February 18, 2013
by Tom DeLorey (Harlan J. Berk, Ltd.)
“Circulated Coins: The Perfect Alternative” was originally published in the February 2013 issue of COINage, Volume 49, Number 2. It is reprinted here with permission from Trimbach Media, Inc. and the author.
The article below, written by Tom DeLorey, was inspired by a beautiful collection of United States Type coins recently acquired by Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. Tom, who retired at the end of 2010 after working for Berk for over 20 years, assisted in the attribution and had the pleasure of viewing the entire collection before it was offered for sale. The collection was assembled by a long time, seasoned collector over the course of decades and finished in the late 1980’s as “slabbing” was coming into vogue. Lacking only the Chain and Wreath Cents and 1796 Quarter, the collection was XF-AU with an occasional BU piece.
Coin collecting today is obsessed with perfection. Perhaps it comes from the proliferation of newly struck non-circulating legal-tender (NCLT) bingles, with coins issued in capsules instead of rolls or bags. People who buy products from the U.S. Mint and send them to a third-party grading service are appalled if the items receive “only” a Proof- or Mint State-68 grade, instead of the sacred 70. Should the item be a bullion American Eagle or American Buffalo coin, it might end up in a dealer’s case along with other “common bullion.”
It was not always so. Long ago, people collected coins that had been made for commerce, and they put together sets of whatever quality they could afford to buy – if they couldn’t just find it in circulation at face value. The coins scarce enough to be handled by dealers were classified as “New” or “Used,” and priced accordingly. Naturally, the nicer “used” coins were priced slightly higher than the well-worn used coins, and eventually the modern grading system evolved to recognize and reflect the modern pricing reality.
However, the great divide between “New” and “Used” never went away. “New” was always better, even if “New” meant a heavily bag-marked, unattractively toned, common-date New Orleans Mint Morgan silver dollar, flatly struck through a smattering of sawdust chips left over from the planchet preparation process – as opposed to a well-struck and lustrous but lightly “Used” San Francisco Mint silver dollar that got spent a few times before being retired into Great-Grandma’s silk “mad money” pouch, where it developed a colorful patina over its relatively few contact marks.
Ignore value. Which is the more desirable coin? Obviously it is the Choice About Uncirculated dollar, because it flat-out looks nicer than the ugly Unc! The same principle applies to other coins.
That said, the reality is that with Morgan dollars, there are certain dates and mint marks that are available in huge quantities in uncirculated condition, and so AU Morgans as a class get no respect, except for those date-and-mint-mark combinations that were either entirely released into circulation shortly after striking or melted down for a British war loan in 1918. With but a handful of legitimately uncirculated 1893-S dollars known, an AU or even an Extremely Fine coin would be a joy to own.
Now let us consider another series – the Barber half dollar, which is more or less contemporary with the Morgan dollar. Unlike Morgans, Barber halves were not overproduced for political reasons and then stored in vaults for decades as backing for Silver Certificates, only to emerge into a 1960s world chock-full of collectors. Instead, they were struck to order for commerce – and if one year’s mintage did not get fully distributed by Dec. 31, it would almost certainly be released in the first few months of the next year.
Once released into circulation, coins circulated! The half dollar was a workhorse denomination back then – a significant store of value that was not deemed too heavy to carry in a pocket or coin purse, unlike the generally unpopular (except in the West) silver dollars. If you broke a paper dollar at a store for a small purchase, there was an excellent chance that you would get a half dollar back in your change. Later, you would spend it to buy something else. This held true for the half dollar denomination until 1964.
Within a week after being first spent, an “uncirculated” coin would become noticeably “About Uncirculated,” and within a month it could become Extremely Fine unless it got diverted into a piggy bank, dresser drawer or some other holding cell. I suspect that a coin could lose enough luster and fine detail to be merely Very Fine within a mere 12 months of active circulation, after which the loss of grade level would slow to a crawl as the main design fended off contact after contact, as it was intended to do.
(Back when I taught grading seminars for the American Numismatic Association, I used to suggest that as an exercise, the students take a common BU 1964 Washington quarter and carry it in their pocket change for a year – being careful not to spend it, of course. I told them to take a look at it with their grading glass every night, and to watch as wear appeared and luster disappeared. This is still a useful educational exercise, and with silver prices what they are, the coin at the end of the year will be barely, if at all, worth less than if it were still uncirculated.)
Uncirculated Barber halves are legitimately rare. A handful of active collectors at the time, such as the second-generation owner of the three-generation Emery-Nichols Collection (sold by Bowers & Merena in 1984; see that firm’s catalog), routinely obtained choice uncirculated coins directly from the different mints each year, and a few of the larger dealers no doubt put away a few of each for their customers, but they were probably never saved in BU roll quantities, and certainly never bags.
Natural exceptions would have been the first date of the series, 1892, and the last, 1915. Many people – collectors and non-collectors alike – put away an example of any new coin design just because they have never seen one before, though such souvenirs are often lightly circulated because non-collectors did not care enough to bother getting new ones at a bank. Coins of the last year or two of a popular series, such as the Indian cent, might be put away just because “they aren’t making these anymore,” though the popularity of the Barber half in its day is questionable.
This phenomenon is great for the type collector, but what of the date collector? After the novelty of the new design wore off, the average citizen was less likely to save an uncirculated 1895-S coin, or an 1897-O, with most collectors scattered across the East Coast and Midwest, where Philadelphia Mint coins were distributed. Collecting by mint mark did become more common after Augustus G. Heaton published A Treatise on Coinage of the United States Branch Mints in 1893, which might have inspired the Emery-Nichols collection mentioned previously.
(I saw that collection intact in upstate New York back in 1983. The gem uncirculated branch-mint coins, plus Philadelphia Mint proofs, started in 1895, the earlier-date coins having been largely pulled from circulation. However, such collector diligence was rare, and many series are virtually impossible to complete in true uncirculated condition.)
So why not collect nice circulated coins? It can be no less challenging, even if less expensive. When I worked for Harlan J. Berk Ltd. In Chicago, we had one collector who commissioned us to put together for him complete sets of Barber dimes, quarters and halves in problem-free Very Fine condition. We counseled patience, and after five years I had filled perhaps two-thirds of the holes in his albums. An Extremely Fine Barber set of all three denominations would be a magnificent achievement, and even just the dime set (without the 1894-S, of course!) would be a noble effort.
(I once worked with a man, James G. Johnson, who collected only circulated coins, and he did put together a
complete set of Barber dimes, including the 1894-S. It was in only Good condition, as was much of the rest of the set, but it probably qualified him for the best-darned circulated set of Barber dimes ever assembled!)
Other sets can be completed in Extremely Fine to About Uncirculated condition with less difficulty. A well-matched EF-AU “wheatback” Lincoln cent set (1909-1958) would be doable, the hardest ones probably being the 1914-D and the 1922 “no-D.” This is because the 1914-D was struck well after the novelty of the series had worn off, and few of them were set aside by collectors until “penny board” albums became popular in the 1930s.
Though these boards do get the credit for saving many 1914-D cents and other key-date coins from simply wearing out and being lost to the hobby forever, the early dates in the Lincoln series had 20 to 25 years’ wear on them before the boards appeared. The 1922 “no-D” cents are tough in high grade because they were so poorly made to begin with, and collectors trying to fill a 1922-D hole in a board would probably have rejected them as unworthy. After all, they didn’t even show a mint mark! (The same phenomenon might have caused 1937-D “three-legged” Buffalo nickels to remain in circulation later than they otherwise might have been saved, because the coins looked too moth-eaten to be worth collecting even when new.)
I suggested doing just the wheatback cents in EF to AU because the 1959-2008 Lincoln Memorial cents (and the later issues) are too easy to collect in uncirculated condition to bother with circulated coins. That said, it might be harder to complete a well-matched EF to AU 1959-to-date set, simply because most of the coins are worth only face value, and no dealer would bother to stock them.
You would have to do it the old-fashioned way: getting rolls of coins at the bank and searching through them. Finding well-matched coins would be difficult because many modern cents do not circulate long enough to get both worn and toned down to a nice EF-AU, instead acquiring just a few random finger marks and scratches before being unceremoniously dumped into a container somewhere.
A nice EF-AU Buffalo nickel set would be challenging but doable, as would the contemporary “Mercury” dime, Standing Liberty quarter and Walking Liberty half dollar series. Again there are key dates that will make you gulp before you pull the trigger on them, but the uncirculated specimens of those dates are even pricier. Any one of them would be impressive – especially the quarter set, because its first-year coin was issued in very limited quantities (52,000 pieces) and released too late in 1916 to attract much notice.
If collecting a date-and-mint-mark set in EF to AU is still too daunting, how about collecting a nice type set in attractive, high-grade circulated condition? Recently, Berk’s acquired and offered for sale a nearly complete non-gold U.S. type set, with many of the types in “only” AU. But what AU’s!
The 1793 half cent, a one-year type coin, was graded by two third-party services as AU-50 Brown (BN). A 1795 Liberty Cap cent with Lettered Edge was double-graded AU-53 BN. A 1795 Flowing Hair half dime was graded AU-55, followed by a 1797 Draped Bust, Small Eagle half dime in AU-53 and an 1800 Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle half dime in AU-55. The collection went on through other early types in similar style.
Yes, the coins were circulated – but they were still attractive and desirable. When I heard the collection was coming in, I went back to the store to look at it before the coins went on sale, because I knew the quality that the collector liked, having sold him a few pieces over the years. It was a joy to behold, and it was good that I did so, as some 75 percent of the collection found new homes within three days of its going online.
Nice circulated coins will always be collected by intelligent collectors, because there will always be a demand for them. It is better to own a nice, circulated coin than none at all. Not everybody has an unlimited checkbook to buy only perfect coins, nor the narrow-minded attitude to insist on them.
I have told the story here before about once having an AU-55 Turban Head gold eagle in inventory at a coin show, only to have someone sneer at it because it “wasn’t uncirculated.” That man was a fool. The coin was beautiful, over two centuries old and could have been circulated by Thomas Jefferson (or Aaron Burr!).
Give circulated coins a try. One final advantage they enjoy is that often they need not be “slabbed” before you buy them. And you can actually touch them (by the edge, of course) as you admire their beauty, and think about the fellow collectors who have touched them before.
About Harlan J. Berk, Ltd.
Since 1964, Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. has been the leader in ancient coins. When they took over their premier location in the heart of Chicago’s financial district in 1988, they expanded the business to include the full spectrum of United States coinage. Today, they handle nice collector coins as well as some of the finest known rarities. You can visit Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. online at http://hjbltd.com/unitedstatesco/cnus.asp. If you’d like to see the online catalog for the Broward County Type Set, which has now been sold, you can visit here http://issuu.com/hjb-ancientcoins/docs/hjb_the_broward_county_type_set. If you have any questions, please contact Mike Printz at MDPrintz@HJBLtd.com or David Greenstein at David@HJBLtd.com or call 312.609.0016.
February 5, 2013
For the past several months, we have been primarily focused on publishing our site, branding it, and creating new features, such as our Auctions Research Tool. We have created a unique site for coin collectors, one whose features do not exist on one domain anywhere else on the web. Our big blunder was that we thought this would trigger an organic growth of membership…boy, were we wrong!
This begs the question: What does it take to build a successful coin forum, let alone *any* successful discussion forum?
First, let’s ponder the problems with building a successful community, as well as certain issues unique to coin forums. We’ll list the six we are currently focusing on in an easy-to-read, numbered format.
- Age of the average coin collector. This is an enormous problem, because online communities are much more readily embraced by those generations who have grown up around the Internet – namely, twenty- and thirty-somethings. However, numismatics is a rapidly aging hobby. When we first created this site, our goal was to engage all generations, but for different reasons. We wanted the older generations to join the Community so that young numismatists would have mentors; the knowledge must be passed on, and what better way to do it than in a real-time social network?
- Marketing. Let’s face it. If a site’s prospective visitors don’t know about it, then it is not going to get members! Marketing encompasses ad campaigns, such as Facebook ads or Google AdWords. There are a slew of different strategies, analyses, and services to consider in a successful marketing campaign. We haven’t even brushed the surface here.
- Reputation. In our opinions, reputation is vital to any Community, whether it be new or established. The problem is that good reputation does not necessarily drive growth in membership or participation in a coin forum. But bad reputation will certainly drive away visitors and members. It’s just human nature that folks remember bad events for a very, very long time; regaining trust is not an easy thing for anyone to do.
- Forum posting and site activity. Again, this is an area best chalked up to human nature. If a site is already vivacious and active, it continues to grow organically – sometimes exponentially so. We humans are still herdlike animals; it’s just the way it is. But how do we provide the impetus – the motivation, if you will – for the *initial* growth? And we’re not talking about paid posters here. In our view, that is no way to encourage a healthy Community.
- Link Building. Like number 2 above, there are a host of strategies related to the concepts of link building and backlinks. (For interested readers, a fairly in-depth analysis of link building can be read at Let’s Build Websites. Mitz points out how important it is, how easy certain backlinking strategies are, and how many links one needs in order to generate site traffic.) The key takeaway is that we need to focus on this crucial SEO task in order to make our coin forum successful. However, numismatics is not exactly as ubiquitous as, say, politics or current world events. Therein likes the conundrum. For example, how can we become a healthy, “go to” Community if the most authoritative numismatic sites only have Google PageRanks of 4 or 5?
- Social Media. Although the topic of social media outlets (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, and Google+) could certainly be grouped under many of the above topics, we believe it should more appropriately be distinguished as a subject all on its own. In the 21st century, people are constantly bombarded with information in every aspect of their lives. Oftentimes folks just want to get short highlights about what’s going on in their topics of interest…in our case, coin collecting. Venues such as Twitter allow readers to quickly determine if one of the contacts they are following has posted something that piques their curiosity. We have spent an inordinate amount of time and money to get our sites looking just right. How do we leverage this?
Certainly we could list more bullet points that just the ones above. But we have always been of the belief that biting off more than one can chew will usually result in failure. That is, we believe in taking a few important problems and dealing with them in an in-depth manner, rather than taking several problems and only superficially addressing them. So…what *should* we be doing?
Obviously, we cannot wave a magic wand to change the average age of numismatists, such that the hobby has more folks willing to embrace the full capabilities of the Internet. We don’t think we’d want to anyways. Frankly, coin collecting needs the grizzled veterans to teach the greenhorns…it’s as simple as that. We also need the young numismatists to assist the older cohort in using new and improved technologies. On the other hand, how do we at Coin Scholar engage older dealers and collectors in a more meaningful manner? How do we explain in no uncertain terms that numismatics will go the way of philately if major changes do not occur in the mindset of the veteran collector?
We don’t have the answers to these tough questions. You’re talking about a revolutionary change in thinking here. For example, collaboration in Skype, Apple FaceTime, or Google Talk could replace your average meetings. For text only requirements, Private Messaging and Google Chat would suffice. And how about the use of more current web browsers? It’s amazing to us that so many folks still use Internet Explorer when far better performing browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox are available. This is not a trivial point; performance actually matters when one is trying to load tons of coin images!
In terms of marketing, we know what we have to do. Most successful sites have to market their product, albeit to varying degrees. There are so many variables, such as age of the website, brand name, and so on, that it is impossible to give a one-size-fits-all answer. The trick is to target ads to a very specific demographic, but at the same time not too specific such that your audience becomes too small a subset of the population. Complicating matters even further, we have to consider whether we want to target U.S. coin collectors, Chinese coin collectors, or both! From what we have seen, this is a process of trial and error that we would like to master.
Yet after having spent thousands of dollars and countless hours on logo designs, social media branding (see below), custom site development, and web deployment, we are averse to spending more money right now. It’s a fine line we’re dealing with…we know that marketing is absolutely critical, yet at the same time we have expended an enormous amount of effort with minimal results. Keep in mind that everything on our site is free and requires a lot of time and effort to implement. So, we need to carefully consider how (and when) we are going to begin an effective marketing campaign. We believe targeted Facebook advertising is the way to go. If any reader has suggestions on marketing our coin forum that we have overlooked, please let us know!
But perhaps more important than anything – especially on the Internet, where there is a never-ending amount of information that travels at lightning speed – is one’s reputation. We don’t care whether it’s a person, a company, or a plain old website; nothing is as important as one’s perception. Rest assured that there are coin dealers we refuse to ever do business with, just because of the frequency and seriousness of negative feedback we’ve read. However, something else that is usually overlooked but that also plays into the reputation factor: Quality of a company or person’s website. Sorry, but this is the Internet Age. If a business does not care enough about its online presence to impress its readers and/or buyers, then how can they be expected to care about any other aspect of their business? In the old days it would be the equivalent of having a brick and mortar storefront with peeling paint, a rusted sign falling off its hinges, and broken windows. Not too impressive, eh?
Our reputation has always been the most important trait to us. We’d rather our coin forum succeed or fail with our dignity intact, rather than resort to the typical tactics (spam, link trading, etc.) so often used by forums trying to “break the mold”. But really, our honesty only allows us to keep our current membership…it does not really aid in the growth of the Community. If we don’t have the answer, we’d rather point folks in the direction of someone who does, even if it helps their forums more than ours. We also pay attention to every little detail on Coin Scholar, from color themes to features. Now we just need to figure out a way to translate it into membership success.
Speaking of which, there are a few tried and true ways to increase membership and forum activity, especially on a coin forum. First, the forum owner could hold a contest to give away something, such as an ungraded silver Panda or standard coin supplies. It would certainly increase membership and site activity in the short run, but would it be fleeting? There is no cookie cutter answer to this question, but the word of mouth certainly wouldn’t hurt. We have been considering such a contest but have not yet decided on the specifics.
Second, the moderators and/or site owners need to stay engaged by posting, blogging, and commenting on a regular basis. It sounds easy to do, but when you are just starting out and have no readership, it can be demoralizing to say the least. Stick with it, it will pay off. At least try and publish one blog post a week, and use your forums to link to articles your readers may find useful. We plan on increasing our forum posts very soon, and not just topics related to coins. Our goal is to broaden conversations to economics and history as well, because coins are directly affected by both. If you have a wiki like we do, it would also behoove you to use it for your “how-to” and generic research content.
Third, some forums offer enhanced newsletter capabilities. Use them if you want to re-engage inactive members or if you just want to give status reports to the Community. Unfortunately, this is one of those features that works best when you have a lot of members to engage! Keep it in the back of your mind like we do, though, and design your newsletter templates for the future. Again, branding is everything and you want your newsletters to look professional but to the point. Our social network is fortunate in that the Sueetie Communications Module is embedded within our framework. We can tweak it for event notification, personalization, and many other functions. If your forum does not have the ability to do this, you may want to consider finding a plugin that does, or developing one yourself.
Link building is yet another important factor to consider when building your coin forum. In certain respects it is its own, subtle marketing strategy, in that you are creating a path for both humans and spiders to find your site content. It is such a complex topic that it could certainly fill a few blog posts on its own! The easiest way for us to explain the art of link building is to point you to WebConfs for some background info on backlinks. After reading that, you can understand our current link building strategy. It is primarily comprised of the following: Writing high quality, useful content which also contains links to other pages within our site; Backlinking – preferably to specific site content, and not just our home page – on external numismatic discussion forums and blogs; and publishing guest articles on sites like EzineArticles, which will also generate backlinks.
Just as important, though, is the use of social media to do all of the above. Media such as Twitter and Facebook are here to stay and they are crucial to marketing your site, building your online reputation, and generating easy backlinks. Even though these backlinks are not considered as valuable as links on authoritative coin sites, the value is acquired when others retweet and share them, thereby expanding readership on highly visible platforms. Given the significance of social media, it cannot be understated how important it is for your media home pages to look professional. First impressions are everything and a Twitter page with the default theme will not foster credibility among potential visitors.
We made sure our Coin Scholar Twitter page looked unique, contemporary, clean, and concise. We strongly recommend you visit our page to get some ideas for designing yours. Young coin collectors are very particular about where they want to spend their time online. Dealers and recreational numismatists should always keep in mind that the difference between a sale and a fail is usually a few seconds of surfing away from an uninspired page.
While this blog post may raise even more questions among our readers, it should be viewed as a good starting point for folks looking to start their own coin forum. We don’t have all the answers, that’s for sure. In fact, we have a lot of work of our own to do in order to grow Coin Scholar. The key is to always be willing learn from your successes *and* your failures. The failures can actually be more informative in the long run…they have been for us!
About Bernie Tavenner & Coin Scholar
The Internet has revolutionized how we all conduct business, share personal experiences, and search for information. Embracing these rapid changes does not have to be viewed as an ordeal or a “necessary evil”. Rather, we look at it as incredibly beneficial in our drive to further the field of numismatics.
Think about it. 20 years ago, how easy was it for Morgan collectors to keep up with, say, the rapid changes in VAM varieties? Were the published lists complete? What about errors in print? In the Information Age, it is significantly easier to share new discoveries, compare notes with fellow numismatists, or even image a coin and email it to a professional for advice.
Even so, numismatics is showing its age, so to speak. We founded Coin Scholar with the mission of ushering our beloved hobby into the modern era of social networking. Ever since we began our database aggregation in the spring of 2009, we surfed the web looking for a professional web application that could consume it. Our searches turned up empty. As a software engineer with years of experience building application frameworks for others, our Head Collector knew what needed to be done to serve the numismatic community.
It was during the summer of 2011 that we decided to build the software ourselves. At first we were hesitant about developing a new application framework, especially a complex social networking platform. It meant that our numismatic data analysis — our primary passion — would be indefinitely put on hold. A year later and after building upon the fantastic efforts of others, we can honestly say we are as excited as ever about the future of numismatics.
Bernie Tavenner is currently employed as a senior software engineer in the aerospace industry. Originally hailing from Virginia, he grew up with a passion for antebellum American history and numismatics. He has recently dedicated his time to building a social network for U.S. and Chinese coin collectors and is considering other, similar ventures that take advantage of 21st century social media technologies.
January 21, 2013
by Dana Samuelson (American Gold Exchange)
The $10 Liberty Head Eagle, minted from 1838 to 1907, is one of the longest running series of coins in U.S. mint history. Completing a full set by collecting an example of every date and mint mark is a virtual impossibility in today’s market. 177 coins were minted during this long run (not including major and minor varieties) and there are many rarities within the series. Collecting an example of each of these classic U.S. gold coins by type and mint of origin, however, is surprisingly easy and offers the collector a wide swath of U.S. history in the process.
During the time of their issue, the United States evolved from a primitive wild western era country to a burgeoning modern era world power. Let’s look at mints that produced these coins to put their production into historical perspective.
$10 Liberty Head Eagle, No Motto (1838-1866) Almost Uncirculated
The $10 Liberty Eagle, No Motto, was minted in Philadelphia, New Orleans and San Francisco literally back in the Wild West and horse and buggy days of the United States. These mostly pre-Civil War era coins are between 147 and 175 years old today and pre-date almost every modern convenience we now take for granted.
The Philadelphia Mint opened in 1793 and first struck gold coins in 1795. Its history as the countries premiere mint was well established by the time the $10 Liberty Head Eagle was authorized by congress in 1838. Because of it’s location in the middle of the eastern seaboard and proximity to the leading population centers of New York, Boston, Washington D.C and others, the Philadelphia mint was responsible for the majority of the country’s coinage in pre-Civil War days. It makes sense then that the majority of No Motto $10 Liberty Eagles both by years of issue and total coins minted were struck at the Philadelphia Mint.
In almost uncirculated condition there are 11 years of Philadelphia minted coins that are easily collected. They are 1847, 1849, 1851, 1853, 1854, 1855, 1856, 1857, 1859, 1860 and 1861.
The New Orleans Mint was established in 1838, one of three branch mints to open that year (the other two being the Charlotte Mint in Charlotte,North Carolina and the Dahlonega mint in Dahlonega, Georgia.) The New Orleans Mint first struck $10 Liberty Eagles in 1841 and did so continuously through 1860. The New Orleans Mint closed due to the Civil War. It reopened in 1879 and remained the country’s most southern mint until closing permanently in 1909. The New Orleans Mint still stands today near the banks of the mighty Mississippi River at the north end of the fabled French Quarter. It is now a museum.
Like Charlotte and Dahlonega, the New Orleans Mint was a regional mint, striking coins as needed for currency in the region on a yearly basis. Annual mintages of coins varied from year to year based on economic needs. In almost uncirculated condition there are five years of New Orleans minted coins that are available at relatively modest prices. They are 1843, 1847, 1851, 1853 and 1858.
While privately made gold coins were traded on the west coast of the U.S. in the 1840’s, it wasn’t until after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1849 and the ensuing California gold rush (which brought an onslaught of people from literally around the world seeking to get rich quick in the gold fields) that the U.S. Mint in San Francisco was established in 1854. The abundance of gold and the sudden need for official coins in the region were driving factors in the mints establishment. During this first year the San Francisco Mint struck 123,826 $10 Liberty Head Eagles. This was by far the largest mintage for $10 Eagles at this mint until 1879, when the mint struck 224,000. Most $10 Liberty Head Eagle mintages between 1855 and 1878 were much lower, usually under 15,000 coins. By contrast, mintages for $20 Double Eagles for many of these same years were between 500,000 and 1,000,000 coins, multiples of the $10 Eagle mintages.
There were only 13 years of issue for San Francisco minted No Motto Liberty Head Eagles. Today there are only three years of issue that are available at relatively modest prices; they are 1854, 1856, and 1857.
Liberty Head Eagle, With Motto (1866–1907) Uncirculated Condition
Beginning in 1866 the motto “In God We Trust” was added to all U.S. coins that were large enough to accommodate it. While the $10 Liberty Eagle, With Motto, continued to be minted in Philadelphia, New Orleans and San Francisco, it was also minted in Carson City and Denver, when those mints were established in 1870 and 1906 respectively.
After the discovery of the Comstock Lode near Carson City, Nevada in the late 1860’s, the city’s founding father Abraham Curry successfully lobbied the U.S. government to establish a mint there. The Carson City Mint first struck coins in 1870 and did so until closing just 23 years later in 1893. This mint was a truly regional mint and it only made enough coins to satisfy currency demand in the area, so mintages of Carson City gold coins were unusually low when compared to other mint production rates. Only 1891 had a mintage over 100,000 coins, most other years were under 10,000. Today the 1891 $10 Liberty Eagle is the only modestly priced Carson City $10 gold coin.
Almost every With Motto Liberty Head Eagle minted between 1866 and 1879 is a rarity in modern times with three exceptions from the Philadelphia Mint, which are the 1874, 1878 and 1879 issues. For the remaining years of issue for the series, 1880 – 1907, the coins minted at Philadelphia, San Francisco and to a degree New Orleans, become much more readily available with many affordable choices in uncirculated condition. Collecting a complete set of coins in uncirculated condition from 1890 to 1907, from all five mints that struck coins during these years (P, S, O, CC, and D) is both affordable and doable.
And that brings us to the last mint to strike the Liberty Head Eagle, With Motto, the Denver Mint. Like the areas around the San Francisco and Carson City Mints, gold was discovered in the Denver area in 1858. The ensuing gold rush was dubbed the Pikes Peak gold rush, after the fabled mountain in the vicinity that all could see from far and wide. The gold harvested between 1859 and 1863 was privately minted into coins by Clark, Gruber and Company until the U.S. government bought them out and established an assay office there in 1863. It wasn’t until many years later though, in 1896, that the building that has become the Denver Mint was authorized and finally built. Coining began in February of 1906.
$10 Liberty Head Eagles were only minted in Denver for two years, 1906 and 1907. The Theodore Roosevelt and Augustus Saint-Gaudens inspired Indian Head design change in late 1907 ended the long reign of the Liberty Head gold coinage permanently. Fortunately for collectors, mintages for these two years were relatively high at 981,100 for 1906 and 1,030,000 for 1907. Both of these issues are easily obtained in uncirculated condition today at modest prices. The “D” mint mark is the only mint mark to appear on coins minted at two different mints, the Dahlonega Mint from 1838 to 1861 and Denver Mint from 1906 to 2013.
About American Gold Exchange
Founded in 1998, American Gold Exchange is a leading national precious metals and rare coin company specializing in dealer-to-dealer trading and direct sales to the public. AGE draws upon a huge supplier network in the U.S. and Europe, enabling us reliably to offer an almost limitless inventory of highest-quality gold, silver, platinum, and palladium coins and bars at extremely low prices. Our mission is to help you to build and manage a profitable, private, enjoyable hard asset portfolio of any size. Customer service is our highest priority and value is our watchword.
January 7, 2013
Interested in starting a coin collection but not sure where to start or what you should know? Here are some tips from the experienced staff at West Seattle Coins and Bellevue Rare Coins to help you start collecting.
First, choose a series of coins you would like to collect. Start small, with modern coins, before jumping into more rare and valuable coins. Some good options are State Quarters, Lincoln Cents, Jefferson Nickels or Roosevelt Dimes. These coins are all in circulation and can easily be found in your pocket change. This way, your investment is minimal while you test the waters and learn a bit more about the ins and outs of collecting. Coin albums are a great way to organize, store and display your collection. They contain slots for each coin you will need to complete the series, which makes it easy to keep track of your progress.
A great reference tool for coin collectors is the Guide Book of United States Coins, commonly referred to by collectors as “The Red Book.” Published annually, this book is full of useful information like history and current values, as well as colorful photos. When you are ready to make the jump to foreign coins, the Standard Catalog of World Coins is a superb series of reference books filled with world coinage from the 1600s to the present.
There are no rules when it comes to coin collecting — except to have fun, of course. The more coin history you learn, the more confident you will become. And when you are ready to expand your collection to include older, rarer or high-value items, we would love to help. Here are a few more tips to help broaden your collecting skills:
1. Learn the language: Familiarize yourself with the terms and phrases coin collectors use, such as toning, bag marks, obverse, reverse and many more.
2. Take good care of your collection: Learn the proper ways to handle and store your collection, as well as which materials are best suited to preserve value.
3. Learn the numeric grading scale (aka the Sheldon Scale): This includes numerical grades from 0–70 and the descriptions used to grade coins.
4. Meet other collectors: Join a coin club or go to a coin show. These are great sources of information and inspiration.
5. Join the American Numismatic Association (ANA): They have programs and services for coin collectors of all ages.
Coin collecting is a fun and fascinating hobby. We here at West Seattle Coins and Bellevue Rare Coins love seeing new faces, answering your questions and giving you a solid foundation to make smart choices when it comes to purchasing coins. But most of all, we are here to inspire new collectors with our knowledge, love and unique inventory of coins and bullion. Visit one of our coin shops in West Seattle, Bellevue or Lynnwood. We speak your language.
About West Seattle Coins & Bellevue Rare Coins
West Seattle Coins and Bellevue Rare Coins are family-owned and operated businesses that specialize in rare coins, currency, gold, silver and jewelry. West Seattle Coins was founded in 1979. To meet the growing volume of rare coins, gold and silver coming through our doors, we expanded in 2010 with the addition of Bellevue Rare Coins in downtown Bellevue as well as a location in Lynnwood that opened 2 years later.
We treat our customers with integrity and respect. Our staff is filled with friendly and knowledgeable enthusiasts. We have large showrooms that display a wide selection of rare coins. We also buy antiques, prints and lithographs, and have outlets for a wide variety of estate-sale items. And when it comes to making a decision about selling family heirlooms, gold, silver or coin collections, we want you to feel like you made the right decision by bringing them to us. We invite you to visit any of our three locations in West Seattle, Bellevue or Lynnwood.
December 17, 2012
by Matthew Kleinsteuber (Numismatic Financial Corp.)
Edited by Don Bonser
Quality has always been an issue in the numismatic marketplace, but in the past 25 years, its significance and means of determining price and rarity has been more important than ever before. Designating quality allows you to group items that some people would see as being the same and then show/explain why they are not. An example of this in the current market would be a 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent–in grades of MS63RB and MS65RD, most non-collectors would not see much discernable difference in quality, but in the coin market, the former is currently worth around $2000 and the latter $6000. By distinguishing quality more precisely, we have learned which coins typically are available in which grades, and we have learned how to better place premiums on coins that generally don’t come in certain lofty grades. As an example, an 1886-O Morgan Dollar in MS63 is currently worth about $3000; in MS64, it’s $10,000, and in MS65, it’s a whopping $175,000. Can you imagine a market in which these levels of quality were not distinguished? Strangely enough, as recently as the 1960s, the spread in value on this coin (using current-day grading standards) may have been as little as $100 or less. ANACS, PCGS, and NGC were at the forefront of the quality revolution and have helped the coin market immeasurably. Our market has helped other markets to realize how important quality really is.
Many other markets of collectibles are now highly based on quality as well. Examples are sports cards, which are now graded on a 10-point scale, stamps on a 100-point scale, and there are even companies like PSA/DNA that are grading autographs on a 10-point scale and also authenticating sports memorabilia. These companies and industries have followed the coin market, and other markets have followed it as well.
Other industries are evolving rapidly due to the emphasis on quality and education as to what quality really is. Cars are a great example. Just a few years ago, virtually all collectible cars were being restored. The result of restoration is often an automobile that, while beautiful and functional, is no longer in any way original, and often looks nothing like what was really sold new years ago by car dealerships. Now an increasing number of people want unrestored “survivor” cars in their original, used condition, with (obviously) higher-quality original specimens worth more than “beaters.” As an example, you can buy a beater 1960 Nash Metropolitan for perhaps $3500; a pristine restoration or a high-quality original car will set you back $35,000 or more. Quality, again, is paramount.
Quality and its recognition are the future of all collectible markets, and those who educate themselves will be significantly ahead of other collectors and dealers. Knowledge is power! No matter what you buy, be it art, books, stamps, coins, cars–whatever–you must educate yourself about quality. Buying the best you can afford is generally sound advice. This isn’t to say that you must buy the best available; the best you can afford and the best available are two concepts often confused, and people who confuse them often stop collecting in frustration. Know the difference, and enjoy what you can afford to collect. The author recommends to a beginner in any field to find someone knowledgeable and trustworthy, and learn from them. As for the coin market, if you have $100 to spend, it’s generally good advice to buy one $100 coin, not ten $10 coins. If you have $1000, buy one $1000 coin, and so on. Buy quality within your price range. The collections that bring the most enjoyment and often the greatest increase in value are not simply hoards, but collections built on quality and understanding.
Remember: quality is found in all price ranges in all collectibles! Spend some time and money on education and you will be repaid many times over when you decide to sell your collection.
About Numismatic Financial Corp.
The Numismatic Financial Corporation, Inc. was founded by Timothy E. Carroll in 1990. NFC’s mission is to offer a comprehensive range of services including the buying and selling of certified coins, raw coins, rare currency and precious metals. NFC works closely with the banking community on appraisals and offers a reputable appraisal service for both collectors and clients with estate evaluation needs.
NFC’s strong financial position allows the company to handle very large transactions on a routine basis. Perhaps its strongest asset is its friendly and knowledgeable staff, with over 150 years combined experience in the industry. Our experts have the ability and the knowledge to recognize the rare and unusual coin and have the contacts to either find it…. or sell it…. for a client. We offer an accurate appraisal service with written documentation of value for a reasonable fee.
NFC’s initial focus was in the wholesale segment of the numismatic industry. In 1993, by popular demand, the company opened a retail gallery to offer products and services to both collectors and small dealers. It then expanded onto the internet, and now offers one of the largest and most diverse numismatic inventories available anywhere. In the years since its inception, NFC has come to achieve national recognition and respect in the numismatic community, earning a reputation for both aggressiveness and absolute integrity.
NFC’s corporate headquarters and retail gallery, open weekdays from 8:30 AM until 5:00 PM EST, is located at 901 West State Road 434, Winter Springs, Florida…. affording both convenience and safety to its clients. Winter Springs is located in the greaterOrlando metropolitan area, just 20 minutes north of downtown Orlando and about 30 minutes from the area’s major tourist attractions.
Whether you are a new collector or a seasoned investor, looking to buy or to sell, NFC is a great company to do business with!
December 10, 2012
by Kevin Vinton (Sam Sloat Coins)
In his well known book with the familiar title “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” Robert Fulghum presents the argument that it is often the first and most basic lessons that are most meaningful for handling the problems and complexities of life later on. Although numismatics probably isn’t on the same level of importance as dealing with the deepest philosophical and emotional issues of human existence, I’ve found the same to be true of the way I’ve gone about making sense of coins and the science behind them.
Early copper (a category including U.S. Colonial Coppers, Large Cents, and Half Cents) might appear at first glance to be a very basic and maybe boring segment of U.S. coinage. These were the lowliest of circulating money at the time, and as such, not much effort was put into the design of the coins being particularly pleasing aesthetically and a very utilitarian approach was implemented for their design as well as production. As far as Half Cents and Large Cents go, they were all produced at just one mint,Philadelphia, up through being discontinued in 1857. So, there are no mint mark varieties or other mint peculiarities within the series to interest collectors. Despite all its seemingly mundane characteristics (or perhaps because of them), early copper became one of the first truly specialized fields of U.S. numismatics soon after coin collecting became a popular and mainstream hobby around 1860. Many collectors focused only on the early U.S. copper coinage, especially Large Cents, and it quickly became one of the most well-researched and avidly collected areas of the hobby. This wealth of information and research was accelerated by the formation of the Early American Coppers (“EAC”) coin club in the 1960’s and now EAC is recognized as one of the largest and most active specialized coin clubs.
This article will highlight 3 areas central to the study and collecting of early U.S. copper coins that have significance in almost any other part of numismatics. I am not saying that early copper is the only place to start to gain a well-rounded and informed grasp of these concepts. That is certainly not the case, as by now almost all series of U.S. coins are very thoroughly researched and offer much to their respective specialists as far numismatic skills go. For me, though, I’ve found these principals to be especially well-developed and easy to learn from in the realm of those big copper coins.
Most series of U.S. coins follow the following framework for how they are researched and collected: Within any given “type” there are specific “issues” which are coins with a unique date and mintmark combination. Beyond this, there are specific coins within these dates and mintmarks that might have some kind of diagnostic oddities and these are known as “varieties.” These varieties may or may not be included in what is considered a “complete” set of any given series. Let’s take Buffalo Nickels for example. The most basic way of collecting Buffalo Nickels, other than having a single type coin, would be by date and mintmark. Then there are a few major varieties, coins within these dates and mintmarks with peculiar die characteristics that are often times included in a date and mintmark set. Namely, the 1916 Doubled Die, the 1918/7-D, the 1937-D 3 Legs, and the 1938-D/S. Three of these four varieties carry hefty price tags, but it is not known for sure, and would be difficult to figure out, whether or not these die combinations are any rarer than any other die pairs within those given dates that do not have such distinctive or noticeable characteristics.
Within the early copper series, however, there is not such a mystery. For Half Cents and Large Cents as well as the State Coppers among other pre-Federal Coppers, every die variety is sought out and given equal status as far as categorizing goes, and therefore every coin is a “variety.” It isn’t just the more distinguishable dies that are paid attention to, but every difference from die to die is scrutinized and collected separately. The most well-known example of this kind of organization is the “Sheldon set” of early date Large Cents, 1793-1814. Even though there are only 22 different dates within this short set, there are over 300 unique die varieties that are all collected separately, each with their own number. So, for Sheldon collectors it is just as meaningful to say you have an “S-266” as you have an 1804 Large Cent. This is just one of the 300+ unique varieties in the series. Again, this sort of organization by die variety is not unique to early copper, as all series of earlyU.S. silver and gold and now, the Seated Liberty series are being collected this way. But, I feel die varieties are all the more noticeable in early copper and easy to pick up, so it’s a good place to start.
So what are the benefits of thinking about coins in this way – every one as a distinct die variety? Not only is it interesting to think about the relative rarity of different die pairs within lesser researched series and to scrutinize coins for minute differences within dates and mintmarks. Being familiar with die varieties and die characteristics has some more practical applications as well. The one I will mention here as it is an important topic nowadays in the hobby – being able to recognize counterfeits. One well-known numismatist was fond of saying, “Recognizing die varieties is like recognizing friends’ faces.” That means, even without nitpicking the tiny diagnostics on a coin to figure out which set of dies it’s from, you can recognize and remember the overall “look” of the coin and have a good idea which variety it might be. The same thing holds true as the best way to determine a real coin from a counterfeit, even as the fakes are getting better and better. It takes a long time looking at lots of coins and familiarizing yourself with die characteristics, but after a good amount of time spent examining real examples of any given coin, seeing a counterfeit will immediately look “off” and from there, examining the diagnostics closer will confirm it.
One of the further specialized areas of study that happened pretty early on in the field of early copper was the categorizing of die states. That is, within the course of any die pair being used to turn out coins, one can recognize the deterioration of those dies by certain characteristics on the coin’s surfaces. These characteristics are familiar to many and include die polishing lines, die cracks, die breaks (cuds), die rust, flowlines, and loss of detail due to die refinishing. Die states are avidly collected within many early copper series and rare states of certain varieties, even if the difference seems trivial, can carry large premiums for interested collectors. Probably the most well-developed research in die states is that done by Bob Grellman for late date Large Cents, 1840-1857. So much work has been done there that within one line in the Red Book, let’s say an 1849 Large Cent, you can collect 30 different die varieties and within each die variety as many as half a dozen distinct die states! While that kind of specialization may not be for everyone, there have been several coins from other series that have become famous and valuable even though they are merely distinct die states of a certain pair of otherwise uninteresting dies.
Probably the best example of this will take us back to Buffalo Nickels where the 1937-D 3 Legs variety (as well as the less popular 1936-D 3 ½ Legs) is merely a late die state example of a particular die pair that had the reverse overly polished resulting in the loss of one of the buffalo’s legs. Another example of a famous die state is the 1922 “no D” Lincoln Cent where the obverse die was used so excessively that the peripheries of the die became weak, flowlined, and certain details, including the mintmark, became indistinct. While these definitely are remarkable die states and deserve the attention they receive, it is interesting to think of them merely as late die state examples of probably very common dies. Not only this, but understanding especially these two varieties as die states will again aid the collector in spotting counterfeits or altered examples. That is, since they are both extremely late die states where the dies had deteriorated to a great extent, they will not only show the missing leg or missing mintmark, they will also show other signs of deterioration such as the flowlines and roughness on the obverse and reverse of the 3 Leg and flowlines and specific weak detail on the 22 no D. Looking for these things and understanding the stage of the dies will make authentication much easier and more intuitive.
If EAC, the club, is known for anything in the broader coin community it is for its’ unique, very strict grading style that is as heralded as it is controversial and oft-debated. “EAC Grading” is essentially a method of net grading, that is, starting with a grade for the sharpness of a coin or the amount of detail remaining and then subtracting from that grade a certain number of points for any problems or condition issues the surfaces show. These problems can include corrosion, scratches, rim damage, cleaning, repairing, etc. or any combination thereof. The difficulty lies in determining how many points to subtract for different problems as certain condition issues will have a different level of severity from grader to grader based solely on personal taste. Though for as many disagreements and variations in grades that there are, the one consistency is that the “EAC” grade of any particular coin will almost always be lower than “commercial” or “mainstream” grade of the same coin – not just slightly lower, but sometimes to the extent of a 20 or 30 point difference. I point this out not to examine the pros and cons of the EAC grading system, but to show that the reason the EAC net grades almost always come out lower than the accepted commercial grades is that EAC grading takes surface quality and eye appeal very seriously. It is this distinguishing between a coin that is low end, average, or very high end and premium quality for any given grade that I want to glean from the EAC system and apply to the numismatic market in general.
In some ways, the rare coin market has always taken the quality of a coin within a given grade into account when determining desirability and value. Sophisticated buyers will always not only consider the grade a dealer or grading company has assigned to the coin, but will make their own assessment and also consider their own personal preferences as for the appearance, toning, originality, etc. of any coin. The general coin market has only recently begun to try to categorize and standardize this distinction between coins that are low end and high end for the grade. The introduction of CAC to the hobby has been shown to be a very effective way to make this distinction as the prices asked and realized for coins with CAC approval very often best those without. The major grading companies followed suit with the introduction of “Plus” grading and the market responded to this as well. These changes have occurred fairly recently, over just about the past 5 years, but the research and cataloguing of early coppers within the EAC fold has made attempts at standardizing and distinguishing quality to an even greater extent for several decades now.
Some might say that the plethora of descriptors used in 3rd party coin grading – including Stars, Plus grades, Green stickers, Gold Stickers, etc. – are a bit much, but those specializing in early copper have been using an even more sophisticated and sometimes complicated system for a while now. CQR (Copper Quotes by Robinson) is the price guide created by EAC member and long time collector and researcher Jack Robinson. It covers Half Cents and Large Cents, is the standard price guide and an indispensable resource for those collecting these series by die variety. It not only lists exhaustive condition census information and prices for all die varieties in all applicable grades, it lists prices for as many as 5 (!) different levels of quality within every grade. There are coins on the low end with serious surface problems (termed “scudzy”), 3 levels of mid-range coins with moderate to light amounts of surface issues (termed “average -” “average” and “average+”) and coins with virtually no imperfections (termed “choice”). While this seems like a lot of categories, it makes perfect sense to try to format an accurate price guide this way to take into account the price differences attached to coins of varying qualities. Consider that for coins in any series, you will rarely see the same coin in the same “grade” realize the same price time after time. There will be differences, sometimes significant differences, from coin to coin based on the quality, originality, and eye appeal of each specific piece. The field of early copper has emphasized these differences for quite some time and the coin market in general and third party grading will continue to do the same, probably to even greater extent in the future.
There are certainly several other important ideas from the world of Large Cents and Half Cents that have import for numismatics broadly, but these three are probably the more significant. While it was the early copper field specifically that got me started on connecting these concepts to other areas of the hobby, the moral of the story is to find the area or series of coins that appeals to you, read and learn all you can about it, and see where it takes you. Having that specialized knowledge will better allow you to make connections, discern trends, and find patterns in other areas of numismatics and lead to a more stimulating and enjoyable hobby overall.
About Sam Sloat Coins
Kevin Vinton, numismatist at Sam Sloat Coins Inc. since 2009, specializes in Colonial and early Federal copper coinage. He is a member of ANA, EAC, C4, JRCS, and other organizations.
Established in 1961, Sam Sloat Coins Inc. has long been recognized as one of New England’s oldest, largest and most reliable coin shops. Located in beautiful Westport, Connecticut for over 50 years, Sam Sloat Coins is a true brick and click store. We maintain a full service, secure internet web site, an eBay presence with over 15,000 successful auction sales and a 1,200 square foot showroom filled with a most diverse and eclectic inventory. You will find our representatives at most major coin shows and conventions. We are members of the Appraiser’s Association of America, Westport Chamber of Commerce, American Numismatic Association, American Numismatic Society, Bermanian Guild of Numismatists and all major numismatic associations.
Located at 606 Post Road East in Westport, Connecticut we invite you to visit when in our area. Our store hours are 9:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday, Saturday 10:00 to 3:00.
Visit Sam Sloat Coins at http://www.sloatcoins.com/