Friday, November 28, 2014

Book review: A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents by Q. David Bowers

I bought the Kindle edition of this as I usually will when available.  All too often, Kindle books have been poorly reformatted from the print version, leaving paragraph headings alone at the end of a page or orphan sentences. This book was better done than most in that area, but was not entirely perfect.


That said, I'm not unhappy. Q. David Bowers writes well and intersperses some of the drier areas of this subject with personal remembrances from his long career as a coin dealer. He covers the history of the Lincoln cent right up to 2008, with some mention of what was known to be coming in 2009 and 2010.

Let me pause for a moment for a bit of griping. It would be trivial to update this digital edition with more information about the cents of 2009 and beyond.  Instead, almost all publishers continue to treat their digital editions as mere mirrors of the print format. That's a shame.

Still, this remains and enjoyable and informative book. QDB draws on his own and other experts knowledge for numismatic and investment advice. You will like this book!

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

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Silver Dollars

In the mid 1950's, banks often still had real silver dollars. You could walk in and just trade paper dollars for real silver coins. I did that as often as I could afford to, which wasn't all that often - a dollar wasn't easy for a pre-teen kid to acquire and was roughly equivalent to $10.00 today. I did get as many as I could afford, going back to trade in the duplicate dates.

I got a few more as Xmas and birthday gifts; silver dollars were a common gift from grandparents, exhibiting a bit more thought than a dollar bill and more interesting because of their age, yet easily obtained from almost any bank.

Early on I found or was given a nice 1878 Morgan with the moderately rarer 7 over 8 tail feather reverse. This oddity was caused by a design change part way through the year; a simple matter of correcting the feathers of the Eagle's tail to match the reality of nature. To save a little time and money, the original 8 tail feather design was simply re-engraved with the correct number of feathers so that minting could continue while new dies were prepared.

A rare variety?

Although I sold off all my other silver dollars (especially as they became more valuable), I hung on to that 1878 for years. I finally did sell it at a coin show in Brockton, MA to a collector who specialized in Morgan silver dollar die varieties. 
He told me that he had never seen this specific variety before and really wanted it. We negotiated a fair price, though if he really was expert at these varieties and had never seen this before, it was probably worth more. However, I felt it was going to a true collector and did not mind if I had left a little profit on the table. I had only paid a dollar for it anyway and he did not have to be honest about his suspicions, so I was happy. I do wish I had thought to get his name to find out if it truly was a then unknown specimen.   See 1878 Silver Dollars for more on that.

The coin pictured here is an 7 tail feather example, which means it was made later in the year and from new dies. However, because of a slight difference in the feathers of the arrows (the fletch), I also know that it did not come from the very last dies manufactured that year. This is the sort of trivial detail that is part of numismatics (the study of coins). Of all the 1878 varieties, that one is the easiest to find, except for the 1878-S (San Francisco Mint).

Deep in the vaults

In the early 1980's, I had a very unusual experience involving silver dollars. I and another coin person were hired by a large New Jersey silver refiner to look through some bags of silver dollars that they were about to melt for their silver value. Our job was to extract any coins that could be sold for more than the value of the silver.
I don't remember how long we were there, although I think it was two or three days.  I don't remember how many coins there were, though I do remember that when I first looked at the pile we were to examine, it was quite impressive.  Of course just getting to that point had involved passing through metal detectors and descending several stories into the underground vaults.
We did find some rare dates and, if I remember correctly, one or two counterfeits. The one I remember most clearly was a fairly nice Seated Liberty example.  Most of the coins were Morgan or Peace Dollars.  I can tell you that after flipping thousands of coins, I started hallucinating rare dates and had to blink and recheck quite often.

A long gone era

Probably many Americans today have never seen a Morgan or Peace dollar, never mind one of the earlier dates. I think the Morgan Dollar is one of the more attractive U.S. coins ever minted - it is a shame that so many went to melt in the furnaces of refiners.  I consider myself lucky to have lived at a time when these were common.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Silver Kennedy mintage reduced to 225,000

The U.S. Mint has reduced the mintage of the 50th Anniversary Silver Kennedy set to 225,000.  Originally it was 300,000, but sales have been very slow.  The last figures I saw indicated some 165,000 sold, which isn't even the original 180,000 struck in anticipation of demand.

Part of this is undoubtedly the high price. At $99.95 for little more than an ounce and a half of silver, this is certainly not anything with any intrinsic value.  It does have one unusual coin in it - the new enhanced uncirculated coin  - which may eventually become a semi-key for type collectors and Kennedy set folks, and of course the silver content of the other three coins could make them important for the same reason, but it may be a long time before these are of general interest.

Reducing the mintage will help, I'm sure, but unless the Kennedy series ends, I don't think it will matter that much.  There probably are not even 165,000 people interested in these coins as collectibles; most of the purchases were for "investment".

How long before we stop making Kennedy halves?  Unfortunately, for political reasons, it's very hard to stop.  Who will vote to do this? It's hard to image anyone daring. So we'll keep making coins that almost no one uses or wants.  We MIGHT be able to rid ourselves of Roosevelt dimes and Jefferson nickels, but the rest we are stuck with for a long, long time.  Depressing, isn't it?

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Book Review: Fascinating Facts, Mysteries and Myths about U.S. Coins

This is really a fun book. I do have my doubts about some of the authors research, but that's unfortunately true of a great deal of numismatic writing: truth is often ignored in favor of a good yarn.

That said, there are end notes citing sources for most of the assertions made and the author did seem to take extra care in verifying some of the tales. So, while I always am slightly mistrustful of anything I read that isn't completely vetted, this is probably safer than a lot of numismatic writing (see, for example, my complaints about The Numismatist).

One reviewer called the writing style "dry". I don't agree, though I can certainly understand that if are not numismatically inclined you might well think so.

I reviewed the Kindle edition, which is no bargain as it is only a dollar less than the print version. Either way, a fun read.

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2014

Capped Bust Half Dollars

I'm not a big fan of many half dollar series.  I do like Franklins and Walkers, but the Barber series and the Seated Liberty are not very attractive.  The Capped Bust, however, is a design I really like.

This particular coin is the 1824/4 Overton 110 variety. Here's a closeup of the date:

The other variety of 1824/4 has the 2 and 4 much closer together.

From 1807 to 1836 these coins were "lettered edge". That is, the edge was not reeded; it was stamped "FIFTY CENTS OR HALF A DOLLAR".  Unfortunately it's impossible to see that lettering in this PCGS holder.

These were minted in the millions most years and as there were no silver dollars struck between 1803 and 1840, many were used by banks to pay other banks; therefore many high grade pieces are available and prices are not exorbitant.

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

Book Review: The Joy of Collecting United States Coins, Volume 1, Obsolete United States Copper Large Cents

This is a short (21 page) introduction to collecting United States Large Cents. It is only available digitally and I think the price ($5.78) is unreasonably high considering both the length and the fact that there is nothing here you cannot find elsewhere for less money or even free.

Additionally, the photos (the few that there are) are formatted badly: every one has a cut off caption box as shown here.

I don't know why people produce books like this. It's not that the content is bad, but I just can't see many sales coming out of it, especially for 21 scant pages at that price. Why not throw that up on a free website and use Google Adsense as I do here? No, you wouldn't get rich from that, but you'd probably make more money than trying to sell it as an ebook!

I'll provide the Amazon link, but honestly I wouldn't bother with this one.

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review: One Coin is Never Enough: Why and How We Collect

If you are a coin collector, you probably have friends or family who think that your passion is a little odd or perhaps even a tiny bit crazy. You may even agree with them to some extent.

Why do we collect? Yes, we can trot out the stock answers: I love history, it's an investment, it's just a hobby to fill time. But is there more?

That's what this book explores: the different sorts of collectors, the reasons for collecting, the cycles, the rewards and the disappointments. The author writes well and although there really is little about numismatics per se, I think most collectors would enjoy this.

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Book Review: Basic Coin Design - is less more?

The Amazon blurb for this book states that it is "a startlingly helpful analysis of basic design questions".  I'm not so sure about that, but I will grant that it is mildly interesting. 

The author did a statistical analysis of the basic design elements of U.S. coins and concluded that with one exception using fewer elements leads to a more popular coin. That one exception is the Morgan Silver dollar.

Along the way, he discusses the meaning and history of various elements, whether they usually appear on the front or the back (and how to tell which is the heads and which is the tails) and more. As I said, that's all mildly interesting.

However, my big gripe is that it's horribly formatted.  I might have enjoyed this more if every page didn't look like this:

Seriously, the author expects people to pay $7.99 for a 70 or so page digital book that's difficult to read?

If he fixes the formatting and lowers the price, he might sell a few. Otherwise, I can't see it.

Amazon link: Basic Coin Design by Michael Bugeja

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cheap Coin Photography

I can't justify the expense of really good photo set up.  If I wanted a really good photo of a special coin, I'll have PCGS slab it or re-slab it and add TrueView.  I'd never have the equipment or the skill to produce images like that.

Here's my "setup" using my old iPhone 4S.  Actually, since we just bought a 5S for my wife, I'll probably start using hers going forward.

Unfortunately, I did quite a bit of photography before I thought to anchor things down with a rubber band.  Some of my shots were not the most clear:

But others did turn out pretty sharp:

If I'm bored sometime I will reshoot many of the less stellar efforts.

Nothing beats PCGS TrueView, though:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Braided Hair Half Cents

Half cents were discontinued in 1836, but proofs of this new design were struck from 1840 to 1849. Circulation mintage resumed in 1849.

The braided hair half cents all have very low mintage. The 1851 was the largest mintage, but that was only 147,672 pieces.  This 1856 is even lower at just 40,340.

Again, although very few of these remain available to collectors, there are not many who do collect them, so prices are quite affordable. Nice condition coins like this can be found for $200 or less.

The proofs of 1840 to 1849 were also restruck (illegally, but by the Mint) in the 1850's. The dies were finally destroyed after more restrikes in 1860.

The last of the half cents were minted in 1857, but there was an attempt to bring them back - along with a 3 cent coin - in 1912.  I found this in Google Books "Coinage of a Three-cent Piece
United States. Congress. House. Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures  - January 1, 1912"

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Book Review: Making Money with Modern Coins and Bullion

I expected that I would not like this book, so much so that I almost didn't bother to read it. To my surprise, I found this to be well written, intelligent and informative.

There are times the author does become a bit pedantic. Do we really need several pages on how to properly seal a package, complete with pictures?

Well, perhaps some people do need that. Those of us with a bit more common sense can ignore things like that and concentrate on the rest of what truly is an excellent book on numismatic investment in modern coins and bullion.

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Alternative currency, counterfeit, fraud or numismatic item?

The coin shown below is one of D. Carr's Moonlight Mint "Alternate Currencies". 

D. Carr has been making these "Amero" coins since 2007 as concept pieces for a Mexico/Canada/U.S. monetary union.  That union is extremely unlikely (mostly because there is no benefit to the United States), but that hasn't stopped conspiracy theorists thinking it will happen.

For an equal period of time, D.Carr has also been making "World Trade Coins", mostly announcing themselves as "Trade Dollars" or "Exchange Currency", but with some seeming to skate even closer to risking counterfeit charges.

You might well wonder why Moonlight Mint hasn't been descended upon by Federal agents.  There are at least two laws that seem to apply:

Title 18 U.S. Code § 486 - Uttering coins of gold, silver or other metal
"Whoever, except as authorized by law, makes or utters or passes, or attempts to utter or pass, any coins of gold or silver or other metal, or alloys of metals, intended for use as current money, whether in the resemblance of coins of the United States or of foreign countries, or of original design, shall be fined under this title  [1] or imprisoned not more than five years, or both."

(a) Whoever, with the intent to defraud—
(1) draws, prints, processes, produces, publishes, or otherwise makes, or attempts or causes the same, within the United States;

(2) passes, utters, presents, offers, brokers, issues, sells, or attempts or causes the same, or with like intent possesses, within the United States; or

(3) utilizes interstate or foreign commerce, including the use of the mails or wire, radio, or other electronic communication, to transmit, transport, ship, move, transfer, or attempts or causes the same, to, from, or through the United States,

any false or fictitious instrument, document, or other item appearing, representing, purporting, or contriving through scheme or artifice, to be an actual security or other financial instrument issued under the authority of the United States, a foreign government, a State or other political subdivision of the United States, or an organization, shall be guilty of a class B felony.

Bernard von NotHaus ran afoul of those laws with his "Liberty Dollar".  Why hasn't D. Carr experienced the same problem?

The "intent to defraud" and "intended for use as current money" might have a lot to do with it. There's another firm openly selling coins which look very much like the von NotHaus coins - they are still in business.  They have made some changes in hopes of avoiding a similar result.

Another reason the Moonlight Mint coins may escape prosecution is their very low mintage and relatively high issue price.  It's hard to imagine a jury seriously considering that a dollar sized coin with a mintage of under 100 that was sold for $30 to $80 is "intended for use as current money".

Still, it's always possible that some prosecutor will try. Satirical pieces like this FBI Raids Chuck E. Cheese For “Undermining U.S. Currency” might turn out to be not so farcical. Amusingly, such publicity for D. Carr would probably increase the value of the other pieces that Moonlight mint has produced!

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I decided to send one set of the Kennedy's off for certification

After hemming and hawing for several days, I finally decided to send off one set of Kennedy Silver 50th for grading at PCGS.  I spend an hour comparing coins from the three sets I had bought and finally picked the four (one of each type from the sets) I feel have the best shot at 70 grade.

That bright spot near his lips on the reverse proof worried me. At first it looked like a scratch, but it was in the same place on all three coins.  I put it under the scope and saw nothing, though.

The others gave me no trouble, though the enhanced Uncirculated's were hard to decide just because they all looked good.

I decided NOT to pay extra for a Kennedy Label or for First Strike even though I am well under the cut off date now.  I did pay $10 to have TrueView for one of the Enhanced - I just think those are so nice I'd like to have a good picture.

Even so, it all came to $101.95 for just those for coins.  I hope I really did pick out the best and didn't miss something obvious and dumb.  We'll know in a month or so!

Note: all my coins are in a safe deposit box.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

50th Anniversary Silver Kennedy Set

I bought three of these for long term put away.  I'm still on the fence as to certifying them, though. For one thing, I do think they look nice as a set, although they do take up a lot of room that way. More to the point is that I'm not sure that there is a set of 70's to be found in the bunch - these all seem to have scratches and nicks.  I'll take a closer look when I'm in a better mood, but my intitial impression is "yuck" as usual.

I was amused by the protective foam:

By all means we need foam to protect the plastic cases after the coins themselves have already been nicked and been sealed away with whatever fibers were flying around at the time.  Yes, that foam makes me almost feel like somebody cares.

Oh, well, let's pry out the coins.  And I do mean pry: apparently the Mint was tired of hearing about loose coins bouncing around in boxes, so these suckers are TIGHT.  I used a plastic tent peg to release the capsules from their bounds.

So, let's look at the coins.  First, I detest Reverse Proofs:

I know some oooh and aah over these, bit I think they are plug ugly.  The regular proof is very nice, or would be if the capsule were not contaminated as usual:

Then there is the regular silver uncirculated strike. Nothing special there, of course.

Ahh, but the "enhanced uncirculated" really is a thing of beauty. 

My picture doesn't do it justice. I really think that's the best looking coin in the set.  Were I to pick out one coin to represent the 2014 Kennedy half, that would be the one for me.  If I were going to show someone a 2014 Silver Kennedy, that's the one I'd show.

So, certify?  If I can find one of each that isn't nicked up, maybe.  I'm not sure yet.

Update:  Mintage reduced to 225,000 due lack of interest.

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Phone Apps for Coin Collectors

Phone and Tablet apps for coin collecting are extremely handy when you are away from your books and your computer. Here are a few of the ones I have looked at.

Photograde (iPhone, Android) and Photograde HD (iPad)

No, I don't usually need Photograde to tell a VF from an XF, although for series I don't see all that often it never hurts to refresh my memory. What I do like about Photograde is that it's a pretty good database of genuine coins. For example, I was recently able to dismiss a gold dollar as a definite fake because Photograde happens to use the same date for several of their examples and the fake coin date had a markedly different style. It's not always that easy, of course.

Grey Sheet On-Line

If you subscribe to the Coin Dealer Newsletter, you certainly know its value. You can also get it as a separate subscription as an on-line version. If you attend coin shows infrequently, you'll appreciate that you can get immediate access to the current issue for just $4.99.

PCGS Coin Facts

Although the app is free, you need a $99 per year subscription to actually get any use from this. Still, this is arguably one of the best general purpose coin apps available, combining pictures, prices and more of U.S. coins by date and variety.

NGC Coin Details

Lets you type in or scan NGC certification numbers and shows you images (sometimes), descriptions (sometimes) and prices/auctions (again, sometimes). Not very useful, in my opinion.
PCGS Price Guide

Free, no subscription required. Same information is available on-line at PCGS, but it is much easier to read in the app. The prices do tend to be a little jumpy though when you scroll left or right to select grades.

Numis HD
Again, subscription required. This is access to the ANA's Numismatist Magazine. Pretty nice on an iPad; I haven't used it on my phone.


Although not specifically for coins, this app lets you organize and share collections. It does have coin related layouts, which you can modify to your own likes, so you could have everything you'd want to know about your collection or want lists, including photos, links to other resources, barcodes and more. I haven't yet found the patience or the time to input my collection, but I can see how this could be very useful.

PCGS Coinflation

Spot prices and melt calculators. I use it just because it is a quick way to check spot prices.

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