fact that con men gold plated the coins was recently confirmed by archaeologists digging in Deadwood, S.D.’s, Chinatown.

    Among a cache of some 200 coins excavated in 2009 was a gold-plated Liberty Head 5-cent piece.

    In mid-1883, after some 5.5 million NO CENTS coins had been minted, Barber revised the reverse, placing the word CENTS below the V. Another 16 million with CENTS coins were produced that year.

    Rumors circulated that the No CENTS coins would be recalled, prompting the citizenry to hoard the coins. Today the No CENTS coins are readily available in all grades.

    Cataloging just $33 in MS-60 condition, it is the least expensive Uncirculated 19th-century United States coin issued for general circulation.

    Next: The nickel that doesn’t officially exist

    1/20 of a dollar: The first nickel nickel

    February 28, 2017 3:04 PM by
    The first nickel wasn’t worth a nickel.

    Almost a decade before the U.S. Mint started striking nickel 5-cent pieces, the Mint struck nickel cents.

    When the Mint discontinued the prohibitively costly copper large cents in 1857, it replaced them with smaller coins (the same diameter as today’s cents, but thicker) that were white in color, superficially resembling silver.

    The new Flying Eagle cents, which were 88 percent copper and 12 percent nickel, were immediately and immensely popular. In his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, researcher Walter Breen said the new small cents were commonly called nickels or nicks.

    Coinage all but disappeared from circulation at the outset of the Civil War, replaced by fractional currency   notes in denominations from 3 cents to 50 cents. As the war wound down, the government sought to replace the shinplasters with coins. With silver still not circulating, the Mint turned to nickel coins to replace the tiny 3-cent silver piece in 1865 and the silver half dime in 1866. (Curiously, the Mint also produced silver versions of the coins for a few years after the introduction of the nickel coins. Mint Director James Pollock viewed nickel coins as temporary expedients that would eventually be replaced in turn with silver coins once gold and silver traded at par again with paper money.)

    In mid-1864, after noticing that the public readily accepted small sized copper Civil War tokens in commerce, the Mint switched from copper-nickel cents to copper coins. The 3-cent piece, which never enjoyed great popularity, was last struck in any quantity in 1881, leaving the 5-cent piece as the last nickel coin   the nickel nickel.

    The 1866 5-cent pieces were struck on 75 percent copper-25 percent nickel planchets, the same composition as today’s 5-cent coins.

    The first nickel nickels were graceless affairs, showing a shield on the obverse and a large 5 on the reverse. But the Shield 5-cent piece was produced for 21 years, replaced in mid-1883 with the fatally flawed Liberty Head or “V” 5-cent piece.

    Next: The con man’s coin

    ​1/20 of a dollar: A small beginning

    February 17, 2017 5:16 PM by

    The United States was a new nation, not yet 20 years old, when the U.S. Mint set up temporary shop in the cellar of a Philadelphia saw factory in the summer of 1792 and began striking tiny silver coins in the name of the United States of America.

    Despite the lack of documentary evidence, the late Richard Doty, Smithsonian Institution senior numismatic curator, believed George and Martha Washington were present when the 1792 half dismes were struck.

    "To do your own coinage," Doty told me years ago,"I think the Washingtons would have wanted to be there for the occasion." The event, real or not, is depicted on John Ward Dunsmore’s 1914 painting “Inspecting the First Coinage” and on the Mint’s 1992 bicentennial medal.

    The half disme shows Liberty on the obverse and a scrawny eagle on the reverse. The words UNI STATES OF AMERICA arch above the eagle.

    Doty said the tiny silver coin is important because "coinage is an attribute of sovereignty. This is a literal manifestation of sovereignty."

    In his annual message to Congress that year, Washington discussed the Mint and mentioned its “small beginning.”

    He said, "In execution of authority given by the legislature, measures have been taken for engaging some artists from abroad to aid in the establishment of our Mint. Others have been employed at home. Provisions have been made for the requisite buildings, and these are now putting into proper condition for the purposes of the establishment. There has been a small beginning in the coinage of half dimes, the want of small coins incirculation calling the first attention to them."

    Those half dismes, with their archaic spelling of the word dime, cramped lettering and intimate connection to George Washington occupy a special place in the hearts of collectors. Even battered, holed and badly worn pieces will fetch $10,000.

    Legends that have grown over the centuries increase the coin’s desirability. By some accounts, the coins show Martha Washington on theobverse and were struck on silver provided by George Washington himself.

    Congress originally wanted a portrait of George Washington on the nation’s coins, but he rejected the idea as too monarchical — althoughthe legend persists that Martha Washington was the model for Liberty.

    The silver, some believe with good reason, came from melting down the president’s tableware.

    In 1844 an aging Adam Eckfeldt, chief coiner in 1792, reportedly said the coins were struck expressly for Washington on silver he provided in bullion or coin.

    Next: The first nickel nickel


    1/20th of a dollar

    February 13, 2017 11:38 AM by


    In 1913, the world famously needed a good five-cent cigar. Today it could stand a good five-cent nickel.

    The five-cent piece, an odd duck in a decimal system, has been part of America’s coinage since the beginning. When the Mint began operation in 1792, the silver half-disme was the first coin out.

    In 1866, the coin shifted to 75 percent nickel and 25 percent copper, a composition that’s held steady for the past 150 years, with a brief detour to a silvery alloy during World War II.

    For the next several weeks, this blog will look at the history of the 1/20th of a dollar coin in a story that recounts the Mint’s first numismatic declaration of sovereignty, the importance of appearances in hard money days and speculation gone mad a half century ago.

    The five-cent cigar quip dates from around 1913 to 1915 and is attributed to Thomas Riley Marshall, Woodrow Wilson’s vice president.

    The story goes that Marshall made the witty remark to a buddy while a verbose senator went on and on about what the country does and does not need. There are several stories about the statement’s genesis. This is my favorite. It comes from the June 20, 1925, issue of the long-gone Literary Digest.

    During the eight years of his [Marshall’s] Vice-Presidency in the two Wilson administrations, and correlatively, as President of the Senate, he had many an opportunity to demonstrate his ready, kindly wit. Once the Senate was indulging itself with an endless, tiresome symposium of oratory as to the welfare of the nation. Senator after senator got up, delivered himself of his views as to what would cure the ills of the body politic. Mr. Marshall was patience itself. But one Senator, more verbose than any of his colleagues, went on and on and on. Finally Mr. Marshall leaned over to the Secretary of the Senate and said in a voice which must have reached the loquacious speaker: "What this country really needs is a good five-cent cigar!"

    Today, the U.S. could use a good five-cent nickel. The Mint spends eight cents to make each one. The nickel has cost more than a nickel to produce for the last decade, from a spike of slightly more than 11 cents in 2011.

    Next: A small beginning

    A PENNY STORY COLLECTION: The cent so good they made it twice

    January 27, 2017 12:16 PM by
    The year 1804 is an auspicious year in American numismatics. The 1804 dollar (never mind that it wasn’t struck until decades later) is a major rarity, generally known as the king of American coins. The lowly cent of that year is a remarkable coin, too. It was so good they made it twice.

    In the early days of the U.S. Mint, the date on a coin didn’t necessarily mean the year the coin was struck. It meant the year the die was created. Dies were used until they wore out, regardless of the date on them. Until around 1800 to 1802, it didn’t matter much, because most dies didn’t last that long. But, when the Mint switched to better steel, die life improved dramatically.

    While some 756,838 cents were produced in 1804, all but a comparative handful were dated 1803 or before. Only one cent die was produced in 1804. That die failed in service, after striking an estimated perhaps 60,000 coins.

    Today the 1804 cent is scarce, all but unknown in uncirculated condition. A coin graded About Uncirculated 55 by Professional Coin Grading Service sold for $223,250 in 2012.

    Grading of early coppers can be a contentious issue, with one person’s Fine being another’s Extra Fine.

    Early collectors found the coin so difficult to obtain that, some time about 1860, unknown collectors, perhaps Joseph Mickley and Edward Cogan, produced their own from worn-out dies the Mint had sold as scrap years before.

    The recoiners altered an 1803 obverse die to 1804 and married it to a reverse of 1820 to produce what collectors call the 1804 “restrike.”

    The coin, which is usually found in high grade, is a beloved novelty with a prominent obverse die crack and widespread rust. It sells for about $1,100 in Mint State 60.

    It’s the coin so good they made it twice.

    The Lincoln cent and anti-Semitism

    January 23, 2017 12:41 PM by

    For more than a century collectors have been asking: Was Victor David Brenner, the man who designed the most popular coin in the history of the world, denied his due in 1909 because he was Jewish?

    The 1909 Lincoln cent, part of President Theodore Roosevelt’s impressive redesign of the nation’s coins in the early 1900s, is the first regular-issue United States coin to show a real person. The coin was wildly popular. In New York City, police were called to keep order Aug. 2, 1909, as crowds pressed in on the Sub-treasury building on Wall St. where the coins were being distributed. Newsboys who braved long lines hawked their treasures at three for a nickel, nearly doubling their money.

    While engravers have been signing their numismatic work since antiquity, Brenner’s initials – V.D.B. at the bottom of the reverse – drew fire at the start as too large and too prominent and, perhaps, too Jewish.

    Treasury Secretary Franklin MacVeagh had signed off on the design months before the coin's release, but when pressed about the initials said he had not noticed the offending V.D.B. Three days after the coin was released, he ordered production halted and the initials remove, but not before 28 million cents had been struck at Philadelphia and 484,000 at San Francisco.

    Over the years, darker motives have been ascribed to the removal of the initials. Brenner was a private medalist and a Jewish immigrant. Mint employees, particularly Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber, chafed at seeing outsiders work on U.S. coins and fought using them at every turn. Some numismatists believe, too, that anti-Semitism might have played a part in the decision to remove Brenner s initials.

    Immigrants, especially Jewish immigrants, were none too popular in the United States in the early 1900s. Poor, non-Christian and following strange customs, Jewish immigrants made easy targets for that era’s anti-immigrant crowd. The Immigration Act of 1924, which limited immigrants to 2 percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States in 1890, pretty much shut the door on Jewish immigration for decades.

    Brenner, born Viktoras Baranauskas in his native Lithuania, was unmistakably Jewish.

    Acting on rumors the VDB cents would be recalled and destroyed, people hoarded the coins. The San Francisco coin is a key to the series, retailing for $610 in Good condition. The Philadelphia coin costs much less – just $9 in Good – but comes with the same story.

    Brenner’s profile of Lincoln has appeared on hundreds of billions of cents during the past 107 years. It is believed to be the most reproduced piece of art in the history of the world.

    In 1918, the year after Barber died, Brenner’s initials were returned to the coin in letters so small you need a magnifying glass to see them on the beveled edge at the base of Lincoln's portrait. They remain there today.

      Next: The cent that was so good they made it twice


    Fooling the public

    January 6, 2017 2:31 PM by
    In the early years of the United States, coins were supposed to contain full value in metal. Cents were reduced in weight in 1795 after the price of copper rose. The precious metal content of silver coins was periodically changed, each time noted with the addition of arrows beside the date. Gold coins were adjusted downward in 1834.

    By the 1850s, the Mint was losing money on large cents. Each one contained more than a cent’s worth of copper. The Mint experimented with tiny, holed, 10 percent silver coins in 1850 and 1851 and copper-nickel cents featuring a shrunken Seated Liberty on the obverse in 1854.

    By 1856, the Mint had settled on copper-nickel cents with a flying eagle on the obverse and an agricultural wreath on the reverse. The Mint figured that even though the coins did not contain their full value in metal, the white color would be close enough to silver that the public would accept them. The Mint also sweetened the deal by agreeing to accept worn out Spanish colonial reales silver coins that formed the backbone of the nation’s monetary supply during much of its early years at full value, if the seller agreed to accept payment in copper-nickel cents.

    In his groundbreaking 1959 book, United States Pattern, Experimental and Trial Pieces, Dr. J Hewitt Judd reported, “After the dies for the flying eagle cent were prepared Mr. [James Ross] Snowden wrote to Mr. [Treasury Secretary James] Guthrie on Dec. 4, 1856 as follows: ‘Sir, I have caused a few hundred specimens of the proposed new cent to be struck. It would probably aid us in our efforts to deliver the Country from the present large and unsightly coin if a specimen were furnished to each member of Congress. If you concur in this suggestion I will deliver the department from the trouble of distributing them and send them to the Members of Congress, or transmit them to you for distribution if you prefer that course.

    No one knows how many 1856 Flying Eagle cents were struck, though the number is widely estimated at 1,000 to 2,500 enough to make the pattern collectable as part of the regular-issue Flying Eagle cent series.

    PCGS Price Guide Editor Jaime Hernandez noted for the 1856 cent entry in Coin Facts, “Whatever the exact figure is, one thing is for certain. There has never been enough coins in existence to meet the high demand. One of the clearest indications of the 1856 Flying Eagle cent’s popularity is the prices they command when they do become available. Even in the lowest grades such as Good-4, most examples will command thousands of dollars and even much more when they remain in higher condition.”

    The coin, too, was the object of desire of hoarders. Atlantic City collector R.B. Leeds acquired 109 pieces, which were sold with his collection in 1906. Detroit collector and ANA Secretary George W. Rice accumulated 756 specimens in the late 1800s and early 1900s. When his hoard was dispersed in 1911, Pittsburgh collector John Andrew Beck bought many of them.

    Beck, who died in 1924, had some 531 of the elusive pieces. His descendants sold his collection/hoard about 50 years later, in the mid-1970s.

    Beck’s coins were gobbled up by collectors. Researcher/coin dealer Q. David Bowers noted in a 2013 Stack’s Bowers blog entry, “ It was thought that the availability of hundreds of pieces would dampen the market, but the opposite proved to be true. The coin hobby was in a period of great strength at the time, all of the 1856 Flying Eagle cents found ready buyers, and the price increased!”

    Today, the 1856 coin has a Coin Values listing of $6,500 in Good condition. Coin prices for some examples have pierced the $90,000 mark.

    When the Flying Eagle cent was officially released the following year, it proved popular with the public. Cents were needed in commerce, but no one liked handling the old heavy large cent. The white color, too, eased acceptance.

    Next: The Lincoln Cent and anti-Semitism