Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why is MD (Machine doubling) worthless?

A recent thread at Collectors Universe asked "Is Machine Doubling ever worth a premium?"

Most of the answers were a resounding "No!" but there was at least one person who asked 
whatever happened to "buy what you like"?
That's a fair question, I think, but let's look at why variety and error collectors are so disdainful of machine doubling.   One response was
No premium applies to this type of error as it is strictly caused by the machine itself and not through true human error as it were. 
But that's not entirely true.  As explained at the "Mechanical Doubling" article at the Wexler Double Die site:
The loose coining press parts result from the continuous pounding of the presses as they strike coin after coin, and from wear on the coining press parts. The coining press operators have reported that when they see this doubling on the coins, all they have to do is grab their tools and tighten up all of the loose parts in the coining press. As soon as those loose parts are tightened, the doubling no longer occurs.
I'd say loose parts are human error - or neglect, perhaps, but that's close enough for me.

More likely the disrespect comes from how common this type of error is. Modern presses are very fast and strike very hard: keeping things tight is probably very difficult.  That thought raised another question in my mind, though: is MD more common in modern coins than in older?

I did not get a good answer from the experts, but I would guess that it is.  More speed and force would seem to be a good reason for parts to shake lose more often.  Not that it never happens on older coins: this picture of an 1873 MD nickel is rather dramatic:

But that picture reminded me of a Two Cent piece that is in my collection. It too has a doubled date:

Doesn't that look like Machine Doubling to you?  It certainly does to me, but apparently it's a repunched date (see the "1871/1871 2C VP-002" link under References).  I asked how I could tell the difference if I were not aware of the VP-002 and was told

If you go look at the photo of the 1871 2 center at the [VP-002] link posted above, the notch at the lower right of the second 1 is very evident. If this coin were machine doubled, that notch would be filled in.
I don't see the "notch".  I know what he's talking about because Wexler says the same thing at the link I already mentioned.

genuine doubled dies are characterized by a splitting of the serifs on letters with serifs, or a “notching” of the corners of the letters which are doubled.  This splitting of the serifs or notching of the letter corners will not be found on coins with mechanical doubling.

I did some Googling on split serifs and found "Determining Die Doubling from Other Forms of Doubling" by J.T. Stanton, but that also failed to clear my confusion.

However, the the person who posted the picture of the 1873 nickel explained:

Think of machine doubling as a drawer sliding out from the device of the coin. The drawer must be full-width, because the slide is the same along the entire edge of the device. The notch shows us that this is not machine doubling, but (in the case of a 2-center) an RPD. 
THAT helps a lot!

I also found "Collecting my Thoughts: Understanding Machine Doubling Damage" by Alan Herbert, which mentioned something that had bothered me about the "twisting" die theory:

From the very first, attempts were made to claim that doubling was caused by the die twisting at the moment of impact. A little thought will discount that theory, because you are dealing with a die which is meshing with the forming design on the coin under 25 or more tons per square inch of pressure. The amount of force needed to rotate the die under those conditions would run into the thousands of tons. If such a force were available, it would shove the entire design out of position. MDD always affects only part of the design, so this cannot be the cause. To prove my point, hold your hands together, with your fingers interlaced. Now, try and move one hand sideways without moving the other.
But wouldn't the same argument apply to "bouncing dies"? Well, it would unless the die had tipped slightly so that only one part hit the coin again. But Alan Herbert confused me more:

The strike ends with the "final impact of the die pair." Die bounce or chatter involves only one die. While you can find MDD on both sides of a coin, the cause is different on each side as there are at least three forms of MDD, each with a different cause. 
He unfortunately neglected to explain the three causes.   Fortunately I was able to find a page that does describe them - it's in the references. However, the "slide doubling" described there seems just as unlikely as "twist doubling", for the same reasons.

I remain somewhat confused by this whole subject.


Clue for the second 2014 Silver Eagle Giveaway:  A joker and a numismatist

Note: All my coins are in a safe deposit box. I keep nothing in my home.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hard Times tokens: A complete revision and enlargement of Lyman H. Low's 1899 classic reference

There is something strange about this book. It sells on Amazon for anywhere from $20 to more than ten times that. I don't understand why - I paid $10 for my copy and would have been very unhappy to have paid more.  It is out of print and I suspect it will remain so because it's not such a great book at all.

It's not the written content: that's fine. There are examples shown for everything covered and even some larger pictures too. The pictures are black and white, as is expected for a book of this time. Although I'd obviously prefer color, the real problem is that they are low quality. You really can't make out much detail, and that's not helpful when trying to identify tokens.

In addition to the tokens catalogued in the main book, an appendix has the 1980 Garret auction of hard times tokens, which contained some rarely seen pieces. Perhaps the perceived value here is as an antique?

Well, if you think so, buy this book at Amazon and help me support this site!

Clue for the second 2014 Silver Eagle Giveaway:  C.S.A, Sommer Islands and Continental Congress Congress too! 

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Price of Proof Sets

When I started buying proof sets from the Mint in the mid 1950's, the price for 91 cents of face value coins was $2.10.   That was an increase from the pre-1950 price of $1.89 and it stayed at $2.10 until 1965, when no proofs were issued but a "Special Mint Set" could be ordered for $4.00.

When proofs resumed in 1968, the price was raised to $5.00.  The coins were now enclosed in a more solid holder, so I suppose the price increase had some justification, but that and the ugly clad coins turned me off and I stopped buying proof sets.

I did buy a 2013 America the Beautiful Quarters Silver set last year. That also is in a better holder, and cost  me $36.90.  The coins are silver, so there may be some argument for that price, but even the 14 coin 2014 proof set (no silver) is $27.95.

Certainly it's good that coin collectors can help defray some of our taxes by giving the Mint these astonishing profit margins, but is it really necessary to charge so much? As a young boy with a $2 weekly allowance, I could afford the $2.10 yearly expense, but I wonder if $27.95 is so easy for today's 7-10 year olds. Perhaps it is: Average Allowances in America, by Age says that $16 per week is about average.

It still seems too expensive to this old fogey.


Clue for the second 2014 Silver Eagle Giveaway: The Lovett Cent

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

United States Pattern Coins (Official Red Book)

I think every other "Official Red Book" manages to at least get a splash of red somewhere on the cover, but the 10th edition (2008) United States Pattern Coins (Official Red Book) is  blue. It's an attractive book, actually.

It's also in full color. That wasn't the case for previous editions, so if you go looking for this, make sure you get the 10th edition.

The photographs are not high quality, but they are more than enough to show you what these coins look like. As there are unique patterns that haven't been seen for years, it's amazing to have photos at all!

For each coin, you'll find:

  • The metal used 
  • Edge (reeded, lettered, plain or unknown)
  • Rarity
  • Number of PCGS, NGC and ANACS graded
  • Number of times at auction since 1990 - sometimes zero
  • The auction house and how much it sold for
  • The grade the coin sold
  • What a specimen might sell for today in various grades

But there's more to this than just that.  For example, J-610 and J-611 are nickel and copper versions of an 1868 Large Cent. The text explains that the obverse was probably meant to be for a ten cent coin, but someone decided to grab an old large cent reverse die and strike a few dozen coins. Such chicanery was not unusual at the Mint in this time period. From the late 1850's to 1885, those with the right connections could apparently get almost anything they wanted struck or restruck.

The historical detail makes this a fascinating book even if you have no great interest in patterns.

United States Pattern Coins (Official Red Book) is usually available new for $20 to $30 and can be found used for $17 or so.

Clue for the second 2014 Silver Eagle Giveaway:  NGC Registry #831

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

Contests and giveaways:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book review of Screw the BS: How to Invest in gold and silver

This is a very short book - 76 pages.  Nevertheless, it contains good advice and background information on metal investing.

The author (Tony Chou) expects gold and silver to peak around 2017. For 99 cents (Kindle edition) you can find out why and what he thinks is the smart way to invest in metals.

By the way, he does mention numismatic coins - he doesn't recommend them, of course, but he does mention them.

What does he recommend? Physically backed ETF funds. I don't know that his 2017 peak prediction will be right, but I do agree with him on ETF stocks - if you want to invest in these metals, that's the way to go. Unless, of course, you think the world is going to collapse into chaos, in which case you should be buying junk silver coins and small denomination bullion gold coins - neither of which are recommended by Tony Chou, who suggests guns and food stockpiles instead if you really think that doomsday scenario is possible.  I agree with him on that, also. 

Buy this book at Amazon and help me support this site!

Clue for the second 2014 Silver Eagle Giveaway:  Goldine, Silver, or Brass:  a die gauge between the C and O in Continental identifies these.

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Coin mules are very rare - could you find one in change?

A mule is a coin produced from two dies that do not belong together.  A famous example is a 1959 Lincoln cent with a wheat ear reverse. The reverse design was changed to the Lincoln Memorial in 1959, and no 1959 wheat ears were produced. Yet one may exist - or it may not.

The problem with many of the known mules is that there may be only one in existence, like that 1959-D wheat reverse.  That smells like fraud, either from outside the Mint or from within. The shadow of suspicion over that particular coin hasn't stopped it from selling for tens of thousands of dollars, though.

A more populous example is the Sacagawea/Quarter Dollar Mule.

Photo courtesy Heritage Auctions, used by permission

There are 11 of these known and the U.S. Mint apparently knew that it accidentally created several thousand, but thought that it had recovered and destroyed all of them. Yet, in 2000, one turned up in a 25-coin roll  wrapped in a U.S. Mint  paper wrapper.

There could be more. Sacagawea's don't circulate much. Most are still sitting in rolls and may never have been touched by human hands. If you were able to find one, it might sell for a lot of money: one sold for $155,250.00 in 2012!

More about the Sacagawea/Quarter Dollar Mule.

Some unique (and possibly fraudulent) mules:

1859 Two Headed Indian Cent
1995 Cent on dime planchet with dime reverse
1999 cent on cent planchet with dime reverse
Two tailed Washington Quarter

Clue for the second 2014 Silver Eagle Giveaway: He was a musical prodigy also!

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Complaining about the mint

The delays in shipping the Baseball Hall of Fame coins have caused many complaints. I have to say that I'm not happy that the gold proofs I ordered were delayed so long and I do have complaints about packaging (see "Here's your crap: Baseball Hall of Fame Clad Proofs", but some of this carping is, I think, unfair.

One of the more frequent charges is that the Mint should have better computer systems as that has been where the blame has been placed.  People say that Google and Amazon have no trouble handling large volumes of customers, so why should the Mint be so hampered?

That's just ridiculous. Amazon and Google have billions of dollars at their disposal, but even they don't design for loads that they consider impossible to imagine. That would be a waste of money.  The demand for BHOF's far exceeded expectations - it would be like Amazon suddenly finding itself with billions of new Chinese customers tomorrow morning.

If the Mint (or really, Congress) had spent the money to handle that demand, the Tea Party folks would be screaming that it was a waste of their tax dollars and in this one case, I think they'd be right. The demand was unexpected. Nobody - NOBODY - builds servers to meet demand they cannot imagine happening.

There is plenty I do not like about how Congress handles the Mint. I don't like the Commemorative Coin programs, I don't like the sloppy way proofs are handled - everyone one of my BHOF gold proofs has very noticeable scratches and yes,I'd rather pay more for better coins and better packaging. I also don't like the large order limits that let dealers snatch up the majority of coins before ordinary collectors (see 2014 Kennedy Commemorative for more on that)

By the way, my gold BHOF's were ordered 03/27/2014 at 01:18 PM (first day, order 42927xxx) and were finally shipped on June 3rd.

Clue for the second 2014 Silver Eagle Giveaway: Are there really 1001 ways to beat the draft?

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

What if you were robbed?

Horrible to think about, isn't it? You've worked hard to build your collection and it may represent a significant financial investment also. But some low-life thief has taken it from you. What now?

Of course you contact the police and your insurance company. Unless you had the foresight to specifically insure your coins, most home insurance will only cover a few hundred dollars and the police are often hampered by the fact that coins, even somewhat rare coins, are not easy to identify individually. If you had an 1878 Morgan dollar stolen and a pawn shop bought one the next day, who is to say they bought yours?

Of course if the coins are certified and you have kept receipts, that might be different.

That's a very specific item - that "28338135" uniquely identifies this silver dollar and distinguishes it from all others.  If you gave the police a list of items like this, they'd have a much easier time identifying your coins should they turn up at a local pawn or coin shop.

Your state and town may have strict requirements for that coin or pawn shop. For example, the coin shop near me has to report those purchases daily with photographs. There is usually at least some holding period before items can be resold, giving crime fighters some time to investigate.

Having photographs in addition to lists can be very helpful. Most coin and pawn shops are honest - they don't want to buy stolen goods to start with and would be happy to help police recover from the thieves. If an important coin has been stolen, a picture not only helps identify the coin, but also tends to stick in people's memory more. If I told you to watch out for PCGS 916.50/28891277 or showed you this picture, which do you think you'd remember better?

In addition to your local police, you can and should report to the Numismatic Crime Information Center.  They alert local, state, federal and even international law enforcement agencies as well as the numismatic industry in general. They also offer specialized services to assist law enforcement.

Prevention is the best protection. Ideally, rare coins should be kept in a bank safe deposit box. Next base would be a burglary rated safe, but most home safes can only withstand a determined thief for a few minutes at least.  Safes you see at places like BJ's or Costco are usually only fire rated - they can be popped open in literally seconds.

By the way, ANA members can get discount insurance coverage.  You can insure up to $10,000 of coins kept in a safe deposit box for around $50 a year.

Don't forget to put desiccant in your safe and SDB and to check it and bake it when it needs regeneration.  I found tins of "Orange indicating" on eBay and Amazon -  I have one in each SDB, and two in the larger safe. 

Clue for the second 2014 Silver Eagle Giveaway:  Copying Haseltine.

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Pattern Coins

The coin pictured below is a pattern piece. It represents a proposed design for a five cent coin. As patterns go, it's not particularly rare, listed as an R4 (76-200 known). Nor is it expensive, typically selling for around $1,200.00 today.  I owned one of these many decades ago - they were even less expensive then and I think I remember selling it for less than $700.00.

Image by Heritage Auctions, used by permission.

Patterns were sometimes issued to show members of Congress and other interested parties what new designs would look like. Patterns also include circulating designs struck on other metals and other oddities. 

However, from about 1858 to 1885, the U.S. Mint was producing patterns more as a business than for demonstration. Little to no records were kept, but often hundreds of specimens were made to be sold or traded. This secret manufacture is what makes it possible to own patterns today.

The practice of patterns for demonstration continues to this day, but patterns rarely leave the mint now and when they do, they may be subject to confiscation.

Martha Washington Patterns do come up for sale now and then. These were made in 1965 bearing a date of 1759. The Mint said all were destroyed, but apparently that wasn't quite true - probably because outside contractors produced some of them.


Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The answer to the Second Eagle giveaway has been posted

As promised, the answer to the Second Eagle giveaway was posted sometime in June. I also put numerous clues in other articles, with more to come this month.  Anyone who actually reads this blog should have no trouble finding the answer.

Place your entry at

Remember - you need to provide the name of a numismatist - or at least their middle name.  I can tell you that we have already had correct entries, so if you did not enter a name, go back and revise your entry now or you cannot win.

Note: All my coins are in a safe deposit box. I keep nothing in my home.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Political Protest Tokens

While I don't actively collect political protest tokens, I have picked up a few along the way.

These are from the Jackson/Van Buren era and are complaining about fiscal policies.

My political beliefs don't match those expressed on these tokens. Had I been alive at that time, I would have been in favor of Jackson (at least on that one issue).  It's true for D. Carr's modern "Hard Times Tokens", too.

I don't happen to own any of Carr's political tokens, but I wouldn't object to them being in my collection even though I disagree with the opinions they reflect.

Recently my attention was directed to a more current example of political expression in a token.

For me, that's too much. It's ugly on too many levels and goes beyond disagreement to personal attack, both on Obama and for those of us who don't think all social programs are evil. I wouldn't put one in my collection because my disagreement is too strong.

This token was also the impetus for me quitting a coin forum where that sort of view is strongly represented. The forum does have rules against "political" posts, but the sentiment is so imbedded  that it seeps through and I'm tired of reading it.  The post about this token was not my only reason; it was more like the straw that broke the camels back.

There are plenty of other coin forums, some where political undercurrents are strong and some where they are not.   See my "Coin Collecting Forums Reviewed" and the discussion thread I mentioned yesterday.

Note: All my coins are in a safe deposit box. I keep nothing in my home.

Friday, July 4, 2014

I am not selling anything!

I have had three different people mention the "coins you are selling on the Internet".
Let's make this clear: I am NOT selling anything!

I suppose this assumption comes because most of the numismatic posting you might see on the Internet do involve selling, but that's not my purpose.

What I am doing is writing about coins and coin collecting. Nothing is for sale. It's just informational. I enjoy collecting coins, I enjoy writing about the things I collect and that's all there is to it. Once in a great while I might sell something if I have duplicates, but I'd do that on eBay, not here. I am not selling anything here!

Nor am I the only one. A recent thread at the Coin Talk forum asked people to list their favorite coin related blogs.  Some do have commercial intent, but many do not. Incredibly, not everyone writing on the Internet is after your money!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The first Nickels were not worth five cents

In 1865, the United States Mint began producing nickel coins for the first time. Unlike the five cent coin that we know today, these had a value of three cents.

A first class postage stamp was three cents and that's what is often mentioned in conjunction with this coin. It's right to do so as that was a reason for choosing this denomination. The choice of nickel was because silver coins and copper cents had pretty much disappeared from circulation due to hoarding. Nickel is also harder and will last longer in circulation, though it did not hurt that the owner of a major nickel producing mine had deep political connections.

But leaving it there misses something important. We think of a postage stamp as something of little value, but three cents was not unimportant in 1865. A carpenter might have earned a dollar a day then, a farm worker would earn 30 cents or so - that three cent postage stamp may not have been a luxury but it certainly wasn't cheap!

And yes, people did call these nickels, although the 5 cent nickel came out in 1867, confusing that name.

Coinage of three cent nickels ended in 1889. Interestingly, a bill by Congressman R.J. Bulkley was introduced in 1912 to resurrect this denomination and possibly a half cent also. You can read all about that  at Coinage of a Three-cent Piece United States Congress House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures - January 1, 1912.

Three cents still carried a lot of value in 1912. As Representative Bulkley pointed out:
In the first place it is believed that a great many articles are sold arbitrarily for 5 cents which could go for 3 cents if there were a convenient coin. Perhaps the most important example is in restaurant prices. Almost everything on the restaurant price list is a multiple of a nickel, yet in spite of that there are in the big cities a good many 3-cent lunches, in spite of the inconvenience of handling the pennies. I believe such a scale of prices would be appre ciably promoted by the existence of the 3-cent piece. I believe it would be a matter of convenience to merchants in making change, and, in some cases at least, would tend to cut down prices which are ordinarily given only in multiples of nickels.
Certain newspapers, particularly morning papers, which are unable to sell for 1 cent, are now obliged to get 5 cents because there is no convenient coin that the newsboys can handle. I have no doubt it would be a convenience to a good many newspapers, and that some of them that sell for a nickel would be glad to sell for 3 cents, if there were any convenient way of handling the change. The most important use of the 3-cent piece from my point of view, I am frank to say, is in payment of street-car fares. The city of Cleveland now has a universal 3-cent fare, and I believe it has come to stay, and 1 have brought a copy of the franchise here in case anybody wishes to look it over.
The proposal was for coins with a center hole to help distinguish them from other circulating coins.

Note: All my coins are in a safe deposit box. I keep nothing in my home.