The Value of Old Numismatic Books

March 27, 2012

by Charles Morgan & Hubert Walker (The Ike Group)

When Hubert and I set out to write numismatic books, we did so because the kind of book that we wanted to read just wasn’t readily available. We weren’t sure if such a book had been written before and was somehow absent from store shelves, or if the economics of the numismatic publishing world precluded the possibility that volumes covering a wide-range of topics would ever be possible again. Most of the nation’s bookstores have all but disappeared during our lifetimes and those that do exist in our parts of the country give very little shelf space to the subject of coin collecting, and most of that space is taken up by coin albums and quarter boards.

We quickly found in the writing process that both Krause and Whitman, arguably the two largest publishers of numismatic books, while being receptive of new ideas and professional enough to consider all of the pitches we sent their way, are deeply concerned with meeting a certain level of market penetration. As a matter of business, it’s the right way to approach things. If you can’t sell it, why print and market it? The problem with this defensive posture, however, is that in the process of repackaging the same concise volumes year after year, covering the same well-trodden ground, the hobby’s literature starts to lose its intimacy with the subject, and this contributes to the shrinkage of the market.

It wasn’t always this way.

In fact, there was a golden age of coin writing that is well in the past. The better volumes, or at least those that have survived, tell the story of American numismatics as it was happening. And while these days much of what passes as numismatic insight is the summary recitation of mintage numbers and anecdotes about the personalities behind the coins, those that actually lived in the times and bore witness to our shared coin history still have the capacity to surprise us. In fact, I find their perspectives about their circulating coin art still have currency in a modern context and reveal to us that problems that we think are unique to us transcend time. [I switch here to first person from third person, I think it is clear in the prose that this is coming from Charles Morgan’s voice- but it includes Hubert Walker to show the collaborative effort that goes into writing articles and books… thoughts?]

Take for instance this great volume I recently picked up called Selections from the Numismatist: U.S.Coins, compiled by the American Numismatic Association, and printed in 1960 by the Whitman Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin. The book was part of a four-part series of reprinted articles from The Numismatist magazine (which has been in print in one form or another since 1888 and is now headed by Barbara Gregory). Other volumes covered tokens, paper currency, ancients and medieval coinage, as well as foreign currency. The articles in this volume were written by some of the hobby’s most important figures: Stuart Mosher, Richard S. Yeoman, Farran Zerbe, Ted Hammer, and a young Walter Breen.

The volume is filled with some of The Numismatist’s finest articles from the first sixty plus years of its existence. What it has to offer us is a graduate level program in American history and the economics of change. I personally feel that any interested reader who spent a weekend going cover to cover in this book would not only have a better grasp on the history of 19th and 20th century coinage, but would also better appreciate the tools they have at their disposal now.

Many of the authors’ perspectives on coin design are refreshingly modern.  Consider this first-hand account of the release of the Jefferson nickel:

“A building on the reverse of a regular issue of United States coins is an innovation, and a welcome one. Whatever criticism may be directed against it is probably because it is an innovation. It is time to realize that something besides wreaths and eagles may fittingly be placed on our coins.” The Numismatist. [author unaccredited], “The New Jefferson Nickel”, originally published January, 1939. Reprinted in Selections from the Numismatist: United States Coins. Whitman Publishing, 1960. Page 145.

We’ve lived with the Monticello reverse (save for two years) since 1938. It’s hard to think of the coin as modern by today’s standards. But it was fresh, new, and architectural to those among whom it first circulated. Without that Monticello reverse, do we get Frank Gasparro’s Lincoln Memorial cent reverse in 1959? Also, consider how much coin art aesthetics had changed since the end of the Augustus Saint-Gaudins era.

Think about how this first-hand account of the release of the Washington quarter in 1932 mirrors the mania that surrounded the release of the U.S. Mint’s 50 State Quarters® program:

“The new Washington quarter dollar was officially placed in circulation August 1, and for a few days afterward they were handed out sparingly through the banks of the country to those who applied for them. The purpose of this is not clear. It was announced that only a few would be allowed any one person, the object being to prevent, if possible, their being sold at a premium. But as a matter of fact the policy of making them scarce and difficult to get encourages their sale at a profit.” The Numismatist. [author unaccredited],“The  New Washington Quarter Dollar”, originally published September, 1932. Page 165.

And consider how the 1930s-era numismatic writer was so finely attuned to matters of relief and wear in this little tidbit that contrasts the Standing Liberty quarter with Flanagan’s new design:

“An almost universal objection to the design just discontinued was that after a little wear the date on the obverse became almost obliterated…. The objection to the old design must have been in Mr. Flanagan’s mind while preparing his model, for he has placed the date between the truncation of the bust and the rim of the coin, both of which are considerably higher than the figures in the date, giving it amply protection of wear.” [same article, page 165]


I admit, modern coin production has become much more mechanized and therefore uniform. There will never be another period quite like the one detailed in Selections from the Numismatist, but what we shouldn’t lose sight of is what we expect from this generation of numismatic authors. That is, to excite us, to open our minds to new perspectives, and to constantly feed our voracious appetite for more.

So when you are considering your next coin purchase, keep an eye out for tomes such as this. They can be had cheaply if you catch them at the right time.

I leave you with the following maxims prepared in 1909 by Howland Wood, then Chairman of the Board of Governors of the ANA and later curator of the American Numismatic Society in New York. They are just a few of the scores of maxims included in the book. I find these maxims were as true then as they are true now:

“If you are a young man, you can afford to wait; it is only the old men who cannot.”

“Don’t try to collect everything, you will never catch up… and you will not enjoy what you have.”

“Collect, if possible, coins in the best condition; you then buy but once, and when you want to sell, you have something worth selling.”

And finally,

“A collection near at hand is worth two in a safe-deposit vault. This can be taken two ways- from the standpoint of your own interest and the standpoint of the burglar.”

[cite- Howland Wood “Numismatic Maxims for Beginners” June, 1931. Page 51.]

Truer words were never written.



Profit-taking at the Mint: With announcement that the Mint would produce circulation strike America the Beautiful quarters at the San Francisco Mint, the Mint is set to make a lot of money… literally. The first year of NIFC Presidential dollar program has seen demand sky rocket, and there’s reason to believe that the new quarter program will in all likelihood fare even better. In 1954, its final year of circulating quarter production, the S-Mint made 11.8 million quarters, and most of those were spent in the economy. It’s possible that we’ll see numbers approaching that with nearly all of them being hoarded in hopes that they will go up in value someday.

Members of the Coin Community Forum are trying to spend $100,000 in golden dollars. They’ve been at it since April and so far have circulated $1,300 of them. It’s not as easy as you’d think. Never fear, pretty soon I’ll post a column that will propose the perfect figure to memorialize on a re-introduced circulating quarter eagle.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, this picture, furnished by Michelle Kumpf at CAC is worth quite a few more… dollars that is. Pictured are two of five known MS-66 1972 Type 2 Eisenhower dollars, and one of 40 or so known in MS-65.

Photo credit: Michelle Kumpf, CAC © 2012. All rights reserved.

About The Ike Group

My business name is “Tom Hyland – Collector Coins”.  I don’t have a store.  I do this as a part-time business in my retirement from teaching high school math.  I set up at local shows and the Baltimore shows, ANA, and FUN. I have a web site,  Maybe we could put a link to CAC on my web site?  I’ll need some direction to accomplish that. 
My other involvement in the hobby is with the Garden State Numismatic Association.  I’ve been their convention chairman for 15 years. (  It’s a small show (75 tables), but I attract dealers from all over the country.  Any support for this show would be appreciated.  It’s held in Somerset every May.

Visit The Ike Group online at

U.S. Rare Coins & Rare American Currency: It’s All Enjoyment For Me

March 22, 2012

by Donald Zvanut (Collectible Coin & Currency)

Hello my name is Dr. Donald Zvanut, owner Collectible Coin and Currency. I specialize in Morgan dollars, Buffalo nickels, type coin and United States Large Type Currency 1862-1923. My business has about a 50-50 split between rare coin and currency. As a rare coin and currency dealer I am still relatively new at this profession as my more seasoned coin dealers are. I am a part time dealer in rare coins and rare large type currency. I still work as a board certified Optometrist in the State of California. I got started collecting in the 1960’s with the Los Angeles coin shop explosion. I still have my first coin purchase in 1968 an 1899 Barber Dime in VG. I dropped away from collecting until 2003 when I picked up a few old coins and sold them on eBay. That was the start. I attended various shows and met dealers who never sold a coin on the internet or with eBay and really didn’t have the time to do so. I found out very quickly that I was able to buy their inventory and resell it. The internet and retail sales come naturally for me. Shortly afterwards I found out about auction companies and with careful forethought I was able to grow my business by carefully purchasing and reselling. Still to this day I sell 80% of my inventory with e-bay or my personal website.

One of the greatest compliments I receive are from these same buyers online (who I will never meet) is that they thank me for my time in helping them with their collections. They comment to me that they will never attend a coin show or go to an ANA World’s Fair of Money Show. But they are more than happy with their purchases and understand that they may pay a little more for the convenience and security of buying though eBay.

I really didn’t set up as a dealer at shows until a short 4 years ago. I attend small shows in and around San Diego and Los Angeles. I attend the Long Beach show three times a year. I have attended my first ANA Summer World’s Fair of Money in Los Angeles and had a whale of a show. I also now fully support the ANA in branding its show to Chicago (which I attended in 2011 and had my best show ever).

Dealer shows for me are not an affair of “did I make table”, but more of who I meet and develop new relationships with and firm up old relationships. I like to “look approachable” to talk to and deal with while at a coin show. I enjoy sitting with new collectors and answering questions and understanding where they are in their collecting experience. When possible I can hopefully impart valuable information and allow them to learn from me. I enjoy talking with the collector’s spouse or family members (many who are at their first coin show) who maybe don’t collect but are trying to understand the dynamics at play during a coin show.

I like discussing “hot button topics” about the future of coins and collecting and making Numismatics a more fun and rewarding experience for everyone. I fully understand that Numismatics and the way we collect coins and offer them for resale have changed greatly. I fully believe that coin collecting is as vibrant as ever and is not dying off. Coin collecting is as popular as ever and is NOT “old and greying”as sometimes misreported by elder statesmen of the numismatic profession.

With my start at eBay and many of the misconceptions with it. I fully understand that many dealers still see eBay as avenue for dumping their junk coins, or for other dealers to sell overpriced over graded coins and the omnipresent threat of counterfeit coins. I think most of you by now know that e-bay is far more than a dumping ground for coins . I think CAC has a great amount of foresight with their recent eBay-CAC event. I think it will be very successful now and in the future.

I really do enjoy coin collecting and the numismatic profession as a dealer. The weekend shows are a venue for me to have fun and talk coins, currency, the ANA and all the rest. Although I am careful to maintain a level of professionalism for my fellow dealers. These professionals in many cases are full time dealers who have been at this business for a good part of their lives. I try to maintain the same respect for them at they have given me.

I look forward to a number of enjoyable years in this profession and I hope to meet you soon.

Visit Collectible Coin & Currency at
Visit my eBay store at




Mark Feld’s Coin Collecting Tips

March 20, 2012

by  Mark Feld (Mark Feld Rare Coins)

Following, in no particular order of subject matter or importance, are my unsolicited comments and advice about coin collecting for collectors – please feel free to contact me at any time if you’d like to discuss any of these topics.

  1. Buy/collect what YOU like. But keep in mind that when it comes time to sell, not everyone else will necessarily like what you did/do.
  2. Examine as many coins as you can which have been certified/graded by the most highly respected grading companies. This can be done at coin shows and in auctions and is a great way to improve upon your grading skills.
  3. The best way to improve your grading ability is to find someone who is highly qualified AND willing to spend time reviewing coins with you. That person can be a dealer or collector, but he needs to be more than just a friend – he needs to be a teacher. Many individuals are “qualified” OR “willing to spend the time”, but few are BOTH.
  4. Don’t keep buying coins without ever selling any of them – learn what it’s like to try to sell, too. Once in a while you should offer one or two of your coins back to the dealers you acquired them from. See how they deal with that type of situation and whether they want to re-acquire those “gems” they sold to you.
  5. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask lots of questions. You and just about everyone else can learn a great deal that way.
  6. Be aware of privacy and security concerns. It might not be fun to do so, but it’s extremely important.
  7.  It’s always good to get a second opinion. Doing so doesn’t make you less knowledgeable, worthy or confident – it simply makes good sense.
  8.  Don’t try to get bargains at the expense of quality and desirability, or you’ll likely end up with sub-par coins which aren’t bargains, anyway.
  9.  Generally, I advise against “investing” in coins. Even if you are very well informed, based upon buy/sell spreads and other factors, the odds are against your success. That said, I understand that many collectors end up spending significant sums of money on their collections and can’t/shouldn’t ignore the financial implications.
  10.  If you are going to “invest”, I’d suggest diversification – not putting too much of your money into one coin or one coin type. I’d also recommend staying away from especially esoteric and/or illiquid and/or currently “hot” items.
  11.  While it is not a pleasant mindset to engage in, think about and plan for how your coins should be disposed of if/when something happens to you. Make your spouse and/or family and/or friends and/or an attorney aware of your wishes. If you have a particular dealer or coin/auction company that should be contacted, have that information recorded, along with costs, sources, purchase dates, etc., of your coins.
  12.  Eye-appeal is hard to ignore, but technical quality shouldn’t be over-looked/compromised.
  13.  If you participate in auctions, whether over the Internet or in person, set your price/bidding limits in advance and stick to them. Auction fever hits many bidders, and almost always to their detriment.
  14.  Find time for other activities that don’t have anything to do with coin collecting. Don’t make coins your whole life – life is too short for that.
  15.  If you are going to stretch to buy a coin, do it for a coin which is truly special and/or virtually irreplaceable, not on an ordinary one. There are far more of the latter than of the former, and there will almost always be other opportunities.
  16.  Don’t talk yourself into buying a coin. If something about it bothers you now, there is an excellent chance it will bother you as much or more later.
  17.  Don’t be lulled or suckered into a false/unrealistic sense of security by the strength of many areas of the market that we have experienced for several years now. There are good markets, and, while some current participants might not have experienced them yet, there are bad markets too – I promise.
  18.  Do not buy rare coins on a sight-unseen basis, regardless of the seller or the images.
  19.  Enjoy our hobby.
  20.  I repeat, enjoy our hobby.

©2004-2012, All Rights Reserved Logo Coin ©2004, American Numismatic Rarities


About Mark Feld:

Numismatics must run in my blood – numismatic pioneer B. Max Mehl was my grandmother’s uncle. In addition to having enjoyed collecting coins as a child, I have been involved in the rare coin industry on a full-time basis since 1979, as follows:

1979-1982: Retail sales and auction consignment coordinator for Steve Ivy Rare Coins
1982-1983: Owner of Mark Feld Rare Coins
1983-1985: Auction consignment coordinator, cataloguer and auctioneer for Heritage Rare Coin Galleries
1985-1987: Buyer for David Hall’s Numismatic Investment Group
1987-1989: Employed by Mark Salzberg (now an owner of NGC) as part of a two man wholesale rare coin business
1989-1991: Owner of Mark Feld Rare Coins
1991-1998: Full time grader at NGC
1998-2004: Employed by Pinnacle Rarities, where I was involved in purchasing, sales and coin descriptions
2004-present: Owner of Mark Feld Rare Coins

The coins I handle and my way of doing things:

Ideally, I would love to have a perfectly balanced inventory featuring many more coin types and grades and to be able to offer something for everyone. However, the realities of the marketplace dictate otherwise.

I buy nice coins when I can find them AND when they are priced realistically. I’m not looking for bargains, but if I settle for sub-par quality and/or pay too much, I will be doing you a disservice. So, as circumstances and opportunities allow, I buy appealing coins at fair prices and then offer them to my customers. That means that sometimes I might have several examples of one type and/or grade of coin, but none of another. At other times the mix may be very different.

I will not offer coins which appear to have been over-dipped or conserved in such a fashion as to make them look obviously unoriginal and/or undesirable.

I strive to be fair and accurate in my descriptions. I generally prefer to err on the side of understating a coin’s attributes and qualities, and prefer that my clients be pleasantly surprised rather than disappointed when they receive their coins. If you order a coin from me and upon inspection feel that my description was inaccurate, I will issue a full refund and reimburse you for your return postage.

If you ever have any questions about any of the coins I have listed for sale, please do not hesitate to ask – I am always happy to discuss them.

Visit Mark Feld Rare Coins online at

Reflections on Hobo Nickels

March 19, 2012

by Bill Fivaz CLM1 (Original Hobo Nickel Society)
BoTales, Spring 2011

1.  Probably the single most important factor (for most collect­ors) in the desirability of a classic Hobo Nickel is EYE APPEAL. Several features comprise this desirability, some of more importance than others, depending on the individual. They are:

a. SUBJECT: Because the vast majority of the coins in this collecting area are of a bearded man wearing a domed hat or derby, generally speaking, any subject other than that adds desirability to the piece. Usually, the farther away from the above “standard subject” the design happens to be, the more interesting the coin. For example, a carving of a lady or a clown generally creates more interest than the typical bearded man-with-a-hat piece.

b. WORKMANSHIP: A very important factor in the eye appeal formula is the expertise the artist exhibited in carving the piece. A carving with a great deal of detail and done with fine, precise, continuous lines, for example, would be more highly prized than a coin with heavy, random and amateurish cuts. Also, carved pieces (in most cases) are favored over a punched, scratched or gouged work.

c. ORIGINALITY: While there are some modern carvings that are extremely well done, if the coin appears to be classic that is, one that was done prior to the mass-produced offerings in the 1980’s and 1990’s or later, it adds a degree of importance to the eye appeal.

d. CONDITION: The condition of both the carving and the host coin is also important in regard to eye appeal. If the carving has been well preserved (cared for) since it was done, it is much more acceptable than one that has been carried as a pocket piece and had elements of the carving worn away. The condition of the coin itself (Fine, AU, UNC, etc.) is also quite important in the desirability equation. It should be noted here, however, that the condition of the coin is of somewhat less im­portance when determining the value of the piece. It is associated more with the overall eye appeal.

e. REVERSE ONLY and OBV/REV CARVINGS: In most cases, because over 90% of the original Hobo Nickels are carved on the obverse, any carving on the reverse adds considerably to the eye appeal factor. Those with carvings on both the obverse and reverse are especially desirable.

2.  There are a few other factors which contribute to the popu­larity of certain pieces. They are:

a. ARTIST: When the artist is known, usually determined by the workmanship/style, such as in the case of “Bo” or “Bert,” this adds a great deal to the popularity.

b. SIGNED and/or DATED: In some cases the artist “signed” his/her work, usually by using only the initials, less often by carving in one or more of his names. Some artists include the date they either carved the piece or a date that had a particular meaning in relation to the subject. Occasionally, the normal date on the coin is carved to another date which is an added “plus.”

c. DATE OF ACTUAL COIN: While the actual date of the host coin (e.g. 1915-S, 1921-S, etc.) has some bearing on the popularity of a piece, it is really of secondary importance. In most cases, a carving on a rare date coin should not command a significant premiumremember that the quality of the carving, etc. (eye appeal) should weigh the most heavily.

d. DENOMINATION: Occasionally, a “Hobo Nickel” may be carved on a coin other than the usualBuffalo 5¢. Many collectors actively seek out quality carvings on such denominations as Indian Cents, Liberty Nickels, Barber coins, etc. These should be considered extremely rare when they are found with attractive carvings.

e. CERTIFICATION/REGISTRATION:If a Hobo Nickel has been processed through the Original Hobo Nickel Society (OHNS), especially if it has been certified as an original Hobo Nickel with a quality designation number, it presents the case that it is, in the opinion of the OHNS authenticators, an original piece, and as such, generally more collector acceptable.

3.  POTTY COINS and CARVINGS ON FOREIGN COINS: A popular segment of collecting closely related to Hobo Nickels and generally accepted under the Hobo 5¢ “umbrella” is that of “Potty Dollars” (which may be on coins other than dollars). This involves coins in the Liberty Seated series where Ms. Liberty has been altered to appear to be sitting on a chamber pot.

Carvings on foreign coins are also frequently encountered, some very nicely done.

In summary, the three most important things to remember in regard to the desirability of Hobo Nickels are: Eye Appeal, Eye Appeal and Eye Appeal. Collect what you like, and if you enjoy modern carvings, great! Remember; however, pay only what you feel the particular piece is worth to you.

Incidentally, it is generally felt that the known population of original Hobo Nickels is probably just a fraction of the total number ever carved. It is very likely that over 90% of these interesting and historic coins are still residing in Uncle Ned’s dresser drawer, in Grandma’s jewelry box or “just hangin’ around” as “something unusual”…with no idea by the owner of what they are or what they represent. Wouldn’t it be exciting to see these hidden treasures and learn the stories behind them?

Let’s think good thoughts…..

Editors Note: Since Bill originally wrote this piece, I think eBay has led to some of those hobo nickels being brought out of the dresser drawers and jewelry boxes. But we all hope there are still some hidden treasures still stashed away.


About the Original Hobo Nickel Society

The OHNS was formed at the 1992 ANA Summer Conference in Colorado Springs, after Bill Fivaz presented a slide show on hobo nickels. The goals of the Society were: 1) start a newsletter (BoTales, now published quarterly), 2) begin a hobo nickel evaluation service (fully underway for many years), 3) educate numismatists and the general public about hobo nickels (an ongoing project), and 4) conduct an annual auction of hobo nickels (at each January FUN Convention in Orlando at our annual meeting) to raise money to sponsor ANA scholarships for Young Numismatists (successfully done since 1995).

In the early 1980s after articles and the first book on hobo nickels appeared, several people began creating copies of the old hobo nickels. These are fairly easy to recognize as modern. But since 1995, some very talented engravers have been producing beautiful original-design carvings; some of which are worth as much as the nice old original specimens, which they may resemble. The OHNS is devoted to collectors of all hobo nickels, both old and modern.

Visit the Original Hobo Nickel Society at


Quality and Its Importance in the Market and Other Markets

March 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!

Visit NFC Coins at
Visit NFC Coins on Facebook at


Collecting Mid-Grade, Circulated Barber Half Dollars

March 15, 2012

by Thomas Bush (Thomas Bush Numismatics & Numismatic Photography)


Key Dates

The Barber half series is extraordinarily challenging in mid-grades, despite the laughable Greysheet prices for many of the coins, and this makes it truly a long-term project to complete it in F-EF. There are no outright and famous key dates such as the 1909-S VDB Lincoln, 1916-D Mercury or even the 1896-S, 1901-S and 1913-S troika of Barber quarters. However, there is a seemingly endless procession of horribly scarce issues. They pepper the series throughout its length and various mintmarks. The obvious ones include the O and S-mints from 1892 and 1897, the 1893-S, 1901-S and 1904-S and the P-mint coins of 1913 through 1915. Difficult coins that are somewhat under the glare of those previously mentioned include the O and S-mints from 1896 and the 1893-O and 1898-O. Much of the rest of the series is viewed as generic, which is mind-boggling. Sleepers include the 1894 and 1903, among others. Truly, there are only a few coins in the entire run that are ever available with little effort in this grade range, these include the 1906-D, 1908-D, 1910-S and 1915-D. Nearly everything is difficult.

The 1913 through 1915 Philadelphia issues are difficult because of the extremely limited mintages for each. These three coins have some of the lowest mintages of any regular issue US coin in the twentieth century, yet prices for entry level coins are significantly lower than for other issues with comparable mintages. The 1901-S and 1904-S issues are not scarce in the lowest portions of the grade range as they are fairly available, and priced fairly low, through VG8, after this point they become progressively more difficult to obtain with the 1904-S acclaimed as one of the two undisputed Kings of mid-grade Barber halves. The other King is the 1893-S, which over the years has taken somewhat of a backseat to the hard charging 1904-S, but the difficulty of this coin in any grade above a full-rimmed G4 should not be taken lightly. The O and S-mint coins from 1892 and 1893-O are nearly non-existent in grades above G4 and through EF40, however, each becomes much more available as the grade progresses above EF40. This is likely because they were the first issues for this series from these mints, and the coinage was saved quickly from circulation at a higher rate than other years. The remaining coins listed from 1896-1898 are also available almost exclusively in AG3. This appears to have been due to very hard usage of the coins during their time of issue, coupled with their small mintages and presence in the middle of the series, so that very few people were actively removing the coins from circulation while they were still in mid-grades. Also, the O-mint coins are fairly poorly struck, which results in mushy coins that lack fine details. The prototypical example of this is the 1898-O that is viewed by many non-Barber collectors as a generic coin, yet is perhaps one of the toughest coins to find from F12 through EF40.

Unlike today, half dollars were a workhorse of the economy when Barber coinage was issued. These coins saw continuous usage and were not saved in any great numbers. This is evidenced by the sheer volume of AG/G Barbers that are available at any show or on the web. David Feigenbaum had estimated that the average grade of extant Barbers is only about AG3 or slightly better. That is incredibly low and is even more amazing when one considers the numbers of low-grade coins that were likely melted in the 1970s and 1980s silver booms.


The reverse of this series is not as well protected as the obverse, therefore, full-rim reverse coins, with good eagle wing feather detail, are not the norm. P, D and S-mint coins from before 1909 generally had a fair amount of detail when struck, and this allows for some letters of LIBERTY to survive even down to the G4 grade. The letters LIBERTY are set below the highest points of the coin and these will be evident, or partially evident, on low grade coins while the BER is struck on the highest portion of the obverse and will quickly wear away, from the lower portion of the letters on up to the tops. Wear will also become evident near the nose and mouth of Ms Liberty and work its way to the ear and neck as the coin is more heavily circulated. O-mint coins are typically weakly struck, with the lower portion of BER not visible on coins that may otherwise have VF30 or better details. In 1909 a new hub was introduced and this hub had a substantially stronger LIBERTY in the headband. The resulting detail allows lower grade 1909 coins to have a full LIBERTY even down to otherwise VG8 details. Collectors who rely on LIBERTY alone to determine if a coin is VF20 will make mistakes along the way until they realize that the coin in balance must be viewed to determine the grade. These mistakes will be costly in that they may overpay for overgraded coins that have a full LIBERTY and are graded VF20 yet have overall details consistent with F12, and they will be costly in that the opportunity to acquire otherwise choice VF30 coinage may be passed up simply because BER is not complete.


Mid-grade coins that are nearly a century or more old should look like they spent time in circulation and should have surfaces that do not look as though they were minted last year. Generally, as Barber halves progress down the grading scale, they will have darker areas gather around the periphery of the obverse and along the edges of the reverse devices. These areas may make the open fields look less dark, though still deeply shaded in a grey and auburn mix. Luster is rarely evident at the VF30 grade and, if it is there, it should typically cling around raised and protected devices such as the obverse stars or date. It should also be covered with a layer of patina that masks it. Coins that have been stored for significant periods of time can take on almost a cameo appearance with very dark edges and lighter colored devices in shades of rose or cinnamon.

Grade Ranges

My opinion is that an AG3 to VG10 set looks even, as does F12-EF40, however, if one were to include AU coins in the set then the lowest grade to really consider would have to be EF45 or so and the AU coins would necessarily have to be mostly darker, non-dipped coins. More important than a strict grading criterion is the ability to purchase coins that have similar surface preservation. That is, coins with a similar tonal quality.

Many people will attempt to fill out their sets with low- grade AU coins for the more challenging mid-range pieces. Oddly, the Barber half set is significantly easier to put together in AU50 and above than it is in F12 through EF45. Most of the extant AU50 and above pieces, however, will show telltale signs of abuse in the past. This most often manifests itself in the form of an inappropriate dip, which results in a coin that has had its patina stripped and that is too bright for its age and wear.

Dealers’ Views

My experience is that unless a dealer specializes in Barber halves they most likely do not have a firm grip on the difficulty of the coinage. A perfect example would be an experience I had at a Baltimore show in 2004 where a national dealer had a dark, completely original NGC VF25 1892-O Barber half in his case. I asked to see the coin, asked for a price and immediately wrote a check for the coin. As I was paying, he was standing in front of me and told his partner that I had just made a bad purchase, since the price structure for this date was relatively flat. The coin starts with a high basal value and levels off until AU50. He mentioned that I would have been much better off waiting for a higher graded coin to come along and then to buy that coin for relatively little extra money. I could tell instantly that he had no clue how difficult this series is and, after I safely and securely had possession of the coin, I told him how I would buy scores of this date in this grade at his price if they were available. I also told him that this was not like an 1893-S Morgan where you would find dozens at a show that size. Essentially, he had sold the coin at a fraction of its true worth because he was not familiar with the series.


Until recently few Barber halves had been slabbed in mid-grades likely because there were few coins available and also because the market had previously not valued these coins enough to give collectors or dealers the motivation to have them graded. That leaves most of what is currently available as a raw coin. Slabbing does not protect one from previously abused coins, either, as the market acceptability of worked-on Barber halves seems to be rather liberal, and problem coins can be found in every grading service holder.


There is not a large, avid collector base for varieties of Barber halves. The best known is the 1892-O Micro O that used a Barber quarter mintmark punch. There are several dozen of these known, in all grade ranges and stages of originality, and the competition to obtain them is fierce. A long sought after variety is the 1898-O Micro O that had been believed to have surfaced in mid-range several years ago. It now appears that this single publicly known example may not be a genuine example of this variety, which precludes its widespread collecting. A new design hub was introduced in 1901 and this has resulted in O and S-mint coins being known with both hubs. The major difference in the hub was that the cartilage in the ear of Ms Liberty was reworked and appears to be more pronounced. Additionally, several varieties of S mintmark appear to have been employed.

Problem Coins

Most extant Barber halves have some sort of problem. Low-grade coins have often been cleaned harshly, and are occasionally seen slightly bent or corroded. High-grade pieces are typically dipped, though harsh cleaning is also a major factor. Many of these coins make their way into the holders of certification services. Barber halves in the VF20 range that have been dipped will be simply too white, with a flat texture devoid of luster that may even appear polished. Usually, they will tone near the edges and this toning is often in the muted blue and yellow realm. Coins that have been intentionally darkened may look muddy blue and rose and will have fields that are too clean; that is, the fields will have no protective patina on them as it has been stripped off. Generally, a lack of patina on a coin below VF30 is an indication that the surface has been taken away at some point. Experience has taught me that virtually every 1893-S or 1904-S Barber in F or VF will be either grossly overgraded, bent, corroded, scrubbed clean, holed and mounted or some combination of the above. They simply don’t exist.

Major Show Observations

These numbers are not completely precise, but they are a good approximation of what I found and inspected. There were about 600 raw Barber halves that I physically picked up and looked at. Most of these did not require anything more than a glance to reject. Of the 600 coins, I would estimate that 70% had problems that were more than something minor. Most had been improperly cleaned, some had lacquer, paint or tape residue, many were deeply scratched, there were substantial numbers of coins with bad rim dings and a few had graffiti. Of course, there were also those coins that had multiple problems. If the problems were ignored, there were about 10% that were no better than FA2, 30% no better than AG3, 60% no better than G4 and 80% no better than VG8. A net grading of the coins would lower the overall grade distribution. Likely 60% were dated 1906-1915, 20% dated 1900-1905 and 20% dated 1892-1899. The slabbed coins were mostly ANACS for circulated pieces and many had problems. The MS and PF pieces were nearly exclusively in PCGS and NGC holders and most of these did not have much eye appeal. Of course, there were some stunners, too.


About Thomas Bush Numismatics

Thomas Bush Numismatics is a numismatic service devoted to the specialties of original, beautifully toned coins of all United States series and circulated, problem-free early type. I believe in quality and appreciate the value of such coins. As with any other area reserved for discretionary income, one should perform due diligence, which includes but is not limited to reading the available market reports and required historical research, an understanding of how to use the tools of the trade, a critical evaluation of all possible monetary expenditures and a willingness to revise opinion or strategy as new evidence comes to light. Additionally, it may serve one well to remember the phrase “buy what you like with money you can afford to lose.”

I endeavor to purchase coinage that satisfies my aesthetic requirements and represents what I believe to be very good value. In this respect I believe strongly that quality is what you value and in this instance that would mean original, attractive, problem-free coinage with superior eye appeal acquired at a fair price relative to the scarcity of the issue and difficulty to obtain in the desired grade range. There are times that I pay far more than what might be considered market value and other times that I will decline to handle an issue or example due to any number of factors. Ultimately, there is one major factor that influences the decision to list coins on this site and one principle that I attempt to adhere to-

* I will try to list coinage on this site only if the coinage would be welcome within my own collection.

* I attempt to treat others the way I would want to be treated.

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