• Gerry Tebben

    Five Facts

    Gerald Tebben goes behind the scenes and explores many offbeat trails in bringing to the forefront the long-lost information that makes coins so special in "Coin Lore."

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    • Eleven cents, and a buck and a quarter

      Feb 9, 2018, 16:45 PM by
      Each side of this mule carries the denomination — QUARTER DOLLAR on the obverse and ONE DOLLAR on the reverse — making the coin a $1.25 piece

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      The Mint has never purposefully struck 11-cent coins or $1.25 pieces, but they exist nonetheless and are avidly collected.

      On rare occasions, perhaps by accident, perhaps on purpose, dies are mismatched when they’re placed in coinage presses an obverse die for one denomination is paired with the reverse die of a different denomination.

      For this to happen the coins must be similar in size, limiting the possibilities to 11-cent coins coins from paired dime and cent dies and $1.25 coins coins from paired quarter dollar and dollar dies.

      The errors, called mules by collectors, are extraordinary scarce and sell for $50,000 and up.

      In 2010, Heritage Auctions sold a pair of cent-dime mules a 1993-D cent obverse paired with a dime reverse on a cent planchet and a 1995 cent obverse with a dime reverse on a dime planchet.

      Heritage’s listing for the 1995 coin notes, “An astounding mint error that prior to the 1990s was believed impossible to occur. Only the narrow difference in die diameter between the cent and dime makes it plausible that a busy mint worker could erroneously pair dies of different denominations. Most likely, a press run was made from this die pairing and detected by an inspector, possibly the operator of the mint press. Perhaps the entire batch was melted, aside from the present coin.”

      In 2000 the collecting world was startled to learn that the Mint had produced mules that married the obverse of a State quarter dollar with the Soaring Eagle reverse of the just-released golden Sacagawea dollar. Each side of this mule carries the denomination QUARTER DOLLAR on the obverse and ONE DOLLAR on the reverse making the coin a $1.25 piece.

      The error was first reported to the numismatic community in May 2000 by Frank Wallis from Mountain View, Arkansas, who found an example in a 25-coin roll of Uncirculated Sacagawea dollars from First National Bank & Trust.

      While collectors across the country checked their change for the coins, only 15 have been found to date. New Mexico collector Tommy Bolack has gobbled up most of the coins as they came on the market, currently owning 11 of the 15 pieces. He has paid as much as $117,500 for a coin in 2014. (Bolack was an under-bidder on the same coin when it went on the auction block in 2012. Bolack dropped out at $100,000 as the piece soared to $155,250.)

      The various $1.25 pieces are believed to have been struck from three different pairs of dies. Coin World has reported, “The presence of more than a single die pair would suggest that production of the errors was prolonged and the initial mintages sizeable.”

      It’s interesting to speculate if any more or out there, lying in unsearched rolls or bags of the millennium dollars.

    • A quarter century too late

      Feb 2, 2018, 17:19 PM by
      After its inception in 1854, out of the blue, Charles Barber cut dies in 1877 for a pair of half-union patterns, from which single gold pattern coins and a handful of copper pieces were struck, including this gilt-copper example.

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      The $50 gold piece is an on-again, off-again denomination that was struck for various purposes over more than 150 years. It can all be traced to the California Gold Rush. 

      Gold dust and nuggets were everywhere in California during the early years of the Gold Rush, but coins were scarce. Into the void stepped numerous private mints and the United States Assay Office. The provisional government Mint struck $10 eagles and $20 double eagles but is most known for its massive $50 gold pieces, each one weighing about 2 ½ ounces. 

      The coins circulated widely and were especially beloved by bankers because in an area where paper money was not welcome, the hockey pucks made it easier to keep accounts. 

      When the San Francisco Mint opened in 1854, local bankers petitioned the government to keep the denomination. Treasury Secretary James Guthrie recommended that Congress authorize the coining of $100 gold coins, to be called “unions”; $50 coins to be called “half unions” and $25 coins to be called “quarter unions.” 

      The issue passed the Senate on June 16, 1854, but never surfaced in the House. 

      The half union lay dormant for more than 25 years until 1877 when, out of the blue, Charles Barber cut dies for a pair of half-union patterns. A single gold pattern and a handful of copper pieces were struck from each die. 

      The patterns featured a Coronet Head Liberty on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. The two patterns, which have a checkered ownership history, were identical except for the size of Liberty on the obverse. 

      Researcher Don Taxay theorized that Mint Director H.R. Linderman, a coin collector, ordered the coins produced for his own use. 

      No unions, which would have weighed about 5 ounces, or quarter unions were produced and nothing came of the pattern $50 gold pieces. 

      In 1915, the denomination enjoyed a brief respite when a few hundred commemorative $50 gold pieces were struck as part of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition celebration. Since 1986, United States 1-ounce gold bullion pieces have been nominally denominated as $50 pieces, but there was never a thought that these round pieces would actually circulate as coins, especially because the denomination minted into its design is about 1/25 of the piece’s value as metal. 

      Next: Eleven cents and a buck and quarter

    • Stanley Kowalski’s coin

      Jan 29, 2018, 16:30 PM by
      With a mintage of slightly more than 400 pieces, the 1879 Flowing Hair Stella is the most common $4 gold piece.

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      Stanley Kowalski, famous for the line, “Stella, Stella, hey Stella!” in Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire, likely never heard of the coin Stella. 

      Stellas, or $4 gold pieces, were produced nearly three fourths of a century before Stanley and Stella took up residence in the French Quarter, and none were produced in New Orleans. 

      In the 1870s, John A. Kasson had a history, a title to be reckoned with, and a plan. He had served six terms as a congressman representing southwest Iowa before deciding not to run again in 1876. Among other duties while serving in congress, he was chairman of the House Committee of Coinage, Weights, and Measures. After leaving Congress, President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Austria-Hungary. 

      What the world needs now, Kasson told his boss, Secretary of State William Maxwell Evarts, is an international gold coin, one that would flow easily from nation to nation. Convertibility was big in Europe, with the Austrian 8 florin, Dutch 8 florin, French 20 franc, Italian 20 lire and Spanish 20 peseta coins all being equal in value. 

      The House coinage committee signed on, designating the new international coin a Stella. 

      While the foreign coins were worth $3.88 U.S., the United States never tried to match the European coins exactly. Instead, it opted for a $4 coin, which proved not close enough for a cigar. 

      The Stella showed Liberty on the obverse surrounded by 13 stars separating each letter of the legend 6G .3S .7C 7GRAMS, giving its metallic content as 6 grams of gold, 0.3 grams of silver and 0.7 grams of copper. A large star dominated the reverse center. 

      Charles E. Barber and George T. Morgan both took a crack at Liberty on the obverse. Barber’s showed Liberty with flowing hair. Morgan’s had coiled hair. Both types were struck in 1879 and 1880, but most bore Barber’s flowing hair design and the date 1879. 

      In 1879, the Mint made up 15 sets of three pattern coins – a silver dollar, a patented gold alloy dollar and a gold Flowing Hair Stella – for coinage committee review. Congressmen were invited purchase the coins at $6.50 a set. The sets proved so popular that the Mint struck about 400 more. Unsold sets were offered to connected collectors in subsequent years for $15 a set. 

      A Guide Book of United States Coins (the Red Book) estimates mintages of 425 for the 1879 Flowing Hair coin, 10 for the 1879 Coiled Hair version, 15 for the 1880 Flowing Hair delicacy and 10 for the 1880 Coiled Hair coin. 

      As patterns go, the 1879 Flowing Hair Stella is fairly common. Few people collect patterns, and mintages are frequently in the single digits. But because no other $4 coins were struck, and because the Stella has been listed in the Red Book since the beginning, it is collected (at least conceptually) as part of the regular-issue gold series. At auction the most common Stella usually trades north of $100,000. 

      Next: A quarter century too late

    • The Coke coin

      Jan 19, 2018, 17:05 PM by
      Coca Cola was priced at 5 cents a serving for more than 50 years. This 1922 ad appeared in the venerable Saturday Evening Post.

      Image provided by Gerald Tebben.

      Coke was a nickel. It was in the 1890s, when the current Coca Cola Co. was incorporated. It was during World War I, the Great Depression and even World War II.

      Coke was a nickel. It had always been a nickel and gigantic signs painted on the signs of drugstores and plastered on billboards everywhere declared that price – until they didn’t.

      Rising raw materials prices forced the company to rethink its pricing in the late 1940s. But, there were nearly 400,000 obstacles to a price hike. Of the 460,000 vending machines in operation in the United States then, some 85 percent were owned by Coke and all of those were set to dispense a bottle of pop after one coin – a nickel – was deposited.

      The machines could not accept more than one coin or give change.

      Coke’s options were to double the price of its popular pop to a dime, overhaul the machines so they could either give change or accept more than one coin, or ask the Mint to create a new denomination especially for Coke – 7 ½ cent pieces.

      In a 2004 “Journal of Money, Credit and Banking article, economists Daniel Levy and Andrew T. Young report, “Doubling the price of Coca-Cola from a nickel to a dime, i.e. 100% increase, was out of the question. However, a less than 100% increase in the price would require the public to use anywhere between two and five coins to buy a Coke, which could lead to a ‘logistic nightmare.’ [Coke President Robert W.] Woodruff considered this single-coin issue a matter of such significance that he began exploring the possibility of having the minting of a new 7.5¢ coin authorized by the U.S. Treasury Department. ... Woodruff submitted a request in 1953 to the newly elected President Dwight Eisenhower (his hunting companion and friend) to get the U.S. Department of Treasury to mint a new 7.5¢ coin. Eisenhower forwarded the request to the Treasury Department officials, who did not like the idea.”

      By 1951, Coke stopped placing the 5-cent price on advertising and started raising prices at soda fountains around the county. The last nickel Coke is believed to have been sold in 1959.

      By the 1960s, vending machines typically charged a dime.

      Next: Stanley Kowalski’s coin

    • 2½ cents, of course

      Jan 12, 2018, 15:51 PM by
      Mint Director Raymond T. Baker, at right, and Anthony de Francisci, designer of the Peace dollar, examine a plaster model of the silver dollar. Baker deep sixed his predecessor’s proposal to strike 2½ cent pieces.

      Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

      The U.S. Mint struck half cents, 2-cent pieces and 3-cent pieces, but never did it see the need for a 2 ½-cent piece — until 1916. That’s the year Mint Director Robert Wickliffe Woolley declared the need for one.

      His out-of-left-field proposal appeared in that year’s Annual Report of the Director of the Mint.

      “I beg to suggest the advisability of recommending to Congress the passage of an act authorizing the coinage of a copper and nickel 2½-cent piece. Inquiry, prompted by requests contained in letters from many parts of the country, discloses a real demand for it. When you consider that we have no coin between the 1-cent piece and the 5-cent piece and that many an article worth more than a cent and less than 5 cents sells for the latter price because of the lack of an intermediate monetary unit of value, the economic importance of it will be readily seen.

      “Articles which now sell for 15 cents each or two for a quarter would sell for 12½ cents. Popular shops, such as the 5 and 10 cent stores, would undoubtedly place articles now selling two for 5 cents on sale at 2½ cents each; and it is not at all unlikely that street car companies would carry children of school age for 2½ cents.”

      A few days after the report was released on Nov. 30, 1916, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette took up the cause in a front-page story on Dec. 10. The paper also opined the Mint should strike 2-cent and 3-cent pieces again.

      “The need for new denominations is also indicated by the fact that in certain sections of the country merchants will give the customer a brass or pasteboard check in change which is good for ½ or 2 ½ cents. In New Orleans such practice is common and even though the law does not provide, the people have made coins themselves, which are called ‘quarties.’ In the New England states these personal coins have also been observed in circulation and even in Pittsburgh, where it is asserted that certain dispensers of ‘wet goods’ have long handed out a 2½ cent check when 15 cents was passed over the bar for a two-for-a-quarter drink.”

      Woolley’s proposal apparently went nowhere. No patterns are known and the next Mint director Raymond T. Baker made no mention of the proposed denomination in his 1917 annual report.

      Next: The Coke coin

    • 2018

      Jan 11, 2018, 08:43 AM by

    • Odd denominations

      Jan 3, 2018, 16:51 PM by

      ?The United States has had its share of odd denominations that actually reached circulation, but there's an even odder assortment of coins that were proposed but never produced.

      One was the bright idea of a government official; another the hare-brained scheme of a politician’s pal. Some were solutions in search of problems. A couple were the result of a screw-up or maybe a “purpose-up” on the Mint’s factory floor.

      From the earliest days, America’s currency was a non-decimal mishmash. The Spanish Milled Dollar, the basis of much of the commerce in the colonies, used a base-8 number system. Eight-real pieces circulated as dollars, 4-real pieces as half dollars, 2-real pieces as quarter dollars, 1-real pieces or bits were worth 12 1/2 cents, and half-real pieces or picayunes, worth 6 1/4 cents.

      The later coin, famously, was enough to buy a newspaper in New Orleans, the still-in-business Times-Picayune. In 1837, when the Picayune started business, United States coins were still scarce in much of the country, but old Spanish coins circulated everywhere.

      In the East, the Spanish colonial coins circulated side by side with English-based currency, where a pound was worth 20 shillings and a shilling was worth 12 pence, except where it wasn't. From time to time various colonies decided upon different valuing schemes in an attempt to keep silver coins in local circulation.

      Then, of course, there was Gouverneur Morris’s 1783 system of marks (1,000 units), quints (500 units), bits (10 units), and fives (5 units). Morris’ monetary system is known to collectors from a series of mostly unique patterns. The last time one went on the block, a silver quint, it sold for $1,175,000.

      Given that history, it’s no wonder the Mint struggled with a multitude of real and suggested denominations.

      Next: 2½ cents, of course

    • A dollar so rare it doesn’t exist

      Dec 19, 2017, 17:16 PM by
      Found at the Philadelphia Mint and shown here is the master hub for creating dies for 1964 Morgan dollars — one of the most important discoveries in decades.

      Image courtesy of Whitman Publishing.

      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

      Dec 8, 2017, 16:27 PM by
      This Very Fine 1903-0 Morgan dollar, which fetched $299 at auction in 2011, is a condition rarity. Few 1903-O dollars actually reached circulation. Most were stored for about 60 years until bags and bags of the Uncirculated coins were released. Curiously, the coin’s current owner lists a Buy Now Price of $895 at Heritage Auctions, about twice the value of an Uncirculated specimen.

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Nov 30, 2017, 16:20 PM by
      In 1913 famed dealer B. Max Mehl placed a well-worn 1804 dollar in the H.O. Granberg Collection sale. The phony dollar was featured on the cover of the sale catalog. Objections were immediate and the coin, actually an altered 1800 dollar, remained in the Granberg family for decades.

      Original image from Newman Numismatic Portal.

      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

      Nov 13, 2017, 16:21 PM by
      The Dexter Specimen of the Class I 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar fetched $3.29 million at the Friday March 31, 2017, 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.

      Images courtesy Long Beach Expo.

      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

      Nov 1, 2017, 11:06 AM by
      This Lord St. Oswald-Norweb 1794 Flowing Hair dollar graded MS-64 and bearing a CAC sticker brought $2.82 million during the Aug. 3 Rarities Night auction by Stack’s Bowers Galleries at the 2017 ANA auctions, the top lot for the show's auctions.

      Original images courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

      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

      Oct 20, 2017, 17:11 PM by
      This 1776 Georgia bill is denominated as “two Spanish milled dollars” or pieces of eight.

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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?

      Sep 21, 2017, 16:32 PM by
      This "1759" Martha Washington “half dollar” test piece is one of several struck by the Mint from four different materials tested for the half-dollar-sized piece, among 17 different preparations created by Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, Ohio, during the 1964 search for coinage metal substitutes.

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Sep 8, 2017, 16:09 PM by
      The order to begin work on the new half dollar came Nov. 27 – five days after President Kennedy's assassination. On Dec. 17, Roberts showed a prototype of the coin to the president’s widow, who suggested “mussing” Kennedy’s hair. The first Proof coins (like the example shown) were produced in early January, and circulation-strike coins were produced at Denver Jan. 30.

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Sep 6, 2017, 16:52 PM by
      This PCGS MS-64 1878-S half dollar fetched $199,750 at auction in 2014.

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Sep 1, 2017, 16:52 PM by
      This eighth known specimen of the ultra-rare 1817/4 half dollar was found in a load of fill dirt.

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Aug 21, 2017, 17:06 PM by
      This 1814 half dollar, with the letter P punched into the obverse 33 times, was struck in platinum and weighs close to twice as much as the regular-issue silver coin. It sold for $138,000 in 2011.

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Aug 10, 2017, 15:20 PM by
      The Bank of Ypsilanti, which issued this $10 bill in 1837, failed the following year, after it was discovered that its assets, in the form of a barrel of half dollars, had been “borrowed” from another bank.

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Jul 25, 2017, 14:52 PM by
      If you like fresh corn, a bit of cheese and a friendly looking cow, along with what could be taken as a positive admonishment, the standard 2004-D Wisconsin quarter dollar in the U.S. Mint's 50 State Quarters Program is for you. But wait, there's more...

      Image from Coin World files.

      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

      Jul 21, 2017, 15:38 PM by
      This 1916 quarter dollar shows Miss Liberty with a full head and uncovered breast.

      Original image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Jul 6, 2017, 16:36 PM by
      This original 1827 quarter dollar fetched $411,250 at auction in 2014.

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Jun 23, 2017, 16:16 PM by
      Struck 90 days before Tennessee became a state, this 1796 quarter dollar, graded Mint State 67+ by NGC is the finest known. It sold for $1,527,500 in 2013. Its 15 stars count the original 13 Colonies plus Vermont and Kentucky.

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Jun 16, 2017, 16:16 PM by
      This 2-real coin, issued in the name of Carlos and Johanna, was struck at Mexico City in the mid-16th century.

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Jun 6, 2017, 17:09 PM by
      If you’re stuck at an airport after the restaurants have closed, you can often still buy snacks from a vending machine with quarter dollars.

      Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

      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, 16:08 PM by
      The 1996-W Roosevelt dime, the first dime to bear a W Mint mark, is an inexpensive numismatic delicacy, listing for just $12 in Mint State 63 in Coin World’s Coin Values.

      Original images provided by Gerald Tebben.

      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, 16:40 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, 16:55 PM by Gerald Tebben
      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, as this one is, creating fully split bands on the fasces on the reverse, the value can climb to $20,000.

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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, 17:15 PM by
      Hallie Daggett, the story goes, spent for ice cream one of the three 1894-S dimes her father gave her (from among the 24 coins struck). She is shown here about 1900. In the summer of 1913, she became the first woman United States Forest Service fire lookout, at Eddy's Gulch Lookout Station atop Klamath Peak in Klamath National Forest. She served for the next 14 or 15 years.

      Daggett original image courtesy of United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service; coin images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Apr 18, 2017, 17:26 PM by
      On the pattern 1859 half dimes and dimes struck with an 1859 obverse and an 1860 reverse, neither side says UNITED STATES OF AMERICA — making the coin without a country the perfect piece for the man without a country. The dime pattern is shown.

      Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Apr 13, 2017, 18:03 PM by
      In the 1950s and ’60s a dime would buy a record play in a jukebox or local call at a payphone.

      Image courtesy Wikipedia.

      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

      Mar 27, 2017, 16:30 PM by
      Investors realized too late that the market wasn’t deep enough to create demand for 2.6 million Brilliant Uncirculated 1950-D nickels. It still isn't. Low mintage alone does not create value. But examples are genuinely scarce in high grades, and this PCGS MS-66 coin with full steps on Monticello on the reverse sold for $104 at a February 2017 Heritage auction.

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Mar 17, 2017, 16:27 PM by
      This 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent piece famously appeared in a 1973 episode of the Hawaii Five-0 television show. It sold for $3,736,500 at auction in 2010.

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Mar 10, 2017, 16:24 PM by
      1883 No CENTS 5-cent coin. Swindlers saw the size similarity to the $5 gold coin, plated the 5-cent pieces and passed them off for a profit. The design was quickly modified.

      Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Feb 28, 2017, 15:04 PM by
      As the Civil War wound down, the government sought to replace the fragile paper fractional notes with coins. With silver still not circulating, the Mint turned to nickel coins to replace the silver half dime in 1866. Though not particularly beautiful, the Shield 5-cent piece was produced for 21 years.

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Feb 17, 2017, 17:16 PM by
      Were George and Martha Washington present when the 1792 half dismes were struck? The scene is imagined in John Ward Dunsmore’s 1914 painting “Inspecting the First Coinage” and on the Mint’s 1992 bicentennial medal.

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions and the author.

      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

      Feb 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

      Jan 27, 2017, 12:16 PM by
      This 1804 cent, graded AU-55 by PCGS sold for $80,500 at the Heritage Auctions January 2010 Florida United Numismatists show sale. In 2013, the coin, which had acquired a gold CAC sticker, sold for $223,250 at a Stack’s Bowers sale.

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

      Jan 23, 2017, 12:41 PM by
      This Proof 1909 Lincoln, V.D.B. cent sold for a breathtaking $258,500 at Heritage Auctions’ ANA U.S. Coins Signature Auction in early August 2014. The coin is a Proof 67+ red and brown PCGS Secure coin with a gold CAC label.

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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 Brenners 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

      Jan 6, 2017, 14:31 PM by
      This PCGS MS-65 1856 Flying Eagle cent sold for $92,000 at a Heritage Auctions sale at the 2006 FUN show.

      Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      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

    • A cent you can’t buy

      Dec 29, 2016, 14:26 PM by
      Although cents may have been struck in late 1815, none was struck from dies dated 1815; the dies were likely dated 1814. Some real large cents have had their dates altered to read 1815. The date shown at left is from an 1813 Classic Head cent that was modified, and the date at right is from an 1845 Coronet cent that was modified. Any cent with an 1815 date is either altered or a counterfeit.

      Original images courtesy of Ira and Larry Goldberg, Auctioneers.

      ?You can’t buy an 1815 cent. None were made with that date. It’s the only date in the denomination’s entire nearly 225-year run that does not exist. Though no cents were struck with that date, it’s open for debate whether any cents were struck during that year.

      Blame the War of 1812. Before the war, the Philadelphia Mint bought cent planchets from Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, England. That source dried up with the start of hostilities. There were no domestic suppliers. In his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, the late researcher Walter Breen reported the Mint had no stomach for buying scrap copper and making its own blanks with its own “marginally functional rolling mills.”

      Toward the end of 1814, the Mint struck its remaining copper stock and delivered 357,830 coins. By some accounts, those coins were the last produced of John Reich’s Classic Head design.

      Those coins, Breen claims, went into the pay packets of Mint workers. He wrote that the Treasury Department for some “mysterious reason” refused to authorize Mint Director James Patterson to pay his workers. In December, Patterson “overrode Treasury policy” and paid his staff with bright copper coins.

      Breen claimed the Mint ordered more planchets from England as soon as the wartime embargo against trade was lifted in 1815, but the blanks did not arrive until 1816.

      However, Bill Eckberg, writing in the Jan. 21, 2015, issue of Coin World reported, “Once the war was over in early 1815, the Mint ordered 5 tons of planchets from Boulton. These arrived in the fall and were struck into coins as soon as possible. The resulting 465,500 cents were delivered on Feb. 27, 1816.”

      The mystery is, then, when were those coins struck and what was the date on those coins? It clearly was not 1815.

      If the coins were struck as soon as the shipment of blanks arrived, they were struck in 1815, likely using still serviceable 1814 dies. Dies were expensive and difficult to produce in the early days of the Mint. They were used until they wore out, no matter what date they bore.

      If the coins were struck closer to the delivery date, they were struck in 1816. In 1816 the Mint abandoned Reich’s Classic Head design for Robert Scot’s Matron Head. However, it’s unlikely new dies were produced and in use that early in the year, so even if the coins were produced in 1816, they probably were struck on leftover 1814 dies.

      The lack of 1815 cents hasn’t stopped collectors from placing them in their collections. Con-men, pranksters and hole-fillers have produced their own 1815 cents by altering 1813 and even 1845 cents to fill the gap.

      Next: Fooling the public

    • ?Strength or slavery?

      Dec 21, 2016, 17:45 PM by
      This 1793 Chain cent, graded MS-63 by PCGS and bearing a CAC sticker, fetched $2,350,000 at the Heritage Auctions January 2015 FUN auction.

      Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      The 1793 Chain cent, the nation’s first regular-issue cent, was misunderstood from the start. The obverse shows Liberty, with her hair flowing in the wind. The reverse features a chain of 15 links.

      Critics didn’t like Liberty from the start. The flowing hair didn’t symbolize newfound freedom; it was standing up in fright, they said. The reverse, though, drew the most criticism.

      The 15 interlocked links of the chain were meant to symbolize the strength and unity of the new nation of 15 states. The design was patterned after Benjamin Franklin’s design for the Feb. 17, 1776, 1/6th dollar Continental Currency note. The design was reused on the pattern 1776 Continental Currency dollars and the 1787 Fugio cents.

      However, despite its storied past and association with a signer of the Declaration of Independence, critics saw the chain as a symbol of slavery and pounced.

      In an April 1869 article, “The United States Cents of 1793,” in the Journal of Numismatics, Sylvester S. Crosby, one the 19th century’s great numismatists, quoted a March 18, 1793, article in the Philadelphia newspaper, The Mail or Claypoole’s Daily Advertiser.

      “The American Cents (says a letter from Newark) do not answer our expectation. The chain on the reverse is but a bad omen for liberty, and liberty herself appears to be in a fright. May she not justly cry out in the words of the Apostle, ‘Alexander, the copper-smith hath done me much harm; the Lord reward him according to his works.’ ”

      In his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, the late Walter Breen wrote, “This was (Mint) Director (David) Rittenhouse’s cue to order a change in design for the next cents to be struck. And so, for the first time (but not the last), bad newspaper publicity forced the Mint to abandon an adopted design, unintentionally creating rarities in the process.

      Some 36,103 Chain cents were struck in early 1793. While not rare, the coins are highly sought after. About Good examples tend to sell for $5,000 and up. Even coins so badly worn that only a shadow of the chain remains easily sell for $1,000 and more.

      Production of Chain cents ceased in early March. By April, the Mint was churning out cents with a wreath on the reverse instead of a chain. A wreath remained on the coin’s reverse through the large cent’s demise in 1857. Liberty’s hair ceased flowing in 1794. She added and lost a couple hats over the years before settling on a coronet in 1816.

      Next: A cent you can’t buy

    • A Penny Story Collection

      Dec 13, 2016, 10:05 AM by
      Bazooka bubble gum, a penny candy after World War II, now costs 7.5 cents in tubs of 225.

      Original image courtesy of Parka Lewis at English Wikipedia.

      It’s been decades since the cent would actually buy anything. The penny candies of the ’50s and ’60s are now sold by the box and cost a whale of a lot more than 1 cent each.

      Amazon sells tubs of 225 pieces of Bazooka bubble gum for $16.94, or 7.5 cent each. Other retailers charge more. And the stupid comic that came with it, that’s gone too. In 2011 the company killed Bazooka Joe and his corny jokes and replaced him with brain teaser puzzle wrappers.

      The cent, which was copper for most of its nearly 225-year run, lost all but a thin film of the metal in 1982 when the Mint switched from bronze to copper-plated zinc.

      Nonetheless, the coin is widely collected. Most of us started with Whitman penny boards — squeezing cents into barely yielding holes in blue folders. Many were sated with Book 2 folders — 1940 to some date in the 1960s. A few moved on to Book 1, which had the key coins everyone searched their change for — 1909-S VDB, 1909-S, 1914-D and 1931-S. Still fewer went on to the rarified atmosphere of early large cents.

      Collectors accumulate not only coins, but also stories — stories about how the collector acquired the coin, stories about the history of our nation and stories about injustice and prejudice.

      For the next five weeks, I’m going to explore five stories about the lowly denomination. Like all good stories, they bear telling and retelling.


      Next: Strength or slavery?

    • Purchasing Power: ?Another Bicentennial

      Nov 28, 2016, 13:56 PM by
      The Washington quarter dollar was released into circulation Aug. 1, 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression. That day in Dubuque, Iowa, the coin could buy four quarts of “pure, fresh milk” with 5-cents to spare. This particularly well-preserved example of the coin sold for $82,250 at Heritage Auctions' 2015 Long Beach show.

      Coin image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      In 1932, during the depths of the Great Depression, the United States Mint released the Washington quarter dollar to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington.

      The 1932 Washington quarter would then purchase what $4.39 would today. In 1932, the nation suffered through nearly 10 percent deflation. In 1932 and again in 1934, the national unemployment rate came within a hair’s breadth of 25 percent. The unemployment rate remained above 10 percent, sometimes much above, until the U.S. entered World War II.

      In 1932, gold was still legal to own. It was valued at $20.67 an ounce. Gold is worth about 65 times that amount today. In 1932, a quarter dollar would buy a little more than 1/100 of an ounce of gold. Today a quarter could buy about 2/10,000 of an ounce.

      The quarter dollar was released into circulation Aug. 1, 1932. Here are some of the things you could buy with those quarters that day in Dubuque, Iowa, according to ads in that city’s Telegraph-Herald newspaper:

      The Interstate Power Co. advertised 50 to 75 percent off its regular prices. Automatic wringer washers were $59.50, Hot Point coffee percolators were $6.36. Manning Bowman mahogany mantle clocks were $3.75. White electric sewing machines housed in wooden cabinets were $59.50 to $74.50.

      Montgomery Ward, which went bankrupt more than a decade ago, was offering 6-ply Riverside Mate tires for $5.45 to $7.93. The price included an oil change.

      The Hub advertised a “cash raising sale.” It offered men’s Fruit of the Loom shirts for 99 cents, with matching collars and cuffs available. Union suits were also 99 cents, down from $1.50. Panama hats were $1.

      Roshek Brothers department store advertised a “storewide 25 percent discount sale.” Women’s silk dresses were priced at $2.23 to $4.13, and men's sport oxford shoes at $3.34.

      Sanitary Butter Stores offered “pure, fresh milk” for a nickel a quart, three boxes of Rice Krispies for 25 cents, three cans of Van Camp’s peas for 23 cents, two “tall” cans of Libby’s Alaska sockeye red salmon for 34 cents, and a 2-pound can of Chase and Sanborn’s coffee for 65 cents.

      Dubuque Airways advertised penny a pound airplane rides over “scenic Dubuque.” But, if you weighed less than 100 pounds, you still had to pay a buck.

      Rhomberg’s was selling “campus quality” raccoon coats for $147, northern seal coats for $47 and Japanese mink coats at $277. The company advised people to buy now while prices are low because “We have reached the turn in business condition. This will be reflected in a rise in fur coat prices.”

      The turn in business conditions was not a good turn. The company, however, weathered the Depression and prospered during the ensuing decades, only to close its store in 2015, a victim of changing fashions.

    • Purchasing Power: The Bicentennial

      Nov 4, 2016, 14:56 PM by
      A Bicentennial dollar put away in 1976 has less than a quarter of its 1976 purchasing power now. In 1976 it could buy what it now takes about $4.23 to purchase. Gold, on the other hand is worth about 10 times its 1976 value. And an Apple I computer is worth about 300 times its original selling price of $666.66.

      Coin images from Coin World files; Apple I on display at the Smithsonian image courtesy of Ed Uthman/Wikimedia.

      The U.S. Mint ended a20-year drought for commemorative coin collectors in the mid-1970s when itagreed to produce quarter dollars, half dollars and dollars marking the 1976Bicentennial of the United States.

      In 1975, the Mintceased producing regular-issue quarters, halves and dollars and switched to thedual-dated 1776-1976 coins. The coins, especially the quarter with its colonialdrummer, were wildly popular. Mintages ran into the hundreds of millions.Today, all three coins are common, and the quarter dollars still circulate.

      The coins were producedat a time of ruinous inflation. The Eisenhower Bicentennial dollar was worththe equivalent of $4.23 in today’s money. Americans had been freed to own golda couple years before, and the price of the precious metal was rising. In 1976,an ounce of gold was worth about $135, roughly 1/10th of its current value.

      Beyond the Bicentennialcelebrations, which commanded front pages July 4, newspapers were also filledwith news of the early morning Israeli raid on Entebbe to free hostages takenby Palestinian hijackers.

      Here are some of thethings you could buy with those coins on July 5, 1976, according toadvertisements in that day’s Pittsburgh Press.

      The G.C. Murphy Co.,which operated stores on main streets across the country until the 1980s, wasadvertising 12-exposure Kodacolor II C-110 film for 99 cents a roll, disposablebutane lighters for 72 cents, a 60-diaper box of Murphy-brand disposablediapers tor $2.97 and a 20-inch, 3-horsepower lawnmower for $59.

      J.C. Penney offeredoriginally $14 men’s flare-leg jeans for $4.99, undershirts at three for $2.99and aluminum folding lawn chairs for $4.99. In its auto section, the store wasselling steel-belted tires two for $44 and CB radios (10-4, good buddy) for $88.88.

      In the travel section,Atlantic City’s Summit Hotel, which was “100 percent air conditioned,” wasadvertising rooms for $9 a night, double occupancy. The Tides hotel was adollar cheaper.

      Giant Eagle supermarket(still in business) was selling Green Giant canned green beans for 25 cents acan, Kraft mayonnaise for 99 cents a quart jar, rump roasts for $1.29 a poundand six-packs of ice cream sandwiches for 59 cents.

      Sears was selling 100percent solid-state 19-inch color televisions for $399, eight-track stereosystems for $139 and heavy-duty clothes washers for $179.

      David Weiss, jewelersand distributors, offered electronic calculators for $9.99, Smith Coronatypewriters for $169.86, Panasonic portable cassette tape recorders for $34.82and GE clock radios for $24.97.

      That same month, butnot in Pittsburgh, the Apple I computer went on sale for $666.66 at the ByteShop in Mountain View, Calif. Those first machines are collector’s items now,selling for hundreds of thousands.

      A Bicentennial dollarput away in 1976 has a purchasing power of only about a quarter dollar now.Gold is worth about 10 times its 1976 value. And an Apple I computer is worthabout 300 times its original selling price.

      Next: AnotherBicentennial

    • Purchasing Power: In war’s wake — Berlin 1945 to1948

      Oct 28, 2016, 15:54 PM by
      A journalist reported on Berlin’s cigarette economy in a 1945 issue of New Yorker magazine: “On the black market a single cigarette costs ... a dollar and a half to two dollars, at the official rate of exchange .... American cigarettes are considered the best, and.... a pack of Chesterfields can run as high as $75 to $90.”

      Original image provided by author.

      I used to be a heavy smoker. Two packs a day was a starting point. Running out of cigarettes was a catastrophe, and I would do anything for the next smoke. So it’s no wonder that cigarettes have often been used as money.

      During the first years of Allied occupation, cigarettes were a major currency in Germany, preferred by everyone to the leftover Nazi coins and paper money and the just-introduced Allied Military Currency. Germans called their smokable money, zigarettenwahrung — cigarette currency. Some — kippensammlers — supported themselves by collecting discarded cigarette butts and reworking them into new smokes.

      Vladimir Petrov in his 1967 book Money and Conquest: Allied Occupation Currencies in World War II reports the value of a cigarette fluctuated, but was generally worth 7 marks during the first three years of occupation. He noted, “The remarkable value attained by the cigarette provided the Soviet authorities with a new means of extracting from the German population formerly hidden assets.” The Reds converted war-booty tobacco into gold, trading 60 smokes for each gram of gold until the gold ran out. Then they sold their cigarettes on the black market.

      U.S. soldiers, too, found a way to make quick money from cigarettes. They bought packs of cigarettes at a post exchange for 5 cents and sold them on the black market.

      Journalist Joel Sayre reported on Berlin’s cigarette economy in the July 28, 1945, issue of New Yorker magazine:
      “On the black market a single cigarette costs from 15 to 20 marks (a dollar and a half to two dollars, at the official rate of exchange), depending on its quality. American cigarettes are considered the best, and the standard black-market price for a pack of 20 is 300 marks, or $30. The value of a pack of Chesterfields can run as high as $75 to $90.”

      Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, reported Aug. 2 that the 33,000 U.S. troops stationed in Berlin in July sent home $4 million, four times the Berlin garrison’s total monthly payroll.

      Cigarette currency died a sudden death three years later when Nazi and AMC bills were replaced with new paper money in June 1948, Dorothea von Schwanenfluegel Lawson recorded in her book Laughter Wasn’t Rationed.

      Next: The Bicentennial

    • ?Purchasing power: In war’s wake — Toledo, Ohio 1946

      Oct 21, 2016, 16:55 PM by
      In 1946, this dime could have bought 250 aspirin tablets or two rolls of toilet paper, and the silver in it today is worth only about $1.45. Graded by the Professional Coin Grading Service as MS-68 with full split bands, it sold for $4,230 in 2015.

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      Franklin D. 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, Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock began work on the Roosevelt dime — a singularly appropriate denomination. Production began Jan. 30, 1946, the president’s birthday.

      The nation was still transitioning to a peacetime economy when the coin was issued. Pent-up demand from a decade of Depression and five years of war stressed the economy. Civilian goods were often in short supply or had not been available for years.

      The 1946 dime contains .07234ounces of silver, worth about $1.45 as I write this. In 1946, the value of that silver in the dime was slightly more than 5 cents.

      As for what that dime could purchase in1946, here are the prices for some items advertised in the Toledo Blade newspaper in January 1946:

      • Lane’s “cut-rate drugs” was charging a dime for six pencils with erasers, a can of Shinola shoe polish, a flashlight battery, two bars of Lava soap, 50 envelopes or 250 aspirin tablets. 

        The store was also selling rat traps for 11 cents, a 40-ounce can of Colgate tooth powder for 37 cents, a giant tube of Colgate shaving cream for 39 cents and a pint of Fumo moth spray for 59 cents.

      • At Belman’s supermarket, a dime would buy two rolls of Northern toilet paper, a package of marshmallows, a can of grapefruit juice or half a pound of boiling beef.

        The store was also selling lard for 18 cents a pound, 3-pound jars of Crisco for 68 cents, a large package of Oxydol detergent for 23 cents and beef steak for 39 cents a pound.

      • A dime wouldn’t buy much at W.T. Grant’s, a dime store chain that went under in 1976. The store advertised artificial flowers and small boxes of Kleenex, which it said was a “very scarce item,” for a dime.

        The store also advertised that it had just 24 each of four types of “new metal toys.” Parents of those lucky post-war children were able to buy toy patrol and transport planes for 59 cents and stake and dump trucks for 79 cents.


      General Electric, the object of a CIO strike, took its case to the public, complaining that it had offered workers earning less than $1 an hour a 10-cent pay hike and those earning more a 10 percent raise, to no avail. The federal minimum wages was 40 cents an hour in 1946. It is now $7.25 an hour.

      Next: In war’s wake — Berlin April 1945

    • PURCHASING POWER: ?New Orleans, April 1862

      Sep 30, 2016, 17:23 PM by
      Coffeehouse owner George W. Holt, a prolific issuer of shinplasters, advertised a few weeks before the Union takeover that his bills were good. He maintained that “unscrupulous persons” had spread rumors so they could buy the bills at a discount to face value.

      Note image courtesy of Heritage Auctions; background of New Orleans harbor in public dommain.

      Paper money lost much of its purchasing power in early April 1862 as Union forces closed in on New Orleans. Confederate paper, private bank notes and shinplasters — notes worth less than $1 — formed the bulk of the circulating medium and traded more or less at par with each other.

      Coins were scarce and the shinplasters that replaced them had a checkered history. Newspapers regularly railed against unscrupulous merchants who refused to redeem their small-denomination bills.

      On March 28, the city’s Board of Provost-Marshals prohibited “the traffic in gold and silver against the Notes of the Confederate States of America” under threat of unspecified “prompt and severe punishment.”

      Early April advertisements in The True Delta newspaper chronicled the city’s commercial life in the run-up to the city’s takeover.

      A.J. Powell offered an $80 bounty to soldiers “who will enlist in Co. C., 10th Louisiana Regiment, now in Virginia.”

      The Mississippi and Tennessee Railroad advertised tickets for the 24-hour run to Memphis at $14.50.

      Samuel Jamison offered a $100 reward for the return of runaway slave “grill boy Edward.”

      Dental surgeon, Dr. Felding, was selling full sets of dentures on a sterling silver base for $25 or on a 22 karat gold base for $50 to $80.

      In court, the paper reported, six people “were severally sentenced to pay a fine of $5 or go the Parish Prison for 10 days, all for enjoying the glorious privilege of getting on a bender and sloshing around generally.”

      On April 1, the provost marshals published a list of maximum prices that could be charged in the city’s markets:

      Beef rump roasts, and round and chuck steaks maxed out at 12.5 cents a pound.
      Ham, 30 cents a pound.
      Fine flour, $12 a barrel.
      7-ounce loaves of first quality bread, 5 cents.
      Rice, 8 cents a pound.
      Corn, $1.50 a bushel.
      Liverpool fine salt, 7 cents a pound.

      Nonetheless, the black market apparently thrived as Union forces closed in on the city.

      The True Delta reported April 20, “Those who have a fondness for eggs find them a rather costly luxury these blockade times. Just think of eggs commanding fifty cents per dozen.”

      On April 23, the city’s Committee of Public Safety offered “rewards for the destruction, through private enterprise, of the armed vessels of the enemy threatening the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi. Gunboats were worth $25,000, mortar boats $10,000 and larger ships, $50,000.”

      Two days later unmolested Union ships dropped anchor at the city’s riverfront and demanded surrender.

      Four days after the Union takeover, The True Delta decried the profiteering that followed in the U.S. Navy’s wake. “There are those who are disposed to take advantage of the deranged state or our markets by demanding exorbitant prices for what they have for sale. We have heard of instances where four prices have been asked for articles and specie demanded in exchange.”

      Next: In war’s wake Toledo, Ohio 1946

    • ?Original purchasing power

      Sep 27, 2016, 09:48 AM by
      Ohio’s Youngstown Vindicator cost 2 cents in 1913 and could be purchased with two Lincoln cents. Today, it costs 75 cents — three Washington quarters. Old newspapers are a great source for information about prices in the past.

      Newspaper image courtesy of Gerald Tebben.

      Whenever I buy a coin, I consider three things; the coin’s design, history and original purchasing power.

      The design and history speak for themselves. The purchasing power, though, can be hard to tease out.

      For U.S. coins issued since 1913, a fair approximation of the purchasing power can be had at the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics’ online Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator.

      This amazing and easy-to-use tool will tell you the purchasing value of coins and paper money at any point during the last 103 years. A 1913 dollar for example is listed as having the purchasing power of $17.39 in 2000 and $24.31 today.

      That number, though, only goes so far. Not all goods rise in price at the same rate. An ounce of gold, for example, was $18.92 in 1913. Today it’s about $1,325, or 70 times its 1913 price. In 1913, a Ford Model T touring car cost $600. Today a Ford Explorer SUV runs about $30,000, about 50 times more than its 1913 cousin.

      Old newspapers, government reports and personal papers can tell you the prices of things when the coin was issued. The Google News Archive Search — https://news.google.com/newspapers — is an excellent place to start. It has centuries-long runs of numerous newspapers. There are several other sites, too, that have digital archives of newspapers and magazines.

      During the next five weeks, I’m going to discuss the purchasing power of a number of old coins.

      Next: New Orleans, April 1862

    • Mountains, monuments & money: The Alamo and the U.S. Capitol

      Sep 19, 2016, 15:06 PM by
      Sculptor Pompeo Luigi Coppini is known mostly for Texas-related works, including the Texas Centennial commemorative half dollar of 1934 through 1938. A 1935 strike is shown.

      Courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      Italian born sculptor Pompeo Luigi Coppini is known mostly for Texas-related works, including the Texas Centennial commemorative half dollar of 1934 through1938.

      Coppini immigrated to the United States in 1896 at the age of 26 and promptly found work creating sculptures for a wax museum. In 1901 he moved to Texas, where he designed such projects as the monument to Terry’s Texas Rangers (Confederate troops) on the Texas statehouse grounds, the 60-foot-tall Alamo Cenotaph at the Alamo and the Sam Houston Grave Monument at Huntsville, Texas.

      Coppini may be the only coin designer to have work on permanent display in the nation’s Capitol. Each state is allowed to place two statues in the National Statuary Collection. Some states used the collection to honor citizens who had made great contributions in life. Other states turned to less notable politicians.

      Arkansas used the hall to honor Uriah Milton Rose, president of the American Bar Association from 1901 to 1902; and Sen. James Paul Clarke, a man Theodore Roosevelt credited with the bill authorizing construction of the Panama Canal.

      Coppini sculpted the Clarke statue, which was placed in the Capitol in 1921.

      Coppini’s Texas commemorative half dollar crams a lot into a little space. The obverse features an eagle in front of a lone star. The reverse shows a winged and buxom Victory cradling the Alamo, with cameos of Sam Houston and Stephen Austin beneath her outspread wings.

      Charles Moore of the Commission of Fine Arts disapproved of the busy design. “The design shows the whole history of Texas and all its leading personages in a perfect hodge-podge,” he wrote to the Treasury Department. “The heads are so small that they will disappear on a 50-cent piece, and yet it is just this conglomeration in which the Texas people are relying to sell 25 cents worth of silver done in a 50-cent piece at the price of a dollar to make money to build some building.” Profits, such as they were, were used to help finance the 1936 Centennial Exposition in Dallas.

      The Texas coin was not a huge success. Congress authorized 1.5 million pieces, but only about 150,000 were sold. Coppini’s statue of Clarke, though, is another story. Every year millions of people pass by it in the Capitol Visitor Center.


    • Mountains, monuments & money: ?From Ticonderoga to the Panama Canal

      Aug 26, 2016, 16:25 PM by
      In the early years of the 20th century Charles Keck designed three commemorative coins and dozens of monuments across the country. Shown among his accomplishments are the 1936 Lynchburg Sesquicentennial half dollar reverse and the 12-foot tall bronze statue of Huey Long that stands atop his towering tombstone on the grounds of the Louisiana statehouse.

      Charles Keck image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution; coin image courtesy of Heritage Auctions; Huey Long memorial image courtesy of Paul Lowry/Wikimedia.

      Charles Keck’s name is largely forgotten, but in the early years of the 20th century he designed three commemorative coins and dozens of monuments across the country.

      He designed the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition gold dollar featuring a Panama Canal worker on the obverse and dolphins on the reverse, the 1927 Vermont Sesquicentennial half dollar showing Green Mountain Boy Ira Allen on the obverse and a catamount on the reverse, and the 1936 Lynchburg Sesquicentennial half dollar, a coin which remarkably showed the still living Sen. Carter Glass on the obverse and Liberty in front of the Lynchburg Courthouse on the reverse.

      Keck, who designed the Booker T. Washington memorial at Tuskegee University, nearly also designed the Booker T. Washington half dollar (1946-1951). Keck’s design for the coin had been approved by the Mint and S.J. Phillips, who had lobbied for the commemorative. But the Commission of Fine Arts rejected it in favor of a design offered by Isaac Scott Hathaway.

      Beside the Booker T. Washington memorial, Keck also created the equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson that stands outside the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City, Mo.; the Huey Long Memorial in Baton Rouge, La.; and Liberty Monument at Ticonderoga.

      Liberty Monument features a massive bronze sculpture of Liberty atop a granite base. Four sculptures representing an Indian, a Frenchman, a Scottish soldier and an American stand at the base of the plinth.

      Demagogue Huey Long was assassinated in 1935 as he was preparing to run for president of the United States. Keck’s 12-foot tall bronze statue of the Kingfish stands atop his towering tombstone on the grounds of the Louisiana statehouse.

      NEXT: The Alamo and the U.S. Capitol

    • Mountains, monuments & money: Victory becomes Liberty

      Aug 22, 2016, 09:35 AM by
      Created by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the massive gilded bronze statue of Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in Grand Army Plaza, at the southeast corner of New York’s Central Park, features a statue of Victory, cast in 1902, that is often cited as the inspiration for Liberty on the Saint-Gaudens double eagle

      Coin image courtesy of Heritage Auctions; statue image courtesy Jim Henderson/Wikimedia.

      Augustus Saint-Gaudens, designer of what is widely regarded as the most beautiful United States coin ever minted — the $20 double eagle of 1907 to 1933 — also created numerous monuments, including a massive gilded bronze statue of Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.

      The monument in Grand Army Plaza at the southeast corner of New York’s Central Park, features a mounted Sherman led by Victory. The statue of Victory, cast in 1902, is often cited as the inspiration for Liberty on the Saint-Gaudens double eagle.

      Others of his works include Chicago’s 12-foot tall Standing Lincoln statue in Lincoln Park and the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial on Boston Common, a commission he worked on for an astounding 14 years.

      Besides the double eagle, Saint-Gaudens also designed the stunning Indian $10 gold piece of 1907 to 1933. Saint-Gaudens, unfortunately, died before the coins were released into circulation. Both designs remained in production until the end of circulating gold coins in 1933. The 1933 double eagle has a checkered past. Only one is legal to own. It sold for $7,590,020 in 2002.

      The obverse of Saint-Gaudens’ $20 gold piece was reprised in 1986 for the Mint’s American Eagle gold bullion pieces, which are still in production. In 2009, the Mint made an ultra-high-relief, one-ounce version of the coin for sale to collectors. That tour de force harkened back to the coin’s inception when the coin’s original high-relief concept proved too difficult to produce for circulation.

      NEXT: From Ticonderoga to the Panama Canal

    • MOUNTAINS, MONUMENTS AND MONEY: ?A nickel and the Supreme Court

      Aug 11, 2016, 16:02 PM by
      James Earle Fraser's work graces the obverse and reverse of the Indian Head five-cent piece, but he also designed numerous monumental sculptures in Washington, D.C., including the statue Authority of Law at the entrance of the U.S. Supreme Court building.

      Original coin image courtesy Heritage Auctions; statue image from Wikimedia.

      James Earle Fraser, whose work graces the obverse and reverse of the iconic Indian Head five-cent piece, also designed numerous monumental sculptures in Washington, D.C., including the statues Contemplation of Justice and Authority of Law that flank the entrance of the U.S. Supreme Court building.

      Until 1938, when Indian Head nickel production stopped, Fraser’s work could be found in every pocket in America. But even now, you can’t turn around in the nation’s capital without bumping into something he created.

      Fraser’s statues appear in the background of photos and TV footage accompanying stories about Supreme Court decisions dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times each year. Voting rights — Fraser’s there. Abortion — Fraser’s there. Obamacare — Fraser’s there.

      At the National Archives, his Recorder of the Archive appears on the pediment above the south entrance. At the Treasury Department building, immense statues of Albert Gallatin (fourth and longest serving Secretary) and Alexander Hamilton (first Secretary and subject of a current Broadway hit) guard the north and south entrances, respectively.

      Fraser’s Indian Head design was raised from the dead in 2001 when the Mint issued the popular American Buffalo commemorative dollar. Since 2006 the Mint has also struck gold versions of the 103-year-old design.

      Frasier, who grew up in South Dakota, and his wife designed the 1926-1939 Oregon Trail commemorative half dollar. The obverse of that coin shows a romanticized image of life on the trail with a man leading a Conestoga wagon into the sun while his wife and baby ride inside.

      Fraser’s work also appears on United States paper money. His statue of Hamilton outside the Treasury Department building also appears in the center of the Treasury building vignette on the back of current $10 bill.

      NEXT: Victory becomes Liberty

    • ?Mountains, monuments and money: Two mountains and a coin

      Jul 26, 2016, 12:33 PM by
      Gutzon Borglum, who sculpted one of the nation’s largest pieces of art — Mount Rushmore — also designed the Stone Mountain commemorative half dollar.

      Original coin image courtesy of Heritage Auctions; Mount Rushmore and Gutzon Borglum courtesy of Wikimedia.

      Mountains and money. Those are the canvases some artists have worked with since the early 1900s when the U.S. Mint started asking non-mint engravers to design some of the nation’s coins.

      For the next five weeks I’m going to look at sculptors who were equally at home with monumental and minuscule commissions — with mountains, monuments and money.

      Part 1: Two mountains and a coin

      Gutzon Borglum, who sculpted one of the nation’s largest pieces of art — Mount Rushmore — also designed the Stone Mountain commemorative half dollar.

      Between 1927 and his death in 1941, Borglum directed some 400 workers as they blasted 60-foot tall portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln from the granite face of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

      The monument did not appear on a United States coin until 1991 when small versions of it were placed on half dollars, silver dollars and $5 gold pieces marking the memorial’s 50th anniversary.

      In this century, the monument has appeared on two quarter dollars — the 2004 South Dakota State quarter and the same state’s 2013 America the Beautiful coin.

      The 2004 coin is a crowded affair, showing the monument beneath a bird and between wheat ears. Designer John Mercanti didn’t have the space to give dimension to the portraits, rendering them more as caricatures than faithful reproductions.

      Joseph Menna’s 2013 America the Beautiful quarter dollar features a bold design showing a worker beneath Jefferson’s eye.

      While Mount Rushmore is Borglum’s masterwork, numismatists know him better as the designer of the Stone Mountain half dollar. The coin shows Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse.

      Before Mount Rushmore, Borglum was hired to sculpt a massive memorial to the Confederacy on Stone Mountain, Georgia. He planned to blast a high-relief frieze of mounted figures of Lee, Jackson and Confederate President Jefferson Davis leading troops.

      Borglum only got as far as Lee’s head before he was fired. The Stone Mountain coin, curiously, may have played a part in his firing. “Some observers felt that he was spending so much time on the coin models that the stone sculpting was not being properly supervised,” Q. David Bowers wrote in Commemorative Coins of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia.

      After Borglum was fired, his portrait of Lee was blasted off the face of the mountain and Augustus H. Lukeman took over — until the money ran out in 1928. Work began again in 1963 and was completed in 1970. The actual Stone Mountain differs markedly from Borglum’s coin.

      James Earle Fraser, designer of the iconic Indian Head five-cent piece, sat on the Commission of Fine Arts that approved the design. Fraser found fault with much of Borglum’s design and only grudgingly approved it.

      Next: A nickel and the Supreme Court

    • Odd uses for coins: Heat dispersion

      Jul 15, 2016, 15:33 PM by
      About 50 Japanese 10-yen pieces soak up heat on Akinori Suzuki’s laptop.

      This blog usually ends with the fifth item, but when I thought I was done, a sixth – really modern – non-numismatic use for coins turned up.

      Copper coins placed on a laptop can disperse heat, making the computer easier to handle.

      On Nov. 2, 2015,Akinori Suzuki, a musician from Kanagawa, Japan, Tweeted a photo of his MacBook Pro laptop with about 50 copper 10-yen pieces placed where the keyboard meets the display.

      He wrote, “People who are having trouble with their MacBook Pros getting too hot and not cooling down should gather up all the 10-yen coins they have lying around the house. The copper in the yen is a better conductor of heat than the aluminum in the computer and is good at letting the heat escape.”

      The Tweet went viral among the computer gaming community and was picked up by newspapers around the world in June. Copper yen became pennies in England and pre-1983 copper cents in the states.

      Techworm.net showed a thermal scan of a MacBook Pro computer showing the area at the top of the keyboard and the bottom of the display was very hot.

      The website noted, “He (Suzuki) chose copper coins because copper has much greater thermal conductivity than aluminum or plastic – which most laptops are made out of. Suzuki worked on the laws of thermodynamics and used it on his laptop. Essentially it means that if the copper coins you stack on your laptop are cooler than the laptop itself, the copper coins start soaking up the heat to balance themselves with the laptop.

      “Suzuki’s brilliant hack worked and the copper coins ‘soaked up‘ the heat that would otherwise be causing issues for his laptop’s central processing unit.”

      The hack does not work with modern copper-plated zinc cents, but it’s a great way to get some use out of the older cents in your coin jar.

    • ?Odd uses for coins: A wine-saving tip

      Jul 8, 2016, 16:08 PM by
      This PCGS-graded red MS-66+ 1909-S VDB cent sold for $17,625 last year. Placed in a bad bottle of wine, it would cleanse the wine of its sulfur smell. (But if you have this coin, chances are, you can afford a good bottle of wine…)

      Coin images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      A penny saved may be a penny earned, but a penny dropped into a glass of smelly wine can save the drink.

      “Wine drinkers rejoice, if you've got a bottle of wine on hand that's pumping out bad, sulfury smells, we've got a cheap chemistry life hack to help,” the American Chemical Society teases on its YouTube channel.

      In a late 2015 Chemistry Life Hacks video, “How to Save Smelly Wine,” the society says a pre-1983 copper cent can turn bad wine good.

      “You had a brutal day and finally earned yourself a moment to breath,” the narrator intones. “Take a seat and enjoy a glass of wine from that lonely bottle that’s been waiting for you. You crack it open, pour yourself a glass, only to find out that your wine stinks like match sticks and burnt rubber.”

      The culprit is thiols (stinky sulfur molecules) that either built up in storage or were created during fermentation gone wrong. Swirling the wine in the glass might help a bit, but the American Chemical Society has a sure-fire, better-living-through-chemistry cure.

      “Head straight to your coin jar. Pull out an old penny, give it a nice, solid cleaning in the sink and then drop it right into your glass. Stir it around briefly with a spoon. Pull it out and taste and smell a world of difference.”

      The society reports, “When you drop a penny into your wine, the copper reacts with these thiol compounds producing odorless copper sulfide crystals.”

      The result is delicious and you get your penny back.

      Next: Bonus odd coin use: Heat dispersal 

    • Odd uses for coins: ?Hidden messages, hidden poison

      Jun 24, 2016, 16:08 PM by
      Low-tech malware: A hollowed-out 1948 Jefferson 5-cent coin with a tiny piece of microfilm inside was accidentally paid (on June 23, 1953, in the midst of the cold war) as a tip to a paper carrier. When the paper boy dropped the coin, it split, revealing its contents and casting deep suspicion on the customer. Similarly altered coins have carried other harmful content.

      Image in public domain.

      A hollowed-out nickel stuffed with microfilm played a part in the prosecution of notorious Soviet spy Rudolf I. Abel.

      Abel used numerous nickels to conceal messages and microfilm that eventually found their way back to the Soviet Union. The coins were dropped at several locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn for retrieval by confederates for shipment to Russia.

      One of those nickels was apparently spent and flowed unnoticed through the channels of commerce until Jimmy Bozart, a 13-year-old paperboy, accidentally dropped it.

      Bozart collected 35 cents weekly from each of his Brooklyn Eagle customers. A pair of schoolteachers living in East Flatbush tipped him 15 cents on June 23, 1953. “You didn’t get too many 15-cent tips,” Bozart, recalled decades later.

      As he walked down the stairs from the sixth-floor apartment, he dropped the 50 cents. He found 45 cents of the 50 cents and kept hunting for the missing nickel when he discovered what he described as “the wafer-thin back of a Jefferson nickel.”

      He found the front of the 1948 coin a few feet away, with a tiny piece of microfilm inside.

      Bozart figured something was up and turned the coin over to police. Four years later, the FBI came calling, asking him to testify in the Abel espionage case.

      While Bozart was one of 68 witnesses, the coin story captured the public’s imagination. New York police rewarded him with a commendation. A citizen bought him an Oldsmobile as a reward.

      Abel, who died in 1971, was convicted of espionage and traded Feb. 10, 1962, for captured American U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers. The prisoner exchange was the basis for the 2015 Steven Spielberg film, Bridge of Spies.

      Powers, curiously, had a hollowed-out coin in his possession, too, when he was captured May 1, 1960, after his plane was shot down. A silver dollar he wore around his neck like a “good luck charm” had a CIA-issued, poison-laced injection pin inside.

      Powers decided not to use the poison pin, a move that many called cowardly at the time. In 2012 he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal for “exceptional loyalty” to America during his two years of captivity.

       Next: A wine-saving tip


    • ?Odd uses for coins: Taking a bite out of coins

      Jun 20, 2016, 10:24 AM by
      This 1652-dated Oak Tree sixpence has teeth marks and may have been used as a teething piece by a Colonial infant.

      Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      Teething is hell on babies, parents and grandparents. Coins, however, have provided a solution to the problem for centuries.

      Folklore remedies include tying a small silver coin, such as a dime, around a baby’s neck as an amulet or using a large silver coin as a teething ring.

      While the county child protection agency might frown on the practice, one recent posting on a genealogy website advised, “What you do is you put a hole in the top of it with an icepick, and then you put a fishing string through the hole, and tie it around their neck about midway where the Adam’s apple would be just a little lower then [sic] the Adam’s apple. Right where the windpipe or that indenture is in your throat. And leave it there until all teeth are in. Make sure you tie it up high enough where the child cannot put the dime in their mouth.”

      A holed 1780s Spanish real was found during excavations at a slave cabin at Virginia’s Poplar Forest. In a 2011 article in Northeast Historical Archaeology, researcher Lori Lee describe the piece: “It is heavily worn and bears two deep impressions that some dental experts have identified as probable teeth marks.”

      She notes, “Stephen McCray, born into slavery in Alabama, recounted to an interviewer in Oklahoma: ‘A dime was put ‘round a teething baby’s neck to make it tooth easy and it sho’ helped too.’ ”

      A.G. Heaton, who popularized collecting by Mint mark, complained about the practice in an August 1903 article in The Numismatist.

      “Many scarce silver pieces have been also bored to suspend in some way, either for teething infants or because their date happed to be that of someone’s birth or marriage,” he said.

      In 1955 ANA member L.A. Pettitt wrote about his budding collection of teething-ring dollars.

      He wrote, “Americans have always been practical people and in the early days when the time came for baby's teething ring, the big dollar with a hole and string came into use. The string looped around the baby's neck became a plaything and a practical teething ring for generations. At present, I have one of these dollars, an 1802 over 1 which came to me from a lady in Trenton who said it had been in her family since the early 1800s until she sold it to me. Two others, which came to me from Alex Kaptik of the Philadelphia Coin Club, are dated 1795 and 1799.

      “The latest acquisition with a string on it, an 1844 silver dollar, came from Lansdale, Pa., and had been used by the babies in this family for nearly 100 years. I love these old dollars and was prompted to collect them because of the prices of fine dollars of this era.”

      He concluded, “In looking at my four teething ring dollars my thoughts often turn to, ‘How many tiny teeth did these old dollars help to bring through?’ As they hang above my desk these coins bring many pleasant thoughts.”

       Next: Hidden messages, hidden poison

    • ?Odd uses for coins: A numismatic ruler

      Jun 6, 2016, 16:11 PM by
      The 1858 Canada cent could be used as a unit of weight and measure, being 1 inch in diameter and weighing 1/100th of a pound.

      Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      Canadians must have been running short on rulers and weights in 1858 when the British colony decided that its cents should be an inch in diameter and weigh 1/100th of a pound.

      Issued in 1858 and 1859, Province of Canada cents featured Queen Victoria on the obverse and the denomination on the reverse. 

      The Journal of Education for Upper Canada reported in its 1858 edition, “The frontier counties will be saved a great deal of trouble by the introduction of this new coinage. Canadian cent pieces, which have been lately thrown off the British mint, possess a remarkable peculiarity. They are not only tokens of value, but also standards of weight and measure; 100 cents weigh exactly 1lb., and one cent measures 1 inch. Thus in the common transactions of life the buyer will have a ready check upon the dishonest dealer.”

      Despite their potential utility, the coins were not popular.

      Previously, Canadians had used heavier bank tokens. In Striking Impressions: The Royal Canadian Mint and Canadian Coinage, James Haxby wrote, “Two novel features of the Canadian decimal coinage proved to be great mistake. The new cent was expected to be a convenient tool as a weight and measure: its diameter was one inch (25.4 mm) and 100 coins weighted exactly one pound avoirdupois. But this was largely lost on a public who preferred the much heavier and more familiar copper bank tokens. It would be the mid-1870s before the entire coinage of 9.7 million cents could be put in circulation.”

      In 1876, when the newly created Dominion of Canada resumed cent production, the weight was increased to 1/80th of a pound – the same weight as a British half penny. Canada continued to produce large cents (first in British mints, later in the Royal Canadian Mint) until 1920, when it switched to smaller cents, the same size as United States cents.

      (U.S. small cents can be used, too, to make a reasonably accurate ruler. Line up 16 and you have a foot. The same coins stacked are within a hair’s width of an inch tall.)

       Next: Taking a bite out of coins

    • Odd uses for coins: A penny a day...

      May 24, 2016, 16:10 PM by
      The Royal Mint's first silver “£100 for £100” coin showcases the bell tower for the London clock known as Big Ben. Inside the tower, pennies and pounds have been used as pendulum weights to regulate the timepiece since it was set ticking more than 150 years ago.

      Images courtesy of the Royal Mint.

      Coins are good for spending, of course, if that’s all you can think of to do with them. But the possibilities for other uses are endless.

      Coins have weight, mass and dimension. They can be used to regulate time, measure distance, restore bad wine and even serve in the dark arts of spycraft.

      For the next five weeks, I’m going to look at alternate uses for one of mankind’s most useful inventions. 

      A penny a day keeps the time right

      Keepers of London’s Big Ben have used pennies and pounds to regulate the timepiece since it was set ticking more than 150 years ago.

      Adding an old English penny (9.4 grams from 1860 to 1970) or a modern £5 pound crown (28.3 grams since 1990) to the clock’s massive pendulum causes the clock to gain time.

      Before 2009, when crowns were added to the mix as part of the countdown to the nation’s 2012 Olympics, timekeepers kept 10 old pennies beside the mechanism, using the coins to keep the clock accurate.

      Adding or taking away coins affects the pendulum’s center of mass and the rate at which it swings, Mike McCann, the clock’s keeper told Reuters news service at the time.

      In 2015, news photos showed a pile of coins on the pendulum as timekeepers tried to regulate a clock that was suddenly six seconds off.

      CBS news reported, “The guys who maintain it, like Ian Westworth, have been struggling to keep it on time — even using pennies as weights.

      “By putting on or taking off a penny on the pendulum, you speed up or slow down the clock by two-fifths of a second in 24 hours,” Westworth said.

      Adding a penny to the top of the pendulum effectively shortens the length of the pendulum, causing the pendulum to run slightly faster. 

      In 2009, a commemorative crown was added to the pile of well-worn Victorian pennies. The crown takes the place of three pennies when placed on the pendulum. The countdown crown, fittingly, has a stopwatch as part of the design. The central element was a large numeral 3 (three years to the Games) superimposed over two swimmers.

      “There is a long and historic relationship between Big Ben and the UK’s coins,” McCann said. “Few people realize the technical role the old pennies have played inside the clock.”

      The clock will fall silent for a while next year when it undergoes a $42 million restoration. The New York Times said, “Maintenance teams have identified problems with the clock’s hands, mechanism and pendulum that threaten its ability to function properly.”

      Next: A numismatic ruler


    • Red Book 70: Spanish Milled Dollar

      May 2, 2016, 09:55 AM by
      The 1766 Mexico City 8-real coin pictured in the first edition of the Red Book was similar to the 1761 coin shown here.

      Original image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      The first coin in the first edition of the Red Book – a 1766 Mexico City 8 reales – appeared below the headline “The Spanish Milled Dollar,” “The Coin of Our Nation’s Founders.”

      The text: “The Spanish milled dollar otherwise known as the ‘pillar dollar’ and ‘piece of eight’ has been given a place in romantic fiction unequalled by any other coin.

      “The time-honored piece was the chief coin of the American colonists and actually was the forerunner of our silver dollar. It became so fundamentally a part of the everyday course of business during the colonial period that its official adoption as the standard unit of value for United States money was a natural and desirable development.”

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      That brilliantly written description perhaps unintentionally connected the coin with pirates in the minds of young collectors and inspired generations of numismatists to add one to their collections as a birth-point of U.S. coinage.

      The coin retains its preeminent place in the current Red Book, though the coin pictured now is a 1734 Mexico City piece.

      The text, too, has changed, giving more detail about its place in Continental Congress deliberations and its value ($225 in Fine to Very Fine).

      The current description ends with a timely warning that probably would not have been necessary in 1946. “Note that many modern copies of the 8 reales exist. These are produced mostly as souvenirs and have little or no value.”

    • Red Book 70: Gloucester token

      Apr 22, 2016, 16:36 PM by
      The first edition of the Red Book credited Sylvester S.Crosby with what little was known about the 1714 Gloucester token: “Known specimens are imperfect and a full description cannot be given.”

      Token images courtesy of Whitman Publishing; Red Book cover image courtesy of author.

      The 1714 Gloucester token was an enigma that vexed collectors for more than a century.

      In 1776, Sylvester S. Crosby, discussed the piece in his The Early Coins of America but did not picture it, possibly because it wouldn’t have served any purpose. Crosby said two well-worn specimens were known and together they didn’t provide enough information to give a full description.

      He wrote, “Of the history of the earliest of these (American tokens), called the Gloucester Token, nothing is known. It appears to have been intended as a pattern for a shilling of a private coinage, by Richard Dawson of Gloucester (county?) Virginia.”

      The 1714 dated piece(s) gave a denomination of XII or shilling and showed a building on the obverse and a star on the reverse. Half or less of the legends showed.

      Crosby’s second piece now appears to have been a copy of the first.

      The first edition of the Red Book credited Crosby with what little was known about the piece. “Known specimens are imperfect and a full description cannot be given.”

      That description remained unchanged for some 35 years. In 1981, another specimen was discovered. Combining the two coins, collectors were able to determine the coin’s full legend: GLOVCESTER • COVRTHOVSE • VIRGINIA on the obverse and RIGHAVLT DAWSON • ANNO • DOM • 1714 on the reverse.

      The Red Book now reports, “The recent discovery has provided a new interpretation of the legends, as a Righault family once owned land near the Gloucester courthouse.”

      Another Gloucester token mystery has arisen since the first Red Book was published. The current Red Book says, “A similar but somewhat smaller piece, possibly dated 1715 exists. The condition of the unique piece is too poor for a positive attribution.”

    • Red Book 70th anniversary: The King of Coins

      Apr 18, 2016, 17:15 PM by
      The Red Book text has been updated several times to reflect current research concerning the mysterious origins of this original 1804 dollar, the King of Coins.

      Original coin images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      In 1946, when R.S. Yeoman’s first A Guide Book of United States Coins was printed the 1804 dollar’s origin was a mystery. In its 70th edition this year, the book reflects the latest research.

      The King of Coins

      The 1804 dollar has always been a coin of mystery and desire. Was it struck in 1804 or decades later? In 1946, when the first Red Book was printed, both sides had their adherents. The Red Book told the story down the middle, giving both sides of the argument, but offering no conclusion.

      For the first 15 editions, the Red Book reported, “Those who adhere to the belief that these coins were struck in 1804 point to such evidence as the letter written by Robert Patterson, Director of the Mint, to President Thomas Jefferson. This letter stated that no dollars had been minted ‘during the last two years.’ Inasmuch as the letter was dated April 2, 1807, they infer that dollars were struck during 1804.

      “Mint records show that 19,570 silver dollars were coined in 1804 and that these coins were struck after March 28, 1804.”

      The 1804 dollar text concluded, “The 1804 dollar has been and probably will continue to be a subject of much discussion. Unless some new evidence is uncovered the mystery of its existence or disappearance will always be a matter of speculation for the numismatic fraternity”

      In 1962, Eric P. Newman and Kenneth Bressett, who went on to edit the Red Book, set the record straight with the publication of The Fantastic 1804 Dollar. No 1804-dated dollars were produced before 1834, when the Mint struck display sets of coins for diplomatic missions. Years later, a handful more (Class II) were secretly struck at the Mint for sale to connected collectors.

      As for the nearly 20,000 dollars listed in Mint records, Q. David Bowers reports in his Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia they were struck with dies dated 1803 or earlier.

      The 1963-dated 16th edition of the Red Book updated the controversy, saying, “Numismatists now know that the 1804 ‘original’ dollars were struck at the mint between 1836 and 1842.”

      In the years since 1963, the Red Book text has been updated to reflect current research. It now reads, “Numismatists have found that the 1804 original dollars were first struck in the 1834 through 1835 period for use in Presentation proof sets.”

      The first Red Book noted that original dollars had sold for $5,000 to $10,000. Today it takes about $4 million to buy one.


    • ?Red Book 70th anniversary: The Good Samaritan shilling

      Apr 8, 2016, 16:38 PM by
      The 24th edition of the Red Book, cover-dated 1971, was the last to carry an entry for the debunked Good Samaritan shilling, on page 17, tucked between the Massachusetts Pine Tree Pieces and the Maryland coinage.

      Original image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      The Red Book, in its 70th edition this year, has changed several times, reflecting research discoveries.

      Good Samaritan shilling

      The Good Samaritan shilling, a famous 19th century fraud, might be the only coin to be delisted from the R.S. Yeoman's A Guide Book of United States Coins, the Red Book.

      The “coin” was considered a great rarity in the 1940s and ‘50s. For the first dozen or so editions, the Red Book write-up described the piece:

      “The Good Samaritan Shilling, supposed to be a pattern piece, was struck at a Boston mint and is extremely rare. This piece is of the same general type as the Pine Tree Shilling, but has a device illustrating the parable of the Good Samaritan on the obverse. It is in silver and dated 1652 on the reverse.”

      Sylvester S. Crosby, in his groundbreaking 1876 work The Early Coins of America, acknowledged that some doubt the genuineness of the piece, but he was convinced it was a Massachusetts silver pattern. “I am to a considerable extent justified in regarding it as genuine, in the absence of anything like proof to the contrary,” he wrote.

      In 1959, numismatic researcher Eric P. Newman blew that argument apart, exposing the piece as a fraud. In The Secret of the Good Samaritan Shilling Newman said the Good Samaritan Shilling “was the ‘fakest’ coin in history!”

      In 1848 the British Museum purchased a Good Samaritan Shilling that was known to exist as early as 1730. The coin, Newman determined, was a Pine Tree Shilling on which the obverse had been ground off and replaced with the seal of the British Commission of Sick and Wounded, a 17th century precursor of the Red Cross. English coin dealer Thomas Snelling and American dealer Thomas Wyatt separately faked their own versions of the supposedly genuine coin and palmed them off on unsuspecting collectors.

      The Red Book continued to list the piece for a few years after Newman exposed the fraud, but changed the text. “Although this piece was formerly thought to be a pattern for the 1652 shillings, recent findings show that the known specimens are all fabrications.”

      While the piece has been debunked, it is still popular with collecting, fetching as much as $5,000 in recent auctions.

    • Red Book 70th anniversary: The 1903-O Morgan silver dollar

      Mar 30, 2016, 13:32 PM by
      The first edition of the 1947 Red Book lists the 1903-O dollar at $110 in Uncirculated. That was $10 more than the book’s next most valuable coin.

      Coin images courtesy of Heritage Auctions. 1947 Red Book cover image courtesy of Gerald Tebben.

      R.S. Yeoman's venerable “Red Book,” in its 70th edition this year, gets better over the years. Some changes serve as markers for collectors of the books.

      Red Book 70th anniversary: The 1903-O Morgan silver dollar

      The 1903-O is an incredibly important coin in the history of Morgan dollar collecting. From its minting to the early 1960s, it was the star of the 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 as low as a reported $7. Today the coin lists in Coin World’s Coin Values at $450 in MS-63. The value and the demand for the coin are in no small part based on its fabled history.

      The coin also serves as a way to distinguish the rare first print run of the first edition of A Guide Book of United States Coins from the more common second printing.

      In November 1946, 9,000 copies of the 1947-dated Red Book were printed. A paragraph below the Morgan dollar listing ambiguously reads, “270,232,722 silver dollars were melted under the Pittman Act of April, 1918, 259,121,554 for export to India, and 11,111,168 for domestic subsidiary coins, which probably accounts for the scarcity of this date.”

      In February 1947, an additional 22,000 copies were printed to meet unexpectedly strong demand for the title. The Morgan dollar paragraph was altered to eliminate the ambiguity. The ending phrase “scarcity of this date” was changed to “scarcity of 1903 O.”

      The Red Book’s “Valuation Guide for Past Editions of the Red Book” lists the first printing at $1,700 in new condition and the second printing at $1,600.

      The first edition lists the 1903-O dollar at $110 in Uncirculated. That was $10 more than the next most valuable coin, the 1893-S. The 1895 Proof is listed at $35. (The edition also lists the 1895 in Uncirculated at $6, though none exists.)

      About 10 years ago, Whitman Publishing Co. reissued the first printing of the first edition. It lists at $17.95 and is still available from the publisher and supply houses.

    • Red Book 70th anniversary: A look back

      Mar 24, 2016, 16:10 PM by
      The first edition of A Guide Book of United States Coins by R.S. Yeoman, commonly known as the Red Book for its distinctive red cover, was printed in 1946 but dated 1947. In keeping with the tradition, this year’s 70th edition will bear the cover date 2017.

      1947 Guide Book image courtesy of Gerald Tebben; 2017 cover image courtesy of Whitman Publishing.

      A Guide Book of United States Coins by R.S. Yeoman, the venerable “Red Book,” enters its well-deserved 70th edition this year. The 1946 foundation was strong and durable; every edition since has stayed true to its basic format – a retail price guide and numismatic primer.

      It remains inexpensive, accessible and definitive.

      Readers over the decades learned not only the current price of the coin they were interested in, but a bit of its history and, in some cases, the rationale for producing it. First editor Yeoman was as much interested in the educational aspects of collecting as the financial.

      The book has served an astounding four generations of collectors. And while its print run is diminished from its all-time high of 1.2 million in 1965, it remains true to its origins and delivers an ever-improving product to collectors year in and year out.

      The Red Book is an incredible first point of contact for most collectors. People who pick up an odd coin in circulation or stumble across a tin can of gold go to it first to figure out what they’ve got and what it’s worth. The book whets the appetite of the curious and encourages them to explore the hobby further.

      During the next five weeks, I’m going to look at five changes in the book over the years, some typographical, some based on new scholarship, all changes that made the book a better product or serve as a marker for collectors of the books themselves.

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    • U.S. coinage shaped by war: Vietnam

      Mar 11, 2016, 15:26 PM by
      The 1994 Vietnam Veterans War Memorial silver dollar obverse shows a section of The Wall. Across a grassy mall, a sculpture by Frederick Hart is posed as though observing visitors to The Wall.

      Coin World images.

      We end a five-part look at the way war has shaped America’s coinage with a look at a commemorative coin to honor those unfortunate soldiers who died in the jungles of Vietnam.

      Part five: Vietnam

      The Vietnam War saw one of the biggest changes ever in United States coins, but the changes had nothing to do with the war.

      At the same time American involvement in the South East Asian war was escalating from just a few hundred soldiers in 1959 to more than half a million in 1968, the price of silver was also rising.

      Rising demand, especially in the photography industry, pushed prices above 90 cents in 1956 and over $1 in 1961. The death warrant for silver coinage was signed Sept. 1, 1963, when silver hit $1.293 — the point at which a silver dollar contained a dollar’s worth of silver.

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      In 1965, the Mint ceased production of 90 percent silver dimes, quarter-dollars and half dollars. Some silver would remain in the half dollar through 1970, as U.S. involvement started to wind down.

      Our current clad coinage began during the Vietnam War and continues to this day.

      Twenty-one years after the last American left Vietnam, the United States produced one of the most democratic coins ever made to commemorate those who lost their lives in war — the Vietnam Veterans Memorial silver dollar.

      The 1994 coin shows a portion of Panel 3-East of The Wall, recording some of the deaths of Nov. 15 and 16, 1965. Most of the men whose names appear on the coin fell during the Battle of Ia Drang.

      Of 21 discernible names on the commemorative silver dollar, 17 men died at Ia Drang. Sixteen of those 17 died during the 16-hour battle in and near a football-field size clearing called Landing Zone Albany. The battle was the subject of the 1992 book and 2002 movie We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young. Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.), who commanded the 1st Battalion, 7th cavalry in the battle, and author Joseph L. Galloway wrote the book.

      “The Ia Drang campaign was to the Vietnam War what the terrible Spanish Civil War of the 1930s was to World War II: a dress rehearsal; the place where new tactics, techniques and weapons were tested, perfected and validated,” Moore and Galloway wrote in the book’s prologue. “In the Ia Drang, both sides claimed victory and both sides drew lessons, some of them dangerously deceptive, which echoed and resonated throughout the decade of bloody fighting and bitter sacrifice that was to come.”

    • U.S. coinage shaped by war: World War II

      Feb 23, 2016, 16:22 PM by
      In 1943, U.S. Mint was competing with the military for the nation’s copper and nickel. The result was some 500 million white, zinc-plated steel cents as well as uniquely marked silver nickels. For Hawaii, overprinted currency in several denominations was provided. In case the islands were captured the paper money could be demonetized.

      Hawaii overprint $5 note courtesy of the National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History; coin image courtesy of National Numismatic Collection (photograph by Jaclyn Nash), National Museum of American History, Public Domain

      In the depths of World War II, metals used for America’s coinage reflected the exigencies of battle and wartime prosperity at home, as the Mint tried new metals to replace those needed for weaponry abroad. 

      We continue a five-part look at the way war has shaped America’s coinage.

      Part four: World War II

      World War II challenged the Mint. After a decade of low-production because of the Great Depression, sudden wartime prosperity dramatically increased the demand for coins.

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      Competing, though, for the nation’s copper and nickel was the wartime need for artillery shells and armor plate. The result was zinc-plated steel cents and silver nickels.

      In 1943, the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco produced some 500 million white steel cents. They were instantly recognizable in change and were prized by children as lucky coins for decades after.

      Then the artillery shells were recycled at the Mint from 1944 through 1946 and used to make cent planchets. The shellcase coins are a lighter color than earlier and later pieces because the alloy lacked the trace of zinc used in other copper cents.

      War nickels, produced from mid-1942 through 1945, were composed of 35 percent silver and had a large Mint mark on the reverse above Monticello. The large letter was meant to allow for easy identification so the silver could be retrieved after the war.

      All other coins remained unchanged throughout the war. Some paper money, though, was changed for war reasons.

      After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States became concerned that the enemy might occupy the islands. In answer to the threat, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing produced special paper money for use in Hawaii. These notes had the word HAWAII printed on them in large letters and could not be taken off the island. If Hawaii had been overrun, the bills would have been demonetized.

    • U.S. coinage shaped by war: World War I

      Feb 19, 2016, 14:52 PM by
      The Peace dollar's creator originally envisioned a broken sword in the eagle's grasp, signifying an end to war. The shattered hardware was interpreted by others as a symbol of defeat, however, so an olive branch took its place at the eagle's feet.

      Original coin images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      After World War I, America’s coinage celebrated peace. We continue a five-part look at the way war has shaped U.S. coinage.

      Part three: World War I

      While World War I wreaked havoc on European currencies, the coinage of the United States went through the war unchanged.

      In the war’s aftermath, several countries – notably Germany – abandoned metal coinage for paper money and produced it with abandon.

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      The United States, though, doubled down on the silver dollar and changed its design to celebrate the peace that followed the war.

      Coin dealer Farran Zerbe is generally considered to be the coin’s father. Speaking at the 1920 American Numismatic Association convention, Zerbe called for the nation to commemorate the peace with a coin for circulation.

      Late the next year Anthony de Francisci won a competition to design the peace coin, but his winning entry was not without controversy. President Warren G. Harding had a problem with Liberty’s face on the obverse and veterans groups didn’t like the broken sword on the back.

      De Francisci’s wife, Teresa, was the model for Liberty. In a letter to her parents, she said the president objected to a dimple on her chin. “The president, however,” she wrote, “maintained that he preferred a dimpleless Liberty, because the dimpled variety did not exactly express peace.”

      She also described her husband’s vision for the coin’s reverse, “On the reverse side is an eagle, with folded wings, perched upon the top of a mountain, with the rising sun in the distance. Above the eagle’s head are the olive branches of peace, while a broken sword, symbolic of the end of the war, is clutched in its talons. Just beneath the eagle is the word ‘Peace’, while crowning the top of the coin are the words ‘United States of America.’ ”

      The president approved the design, but veterans groups protested the broken sword was a symbol of defeat. The New York Herald editorialized, “It is regrettable that the artist should have made such an error in symbolism.”

      Just three days before production started Dec. 26, 1921, Mint Chief Engraver George T. Morgan reworked the hub used to produce the coin’s dies by essentially morphing the broken sword into an olive branch.

      The last Peace dollars, curiously, were dated 1964 and produced in 1965, during the early days of the Vietnam War. The entire later-day mintage of 316,000 coins was melted. 

    • U.S. coinage shaped by war: The Civil War

      Feb 12, 2016, 16:28 PM by
      The national motto, IN GOD WE TRUST, first appeared on the 1864 2-cent piece.

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      In the depths of war, legends on America’s coinage gave substance to our aspirations and the metals used reflected the exigencies of battle.

      Coins glorified God during the Civil War, celebrated peace after World War I and honored those unfortunate soldiers who died in the jungles of Vietnam.

      During the Civil War and again during World War II the Mint tried new metals to replace those hoarded at home and needed for battle abroad.

      Connect with Coin World:  

      We continue a five-part look at the way war has shaped U.S. coinage.

      Part 2: The Civil War

      The Civil War produced the short-lived but immensely important 2-cent piece.

      Coinage, even cents, disappeared from circulation at the start of the Civil War. Metal coins were hoarded and traded at a substantial but fluctuating premium to paper money.

      In April 1864, Congress authorized a change in composition for the cent and the creation of the 2-cent piece. The cent, which had previously been a nearly 5-gram copper-nickel coin, was changed to a 3.11-gram copper piece.

      The 2-cent piece was produced to take the pressure off the cent. Twice as much value for each strike of the press.

      The coin was most important, though, for the legend it bore: IN GOD WE TRUST.

      On Nov. 13, 1861, Ridleyville, Pa., minister M. R. Watkinson urged Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase to place a “recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins.” He suggested, GOD, LIBERTY, LAW.

      A few days later, Chase wrote to Mint Director James Pollock:

      “No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins,” he wrote.

      “You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.”


      The result was IN GOD WE TRUST. Over the next century, the motto would make its way onto all of the nation’s coins and paper money.

    • U.S. coinage shaped by war: The Revolution

      Feb 3, 2016, 09:36 AM by
      The Continental Currency dollar, designed by Benjamin Franklin, bears the names of all 13 rebelling colonies and the fateful date 1776.

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      In the depths of war, legends on America’s coinage gave substance to our aspirations, and the metals used reflected the exigencies of battle.

      Coins celebrated the unity of the 13 original states during the Revolution, glorified God during the Civil War, celebrated peace after World War I and honored those unfortunate soldiers who died in the jungles of Vietnam.

      During the Civil War and again during WWII, the Mint tried new metals to replace those hoarded at home and needed for battle abroad.

      Connect with Coin World:  

      Over five weeks, we'll look at the way war shaped our coinage.

      The Revolution

      You can’t get much more American than Continental Currency dollars.

      The coins were designed by Benjamin Franklin, have the names of all 13 rebelling colonies and bear the fateful date 1776.

      The coins, basically a larger version of the 1787 Fugio cents, feature a chain of 13 links on the reverse, each inscribed with the name of a breakaway colony. The chain surrounds the statement AMERICAN CONGRESS / WE ARE ONE. The obverse shows a sundial and the legend MIND YOUR BUSINESS/FUGIO. The words CONTINENTAL CURRENCY 1776 surround the sundial.

      Some varieties also have the engraver’s initials: E.G., widely believed to be New York silversmith Elisha Gallaudet.

      The coin is known from four silver pieces and a handful of pewter and brass examples.

      In a 2014 sale of one of the silver coins, the Heritage Auctions catalog tells the story of the pieces. “Eric P. Newman, Don Taxay, Walter Breen, Philip Mossman, and Michael Hodder spent many years researching the Continental Currency coinage, mesmerized by its mysterious origins. No authorization for the production of the Continental Currency coinage has come to light, but it is probable that the coins were intended to take the place of the dollar-denominated paper currency issued by the Continental Congress in the latter part of 1776. The four resolutions from May 10, 1775 to May 9, 1776 provided for the issue of paper money in various denominations, including the one dollar bill. The six resolutions of July 22, 1776 through September 26, 1778 omitted the one dollar denomination. Thus, it is logical to conclude the pewter pieces were intended as a substitute for the paper dollars in those issues. The coins had minimal intrinsic value, and like the paper bills they replaced, were valued according to the public’s confidence in Congress, who guaranteed their value at one dollar each.”

      That coin, graded MS-63 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., sold for $1.4 million. Beat up pewter examples can sometimes be had for $10,000.

      Paper Continental Currency, some bearing the same designs, is much cheaper. Congress authorized nearly $250 million in paper Continental Currency during the Revolution. At the end of the war, it was all but worthless, giving rise to the phrase, “Not worth a Continental.” Well-worn bills can frequently be found for just a few dollars each.



    • Saint 5: A junk-box saint

      Jan 29, 2016, 15:24 PM by
      John XXIII issued millions of aluminum, aluminum bronze, steel, silver and gold coins between his election in 1958 and his death in 1963. This one, from 1962, celebrates the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

      Original images courtesy of Nicholas Gemini/Wikipedia.

      You can pick up coins issued by this saint for a dime or so in just about any junk box in the world.

      Pope John XXIII issued millions of aluminum, aluminum bronze, steel, silver and gold coins between his election in 1958 and his death in 1963. The Vatican City coins typically show the pontiff on the obverse and a religious image on the reverse.

      The beloved pope was canonized April 27, 2014, by Pope Francis, a pope whose substance and style are informed by the life of St. John XXIII.

      The Vatican’s biography of Pope John XXIII begins, “When on Oct. 20, 1958 the cardinals, assembled in conclave, elected Angelo Roncalli as pope many regarded him, because of his age and ambiguous reputation, as a transitional pope, little realizing that the pontificate of this man of 76 years would mark a turning point in history and initiate a new age for the Church.”

      On Oct. 11, 1962, the aging pope opened the first session of the Second Vatican Council. The New York Times recounted in a 50th anniversary article, “Over three years, from 1962 to 1965, some 2,800 bishops from 116 countries produced 16 documents that set the Roman Catholic Church’s course for the future.”

      The council changed how the church interacted with the rest of the world and how the faithful interacted with the church.

      The most visible changes concerned the celebration of the Mass. Priests now faced the congregation and said the Mass in the language of the people  English in most of the United States, Spanish in heavily Hispanic areas.

      John XXIII died before the council ended. Successor Paul VI closed the event. He noted in the final address on Dec. 7, 1965, “You see, for example, how the countless different languages of peoples existing today were admitted for the liturgical expression of men's communication with God and God's communication with men: to man as such was recognized his fundamental claim to enjoy full possession of his rights and to his transcendental destiny. His supreme aspirations to life, to personal dignity, to his just liberty, to culture, to the renewal of the social order, to justice and peace were purified and promoted; and to all men was addressed the pastoral and missionary invitation to the light of the Gospel.”

      In 1962, John XXIII issued a set of commemorative coins celebrating the council. The 50-, 100- and 500-lire coins show the pope on the obverse and the bishops assembled beneath the Paraclete on the reverse. The steel 50- and 100-lire coins sell for just a few dollars each. The silver 500-lire coin catalogs for $30 in Uncirculated condition.



    • Saint 4: Putting a halo on a crown

      Jan 22, 2016, 16:11 PM by
      Louis IX reigned between 1226 and 1270 and was named a saint in 1297. A great many of his coins typically show the cross on the obverse surrounded by the king’s name — LVDOVICVS REX — and a crude representation of a castle on the reverse.

      Original image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      King Louis IX of France was a pious man who fed the poor, cared for the fallen, built grand churches and launched two crusades.

      Louis ascended to the throne in 1226 at the age of 12. His strong-willed, sternly moral mother, Blanche of Castile, served as regent during the early years of his reign, thwarting plots to unseat him.

      Louis, who loved sermons, attended two Masses every day, and was often accompanied by priests chanting the hours.

      In 1239 he bought the Crown of Thorns (the one Jesus wore) and pieces of the True Cross from Baldwin II, the perpetually impoverished last monarch of the Latin Empire, a Crusader state established in Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade. Louis built the still-standing Sainte-Chapelle on the Île de la Cité to house them.

      In 1248 he joined the Seventh Crusade. He landed in Egypt during the summer of 1249 and was defeated at the Battle of Al Mansurah the following April. He was captured by the Egyptians and held for ransom.

      In 1267, Louis IX again “took the cloth,” sewing a cross on his clothing, and vowed to reach Jerusalem. He didn’t make it. The Eighth Crusade landed at Carthage on July 17, 1270. Dysentery swept through the troops and felled the king on Aug. 25.

      Louis received last rites Aug. 24 and weakly lingered the next day.

      The Lives of the Saints reports that at noon he lifted his eyes toward heaven and “repeated aloud the words of the psalmist: ‘Lord, I will enter into thine house; I will adore in thy holy temple, and will give glory to Thy name.’ He spoke again at three in the afternoon, but only said, ‘Into Thy hands I commend my soul.’ Immediately after which he breathed his last in his camp.”

      Pope Boniface VIII canonized Louis IX in 1297.

      During the saint’s long reign he issued a wide variety of silver and gold coins. His most common coin is the thin, dime-size billon denier tournois. These typically show the cross on the obverse surrounded by the king’s name — LVDOVICVS REX — and a crude representation of a castle on the reverse. Well-circulated examples can be found with a bit of searching for less than $50.

      Next: A junk box saint 

    • Saint 3: Mom’s a saint, too

      Jan 15, 2016, 12:00 PM by
      Saint Helena appears on the obverse of this gold solidus minted at Sirmium in 324 or 325. Heritage Auctions sold the coin for $29,900 in 2011.

      Original image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      Like her son, St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, is revered as a saint, too, for her charity, devotion and discovery of the True Cross upon which Jesus of Nazareth was crucified.

      Helena was born about 248 and worked as a young woman in her father’s tavern in Naissus. It is unknown whether she was wife or concubine to Constantius I, but she bore him a child who would become ruler of the Roman world.

      About 312 she converted to Christianity.

      Roman historian Eusebius Pamphili wrote, "Especially abundant were the gifts she bestowed on the naked and unprotected poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing; she liberated some from imprisonment, or from the bitter servitude of the mines; others she delivered from unjust oppression, and others again, she restored from exile.

      “While, however, her character derived luster from such deeds as I have described, she was far from neglecting personal piety toward God. She might be seen continually frequenting His Church, while at the same time she adorned the houses of prayer with splendid offerings, not overlooking the churches of the smallest cities. In short, this admirable woman was to be seen, in simple and modest attire, mingling with the crowd of worshipers, and testifying her devotion to God by a uniform course of pious conduct.”

      In 324 she traveled to Palestine to search for places sacred to the memory of Jesus, building churches at the sites of Christ’s nativity and the ascension into Heaven and discovering, according to legend, the true cross.

      The Shrine of the True Cross, a Catholic shrine in Dickinson, Texas, relates, “Then, on Sept. 14, 326, Emperor Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, found in Jerusalem the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. The legend of the story of the discovery of the True Cross is that when visiting the holy places in Palestine, St. Helena was guided to the site of the Crucifixion by an aged Jew who had inherited traditional knowledge as to its location.

      "After the ground had been dug to a considerable depth, three crosses were found, as well as the superscription placed over the Savior’s head on the Cross, and the nails with which He had been crucified. The Cross of the Lord was distinguished from the other two by laying the crosses on a dead youth who was revived by the touch of the third Cross.”

      Lifetime coins of Helena are plentiful and cheap, too. They typically show her on the obverse and a star or Securitas on the reverse. They can often be found for as little as $5 to $10 each. 

      Next: Putting a halo on a crown

    • Saint 2: A visionary saint

      Dec 23, 2015, 13:10 PM by
      Constantine the Great looks toward heaven on the obverse of this gold 1 1/2 solidus medallion. The reverse shows the emperor dragging a captive and stepping on another.

      Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Next: Mom’s a saint, too

    • Saint 1: ?The saintly mint master

      Dec 18, 2015, 10:50 AM by
      A bronze medal currently available from the Austrian Mint shows Saint Eligius as a bishop striking coins as master of the mint at Marseilles in seventh century France.

      Medal image courtesy of the Austrian Mint.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Next: A visionary saint

    • ?Saints on coins

      Dec 10, 2015, 13:03 PM by
      This uniface 1790 Albany, N.Y., church penny, sold for $115,000 at a Heritage Auctions sale in January 2012. In background image, church cornerstone notes founding in 1763.

      Original cornerstone image courtesy of First Presbyterian Church of Albany, at www.firstpresalbany.org; coin image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Today, houses of worship everywhere accept money as donations.

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

      Next: The saintly mint master

    • Leopold’s private hell: Leopold II of Belgium

      Nov 11, 2015, 09:46 AM by Gerald Tebben
      When he wasn’t enslaving the natives of the Congo, Leopold II ruled Belgium. Here he appears on an 1873 5 franc piece.

      Original coin images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • ?A dynasty of mad men: Kim Jong-Il

      Nov 2, 2015, 15:09 PM by
      "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s supreme leader from 1994 to his death in 2011, was an Elvis Presley fan. The former leader is seen on coins and in other images wearing his idol's hairstyle.
      Kim Jong-il was North Korea’s supreme leader from 1994 to his death in 2011. Dear Leader (Really, that’s what he was called) succeeded his father, Great Leader Kim Il-sung, and was father to Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong-un, the hermit kingdom’s current ruler.
      Language doesn’t have words bad enough to describe Kim Jong-Il, his dad and his chubby son. An estimated 1 million to 3 million North Koreans starved to death in a needless famine during the early years of Kim Jong-il’s reign.
      God, though, apparently thought he wasn’t so bad.  According to North Korean media, the heavens cried when Kim Jong-il met his maker. The BBC relayed the report Dec. 22, 2011. “Ice cracked on a famous lake ‘so loud, it seemed to shake the Heavens and the Earth’, and a mysterious glow was seen on a revered mountain top, KCNA said.”
      The report continued, “Following the storm's sudden end at dawn on Tuesday, a message carved in rock — ‘Mount Paektu, holy mountain of revolution. Kim Jong-il’ — glowed brightly, it said. It remained there until sunset.”
      Dear Leader appears on several coins from the 1990s and 2000s, mostly showing half and three quarter portraits of Mr. Misery greeting diplomats. The most entertaining is a 1992 50-won silver piece celebrating Kim Jong-il’s 50th birthday. The coin has the nation’s coat of arms on the obverse and a facing bust of Dear Leader on the reverse. 
      If you squint a bit while looking at the coin, the high-haired murderer looks just like his idol, Elvis Presley. Dear Leader, it turns out, was a huge Elvis fan, adopting the King’s jumpsuit, sunglasses and even his bouffant hairstyle.
      The coin can be difficult to locate. In July, a deep cameo Proof sold for $305 on eBay.
      Next: Leopold’s private hell

    • Law and order or anarchy: Diocletian

      Oct 23, 2015, 13:14 PM by
      The emperor Diocletian appears on the obverse of this ancient Roman billon follis. On the reverse is a religious representation. The emperor championed traditional Roman religious practices, requiring his subjects to conform or face death.

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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

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

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

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

    • 'Heil Hitler'

      Oct 12, 2015, 10:14 AM by
      This 1939 Vienna Mint 1-pfennig piece is typical of Nazi coins. It shows an eagle holding a swastika. Hitler appeared on a few pattern pieces, but did not want his portrait on German coins until after he had won the war.

      John Alan Elson/ Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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


      Next: The people’s paradise

    • Evil people on coins

      Oct 2, 2015, 16:05 PM by
      Some truly evil people won't show up in a thematic coin collection dedicated to badness. For example, although Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge decimated Cambodia, forcing millions to work on collective farms and killing a quarter of the nation’s population in what became known as killing fields, no coins were issued with his portrait.

      The evil that men do lives after them;

      The good is oft interred with their bones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • One that paid off: One that paid off

      Sep 26, 2015, 13:11 PM by
      Advertising once fostered the belief that future generations would want these “heirloom” pieces, but only the rising price of silver has saved this Franklin Mint material from the dismal fate of Avon bottles and Beanie Babies.

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

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

    • ?Put it on the wall: ?Put it on the wall

      Sep 22, 2015, 10:14 AM by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Next: One that paid off


    • ?I’ll drink to that: ?I’ll drink to that

      Sep 10, 2015, 15:40 PM by
      In 2012, Jim Beam issued this Jim Beam American Stillhouse decanter for $199.99. The bottle, which came filled with bourbon, was limited to an edition of 1,000. It was the company’s first decanter since production ceased in the early 1990s.

      Source: Beam Suntory

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

      Connect with Coin World:  

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

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    • The collectible that smells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • It’s all beans:

      Aug 21, 2015, 14:35 PM by
      Sizzle the Bear Beanie Baby was released in 2001 and still retails at its $5 issue price.
      ?In 1999, theater students at Fort Hayes High School in Columbus, Ohio, were raising money for a summer trip to Scotland by holding benefit performances, bake sales, a grand yard sale and even an auction of donated items.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Next: The collectible that smells

    • Collectibles?: Collectibles?

      Aug 17, 2015, 10:55 AM by
      Collectibles that once cost small fortunes can be found begging for pennies at flea markets such as the Chicagoland Flea Market in Rosemont, Ill.

      Wolffystyle/ Wikipedia

      Coins are often unfairly classified as collectibles.

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

    • Worthless cents and a partial country

      Jul 31, 2015, 14:47 PM by
      This high-grade Ameri. cent sold for $440,625 last year.

      Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    • The amusement park dime

      Jul 23, 2015, 17:34 PM by
      Strong-strike 1982 No P dime, obverse. Note the smooth surface, lacking any hint of a Mint mark, between the date and Franklin D. Roosevelt's neck.
      The 1982-P Roosevelt No P dime touched off a wave of change-scouring when stories started appearing in Ohio and Pennsylvania newspapers about the discovery of odd dimes that did not have a Mint mark.  Since 1980, every circulating coin, except cents, has a Mint mark above the date. These dimes, though, were blank.

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

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

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

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

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

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


      Next: Worthless cents and a partial country

    • The Philadelphia coin that wasn’t

      Jul 14, 2015, 15:12 PM by
      This brown Mint State 63 1922 No D, Strong Reverse cent, graded by the Professional Coin Grading Service, sold for $15, 275 at auction in June 2015. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Next: The amusement park dime

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    • A crippled buffalo

      Jul 10, 2015, 15:18 PM by
      The buffalo on this reverse of a 1937-D 5-cent piece lost part of its leg to an overly enthusiastic Mint worker. This Professional Coin Grading Service Mint State 63 coin sold for $4,700 in June 2015. Heritage Auctions.

      Heritage Auctions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


      Next: The Philadelphia coin that wasn’t

    • The case of the missing signature

      Jul 8, 2015, 11:01 AM by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Next: A crippled buffalo

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    • Less is more

      Jun 30, 2015, 17:48 PM by
      When Dilbert’s boss says, “We have to learn to do more with less,” nothing good happens to Dilbert in this Feb. 11, 2013, comic strip. With coins, though, less can be more. Copyright 2013 Scott Adams Inc / Dist by Universal Uclick

      Copyright 2013 Scott Adams Inc/ Dist by Universal Uclick

      Less is more. 

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

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

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

      However, in numismatics, sometimes less is more.

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

      Next: The case of the missing signature 

    • Antebellum enigma

      Jun 12, 2015, 14:53 PM by
      Obverse of a PCGS AU-53 1848 small date large cent; this example sold for $6462.50 at auction in 2014. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      Heritage Auctions: Lot 2319 , FUN Signature Auction - Orlando #1200

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

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

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

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

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

      Why was it produced? No one knows.

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

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

    • Scrap-pile rescue

      Jun 5, 2015, 15:12 PM by
      Obverse of PCGS MS-66 Red 1804 restrike large cent, offered as Lot 1031 in the 2009 April-May Cincinnati, Ohio, Central States Numismatic Society U.S. Coin Auction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Next: Antebellum enigma


    • Copy or counterfeit?

      May 29, 2015, 16:54 PM by
      PCGS MS-66 brown 1796 Edwards copy half cent, from Heritage Signature Auction at 2008 Baltimore ANA show. Obverse is shown here.

      Heritage Auctions Lot 1496, 2008 July-August Baltimore, MD (ANA) US Coin Signature Auction #1114

      1796 half cent copies or counterfeits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

       Next: Scrap-pile rescue

    • A genuine counterfeit

      May 22, 2015, 15:50 PM by
      Note the more rounded cheeks and recut hair detail on the obverse of this 1793 Smith counterfeit that sold for $2,585 by Ira and Larry Goldberg Auctioneers in January.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

      Next: Copy or counterfeit?


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    • The saw-maker’s patterns

      May 15, 2015, 15:42 PM by
      Reverse of a PCGS VF-20 1795 Jefferson head cent that sold for $111,625 in 2013. Image courtesy Heritage Auctions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


      Next: A genuine counterfeit

    • Counterfeits

      May 11, 2015, 14:31 PM by
      The first U.S. Mint building at Philadelphia.

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

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

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

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

      Next: The saw-maker’s patterns

    • ?Tax on checks

      Apr 27, 2015, 15:30 PM by
      This check was issued June 17, 1865, on the Delaware County National Bank shortly after the bank converted to a national bank from a branch of the State Bank of Ohio. The check, printed during the state bank days, has the word BRANCH crossed out and NATIONAL handwritten in its place. The check bears a 2 cent Internal Revenue stamp. Image courtesy of author.

      Image courtesy of Gerald Tebben.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Tiny tax tokens

      Apr 21, 2015, 10:57 AM by
      Mississippi sales tax token.

      Image courtesy of Gerald Tebben.

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

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

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

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

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

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

       Next: Tax on checks


    • ?Peter the Great’s beard tax

      Apr 15, 2015, 10:48 AM by
      This 1705 beard tax token sold for $4,112 at auction in 2013. This side is termed the obverse. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Next: Tiny tax tokens

    • Lady Godiva's tax protest

      Apr 8, 2015, 16:54 PM by
      Privately minted 1792-1794 halfpenny token issued during Great Britain’s Condor token craze depicts the legendary Lady Godiva and carries the legend PRO BONO PUBLICO as do many Condor tokens, meaning "for the public good." Lady Godiva’s ride, too, was for the public good. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Next: Trimming the hirsute

    • Rome's insulting Jewish tax

      Mar 23, 2015, 16:56 PM by
      This Extra Fine example of Nerva’s FISCI IVDAICI sestertius sold for $77,675 at a March 2012 Heritage Auctions sale.

      Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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


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

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

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

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

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

      What that means, though, is open to interpretation.

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

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

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

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

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

    • ?Taxman

      Mar 13, 2015, 13:21 PM by
      George Harrison visiting Gerald Ford.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Next: Rome’s insulting Jewish tax. 

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

      Feb 6, 2015, 17:35 PM by
      This is the exterior of American Coin Co., a real store that was used as a shooting location in the 1976 episode of The Rockford Files.

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

      What we've covered so far:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      The episode can be watched free on Hulu.

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

      Jan 30, 2015, 12:22 PM by
      An Hawaii Five-0 episode titled, The $100,000 Nickel aired on Dec. 11, 1973.

      Screenshot from YouTube.com

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

      What we've covered so far:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      The video can be seen free at YouTube.

      Next: The Rockford Files

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

      Jan 22, 2015, 10:40 AM by
      Killer coin dealer Vincent Hagopian Jr. (John Saxon) examines a freshly made counterfeit double eagle while his soon to killed associate looks on.

      YouTube.com screenshot

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

      What we've covered so far:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      It can be watched free on YouTube.

      Next: Hawaii Five-0

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

      Jan 15, 2015, 11:39 AM by
      Dennis the Menace shows Mrs. Wilson the coin he found on the floor in this screen grab from "Dennis and the Rare Coin."

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

      What we've covered so far:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

       Next: Streets of San Francisco

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

      Jan 7, 2015, 11:06 AM by
      This is a screen grab from the title sequence of 'The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure.'

      Screenshot from YouTube video found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phWGcOOEPZY

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

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

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    • Collecting Christmas: Dec. 25 business in Colonial New England

      Dec 1, 2014, 16:08 PM by
      Christmas was just another day in 1734. Merchants signed this New Hampshire bill on the “25th of Decr A.D. 1734.”

      Image courtesy of Stack's Bowers

      For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.  

      General Court, Massachusetts Bay Colony, May 11, 1659

      Christmas Day wasn’t always a day of celebration. Puritans considered winter revelry pagan and papist and outlawed celebrating the day, going so far as to fine offenders five shillings. (That fine in lightly circulated 1653-1660 Willow Tree shillings would be worth more than $1 million to collectors today.)

      Christmas Day was a regular workday in America in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. Following the publication of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and America’s embrace of Santa Claus and the Christmas tree in the mid-1800s the holiday took its now familiar form. It did not become a federal holiday until 1870.

      Christmas wasn’t banned in colonial New Hampshire in the early 1700s, but it wasn’t kept well, either. It was just another day.

      On Dec. 25, 1734, a group of 18 merchants and a “great number” of leading citizens of Portsmouth, N.H., issued 6,000 pounds worth of interest-bearing paper money. The bills, issued in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 7 and 10 shillings, paid 1 percent interest and were redeemable on Christmas Day, 1746.

      In Early Paper Money of AmericaEric P. Newman writes the bills were issued after the Crown forbade further paper money issues. However, the bills were not universally accepted. Boston merchants pledged not to accept the bills. Massachusetts prohibited their circulation, under a penalty of a 21 shillings fine. Even the governor of the province inveighed against them.

      Today these relics from a time when Christmas wasn’t a day of celebration are scarce and expensive. On the rare day that one appears at auction, it sells for thousands of dollars. In 2005, Stack’s sold a Fine – Very Fine 1 shilling note for $9,500.

      Next: Santa’s paper money

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    • Why the common Indian cent is 'a worthy gift of the magi': Collecting Christmas

      Nov 19, 2014, 14:21 PM by
      If Della had this coin in her tiny hoard, she should have held onto it. The coin, graded MS 66+ red by PCGS, fetched $6,168.75 at a Heritage auction Sept. 5.

      Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions

      One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas. 

      O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi

      O. Henry began his Christmas tale The Gift of the Magi on a numismatic note.  The short story appeared in the Dec. 10, 1905, edition of The New York Sunday World.

      Della famously sells her hair to buy a $21 platinum fob for Jim’s watch, and Jim sells his watch to buy a comb for Della’s hair.

      O. Henry ended the tale: “The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the new-born King of the Jews in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.”

      With a mintage of 80.7 million the 1905 Indian cent is a common coin. In Good condition, it lists for $1.50 in Coin Values. Uncirculated examples start at $30. Every one is a Christmas coin and a worthy gift of the magi.

      The lowly coin is both a symbol of the enduring power of love and the yuletide.

      Next:  Christmas day business in Colonial New England

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    • What did Scrooge use to pay Bob Cratchit?: Collecting Christmas

      Nov 12, 2014, 11:06 AM by
      This Extra Fine 1843 half crown fetched $460 at auction in 2011 and resold for $690 in 2013.

      Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions

      “You'll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?'' said Scrooge.

      “If quite convenient, Sir.''

      “It's not convenient,'' said Scrooge, “and it's not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd think yourself ill-used, I'll be bound?''

      The clerk smiled faintly.

      “And yet,'' said Scrooge, “you don't think me ill-used, when I pay a day's wages for no work.''

      The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

      “A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!'' said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. “But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning!’' 

      – Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

      Ebenezer Scrooge, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner,” paid his long-suffering clerk Bob Cratchit a pittance – just half a crown a day.

      That famous fictional half crown was a middling size silver coin that showed a king or queen on the obverse and the English shield on the reverse. The Tower Mint in London struck 455,000 half crowns in 1843, the year Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. Each showed a young Queen Victoria on the obverse.

      The half crown (2 shillings, 6 pence) was the equivalent of about 60 cents in U.S. coin at the time. During a period know as the Hungry Forties in England, Cratchit’s wage of 15 shillings a week enabled him to cling precariously to the bottom run of the middle class. Wages were so depressed during the Industrial Revolution that landowners were know to hire men (at 9 pence a day) to dig fields because it was cheaper than plowing with horses.

      The half crown reappears toward the end of Dickens’ Carol when a transformed Scrooge offers an “intelligent, remarkable and delightful boy” a half crown if he brings back the poulterer in less than five minutes.

      British 1843 half crowns catalog for $225 in Fine condition and $4,125 in Uncirculated.  While they can be a bit pricey, the coin is THE Christmas coin of the 19th century.

      Next:  20th century gifts of the magi

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    • Collecting Christmas: Start with a Roman coin circulated around the time Jesus was born

      Nov 6, 2014, 15:39 PM by
      This bronze as, issued in Rome in 7 B.C., shows Augustus on the obverse and the moneyer’s name - M. Salvius Otho – on the reverse. The nearly Very Fine coin sold for $44 at auction just before last Christmas.

      Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions

      Collectors are blessed when it comes to Christmas. The hobby provides a multitude of possible gifts to give and receive. There are also numerous numismatic objects that are touched by and reflect the sprit of the season. Some date from the time of the birth of Christ. Others are associated with the holiday’s celebration over the centuries.

      For the next five weeks, this blog will be my Christmas present to you. In it I’ll detail five items – three coins and two pieces of paper money – that bask in the glow of the season. Their values range from as little as $1.50 for a cent associated with the gifts of the magi to $10,000 for piece of paper money dated Dec. 25 in a year the holiday was not celebrated. Each would make a fine present.

      The first item is a coin of Caesar Augustus.

      And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

      (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

      And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

      And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

      To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

      And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

      And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.  – Luke 2:1-7

      The coinage of Caesar Augustus is intimately connected to the birth of Jesus Christ. 

      Augustus, who ruled Rome and its provinces from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14, is named in the first line of Luke’s account of the nativity. His coinage circulated throughout the empire, and it’s not inconceivable that the magi’s gift of gold included an aureus of Augustus.

      While ancient coins do not bear calendar-year dates, collectors can be fairly certain that lifetime issues of Augustus with the abbreviation “PP” or words “PATER PATRIAE” in the legend were issued during Jesus’ childhood. The Senate awarded the title "Father of the Country” to Augustus in 2 B.C. Most of his coins bear his bust on the obverse – giving dimension to man named in the first line of Luke’s famous account.

      Augustus’ coinage is plentiful and inexpensive. With a little searching, circulated bronze and silver coins bearing his portrait can be obtained for less than $100.

      Next: Bob Cratchit’s pay?

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    • Five sure-five ways to make money in coins: cherrypicking

      Oct 21, 2014, 15:13 PM by

      Here’s my fifth and last sure-fire way to make money in coins.

      Check out the first four here:  

      Cherrypicking. Knowledge is king in collecting. An investor who specializes in a series, especially early coppers, Seated Liberty coins and Morgan dollars, can find rare coins going for a fraction of their value on eBay, in national auctions and in dealer stock on the bourse floor. Knowing varieties and die states can be immediately and immensely profitable.

      Years ago, astute collectors maintained personal notebooks detailing rare varieties. For the most part, that’s no longer necessary.

      Large cent collectors have William H. Sheldon’s Penny Whimsy and Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of Early US Cents 1793–1814.

      Morgan dollar collectors have The Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars by Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis.

      The Cherrypickers' Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton covers many other denominations.

      The trick to cherrypicking is finding value hiding in plain sight.

      Rare coins are regularly picked from junk boxes, bourse display cases and even national auctions.

      Last year a collector bought the third-known example of a scarce 1794 Liberty Cap, Head of 1794 cent variety (NC-11) unattributed from a dealer’s display case on the floor of the gigantic Whitman Coin & Collectibles Philadelphia Expo.

      Fellow Coin World columnist and silver dollar variety expert John Roberts is locally famous in Columbus, Ohio, for plucking a $1,000 VAM variety from a local auction for common-coin money.

      In addition to money, successful cherrypicking gives the collector bragging rights. Cherrypicking stories regularly appear in Coin World and online at several websites. Probably of all the ways to make money in rare coins it’s the most fun. And that, at base, is what coin collecting is all about.


      Oct 15, 2014, 10:27 AM by

      Here’s my fourth sure-fire way to make money in coins.

      Check out the first three here:  

      Buy coins with a large collector base. Some blue chips are too blue to actually be blue chips.  As the price of a coin increases into the tens and hundreds of thousands the number of possible buyers thins, sometimes to next to nothing. Several very rare, very desirable coins have sold for hundreds of thousands one year and gone begging for a buyer at half that price a year or two later.

      While gains for extreme rarities can be great, their loses can be catastrophic. One of the first collectors to realize this was famed 19th century Boston bean baker Lorin G. Parmelee. In 1870 he paid $700 for a Class I 1804 silver dollar.  When he cashed out in 1890, the King of American Coins, fetched just $570 at auction.  That coin hasn’t been sold since.Buyer Byron Reed willed it to the city of Omaha. It’s the centerpiece of the Reed gallery in that city’s Durham Museum.

      A more recent example is the 1850 Proof Seated Liberty quarter. Three are known. The finest, graded Proof 68 by NGC, sold for a breathtaking $460,000 at the January 2008 FUN show.

      Five years later, at last year’s Aug. 8, 2013, Heritage Auctions U.S. Coins Signature Auction, the coin sold for $258,500. In June, Heritage sold the same coin again, this time for just $223,250.

      If the only other guy interested in a very expensive coin is out on his yacht the day you sell your coin at auction, the price is goingto plummet. Look for coins that are affordable by the average collector.

      Next: Cherrypicking?

    • Five sure-fire ways to make money in coins: Watch inflection points

      Oct 6, 2014, 11:38 AM by

      Below is my third sure-fire way to make money in coins.

      Check out the first two here: 



      Buy on the downgrade side of rising inflection points.  Many coins have an inflection point – a grade where increasing demand pushes up the retail price dramatically from the next lower grade, often doubling it.  In a rising market, that inflection point moves down grade. Predicting where it will go can lead to profits.

      If demand for a series is increasing, more and more collectors are chasing a fixed number of coins.  When there are more collectors than coins in a desirable grade, price pressure builds on the next lower grade.

      The action first appears in the intermediate grades.  An Extra Fine 40 coin may rise a bit in value, but interest intensifies in Very Fine 30 coins, then 25s.  Like a wave, the value hike rolls down through the grades until it hits the next resistance point, in this case Very Fine 20.

      In Seated Liberty coins, for example, most of the action is between VF-20 and EF-40. Coins graded 25, 30 and 35 are ripe for profit making. It’s hard to tell when it’s happening. The movement is neither smooth nor obvious. 

      Curiously the value of higher grade coins, especially uncirculated coins, may not move much, if at all.  The market perceives that higher grade coins are already valued fairly, but lower grade coins are not.  As the market moves to correct the perceived imbalance, prices rise in lower grades

      Think of this as a numismatic analog to stock market momentum investing.

      Next: Too blue blue chips

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    • Five sure-fire ways to make money in coins: Buy blue chips

      Sep 30, 2014, 14:34 PM by
      The 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent is among the blue-chip coins collectors should always be considering if they want to make money in numismatics.

      Images courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts

      After introducing the topic and discussing the first sure-fire way to make money in coins, buying and holding, here’s my second sure-fire tip.

      Buy blue chips. Look for coins that have a large market base and show a long period of sustained appreciation. Blue chips are key coins in popularly collected series. Think 1909-S VDB Lincoln cents, 1916 Standing Liberty quarters and 1893-S Morgan dollars. Year in and year out blue chips go up in value, and they go up in all grades.

      Just about every American collector has started a date-and-mint-mark collection of Lincoln cents at some point. The final five holes – 1909-S, 1909-S VDB, 1914-D, 1922 plain and 1931-S – though, are a stumbling block. Every collector wants to fill them, but many are deterred by price.

      The five key coins, at least in circulated grades, hold the series’ value. Some have been on collectors’ wish lists for more than a century. There is tremendous demand for them. Just about every year they go up in value, regardless of what the bullion market is doing, regardless, to a large part, of what the general economy is doing.

      If Warren Buffett collected coins, he’d collect blue chips. Collecting key coins is as close to Buffet’s signature “value” investing as a collector can get.

      One caution about coins that appear to be blue chips, but are not. The value of a blue chip coin is based on genuine scarcity and genuine demand. If enough examples of a coin exist for it to be promoted on TV or in ads, then it’s too common to be a blue chip. Its value will disappear as soon as the advertising stops.

      Next: Inflection points

    • Five sure-fire ways to make money in coins: Buy and hold

      Sep 23, 2014, 15:51 PM by

      After introducing the topic in my last post, here’s my first sure-fire way to make money in coins.

      Buy and hold. This classic stock advice applies to coins, too.  Pick a good coin and hold on to it.  

      While there are notable exceptions (1950-D nickels, for example, are worth less now than they were 50 years ago), coins in the long run tend to go up in value, sometimes spectacularly.

      In 1950 famed collector Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. spent $4,000 for the unique 1873-CC half dime, the capstone of his collection. In May 1996, the coin sold for $550,000.

      If Eliasberg had placed the money in a 3 percent passbook savings account, his estate would have amassed $15,580 by 1996.  The same amount invested in stocks in 1950 (using the Dow Jones Industrial Average as a proxy) would have grown to $116,000 by May 22, 1996.

      While that coin outshines just about everything else, run-of-the-mill collector coins tend to go up year after year, too If you compare a Red Book from 2004 with this year’s, you’ll find few negatives. The farther back you go, the larger and more numerous the positives.

      In 1976, a 1909-S VDB cent cataloged for $115 in Good condition. Today it catalogs for $750.

      Keep in mind, though, that you’re paying retail prices for coins (even if the seller claims he’s selling at wholesale) and that you’ll have to hold on to the coin long enough to cover the spread (figure 30 percent) between wholesale and retail before turning a profit.

      Next: Buy blue chips

    • Five sure-fire ways to make money in coins

      Sep 19, 2014, 09:19 AM by
      Investing in coins is a little different from investing in stocks. Though, some of the same principles apply. Here are five sure-fire ways to make money in coins.

      But, first here’s an overview of the differences between stocks and numismatic investments.

      Stocks are productive assets. Coins are non-productive assets.

      A stock’s value is based largely on how much money the company earns. Investors buy a company’s stock based on such measurable things as the company’s price-to-earnings ratio and how well the company is doing in comparison to other companies in its sector.

      Coins, on the other hand, are valued solely on the interplay of supply and demand.  Supply, for the most part, is fixed and known; demand is neither.

      A coin goes up in value only when more people want one now than did before. Numismatic investments are not made on the basis of a rational evaluation of metrics, but rather on a gut feeling – sometimes a guided gut feeling - that more people will want a given coin tomorrow than do today. Economists call this the greater fool theory. The purchaser is a fool who believes a greater fool will come along and pay him more than he paid for the asset.

      NEXT POST: Buy and hold.

    • Five U.S. numismatic nudes

      Sep 2, 2014, 11:41 AM by
      The Bare Breast Standing Liberty quarter features one of five U.S. numismatic nudes being highlighted on the Five Facts blog.

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

      Nudes full and partial abound in art and sometimes on United States coins, medals and paper money.

      Here are five U.S. numismatic naughties:

      Bare Breast Standing Liberty quarter. Beloved by 15-year-old boys everywhere, the Standing Liberty quarter dollar issued in 1916 and early 1917 shows Liberty holding a shield and baring a breast. Researcher Walter Breen claimed in his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins that the design was modified in 1917 to cover the offending breast because of pressure from Anthony Comstock’s New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, a morality police that disbanded in 1950. Coins issued from mid-1917 on show chainmail over the offending breast.

      U.S. Diplomatic medal. This U.S. Mint medal, designed by Thomas Jefferson shows a bare-breasted Indian maiden representing Peace welcoming a nude male Mercury, representing Commerce, to America. Jefferson commissioned famed French engraver Augustin Dupre to produce the medal “as a medal to be given to diplomatic characters on their taking leave of us.” The State Department discontinued use of the medal in 1791 but bronze copies have periodically been available from the U.S. Mint over the centuries.  It is currently listed as “sold out” on the Mint’s website.

      $5 Educational bill. This 1896 silver certificate, part of the 1890s Educational Series, shows an allegorical scene titled  “Electricity Presenting Light to the World. “ Electricity is holding a gleaming light bulb above her head and baring a breast.  Breen claimed that Comstock objected to these items, too, and forced their recall. Some sources, too, claim Boston bankers refused to accept the bill, giving rise to the expression, “Banned in Boston.” Both claims are likely hokum but make for good stories

      1984 Olympic commemorative silver dollar. The obverse of the coin shows naked male and female torso statues above the entrance to the Los Angeles Olympic stadium.  How naked, though, is up in the air.  Mint Director Donna Pope said the artists submitted very explicit plaster models.  She called Bill Smith, the Philadelphia Mint’s head of production, and told him “in rather specific terms ‘to lower the relief on a certain portion of the male torso.’ The coin we all dreaded didn’t look that terrible.”

      1915 S Panama-Pacific International Exposition half dollar.  The obverse, designed by Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber, shows a representation of Columbia scattering flowers and the back of a naked cherub holding a cornucopia.  The design reprises one Morgan created for the reverse of the 1907 U.S. Mint medal marking the departure of the Great White Fleet for its around-the-world cruise to show the flag and American might.

    • Five valuable firsts from the Mint

      Aug 20, 2014, 13:39 PM by

      The $100,000 gold Kennedy half dollar raised eyebrows in and outside the hobby. The coin’s claim to fame is that it is the first gold Kennedy SOLD by the United States Mint.  

      Mint firsts have commanded attention and sometimes big bucks for more than a century. Here are five Mint firsts, started with the latest.

      2014 – Los Angeles collector Nick Yadgarov was first in line Aug. 5 when the gold Kennedy half dollar went on sale at the American Numismatic Association World's Fair of Money. He paid the $1,240 issue price for the first piece and promptly sold it to David Hendrickson from SilverTowne and California dealer Kevin Lipton for $5,000 plus a replacement coin.  The pair had the coin slabbed Proof 70 Deep Cameo by Professional Coin Grading Service and sold it two days later to an unidentified collector for the eye-popping figure of $100,000. 

      2000 – In 1999 as the Mint geared up production and promotion of the Sacagawea dollars, West Point struck 12 gold specimens and Philadelphia struck 5,500 gold-colored copper pieces, all dated 2000. The gold coins traveled aboard a July 1999 space shuttle mission as a publicity stunt.  They are currently stored at the Fort Knox Gold Bullion Depository in Kentucky. The gold-colored copper pieces were struck on the same planchets as later strikes but have different tail-feather detail than later coins.  The coins, which were distributed in Cheerios cereal boxes to publicize the new dollars, are differentiated from later strikes by a raised center line in the tail feather shaft.  These “first” coins fetch about $6,000 at auction. 

      1964 – While production of Kennedy half dollars actually started quietly weeks before, first strike ceremonies were conducted simultaneously in Philadelphia and Denver on Feb. 11. The first four coins struck at each mint during the ceremonies were given to President Johnson, who presented them to the late president’s widow,  Jacqueline. The coins, which have dropped out of sight, are likely impounded in a museum.  On the market, the Kennedy connection would make them priceless, even though they were not actually the first half dollars struck. 

      1892 – At 10 a.m. Nov. 19, Philadelphia Mint foreman Albert Downing, under the watchful eye of Chief Engraver Charles Barber placed a silver planchet in a coining press and pulled a lever to strike the first Columbian Exposition commemorative half dollar.  “Unfortunately, the first attempt was a failure,” the New York Times reported the following day. The coin was rejected because of a flaw and, The Times reported,  it was “battered” with a hammer and consigned to the scrap box.  The second coin struck was better. It was placed in a box with a certificate of authenticity signed by Mint Superintendent O.C. Bosbyshell claiming it was in fact the first coin struck.

      The official first coin struck was sold to Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict, makers of the Remington typewriter (a primitive analog word processor) for the incredible sum of $10,000. Q. David Bowers in his Commemorative Coins of the United States estimates the sum was about equal to a common worker’s lifetime earnings. The coin was donated to the Columbian Museum, now the Field Museum of Natural History. At auction, the coin would undoubtedly attract a terrific sum.  While most Columbian half dollars are worth very little, high grade Proofs have topped $40,000.

      1878 – About 3 p.m. March 11, 1878, the first Morgan dollar was produced at the Philadelphia Mint by Downing. This coin, too, proved flawed and was discarded.  A second “first” coin was produced at 3:17 p.m. and set aside for President Rutherford B. Hayes.  The coin, an 8-tail feather VAM-9 (Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of U.S. Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars by Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis), is permanently impounded in the Rutherford B. Hayes Museum in Fremont, Ohio. It, too, is an incredibly valuable coin in a hyperhot series. Its value is likely several times over that of the $100,000 gold Kennedy half.