Jeff Starck

Starck Contrasts

Jeff Starck

Jeff is a senior editor and was Coin World's 2003 Margo Russell intern and joined the staff in 2004. Jeff has been a collector since childhood and fondly remembers the challenges of completing Whitman folders by pulling coins from circulation and searching rolls from the bank. His current collecting interest focuses on Missouri-related numismatics and exonumia. He is the primary writer for the World Coins section in the monthly Special Edition and is responsible for Coin World's coverage of world coins and weekly International page. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Webster University in St. Louis where he was editor-in-chief of its weekly student newspaper.

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    Day three, World’s Fair of Money: Some Items Aren't For Sale

    August 12, 2016 4:03 PM by

    When you go to a coin show and look at coins, it’s to buy them, right? That seems like a ridiculous question, but the answer isn’t so cut-and-dried.

    One of the simple pleasures of attending many major coin shows is to see collector exhibits. These cases are full of interesting presentations of numismatic material, sometimes in unconventional combinations, but always with an educational flair.

    The collector exhibit during the ANA World’s Fair of Money in Anaheim is no different. Although the number of exhibits is down from recent years, the distance to travel and location outside a central air hub seem like likely culprits.

    Still, the exhibits that are here include some fascinating topics of the broadest manner. You can learn about prisoner of war scrip or Austria’s colorful silver-niobium coins. Coins of the Pope and the medals of the French Revolution are contextualized with contemporary events and images. Magnifiers at some displays like the Gods & Goddesses on ancient gold coins allow for closer inspection, especially important on these smaller objects.

    Connecticut coppers are fascinating enough – coins from America’s colonial days have an alluring cachet as it is! – but then to see error versions of these historical nuggets adds a whole new dimension.

    A special category is tailored to the location, so one exhibit features a real life princess, Hollywood and Monaco’s Grace Kelly, while others highlight elongated cents available at Disney parks.

    One of the most intriguing entries features cent coins that have been turned into objets d’art, prisoner folk art. Inmates at the Ohio Penitentiary turned a pair of Wheat cents into a pair of salt and pepper shakers. This phenomenon extended to prisoners in other countries, too, as witnessed by miniature teapots created from Canadian cents.

    Visitors to the show can still cast a vote for the People’s Choice Award, but if you can’t make it to Anaheim this time around, be sure to plan some time at the next major coin show to see these passion projects. And you’re sure to learn something too, and enjoy these objects in a whole new way. 

    ​Day two at the World’s Fair of Money: Waiting in line for a potential payout

    August 11, 2016 1:57 PM by

    It’s not quite 2014, when police had to control traffic and people slept on sidewalks in hopes of cashing in on a coin show release, but the 2016 American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money has its own numismatic blockbuster release causing a rush of buyers.

    As Coin World reported several weeks ago, Mish International Monetary Inc., in conjunction with Champion Hong Kong Auctions, coordinated the release of special show Panda medals, in this case marking the 125th anniversary of the ANA. The medals were struck in China and designed by a designer of the Chinese Panda coins.

    In 2014, raucous crowds of would-be buyers waited in line for the John F. Kennedy gold 50-cent coin issued by the U.S. Mint. In that case, the coin was debuting at the show but was available also in the Mint’s other sales venues. Only 500 per day were to be available at the Chicago-area show.

    After three days of hysteria and pandemonium over the release and potential immediate profits, which taxed the patience of the Rosemont, Ill., police, the ANA and the U.S. Mint suspended sales and essentially stopped issuing limited releases during ANA shows.

    Here in Anaheim, the crowds are much smaller, and so far no police have been called out, but there are echoes of 2014.

    Sales of the Panda medals began at 2 p.m. on the show’s opening day (Aug. 9). A total of 100 1-ounce silver examples of the medals became available to those who waited in line, for $100 each and $8 tax. Medal sales are limited to one per ANA member, and two for booth holders. All 100 of the medals were sold out within the hour.

    On Aug. 10, 180 1-ounce silver medals were allotted for dealer sales, beginning at 9:15 a.m., with another sellout. By 2 p.m. Aug. 10, when another round of public sales began, there was palpable demand. The line contained between 30 and 40 buyers when sales began, and continued to grow until about 2:30, when some individuals verbally debated whether it made sense to join the line at such a late point in the process.

    A few of the buyers in line reminisced about camping outside the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. Another spoke confidently about obtaining one medal each day (another 75 are available to the public today, Aug. 11), and his plans to keep all three, regardless of where prices go. Another mused that, as he was retired and on vacation, he was happy to make $20 that a dealer paid him to stand in line in his place.

    At one point ANA officials and Positive Protection security staff came by to separate and control the line, but merely to clear the aisle; they didn’t stay long. Ronald Gillio politely asked those in line to maintain a comfortable distance from his booth so that would-be customers could browse his wares, unimpeded, while representatives of Hugh Wood Inc., an insurance firm for collectors, chatted up a few people in line, answering questions about their services.

    Successful purchasers of the 1-ounce silver medals at the show will be entered in a drawing for the chance to buy one of the 12-ounce silver medals, for $888 each (a 1-ounce gold medal is also being made).

    As this is being written, a few sellers have listed the 1-ounce silver medals (the only ones available so far) on eBay, with prices ranging from $289.95 to $599.95, but no verified sales are recorded there. Sales of the similar 2016 medal issued by Mish and Champion for the World Money Fair in Berlin (offered for 70 euros) soon soared to the $200 to $300 range, as issued, with higher prices for issues that were encapsulated and in “perfect” condition. Prices have settled somewhat, but there remains strong demand for these limited edition show Panda medals, a stark contrast to the gold Kennedy half dollar which lost its luster just a few months after its tumultuous release. 

    Day one of the World’s Fair of Money: Viewing a once-in-a-lifetime rarity, for the third time in 15 years

    August 10, 2016 2:11 PM by
    ​The American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money is, at its core, an event for collectors to buy and sell, and learn. But it seems every few years a rarity of epic proportion adds another element to the mix.

    The ANA show opened on Tuesday, providing the collecting public the first chance to view a 1974-D aluminum cent. To say the coin is rare is to gloss over the story of its production — of course it’s rare — it shouldn’t even exist. 

    As Coin World ’s Paul Gilkes has skillfully reported, the coin was in the family of a late U.S.Mint assistant superintendent in Denver, with whom it surfaced recently. Earlier in 2016 the U.S. Mint and the family reached an agreement to transfer ownership to the U.S. Mint,  allowing it to be placed on display at the Mint’s booth here in Anaheim.

    As the flyer accompanying the display reports, “The return of the unauthorized Denver specimen supports the longstanding and fundamental principle that items made at United States Mint facilities, but not lawfully issued or otherwise lawfully disposed of, remain property of the American people.”

    It’s fantastic ammunition for the ongoing battle between the government and owners of illicit numismatic items, which frequently are placed on display at ANA shows.

    The first ANA show that I ever attended was 2003, in Baltimore. The show played host to a famous reunion of all five 1913 Liberty Head nickels, an event made possible by the re-emergence, and authentication, of the George O. Walton example after a nationwide search with a hefty financial reward.

    I’m sure I didn’t understand the importance of the event,and the rarity of such a confluence of history — it was, after all, my first major coin show, period, despite being a collector for more than a decade.

    In 2006, when another group of famously contested rarities came to the ANA show, I’d like to think that I was far more aware of the display’s significance.

    That year, in Denver, the star of the show was a display of 10 of the 1933 gold $20 double eagles, which had been turned over to the Mint by the family of a deceased Philadelphia jeweler (the legal battle over these coins continues, and just last week the government won a major ruling).

    It seems that every year at a World’s Fair of Money, there are fascinating displays of major rarities, whether by commercial or educational entities. These aren’t for sale, and there is no charge to view these historic items of our collecting heritage. They are just there, to be enjoyed, studied and appreciated. And that’s well worth the trip! 

    At the ANA convention: ​Fun with coins before the show begins

    August 9, 2016 12:32 PM by

    This morning the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money formally opens to the public, but I’ve already notched one day of coin show fun even before the show began.

    One of the benefits of arriving early to the show is the chance to spend time viewing lots in the auctions scheduled during the show. With a calendar full of meetings, educational forums, club gatherings and of course bourse shopping, taking time before the show begins to browse the highlights makes wonderful sense. Even if you’re under the watchful eyes of several security guards, making you double think every muscle motion and action so that you make clear you have only good intentions.

    For writers, it’s a great chance to see coins that we’ve written about but may never have held in our hands.  

    There’s something awesome about holding a gold litrae once in the famed Nelson Bunker Hunt Collection. This coin (a highlight of Stack’s Bowers Galleries sale) was issued circa 405 to 395 B.C., more than 2400 years ago! Here is something that circulated on this planet as money before the time of Christ, and I’m holding it in my hand!

    There is a romantic lure to ancient coins, because they provide insights into and, more importantly, a connection with the civilizations that shaped the West and left a tremendously fascinating history.

    Or consider the distater of Athens featuring Athena and the bull in the famous design. Rotate the coin at an angle and you immediately sense the depth of the engravers’ art, giving motion to the bull. The roughness and crudity of the edges reinforces our understanding of the violent manner by which ancient coins were struck, brute force manufacturing, measured in manpower.

    Try experiencing that in digital photos — you cannot! It takes the 3-dimensional interaction to experience more fully that which captivates us collectors.

    For collectors, lot viewing obviously provides a chance to compare similar coins which different pre-sale estimates. The green patina catches the light differently, or the wear on one Extremely Fine coin suddenly becomes more noticeable when placed side-by-side with an About Uncirculated example.

    There is a practical purpose as well, especially when it comes to group lots – most major auction houses don’t have images of group lots because the time and expense is cost prohibitive.

    Now that I’ve seen the contents of the Wiener Cathedral medals lot, for instance, I am much more likely to bid because I see one featuring Westminster Abbey (where I have been).

    And, the bottom line is just that —– that seeing is believing and believing is wanting. Lot viewing translates pictures on a page to physical objects of desire. Instead of merely being photos in the abstract, the reality of the items before me makes me covet them all the more.

     As much as I want to view all the cool stuff in the Heritage auctions — my wallet might thank me if I don’t.

    Who am I kidding? Collecting is a drug, and it’s in my blood and on my brain. The show’s about to start, and it’s time for another fix!

    Three ways to overpay for coins

    February 1, 2016 7:21 PM by

    ​Recently I explored three ways to make money buying world coins, so now it’s time to discuss the flip side of that notion.

    Here are three ways to really mess up when it comes to buying world coins. 
    Lack of knowledge — on the part of the buyer
    Just as knowledge can prove to be an advantage to some buyers, a lack of knowledge can prove to put collectors at a disadvantage.
    To wit: it is not enough to know what a catalog value is, for instance, to know what a coin is worth.
    A few months ago, a local coin shop’s “bid board” offered the tantalizing prospect of obtaining a 1972 silver 10-mark coin from East Germany at a fraction of its stated catalog value of $65. 
    There is no shortage of coin pricing guides and catalogs that attempt to capture the value of thousands of coins in multiple grades, but these serve as snapshots of the market at best, and are subject to the biases and experiences of those who compile them.
    In this case, the excitement of bidding $20 for a coin worth more than three times that amount was tempered by the hard data — sales on eBay had not approached the catalog value, though there certainly was some “wiggle room” between the bid board amount and the actual retail value.
    If I had continued to bid on the German coin based on the stated catalog value, which was way, way higher compared to the actual market, then I could have made an unwise purchase.
    Whether the market had moved or the cataloger made an input error or just missed the mark (it happens to all writers and editors on occasion), the catalog showed a value that was way off. 
    Leaning too heavily on a catalog (or even several pricing references) could put buyers in a uncomfortable position if the market has moved since the publication date. 

    A moving market 
    Sometimes, the market moves more rapidly that one expects, and certainly more quickly than an annual catalog can reflect.

    The red-hot Chinese market peaked in 2011, with modern and historic rarities selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in some cases millions.
    But then the bubble burst. 
    Prices have stabilized in the five years since then, but never have they approached the gargantuan figures from auctions and bourse sales late in 2010 and for a good part of 2011. 
    The market for Russian material has lagged in recent years as well, as the eroding price of oil erased the fortunes of many members of the wealthy class.
    The military invasion of Crimea and resulting sanctions one year ago have sent the ruble into a spiral, reaching the lowest value against the U.S. dollar in late January 2016. 
    Dmitry Markov, a U.S.-based dealer of Russian material, noted that the exchange value of the ruble had almost doubled from the 2015 to 2016 New York International Numismatic Conventions, affecting prices for some Russian coins.
    “A bronze coin is not a piece of bread — it’s not a necessity,” he told Coin World.
    Timing the market can be tricky, whether it’s buying ultra-expensive rarities at auction or stacking silver when it’s $35 an ounce (a pain I experienced several times over!). 
    An emotional purchase
    A third way to overpay when buying world coins is by making an emotional purchase.
    We’ve all had that purchase or two that served as a lesson in checking our emotions and patience.
    The most vivid lesson for me occurred during a local coin club auction, when I bought a Sidney, Ohio, medal for a famous, local bank.
    I just “HAD” to have the medal — though I owned one in copper.
    With silver around $25 an ounce, I paid $35 or so. I had never seen one before, and the part of my brain focused on want took over from the logical portion that, rightly, suggested that there would be other examples to come to the market, especially given my proximity to the issuer.
    The next month, another example of the medal was offered at auction, perhaps drawn out by the strong bidding the month prior.
    With less competition, the piece sold for the medal’s melt value.
    When I look at that medal, it is a reminder to step back and remove emotions from the bidding process.
    Now that I’ve shared these thoughts on buying and selling coins, I’d love to hear/read your thoughts.

    How to make money buying world coins

    January 12, 2016 11:07 AM by

    ​Every coin buyer wants to find value. It is human nature to seek the best deal and the question of “what’s it worth?” is a natural, common phrase when collectors gather together. 

    Broadly, there are at least three ways that collectors can take advantage of situations and circumstances to secure good deals.
    Seller lacks specialized knowledge

    One way to snag value is to be armed with information. 

    The hobby is too vast for everyone to know everything, so specialization offers opportunities for deal-making in certain circumstances.

    On a small scale, this happened when I bought a dairy token that was from a town in the next county south of here. The seller, in that same county, had no idea that this “maverick” token was original to his own city, because by their nature, maverick tokens lack identifying details of the place of issue. 
    Though the town was not identified on the token, the token is listed in Ohio Merchant Tokens by Gaylor Lipscomb, where I had recalled reading about it. It was a fortunate stroke of luck, to have read about it, and to have recalled it. 

    That meant my $1 purchase — that I attributed — was worth five to 10 times the purchase price. 

    That is a macro level, but the same principle applies in other areas of the hobby. A Seated Liberty specialist pointed out to me multiple instances where generalist dealers, auction houses and grading services either failed to attribute varieties or attributed them incorrectly, allowing him to purchase them for prices that were discounted over their true value to the specialist. 

    Another Ohio dealer purchased world silver bullion coins from retail customers and then sold them as generic 1-ounce rounds, which carry tighter premium spreads above precious metal value than most bullion coins. In this case, the 2015 silver 1-ounce $5 coins from Tokelau showing the Great White Shark were considered generic, when a major bullion dealer was selling them for $2 each more than generic rounds.

    When it comes to bullion, with silver treading water at $14 an ounce, that reflects a hefty difference. 
    Liquidity or profit taking issues

    Some dealers might have issues of liquidity or be undercapitalized, which can lead to the bargain buy for the right customer. 

    A generalist Ohio dealer who buys a lot of silver destined for the melting pot had a cache of world coins, most of which were available at prices based on the “spot” silver price. 

    But in the pile he offered at “melt” were several nice world crown coins that, because of their design, size or mintage, carry medium to strong premiums over the precious metal value.

    With thousands of dollars tied up in the bin bound for melting, he just wanted to move what he could for his marginal percentage, and have funds with which to make more purchases.

    In a similar sense, profit taking can lead to bargains.

    If a dealer bought world coins at silver-based prices when silver was $10 an ounce, and never changed the prices on the holders as the value of the metal moved up, then those coins would each reflect a profit.

    It’s happened to me on several occasions, even with a generic half-ounce silver piece that sold for half of its true value. 
    By turning over those purchases right away, there was profit to be made. 
    Lack of exposure means bargains

    Simply put, not every pair of eyes can see every potential transaction. There is no equivalent to the National Security Agency or Santa Claus monitoring every piece at every sales venue.

    The world is ever smaller than it ever was, thanks to the Internet and auction sites like eBay, which have dramatically altered the antiques and collectibles markets. Used books might be the perfect example — suddenly booksellers across the country could inventory and sell their stock to anyone in the world. 

    True rarity became apparent, suppressing the high prices for items of false rarity. 

    At the same time, there are hundreds of dealers hosting their own auctions, and thousands of daily auctions at sites like eBay. A fool would think they could access all those options and act with timeliness to secure bargains. 

    Sometimes sellers incorrectly identify the item that they have listed in an eBay auction. 

    Coin World reports about new discoveries frequently follow that template, where an item is misattributed, meaning searchers casting a tighter net based on key words might skip over the listing, suppressing bids and ultimately its sale price.

    A St. Louis anniversary medal described as pewter by a seller on eBay actually was silver, but because of its toning, it sold for a song. 
    A group of five Eisenhower medals, each struck in silver, were purchased at a show for $5 per medal because the dealer thought they were copper-nickel. The Medallic Art Co. name and serial number on the edge, as well as the capsule style, were indicators that the pieces were silver, which was confirmed with additional research away from the show. 

    These are just some of the ways that buyers can obtain value.

    In the next installment, we’ll explore the other side of the coin, literally, when buying coins or numismatic items turns out to be far too costly.

    In breast cancer awareness coin, U.S. struggling to keep up with Canada

    July 14, 2015 10:42 AM by

    ​The United States in 2018 could issue three Breast Cancer awareness commemorative coins, including the first U.S. coin struck in “pink gold.”

    Collectors of Canadian coins could be excused for thinking, “haven’t we done this already?”

    Even if Congress passes the legislation as it exists now, the program will be just another instance of America playing “catch up” with its neighbors to the north.

    Canada issued a circulating breast cancer awareness coin — with pink ribbon, no less — in 2006, and a coin with pink gold in 2012.

    The 2006 circulating 25-cent coin was the second colorful circulating coin issued by Canada (and in all the world), and since then the process and practice has been repeated numerous times.

    The list of innovations and “firsts” for Canadian numismatics is a tremendous one.

    The world’s first pure gold bullion coin? Canada, 1982. Since then Canada has also issued the first .99999 fine (or “five nines”) gold bullion coin as well. 

    Between Canada and the U.S., which nation removed its small denomination paper money first? That would be Canada, in 1987.

    Here is America, the $1 Federal Reserve Note is still stuffed in our wallets and purses (thanks, Crane & Co., and Massachusetts politicians!)

    In 1998, Canada issued a ringed bimetallic coin for circulation (the $2 coin, or “twoonie”). Down here, we’re still waiting.

    Canada in 2011 began issuing more durable, anti-counterfeit polymer notes, launching five denominations across two years.

    Like the Maytag repairman, America is still waiting.

    Which of the two nations has eliminated the cent coin?

    You know the answer (the Habs dropped the small coin in 2012).

    A cynic would argue that there is hardly a theme the Royal Canadian Mint hasn’t celebrated on coinage.

    A realist would acknowledge the technological strides made by the RCM with circulating, collector and bullion coins.

    Canada is not hamstrung by a political body whose approval rating rivals that of used car salesmen and IRS agents.

    The U.S., on the other hand, is boxed in to two commemorative coin programs annually.

    Many collectors of Canadian coins would surely welcome the practice of a limited number of themes per year.

    But in America, this limit is too restrictive, since so many U.S. commemorative coin programs have been co-opted by organizations searching for pay dirt in the parlors of power.

    Instead of seeking coins that elevate and honor the nation and its glorious history, proponents of new American coin programs seek surcharges and treat collectors like ATMs.

    Somewhere in between, there’s a happy medium. At least the Canadian coin program allows collectors a choice.

    Take it or leave it, that’s something all collectors should be able to agree on.

    Measuring modern world coin explosion, by the book

    July 2, 2015 2:12 PM by
    There may be no better illustration of the explosion in modern commemorative coins than the growth in the catalog that tracks them.

    The famous multi-volume Standard Catalog of World Coins series by Chester Krause and Clifford Mishler in modern times features the research and analysis of Tom Michael and, until January, George Cuhaj.

    The series tracks worldwide coin issues, a century at a time, from 1600 to the present.

    In 2005, the publishers launched the first edition of a reference cataloging coins of the current century. In that time, the book has grown rapidly as the pace of issuance of new collector coins has only intensified.

    When the 2016 editions of the 1901-2000 and 2000-present catalogs arrived at Coin World last week, the abundance of new coins was immediately apparent — the books are almost equally thick.

    The page counts, though, differ significantly.

    The 1901-2000 catalog has 2,352 pages, while the 2001-present catalog has only 1,344 pages.

    However, consider the number of pages per decade covered, and the 2001-present catalog far surpasses the 20th century edition.

    Measured that way, it takes 235 pages to cover each decade of coins from the 20th century, but the book for the modern century requires 896 pages per decade, and that’s with only some of the 2015 coins included, since more continue to be produced daily.

    It’s a startling tell on the glut of modern issues in the market.

    For purists, the Collecting World Coins book is also regularly updated, focusing on coins issued with the intent to circulate and rejecting the collector-oriented products.

    Mints clearly are adopting a “Long Tail” approach to the business — issuing an increasing number of coins targeted at narrower and narrower niches — but the resulting outpouring certainly keeps collectors, the marketplace, and even catalog editors, scrambling to keep up with it all.

    Making money with Jefferson nickels

    May 22, 2015 3:18 PM by

    If someone told you that you could make a 20 percent return with absolutely no risk of losing money, you’d probably think you were talking to a would-be Bernie Madoff.


    But, the reality is, that prospect exists with Jefferson nickels.

    We’re not talking about the ones with full steps. You don’t need to buy Bernard Nagengast’s The Jefferson Nickel Analyst book to study the series. The reward is for something as easy as hunting for examples issued before 1960.

    Dealer Wayne Herndon in Virginia is one buyer willing to pay six cents for pre-1960 Jefferson nickels. Certain key dates and the silver examples net a higher return, of course. But Herndon’s offer stands for even the most common years and Mint marks.

    I first learned of Herndon’s offer through Wayne Homren, editor of E-Sylum. In the March 15, 2015, edition of the weekly newsletter, Homren recounted a story heard at a recent gathering of collectors in the Washington, D.C., area.

    Herndon explained to Coin World his offer to pay 20 percent above face value for these relatively common coins.

    “I’m a dealer, and like most dealers I am constantly offered collections, accumulations, etc.  ... Like bags of wheat cents, there is a market for bags of pre-1960 Jefferson Nickels.”

    Herndon sorts the coins into bins. After a bin gets full, he’ll run coins through a counter and assemble bags of 4,000 coins ($200 face value).

    “Most of this stuff is wholesaled in my case and I have customers who from time to time will ask for bags of pre-1960 [Jeffersons],” he said.

    He doesn’t search them for varieties or even date/mintmark combinations that are better, as that is rarely worth the investment in time.

    The E-Sylum discussion sparked a memory for me. When I was in high school and college, I worked at a national pharmacy chain found at the corner of happy and healthy.

    As a cashier and photo clerk, I soon gained confidence of managers to search through multiple cash drawers daily to buy any coins or paper money of interest.

    At some point during my employment, I began harvesting pre-1960 5-cent coins, though my memory is foggy as to the exact reason I fixed on that date for the search. My reasoning then was, these are 35+ years old, and if I wait another few decades, they’ll be even older. The investment cost was certainly the right price — I could always cash them in and not lose any money.

    I amassed thousands of these coins, many of which came with me to Ohio when I started at Coin World full-time in early 2004.

    The discussion on E-Sylum, and an already fertile desire to winnow down my holdings, sent me searching into the collecting closet, where I found the pile.

    I finally sorted through it recently, and tallied the haul.

    What remained of my collection (I sold some of the coins when I was in college to pay for my education) totaled $78.95.

    A lone 1938-D coin, graded Very Fine+, was part of the tally.

    The hoard did net one full 40-count roll of the silver wartime nickels, but there were no other key dates, like the 1939-D, 1939-S or 1950-D.

    Herndon is not alone in offering a premium for the older coins. Nagengast, a local coin club member, pointed me toward a local dealer who pays seven cents for each pre-1957 coin.

    So, I was able to take the $76.90 face value accumulation of common Jefferson 5-cent coins and turn that into $107.66.

    That 40 percent return looks less exciting considering that inflation has risen by 43 percent since 1996 (about the first year I started collecting these coins).

    Nevertheless, the exercise provided a reminder of my early days as a collector, while offering plenty of exercise in lifting the heavy piles of coins. It also freed up more room in my collecting closet to begin hoarding these coins again.

    And if you want six cents for each pre-1957 Jefferson nickel, I know just the buyer!

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    Will the U.S ever issue a colorful circulating coin?

    April 28, 2015 10:42 AM by

    American collectors looking at the successes of colorful circulating coins in Canada and Australia might yearn for the day that their pocket change features more than the monochromatic steel-gray of copper-nickel or clad metals and the fool’s copper of the mostly zinc cent.

    Will the United States ever issue a colorful circulating coin like several other countries have done with success?

    Don’t bet on it.

    Innovation is a hallmark of the Royal Canadian Mint, which was the first mint in the world to issue .999 fine and .9999 fine bullion coins. The RCM was also the first to issue a colorful circulating coin.

    And, RCM scientists developed the process for minting multi-ply plated steel coins that have become popular around the world as metal prices have risen the last decade.

    The Australian Mint claims some other innovations of its own, being the second mint to issue a convex/concave coin, after the technique was developed by the Monnaie de Paris.

    While the U.S. Mint has joined the “curved coin” bandwagon with its 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame coins, it made the technological leap only because Congress said it must do so.

    The U.S. Mint should rightfully be praised for extending the technology to copper-nickel-clad coinage for the half dollar (a world first), but the minting floors in Denver, Philadelphia, San Francisco and West Point aren’t noted for groundbreaking innovation.

    For Americans, it may be hard to swallow, but America hasn’t been first on coinage technology fronts.

    Modern ringed-bimetallic coins have been in use for more than 30 years, with Italy issuing the first such example in 1982. To put it another way, ringed bimetallic coins were already in use in a major European country before Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was even born.

    However, though hundreds of millions of people in Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and the eurozone (to name but a few) use ringed-bimetallic coins every day, the closest the U.S. Mint has come is its issuance of a collector coin in 2000, in precious metals.

    Changing coin design has become the norm, thanks to the State Quarter program, the Westward Journey 5-cent series and the Lincoln Bicentennial cents, but it’s fair to say the design merry-go-round goes little noticed among the citizenry.

    Adding color or making coins with multiple parts (ringed bimetallic pieces) would be a radical, more obvious jolt to American sensibilities.

    Given the political challenges involved with something as simple as eliminating the 1-cent coin (a feat already achieved around much of the world, including in Canada), the prospect of adding color to American coinage seems downright impossible.

    For my money, there’s a better chance that Uncle Sam shows up at the Fourth of July parade singing “O Canada.”

    An ace in the hole

    March 23, 2015 1:46 PM by

     One of the reasons I love this hobby is that it intersects with so many disciplines.

    Because numismatics involves so many facets of American history, art and culture, connections to broader stories may be found everywhere.

    Consider a recent visit to an antique mall not too far from Amos Media headquarters in Sidney, Ohio. There I found a playing card from the 1933 and 1934 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago, Ill.

    What does a playing card have to do with our hobby?

    Well, in this particular case, the ace of spades shows both sides of the exposition’s official medal, as designed by Emil Robert Zettler, a sculptor who headed the Industrial Art Section of Chicago’s Art Institute.

    Zettler’s Art Deco design features on the obverse a male figure of energy and action, representing an intellectual arch between man’s resources and man’s work, with RESEARCH and INDUSTRY (the fair’s theme) in the field.

    An aerial view of the 400-acre fairgrounds along the city’s southern shore of Lake Michigan graces the reverse of the medal.

    Several versions were created, included one that qualifies as a so-called dollar. So-called dollars are a fascinating area related to coin collecting, with many of these medals sharing themes found on U.S. commemorative coins or having been created by famous artists, including some designers of American coin.

    Coin World shared images of the playing card with Jeff Shevlin, the “so-called guy,” an expert on so-called dollars. Shevlin was unfamiliar with the card, but noted that many of the collectibles related to expos and “world’s fairs” such as this piece aren’t cataloged alongside the medals themselves. A total of 39 million visitors attended the Century of Progress Exposition, and many souvenirs were created to feed demand from the crowd.

    The card is from several different decks issued for the exposition, and online auctions readily offer up examples of cards individually and complete decks. The $1 I paid is a fair market value for one card, and much cheaper than the medal itself.

    In 2012, when Heritage Auctions sold Shevlin’s example of the medal (graded Mint State 65 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp.), it sold for $109.25.

    Though the playing card is no ace in the hole, it is a perfect accompaniment to or substitute for the medal.




    Pocket change memory

    February 19, 2015 2:15 PM by

    There’s still something alluring about finding an old “wheat penny” in circulation.

    As I started my day one morning recently, I grabbed the change from the previous day’s travels and discovered that an old Lincoln cent with those familiar ears of wheat had somehow slipped in without notice.

    Usually observant of my coins, I must have been harried as I slipped the change into my pocket the day before, and been too tired at the day’s conclusion to pay attention to the antique artifact.

    Like many coin collectors, one of the reasons I love this hobby is the ability to be transported through time to when the coin was issued and consider where it has been, and who has used it as spending money all this time.

    That task is a bit harder with this particular coin, since the date is essentially illegible. Both sides of the coin are worn pretty smooth.

    The first two digits — the obvious ones — are still discernible. It’s those last two digits that prove the most vexing. The dates that my mind sees the most end in 23, 25 or 28, but that could be a mirage.

    The Mint Mark, however crude, indicates that the coin was struck in San Francisco.

    I’d like to think that the coin was struck in 1927, the birth year of my maternal grandmother, who played a large role in my early collecting journey.

    My only “three-cent nickel” came from her, when I was maybe 12 years old. Knowing that I had been bitten by the collecting bug, she allowed me to rummage through a pile of wheat cents and other strange coins that I had never seen outside of the “Red Book,” picking out ones I needed to fill an album or build my nascent cache.

    “What do you want for them?”

    “Just give me face value,” she offered.

    So, mistaking it for a dime, given its color and size, I paid 10 cents for the 1865 coin. That was the first year of issue, and the most common date, for the denomination and design type.

    Both numismatically and sentimentally, it’s worth far more than I ever paid for it. And I still have it!

    Though the date on the Wheat cent could very well be another year, I like to think it has special meaning, despite its wretched condition.

    In fact, the reverse of this newfound cent is worse than the obverse.

    The denomination ONE CENT is still visible, but the wheat? It’s almost completely harvested. The remnants of the legend E PLURIBUS UNUM resemble what you might hear someone say right after oral surgery.

    That might explain why it was still slipping by in circulation.

    So what is it worth?

    A cynic knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing, right? Well, maybe that saying should be flipped to say that a romantic values everything far beyond its cost.

    In commerce, the smooth cent is worth at least a cent, of course, but the value of a memory from my early collecting days can’t be quantified.

    What’s your story?

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    The 'hobby of kings' is also for peasants like me

    February 6, 2015 3:21 PM by

    The New York International Numismatic Convention, held Jan. 8 to 11 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, was notable for the tens of millions of dollars of items sold in auctions scheduled across eight days.

    For me, however, the show allowed expenditures that even a writer could afford. The “hobby of kings” is for the peasants, too!

    I’ve already written about a few of the pieces I brought home from the show, but one of the neatest acquisitions is a modern-day interpretation of a classic numismatic rarity.

    Jared Grove of Grove Minting stopped by the Coin World booth and showed and shared his 2013 half-ounce silver Amazonian pattern medal. Encapsulated by ANACS, the piece screams beauty and is actually obtainable to a broad range of collectors, unlike the originals

    It happens to be his favorite design so far, he told Coin World, and is just the beginning of big plans for the nascent Grove Minting company.

    Look for more issues coming from them, and a profile of the artist and his work in Coin World soon.

    Another item coming home with me from New York was the newest edition of Token Publishing’s Coin Yearbook

    The 2015 edition offers current pricing data and is a handy reference for the millennia of British coins, all packed into 362 pages.

    The book also covers coins of Ireland, Scotland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Chapters on various aspects of collecting are targeted for new and intermediate collectors, and so is the book’s price tag of £9.95.

    The final item gained at the show cannot be quantified.

    Every show is a chance to connect with readers, meeting old friends and making new ones, and this trip was no different.

    Several new dealers were on the bourse or in attendance, and many story ideas and friendships emerged from the chaos of the show.

    Look for Coin World at the next big show near you, and be sure to stop by and say hello.

    What I bought at the 2015 NY International Numismatic Convention

    January 27, 2015 1:11 PM by

    One of the great things about this job is getting to attend coin shows on a regular basis.

    Of course it is always great to greet fellow collectors and Coin World readers, and meet with dealers and discuss the state of the market. From a purely selfish reason, however, it is wonderful because it means another chance to buy coins.

    The New York International Numismatic Convention’s 43rd annual event, held Jan. 8 to 11, was no different.

    I came home with several noteworthy acquisitions, and all have special meaning to me.

    There is a romance and allure to the Lima series of coins issued in 1745 during the reign Britain’s George II.

    These coins, like the shilling that I purchased, were struck from metal captured by Admiral of the Fleet George Anson in defeating the Spanish. 

    Having just written about these coins for Coin World’s December monthly issue, I was delighted to find one, in relatively good condition, at a price I found acceptable. And that was within the first 15 minutes of the show!

    Another find was an ancient coin that I had never heard of, in a denomination worthy of a spelling bee.

    The 1.5 karshapana coin is often attributed to Pushkalavati (modern-day Peshawar) in what is now Pakistan, and was issued sometime in the third to second century B.C.

    It wasn’t the name that drew my attention, but the square shape and the elephant on the obverse.

    Who doesn’t love elephants? (Besides poachers, that is).

    According to coin dealer Bob Reis of Anything Anywhere, at the time Pushkalavati was controlled by what we would recognize as banks today, and these banks issued “a series of municipal copper coins that became the model for the square Greek bronzes after those guys conquered the region.”

    The reverse side shows a lion, though it is almost indistinguishable on the example I purchased.

    Though attributed to Pushkalavati, researchers suggest the coins might instead have been issued in Taxila.

    Regardless of its true origins, the coin dates to one of the oldest cultures, is square and, need I repeat, shows an elephant!

    Let’s explore three other notable finds at the show in part two, in the next Starck Contrasts.

    Phantom First Spouse mintage limit a U.S. Mint misstep

    December 15, 2014 1:01 PM by

    There are few U.S. Mint products that I look forward to annually with fervor, and chief among these is the annual First Spouse Bronze Medal Set.

    When the program began in 2007 as a corollary to the much more expensive gold coins, I found a blank Dansco album and blank pages to cobble together a meaningful way to collect and display these medals. Every year when my local coin club placed an order, I made sure to order a set, eagerly anticipating the chance to better learn the stories of First Spouses and/or contemporary coinage designs as new medals were released.

    The recent and rapid sellout of only 7,500 sets of 2014 medals has rendered that effort moot.

    After a few weeks, the sets sold out, despite never before previously having a mintage limit. Today, those sets are selling for three to six multiples of the $16.95 issue price.

    The quick sellout caught myself—and many other collectors—off-guard, and left us scratching our heads.

    The fact that several sets from previous years remain available at the Mint website, even at this writing, certainly lulled me (and probably other collectors as well) into believing that the 2014 set would remain available until we were ready to place an order for other items.

    Shortly after the set was listed at the Mint website as “out of stock,” a fellow coin club collector called Mint customer service and was told that more sets would be made. I called a regional Midwestern dealer that has served my family for several decades, and who has carried the sets from the beginning, and a representative there told me the same story, that a Mint customer service agent told them that more sets would be made.

    Paul Gilkes, Coin World’s tenacious U.S. Mint reporter, quickly sorted out the situation with his sources at the Mint, only to discover that the set had a previously unreported mintage limit and that no more would be made.

    This has created another set of “winners and losers,” as those folks who pounced on the sets are now well positioned to capitalize on the unmet demand.

    When the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame silver and gold coins quickly sold out, and people began “flipping” the coins for profit, I certainly had no complaints, as those coins had mintage limits that were announced well in advance of the sales period.

    Sour grapes may make bitter whine, but this really isn’t a complaint about profit—this rapid sellout means that many collectors will not be able to fill what heretofore had been an inexpensive, educational set with historical implications at a price that even beginning collectors could manage.

    The situation with the Enhanced Uncirculated finish Native American $1 included in the 2014 American $1 Coin & Currency Set has rightfully been described as a rare misstep for the U.S. Mint marketing team.

    The 2014 First Spouse Bronze Medal Set with a phantom mintage limit, is just as much as misstep, and even more disappointing.

    The right thing for the Mint would be to make more 2014 First Spouse Bronze Medal sets, either to a specific limit or to those sold within a specified sales period, with plenty of fair warning for collectors to make plans to get their orders in.

    Until then, four empty holes in a brown Dansco album will serve as a glaring reminder of my failure to act, and of the set that now will remain incomplete.

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    Proclaim your own nation and issue your own coinage

    November 10, 2014 4:39 PM by
    ​Get taken on a ride to where?

    You won’t find Purple Shaftieuland on a map – but they have“coins”!

    If you’ve always wanted to issue your own coins, but don’t want to go the traditional route (see part one of this blog series), then you could always proclaim your own nation.

    Such a nation doesn’t require land upon which to dwell, and may only occupy space in your imagination.

    In so doing, you would be following a tradition of the last half-century,when “coins” for places like Bermania, Buck Island, the Grandy Duchy of Westarctica, the Ultimate State of TÆDIVM, and many others, have been issued.

    Perhaps the most biting of these issues are the “coins” for the nation of “Purple Shaftieuland.”

    In 1970, coin dealer Bob Kolasa created the coin series as a revolt against the flourishing of noncirculating legal tender coins from barely identifiable places, aimed specifically at collectors (a lament that might ring true even today).

    The “coins” also poked fun at the practice of U.S.government foreign aid, and used stereotypical humor to make the point. The politically incorrect brochure accompanying the pieces also features very thinly veiled comments about some of the companies creating the market for international Proof sets in the late 1960s.

    According to coin dealer Joel Anderson (who provided the brochure to Coin World), Purple Shaftieuland had five denominations: 1 nudge, 1 twist, and quarter-, half- and full-shaft pieces. The coins were issued in two versions, “brilliant brass” and“unanodized aluminum.”

    According to the brochure, the exchange value is fixed: 100 nudges equal 10 twists, which equals one full shaft, which of course equals“nothing U.S.”

    As the brochure also noted, the “coins” had staying power as an investment.

    “The beauty of these, as with many foreign proof sets is that they never go down in true value. They can’t go down because they’re worthless to begin with.”

    Besides its own currency, Purple Shaftieuland had another vestige of statehood, a national anthem. Kolasa helpfully provided it on the brochure so all coin owners could sing proudly the refrain, which ends thusly:“When these sets stop selling, and income does refrain, we’ll form another nation, and do this all again!”

    Though the Purple Shaftieuland coins were created to serve a point, many of these issues are just all about fun. Consider Bermania, a place known to dealer Allen Berman and a few others.

    The “kingdom” has a long history, as detailed by Berman, who created a flag, crowns, titles of nobility and other trappings of a monarchy.This, naturally, includes “coins.”

    The first issue was a hand-hammered piece in the style of a medieval coin, struck on a tree stump and with crude lettering and designs.Another piece is celebratory, marking the “royal wedding” of King Alanus I to Queen Barbara.

    The most recent issue is a Bermanian horse cart token, which is good for one ride “anywhere in Bermania.” Good luck redeeming that token!

    The “coins” of Purple Shaftieuland were alternately described by Kolasa as “transportation tokens” because “you buy and get taken for ride.”

    Micronations are a vast and interesting area, and are popular among some collectors. Dealer Anderson stocks any number of unofficial,fantasy issues, and an organization called the Unrecognized States Numismatic Society flourished as little as five years ago. 

    It’s not an area necessarily popular with serious students of American coinage history, but that isn’t the point — in most cases, it’s all about making the hobby fun. 

    ​So you want to make your own coins?

    October 24, 2014 2:59 PM by
    ​So you want to make your own coins?

    It’s not as hard as you may think

    Anyone who pays attention to the modern new issues market quickly becomes aware of the outpouring of commemoratives, often from far-flung tropical island nations or war-torn African countries, but also from national mints like the Royal Canadian Mint and the Mint of Poland.

    Private issuers abound, with European and Asian and even American companies directing programs intended to capture segments of the market.

    Maybe you want to cash in on that craze by issuing your own coins, with a theme of your choosing? But invading a country is too dangerous, and buying a sovereign island outright is too expensive.

    So, you could always partner with a mint that already has a relationship with an issuing authority like Palau, the Cook Islands, or Somalia. Let’s assume that you will coordinate the program with the Mint of Poland, which issues coins for the National Bank of Poland as well as several other partners.

    A popular size for the many noncirculating legal tender coins struck by the Mint of Poland is a silver, crown-size coin measuring 38.61 millimeters and weighing 28.28 grams. This is a fairly standard size among the Mint of Poland and the Pobjoy Mint, among others.

    Mintages have been getting ever smaller as the market explodes and competing issues clamor for attention. A recent issue for the gold-plated 2015 $1 coin for the Year of the Goat had a mintage of 1,500 pieces.

    Back of the envelope calculations indicate that 1,500 coins, at $17.27 per ounce (the closing London market price on Oct. 22), would have a base precious metals cost of $21,789 U.S. That price doesn’t account for any special technology like gold-plating, color or embedded jewels, some favorite embellishments at the Mint of Poland.

    That price doesn’t include the die-making or manufacturing costs, since artists and other employees have to be paid to do the work. And it also doesn’t include the cost for a license.

    You need a license to drive, but why do you need a license to issue coins?

    Well, in this case, the sovereign privilege of striking coins comes at a price. Each nation is responsible for its money supply, and commemorative coins, though unlikely ever to be cashed, are in accounting-speak potential liabilities to the bottom line. 

    Whether it is Niue or Armenia or Belarus or any other country you want to officially issue the coins, there is a cost that must be paid. Issuers are always quiet about this relationship, but recent news reports about the New Zealand Mint suggest that the company alone pays about half-a-million dollars U.S. every year for the dozens of coin programs it issues under that island’s name.

    Suddenly this proposition seems a little pricey, huh?

    Well, maybe that means you want to consider a different route, without involving national mints and all that legal rigmarole. Next time we’ll explore what it takes to issue your own “coins” for a place that might not be found on the map.

    Relic medal for USS Constitution; putting hands on history

    October 2, 2014 2:36 PM by

    ​If someone told you that you could legally walk around with a piece of the oldest warship in the world in your pocket, would you believe them?

    In one sense, the USS Constitution is owned by every American, but in another, the number of folks who can own a piece of the ship, as preserved in a relic medal, is severely limited.

    Relic medals are medals that are struck containing metal or other substances recovered from, flown in or on famous ships, spacecraft or important historic artifacts, or from historic sites. Many relic medals are decades or centuries old, and signify famous American events (like the 1871 Great Chicago Fire or the 1898 Spanish-American War). On a trip to Boston this summer, I stumbled upon a modern relic medal with major importance.

    The USS Constitution is the world's oldest commissioned warship. The ship, known as "Old Ironsides," was launched Oct. 21, 1797, as one of the first warships authorized by Congress. It currently is docked in the Charlestown (or Boston) Navy Yard.

    Visitors may take a free tour to hear the exploits of the sailors and the ship. The ship received its name from the thick wooden hulls that repelled cannonballs during the War of 1812.

    To mark the bicentennial of its greatest moment, and those who have served aboard the ship in battle and in peace, the USS Constitution Museum commissioned the striking of a medal using copper removed from the ship's hull, and a total of 6,000 medals were struck in 2013 by an unnamed Providence, R.I., company.

    On the obverse of the medal is an image of USS Constitution under full sail with its name and nickname. The image is borrowed from an oil painting by Marshall Johnson that is part of the museum's collection.

    On the reverse side is a design inspired by the sea bag of Gunner John Lord who served on board USS Constitution between 1824 and 1828; the sea bag is also part of the museum's collection.

    Each medal measures 1.52 inches and weigh approximately 20 grams.  Each comes with a certificate of authenticity.

    The medal is sold for $29.95, and is still available through the museum store both at the site and online.

    This is actually not the first time a relic medal has been made from copper recovered from the USS Constitution, as an earlier medal issued in 1999 was struck from metal recovered in 1974. Numerous other medals (not struck with recovered metal) celebrate the USS Constitution, and these may sometimes be found in dealer stock or in online auctions.

    Relic medals literally give collectors affordable ways to put their hands on history, and in the case of this medal is another example of the adage that “the hobby can be found everywhere.”

    Souvenir post cards showcase early 20th century world coin designs

    September 4, 2014 11:00 AM by
    ​I have often described my collecting pursuits as voracious, being a numismatic gourmand in a field of gourmets. The American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont, Ill., from Aug. 5 to 9 was a veritable numismatic buffet, providing another opportunity to increase my collection.

    Perhaps my neatest acquisition at the show wasn’t even a coin, but rather a pair of colorful post cards featuring coin designs from Brazil and France.

    These post cards are from a successor to a series issued for use by cambists (a fancy word for money changers). Today foreign currency exchange rates are available widely in print and online, but 100 years ago, people were on their own when it came to exchanging kroners or marks for pounds or pesetas.

    This situation gave rise to a series of post cards, produced by a German businessman named Hugo Semmler. His cards show embossed images of then-current circulating base metal, silver and gold  coins , with a handy exchange-rate chart showing comparable values for common currencies.

    David Gladfelter detailed the history of these postcards in two articles in 2005 and 2006 in The Asylum, a publication of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society.

    These post cards capture in cardboard a snapshot of coins from nearly four dozen countries at around the first decade of the  20th   centu ry. Successive issues followed , both by Semmler and other publishers,  as the cards gained widespread acceptance as souvenirs, superseding their original purpose.

    On one card, the beauty of iconic French coins designed by Oscar Roty, Augustin Dupre and several others is immediately apparent.

    Roty’s The Sower (La Sameuse) depicts the sun’s rays spoking the horizon behind a personification of Liberty striding toward a new century. The design was no doubt an influence on Adolph Weinman’s Walking Liberty half dollar that would follow a few decades later.

    The Liberty on the 1-, 2-, 5- and 10-centime coins wears a Phryghian cap, a motif familiar to Americans thanks to its place on early coins like the half cent and cent.

    The Brazilian card is beautiful but lacks some of the aesthetic allure of the French coin card. However, the fascinating series (also including designs of Liberty) beckons for its depictions of uncommon denominations like 40-, 200- and 400-real coins.

    These post cards are adjuncts to world coin collecting, and are certainly more affordable than the coins that they show. (Each post card cost $20.) And they are worth a prominent space on my desk. 

    Soaring above it all, and capturing visit in silver

    August 12, 2014 3:05 PM by

    ​One of the great joys in the hobby is sharing it with others.

    It’s all the better when such gifts are unexpected.

    In April, a longtime friend came to Ohio so we could catch up. Because it was the first time we had seen each other since college graduation (a frightening distance in our past), I knew the trip had to be extra special. So, I called in a favor from a friend and fellow hobbyist who happens to be a pilot.

    All three of us soared about the verdant landscape of Shelby County, Ohio, in a tiny plane that, to this untrained aviator, may as well have resembled the one used to spirit Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan on their fateful voyage.

    Flying is no problem (crashing, on the other hand … ) but this was a new vantage point for me, literally and figuratively, never having had so little separating the sky from my seat.

    We took off in misting winds, but the flight was uneventful, save for the train accident we witnessed below. I daresay that the experience was magical, and after that outing I better understood the allure of becoming a pilot.

    Some weeks after my friend returned home to Montana, I decided that the flight should be commemorated. Not having the means to commission a new die, I chose the next best option, finding a silver bar to be engraved with a special legend.

    SilverTowne of Winchester, Ind., which operates its own refinery and retail side of the business, offers an array of stock designs for round and rectangular 1-ounce silver pieces that accommodate engraving on one side. Since there were none with a generic flight motif, the American flag bar was chosen for the obverse.

    On the reverse, the inscription MONTANA VISITS OHIO / APRIL 3, 2014 FLIGHT appears on two lines. Unfortunately, space did not allow me to designate the roles each of us played on the flight, with my college friend the “co-pilot” and myself acting as “photographer.”

    The pieces arrived a few days after they were ordered. Both the pilot and co-pilot expressed gratitude for the surprise memento of our fantastic flight.

    Only three examples of this very specific commemorative exist, but each will be cherished by its owner. As it turns out, it was another way to share a very small part of the hobby with friends.

    Collectors have their say in choice for favorite world commemorative coin

    July 23, 2014 10:27 AM by

    The market for new world coin issues is surprisingly active with a diverse number of topics and themes issued by national and private mints all competing for market attention.

    The rapid growth in the number of limited mintage issues has only enlarged the number of new issues coming out for collectors. Reporting on these new issues is one of the more active responsibilities I have.  

    In this role for Coin World, I am exposed to thousands of new collector coins from around the globe every year. Since 2013, that fortuitous position has allowed me to be one of about 50 judges in the Coin Constellation contest, which honors technical innovation, artistry, concept and design, and other attributes, in the ultra-modern coin market.

    While panelists select first, second and third place winners across nine categories, collectors are asked to select the top honor, the People’s Choice Award.

    The 2014 contest features more than 260 coins and 25 commemorative coin series, issued during calendar year 2013, from 31 countries. Central banks, national mints and private issuers are all eligible for the contest but, for the first time, the 2014 contest includes entries from the Royal Australian Mint and the central bank of the Philippines.

    The contest is decidedly tilted toward European and Asian entrants, though North America is represented by the Royal Canadian Mint and the Banco Central de Mexico.

    Winners will be announced in September in Moscow during Coins 2014, the fifth international coin conference and exhibition, a biennial gathering of collectors and dealers in Russia. The 2014 conference is scheduled for Sept. 18 to 20.

    All of the coins in all of the categories are eligible for the People’s Choice Award. The coin that receives the most votes will be declared the winner.

    Voting opened June 1 and continues through Sept. 1. Voters are eligible for prizes, including precious metal coins or subscriptions to a Russian hobby magazine. The most prolific commenters during the voting process will also receive an award.

    Coin Constellation is the only international contest of commemorative coins held in Russia, and is one of just a few similar programs around the world.

    It’s a chance for your voice to be heard, and to reward coin producers for their ingenuity, technology and market receptivity.

    To learn more about the conference itself, visit the exhibition website.

    Connecting Hollywood to numismatics through coal scrip

    June 30, 2014 11:17 AM by

    One of the fascinating things about this hobby is that you can find connections everywhere.

    This is especially true when considering exonumia, that area outside traditional government-issued coins or paper money.

    I was reminded of this recently while reading Sky of Stone by Homer Hickam. If the name sounds familiar, it is probably because of the Jake Gyllenhaal movie October Sky, and his book upon which the movie was based, Rocket Boys.

    Hickam, the son of a stern, taciturn coal mine superintendent in Coalwood, W.Va., was in high school when Russia’s Sputnik streaked across the October sky in 1957, and he was inspired to build rockets. Hickam wrote three books about time spent in – and trying to get out of – McDowell County, at the bottom of the state, deep in the “billion dollar coalfield.”

    Hickam and three friends wound up winning a gold and silver medal at the National Science Fair for their rocketry, and college scholarships followed. But Hickam was forced to spend one college summer working in the last place he wanted to be, below that “sky of stone.”

    There on page 87, the younger Hickam (known at the time as “Sonny”) writes about entering the company store and requesting $20 in scrip against his wages at the mine.

    Like most coal mining operations in the United States, the company store at Olga Coal Co. used tokens. Today these tokens and thousands like it are remnants of the once-widespread substitute economy.

    Coal tokens and company stores have drawn their criticism in popular culture, notably in Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song Sixteen Tons. But Doug Tolley, a member of the National Scrip Collectors Association, disagrees with that characterization.

    “Coal mine scrip was not nearly as onerous as credit cards,” said Tolley. “There was no debt to it – it’s simply an advance on wages already earned. It’s no different than people today who can’t handle credit cards.”
    Tolley, 85, worked in the mines for 46 years before retiring 22 years ago. Now he sells scrip in online auctions.

    Tolley knew the elder Hickam, also named Homer.

    “Homer was just as [darn] tough as they say he was,” said Tolley.

    Since the movie was released in 1999, “everyone wants a piece of Olga scrip,” Tolley said.

    A 1-cent token can be found below $20 in various grades. Pieces from the Carter Coal Co., which owned Coalwood before Olga took over in 1948, are more affordable, and still represent a period when the elder Hickam worked at the mine. Whether they were used after the sale is unclear, but older tokens circulated after sales at other mines in some cases, Tolley said.

    Today, Coalwood is a shell of its former self, with hardly any people left.

    Tolley said, “It’s just like the gold mines out west – when the coal gets gone, the people get gone.”

    Fiasco erupts over the 1965 Canadian annual set

    June 2, 2014 11:48 AM by

    What happens when a Mint’s only product for the year sells out the first day it goes on sale?

    Any collector remotely familiar with the Royal Canadian Mint’s current output of commemorative coins,  which on a monthly basis alone seems to eclipse the Gross Domestic Product of a Pacific Ocean island nation, might be hard-pressed to recall a time when the annual output was a simple set in plastic with one example of each denomination.

    But that was the case in the 1960s, when a furor erupted over the 1965 Prooflike set.

    In the fall of 1964, the RCM was clear: orders would be accepted beginning on Jan. 2, following the New Year’s Day holiday. Buyers could purchase up to five sets at $4 each (the set has a face value of $1.91.) Enough orders flooded the RCM that the initial maximum, two million sets, sold within just a few hours, despite a price tag that was $1 per set higher than the year before.

    The Toronto Globe and Mail  called it “the slaughter of the Royal Canadian Mint,” but noted that the storm was predictable after 1964, when the RCM halted orders for the annual set on April 30 amid strong demand. The RCM eventually produced some 1.6 million of the 1964 sets, compared to 18,000 sets sold six years earlier (1958).

    Collectors who think gaming the system is a pox of modern coin sales need only witness this episode.

    Dealers and collectors from across the U.S. and Canada flooded Ottawa via plane, bus or car with multiple orders, bound for the post office nearest the Mint. 

    Demand was so great it forced the RCM to order high-speed presses, but those would take six months to arrive. In the interim, the RCM grabbed a bit more than 10 pounds of orders from each bag of mail that poured in that first day, estimating how many mailpieces it would take to meet the limit. Temporary workers were hired to process the orders, and orders not set aside were sent back immediately.

    Finally, on April 29, Canada’s finance minister announced that sales would resume immediately, limited to either one, three or five sets per individual.

    Coin World reported at the time that sets in the market were selling for $5, not much of a premium considering the lengths some hobbyists went to obtain them.

    This time, the Mint promised to fill all orders, even if it took into 1966.

    All told, the RCM sold 2,904,352 of the 1965 Prooflike sets, making it the most common annual set in RCM history.

    Each set contains 1.109 ounces of silver, in the 10-cent, 25-cent, 50-cent and dollar coins included in the set (the cent and 5-cent coins are base metal), and online auction sales suggest the set is valued at about $22 to $25, or not much more than its silver value.

    Tackling touchy topics on commemorative coins: Poland celebrates women who saved Jewish children during the Holocaust

    May 9, 2014 9:08 PM by

    Poland, more than any other country, has commemorated tough, even unpleasant themes on its modern commemorative coins, including dozens related to the Holocaust and persecution of Jews.

    In 2009 Poland honored Irena Sendler and two others who helped rescue some 2,500 Jews (mostly children) during World War II.

    Sendler had been posing as a nurse so she could treat victims in the Warsaw Ghetto when she joined Zegota, an underground resistance organization, in 1942. With Sendler’s lead, some two dozen people – almost all women – spirited children to safety, using secret passageways or placing children inside luggage, even sedating them so their cries would not reveal the operation.

    However, the operation was discovered, and Sendler was imprisoned. She slipped through the hands of the Grim Reaper many times in her career as a resister, and did so this time when her compatriots bribed a guard and she was allowed to escape instead of being executed.

    Such a fate, however, befell many of the parents whose children were rescued. Though the children were provided false documents, Sendler created lists of their real names, burying them in jars, hidden to allow for reunions after the war. But reunions simply were not possible for most children as their parents were killed in concentration camps or otherwise scattered.

    Sendler’s story may have remained unknown to the world, but for four Kansas students who traced it for a school project that resulted in the play, Life in a Jar.

    In 2008, at 98 years old, Sendler died, having seen her legacy cemented through the play, which was turned into a Hallmark movie with Anna Paquin.

    For coin collectors, the honor she received in 2009 is even better.

    Sendler, Zofia Kossak-Szczucka and Sister Matylda Getter were honored on two coins in the “Poles Who Saved Jews” series. A circulating 2-zloty coin shows a hand breaking through a brick-and-barbed-wire barrier with the name of Zegota. Image of all three women appear on the Proof silver 20-zloty collector coin.

    In 1965 the trio was proclaimed among the Polish Righteous Among the Nations recipients from Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, awarded to those who saved Jews from extermination during the war.