Circulated Coins: The Perfect Alternative

March 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.

An utterly gorgeous 1902 Barber half in AU-58 condition with nearly full luster, solid original toning and just a hint of rub on the neck, jaw, wing tips and tail feathers.


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  If you’d like to see the online catalog for the Broward County Type Set, which has now been sold, you can visit here  If you have any questions, please contact Mike Printz at or David Greenstein at or call 312.609.0016.

Coin Collecting: How to Get Started and Tips to Keep Going

February 7, 2013

by Amy Richey (West Seattle Coins & Bellevue Rare Coins)

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.

6. Learn about third-party coin grading services like PCGS, NGC, ANACS and what they do to “certify” a coin.

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.

Visit West Seattle Coins & Bellevue Rare Coins at
And visit West Seattle Coins & Bellevue Rare Coins on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ & Pinterest!


Building a Successful Coin Forum

February 5, 2013

by Bernie Tavenner (Coin Scholar)
via Coin Scholar

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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 it 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.

Visit Coin Scholar at
Visit Coin Scholar on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ & LinkedIn.

Collector-Investor Do You Have A Plan?

May 3, 2012

by Tom Pilitowski (U.S. Rare Coin Investments)

Hi, I’m Tom Pilitowski, coin dealer and owner of US Rare Coin Investments. I have been in what is known as the retail end of the coin business for many years. What that means is that I deal directly with the public. In the 30 or so years I have been engaged full-time in the coin business with positions ranging from buying scrap precious metals and coins from dealers and precious metals buyers in NJ in the late 70’s,  sole proprietor of small shop on main street in Belmar, NJ scratching to make a living in ’81  to a top producer at the world’s largest rare coin firms then on to building a successful open to the public business in 1991.  Probably 75% (or more) of that time has been spent dealing directly with the public. Whether they are collectors, investors, or those who consider themselves a combination of both, these are the individual people who make up the largest part of my business and career. I couldn’t imagine being in the coin business wearing any other hat.

Over the years what became apparent to me was what I considered  the relatively small percentage of collectors/investors that seemed to have any real plan as to what they were doing with coins and seemed to be sort of wandering all over the place without any real set plans or direction. Now this is to be expected somewhat in the beginning but at some point it’s a good idea to follow a plan or strategy which includes having at least a basic idea of what that plan is going to eventually cost, the approximate time for acquisition (or liquidation but that’s for another time) and the sooner the collector or investor has that understanding the better in my opinion. You’d be surprised how many folks start a collection of something like Saints only to discover later there’s dates that cost more than a common date and abandon it all at that point of discovery! I don’t think you can have too much information.

For years, I also have maintained and expanded a very large website with millions of dollars in ever changing and diverse inventory of some of the best coins in the world while also supplying a considerable amount of information including one of the most targeted and informative rare coin archives in the business. I’ve met many nice people via this website who I may have never met via more conventional ways and I’ve helped assemble collections ranging from a few single coins to multi million dollar collections of proof gold, early and better date coins of all kinds and I’ve been called upon to help liquidate millions of dollars in rare coins ranging from single gold coins to million dollar collections of US gold.

Something that I never understood was how people could spend huge amounts of money, sometime big percentages of their retirement capital on coins and fail to ever develop a clear, concise, cohesive strategy or plan for buying or selling rare coins. I take great pride in working with those people in developing a direction and sound footing with something they can see the completion of and enjoy the benefits of owning. There’s huge amounts of information to be had so obtaining information in better dates and rarities should not be intimidating at all.  I have also helped many collectors, as well as investors develop a plan even helping one of the more famous ones become the motivation for NGC to develop a new registry of early gold coins.  However one doesn’t need to put a complete set of US Quarter Eagles from 1796 – 1929 to have fun or put away for the future and it may even be somewhat  counterproductive for a new collector or investor to take on anything so complex until he’s gained some experience and is working with a specialist or two. There’s a multitude of mini sets or mini missions undertaken that can be assembled that are fun and exciting and can range from the affordable to quite exotic and expensive and everything in between and can help quench the thirst for history, adventure, art, commerce, trade, finance and all the things that numismatics is about.

A story I was told long ago regards to finance and saving, right from a man of the cloth’s mouth. Fill the Barrel and Live off the overflow. Wise words of sound advice for long term retirement planning. One can look similarly to their coin collections or nest egg of gold and silver coins. Strive to get the better coins, the rarities, the tougher to aquire coins of the series first, and then the commons. Once you’ve got the hard part down the rest is easy. Think of it as filling the barrel.

Planning can also help with intelligently timing the purchases of coins for financial gains and these coins aren’t always rare but scarce with something else going in the coins favor…history. In recent years for example we’ve witnessed price increases for those common 1861 Double Eagles which have been quite significant and far above and beyond the price of gold. Collectors who purchased these coins in the past few years have seen rather nice returns on their investments while having  fun too. Interestingly at the same time there has been a steady flow of people acquiring these coins, assembling 1861 Gold sets which are are a pretty neat set of American Civil War gold coins to own and in the midst of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. CAC’d specimens of this common date double eagle are not so common with only 98 specimens being approved by CAC as of 12/2012 out of thousands graded. A CAC’d specimen of this first year Civil War gold seems like a fun coin to own. Some ideas for smaller affordable sets could be mint state Indian quarter and Half Eagle sets, a single specimen or example of the Type I, II, and III Double Eagles purchasing high grade and/or better date examples for each specimen, type sets of all kinds from early gold and civil war to Proof gold in singles type sets and collections. There are multitudes of ways to enjoy both the collecting and investing aspects of coins and planning and developing a plan are just the beginning.
With CAC we are witnessing huge differences of opinion in populations of solid for the grade coins. While there will always be disagreements of some kind, one thing we are in agreement with is the overall consistency of CAC’d quality coins and it shows in the premiums paid for many of these coins which can run into the double digits. In the cases of early coins CAC’d specimens account for only 10% or less of the populations of the 2 major grading services. Some of these differences particularly in the realm of early coins have been well known to early coin specialists for a long time and the fact that CAC is uncovering these facts is surely great news for the buyer of real quality. While surely these numbers will change in the future they are telling for the present and good planning for the future will include these coins in a sound collection or diversification in an investment portfolio.  David Hall developed the famous ”Box of Twenty” and certainly this could be a fun and challenging investment, a Box of Twenty CAC’d coins. Now that could be a good investment too!

In conclusion, develop a plan of action and stick to it. Find and work with a dealer who has extensive experience with the types of coins that interest you. Educate yourself with the investment of information. There’s a whole world wide web out there to be explored, great books that include specialized references for just about any series of coin that interests you, and  there are great book dealers and other great numismatic reference sources. There’s auction prices realized and various price lists to use in pricing coins.  In short there are plenty of good reasons for you to have a sound plan of action which can lead to more than just returns on investment over the years ahead.

Numismatically Yours,

Tom Pilitowski


About Tom Pilitowski

Tom Pilitowski, US Rare Coin Investments is a Rare Coin Dealer, Gold Coin Dealer specializing in Rare Coins, Gold Coins and Silver Coins since 1979. Tom Pilitowski has been involved in coin collecting since childhood. There are virtually no areas of American numismatics that Mr. Pilitowski has not explored, or has had experience in and over the years, Mr. Pilitowski has been successful in not only surrounding himself in the most astute and influential circles of coin traders, numismatists, collectors and investors but became one, who is looked upon by some of the most astute buyers as a source of knowledge, information and inventory acquisitions.

Visit U.S. Rare Coin Investments at

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.

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