Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Silver bullion and U.S. Silver coinage

On September 9th, 1963 the price of pure silver hit $1.293 per ounce. That was a new record for the 20th century and it caused a problem for the U.S. Treasury Department: coins in circulation were now worth their face value. That is, counting the cost of refining to pure silver (coinage was only 90% silver at that time), a silver dollar in the palm of your hand was actually worth one dollar for the value of the silver in it.
There were no silver dollars actually in circulation then, but dimes, quarters and half dollars also contained 90% silver. Silver dollars did turn up now and then - they were the chips used at casinos and were popular as Christmas presents.
Ten dimes would have weighed just a tiny bit less than one silver dollar, so even the minor coins were in danger of being worth more than their face value.
The end of silver coinage
It was the rising price of silver that caused us to stop using that metal and change (in 1965) to the "clad" coins you might have in your pocket right now. Today, with silver prices sometimes 40 times higher than they were then, that may seem like the most obvious and necessary thing to do, but there was not complete agreement on that back then.
Make more Silver Dollars
In hindsight, it seems almost incredible that two Montana Senators (Mike Mansfield and Lee Metcalf) proposed a bill that would start minting silver dollars again. Their solution for the price problem was to reduce the silver content to 80%, which obviously would not have solved the problem for very long. Silver was $1.63 an ounce in 1970 and surged way up in 1980, only to settle down to the $4-$5 range for a number of years. Those 80% silver dollars would have been worth far more than face value.
The Senator's interest was because Montana was and is a mining State. The more silver demand, the better for Montana.

A "fantasy" piece from Moonlight Mint (overstruck on a genuine peace dollar)

Demand for Silver
Silver has many uses (see Wikipedia for details). One use that was quite strong then was photography; that has diminished greatly, but at the time we are talking about, most people expected that use to only increase.
However, the demand I'm speaking of was Silver Certificates. We don't have these today - they were no longer produced starting in 1965. These originally had the following promise:
"This certifies that there is on deposit in the Treasury of the United States of America (number) silver dollar(s) payable to the bearer on demand."
That was later changed to
"This certifies that there is on deposit in the Treasury of the United States of America (number) dollar(s) in silver payable to the bearer on demand."
That change turned out to be important, as we will see.
You see, if you did march down to the Treasury and demand that they make good, they would have paid you in Silver Dollars. With the increase in silver prices, people started doing just that.
As I mentioned, casinos were big users of silver dollars. First, that was the tradition. Chips such as are used now are easier to counterfeit and (of course) cost money to manufacture.
With rising prices, silver dollars started exiting casinos, so of course casino owners gathered up silver certificates and went to cash them in.
In April of 1964, those casinos cashed in silver certificates for some 18 million silver dollars.. and hauled them back to Nevada.

Numismatic value
The Treasury had plenty of silver to hand out - there were some 1.8 billion dollars in silver certificates outstanding in 1963 and there were 1.7 billion ounces of silver stockpiled. That was not a problem.
What was a problem, or an opportunity (depending on your point of view) was that many of the silver dollars being handed out had numismatic value - that is, they were valuable to coin collectors.
For an example, until 1962 the 1903-O ("O" meaning that it was produced at the New Orleans Mint) was a very rare coin in uncirculated conditions. In that year, many thousands of that date and mint-mark came out of Treasury vaults, driving the price down so much that for a while, they were selling for no more than any other common date.
Cherry picking rare dates prior to silver prices climbing sometimes involved trading in for a $1,000 bag, removing any rare dates and then returning the rest to the Treasury - that must have been annoying. As prices started to rise, no returns were made.
An ounce of silver
The numismatic potential was not lost on our Government. They halted handing out silver dollars and instead told people to take there silver certificates to Assay Offices in New York or San Francisco. There, the bearer would be handed an unmarked brown envelope containing .77 ounce of silver (one dollars worth). Needless to say, not too many folks were interested in that trade!
At this point, the Treasury had only about 3 million dollars remaining. This was also when Senator Mansfield made a passionate speech on the Senate floor asking Congress to "rescue a major American tradition" and strike 45 million new 80% silver dollars.
That law actually passed. President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law in 1965 and - perhaps even more amazing is that in that year, the U.S. Mint in Denver struck over 300,000 dollars dated 1964! These were remelted and not released to circulation (though rumors of very illegal 1964 silver dollars turn up now and then).
The GSA Sales
It was not until 1970 that Congress figured out what to do with the remaining silver dollars. The coins were sorted, graded, packaged and offered for sale in 1972. There was not tremendous interest, so that was shelved and tried again in 1979. This time there was more demand and all were sold by 1980, though not without controversy.
So, there are no more bags of silver dollars sitting in Treasury vaults.
Silver today
Decades later, everything has changed. Casinos use chips and often just electronic cards that store your money while you are in the casino. Digital cameras have cut the photographic use of silver in half and it is still falling. You will almost never find a silver coin in circulation (I did find a dime this year, though).
Is silver a good investment? At today's prices, it may not be - though I do think it's not at all a bad idea to have a few silver coins around in case of economic collapse. I like the older "Mercury" dimes for that. They are apt to have numismatic value and are therefore slightly more expensive, but they are easily recognizable as being silver. That isn't true for the later Roosevelt series, which became "clad" in 1965 and therefore require closer examination.
A 50 coin roll of those Mercury dimes might run you around $150 or so. If you can afford it, a few 1/10 ounce gold coins would be nice too, but if you are trying to buy food in a time of economic collapse, a tenth ounce of gold is a lot to pay for a meal. A silver Mercury dime might be just about right.

You can also buy 1 ounce bars of .999 silver. These are a bit more bulky than dimes, but their value would naturally be higher - a bar like that might buy you safe lodging for a week.

I personally wouldn't recommend silver as an investment - there are still tremendous hoards of coins and silver bars. However, don't trust any investment advice I give: I sold almost all my gold in 2006 when the price was less than half what it is today!

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

Monday, December 29, 2014

Better digital photos from your iPhone

I'd like to be able to take better pictures of my coins. At least two things prevent that, the most important being that the best camera I own is that in my iPhone.  The second impediment is that I am almost completely clueless about photography, film or digital.

As I'm not about to spend hundreds of dollars on a camera that I don't know how to use, I assumed that iPhone would be the best I could do for now and forever.  However, yesterday I happened to read about a new camera app made possible by IOS 8.   It's $1.99 from iTunes and it gives you more control over your IOS camera.

The app gives you that control, but it doesn't explain how to use it.  Their FAQ is rudimentary at best. Fortunately, I found this introductory article helpful and of course Google can be mined for much more.

Can it help me take better coin photos?  I think so. Here's a shot straight from my iPhone 4S camera app.  The coin is just a cull I carry in my pocket collection. I used my Cheap Photo Rig to take this. It's a decent photo and is as good as I expect from that phone.

Here is the same coin, same lighting, same rig, same phone, but using the Manual camera app and a bit of near clueless futzing by me.  There is no question that it is sharper. Trust me: I have no idea if it could be even better; I just fiddled around until it looked good to me.

There's probably more I could do if I had half a clue, but even so that is a big improvement.

Here's the same coin taken with the Camera Plus App.  That's much better than the native app too.

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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Guess the grade and all that

I was amused this week by a "guess the grade" post at a Facebook
coin collectors group.   The coin was a common date Indian Head cent.

I guessed AU-58, but I was the only person to think so. One guess was as high as MS-65!

The coin turned out to be AU-58 but "Details" because of recoloring.  I didn't like the color, but didn't say anything because digital photographs can be very subjective with regard to that. As I said after the grade had been revealed, "No, the grading is accurate. The recoloring is hard to pick up from a photo as variations in lighting can change that radically. ANACS saw it in hand."

Someone commented that they didn't like ANACS grading, but in fact the coin was almost a perfect match for the AU-58 photo at PCGS Photograde!

Take a look at these photos on the right. These are all the very same coin, photographed under different conditions of lighting. Two are straight from my iPhone and two had some additional adjustments with iPhoto.

If I posted these at different times and asked people for grading opinions, they'd each attract different answers, and probably some comments about color too.  My bet would be that the last one down would be seen as the highest, but of course that's nonsense: they are all the same coin.

None of the photos look like the coin actually does "in hand".  Whenever I see one of those "Guess the Grade" or "Has this coin been cleaned" posts, I keep this in mind: photos lie, and photos by unprofessional photographers are almost certainly not representing true color.

Photos can hide things.  I have a proof Eisenhower Dollar that photographs beautifully, but in hand there are obvious "milk spots" in the fields.  A 1955 Franklin have shows rather unattractive toning in a photo, but in natural light it looks quite good.
You should keep all that in mind when buying coins over the Internet. Photos at high end auction houses are likely to be good representations, but photos by eBay sellers may not be and may even be artificially doctored to be deceptive.

Don't be fooled by color in photos. It's not necessarily right.

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

Friday, December 26, 2014

Review: Cherrypickers Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins (Digital Editions)

If you want this, you need Volumes 1 and 2 to cover all denominations. Unfortunately, there is a somewhat limited market, so these are pricey: even the digital editions will cost you $40 for both.  I do not NOT recommend these - if you are going to buy them, buy the physical books unless you want these so that you can conveniently carry them to shows or wherever.  Those are the only circumstances where I would recommend the digital version.

I'm a fan of digital and try to buy all my books that way now, but when a digital book is done this badly, I just can't recommend it. It's a shame that such expensive titles are so poorly done!

By the way, these are Kindle format. You do not need to own a Kindle; Amazon has free Kindle Reader software for almost anything.


First, it's obvious that they didn't make any effort to reformat the text for digital.

That 1855 heading should have started on the next screen. Leaving hangers like this is not just ugly, it can also be confusing and there's no reason for it. Kindle books have been around long enough that there are now people who specialize in offering reformatting services to get it right. Turning out junk like this is inexcusable for a major publishing company - especially at these prices.

Second, one of the obvious advantages of digital is that good photos can be included. These are not good photos - they are all black and white and when you zoom into them, the poor resolution is quite evident.

The books are also poorly indexed. It's difficult to find things (that fault also exists in the print edition). Digital search could overcome that, but the problem is inconsistency in text descriptions, making some searches fail when they should not. Authors need to be consistent for digital search to work well!

The next fault is that "low interest" varieties have been removed. That's fine, but look at this:

Only one of the 11-D Repunched Mint Marks is still listed in the book itself. They are shown only in these tables. Suppose you found one that wasn't the one described? Is it one of the low interest varieties (502 and 503)? Or maybe it's something yet unknown, but this won't help you, will it? An accompanying website listing all varieties could fix that and the content is obviously available from the older editions - do they expect us to buy all those also?  There is really no excuse for this with digital - you don't have weight or size constraints, so data like that should be included.

Finally, listings stop at different dates in different series. Are there no dime die varieties after 2004? You can't be sure if this is all you have to go by: dimes stop in 2004, but other series go on later. These issues would be true for the print editions also, of course.

All in all, an expensive and very poorly executed book. There are online resources that are much easier to use.

However, at least it is digital - most numismatic authors are  afraid of theft and won't consider it.

I've sold ebooks and made good money from it. Yes, I assume there was some theft, but as there were no production costs other than my typing, I'm also sure that I made out far, far better than I would have otherwise. With a very esoteric subject (Unix Troubleshooting, anyone?) and being an unknown author completely dependent on my own website, I cleared around $5,000 with zero outlay.

Then I discovered Amazon and put it up there.  I picked up a few hundred dollars more at $19.95 and then as sales dwindled off, reduced it to $2.99.  I STILL get sales years later even though the book is totally out of date and I am still an unknown name.  It's not much - $10 or so dribbling in now and then, but it adds up.

There are so many advantages: easy revisions, good pictures, high profit - I think numismatic authors who won't do this are really being short sighted.   You can serialize ebooks so that if there is theft you can find the source but in my experience, it's too little to fret over.

For existing books, you do have to consider reformatting for ebooks. If you just leave the same pagination, it can come out ugly - these e-versions of thee Cherry Pickers Guides are a good example of laziness producing a crappy result.  Done right, however, you get something far better than a print book and as mentioned earlier there are now people who specialize in that kind of reformatting for fairly short money.

I won't buy a print book now unless I HAVE to have it.  For many numismatic books, I'd buy an ebook version, but I don't need it enough to buy the print. It's not a matter of price; it's the convenience of having it on my iPad or phone wherever I am.

But most numismatic authors are opposed and it will probably stay like that until the next generation.

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, December 25, 2014

The U.S. Shield Nickel - the ugliest coin ever made?

The story of the first U.S. five cent nickel coin includes corruption and politics, money supply and hoarding. Add to that the fact that even one of the people most in favor of its production called its reverse design "a tombstone surmounted by a cross and overhung by weeping willows".

A well known publication for coin collectors described it as "the ugliest of all known coins". Parts of the American public had other reasons to dislike it too: some thought the original reverse design was reminiscent of the Confederate “Stars and Bars” flag. As the first issue of this coin was in 1866, and the U.S. Civil War had only ended in 1865, it is easy to see how emotions would still be raw over that issue.

Nickel Coinage

The really important distinction for this coinage was that it was among the first denominations other than the one cent coin to not be made of precious metal. We'd had half dimes since the very beginning of the mint, but they were silver. A three cent nickel coin had been minted in 1865; the success of that encouraged the mint to try a nickel five cent coin.
They were also being "encouraged" by a wealthy and influential individual who happened to own nickel mines. There was real justification for getting away from silver coins - these were being hoarded and there was a damaging shortage of small change in the economy. Naturally, Joseph Wharton (the man with the nickel mines) wanted the mint to use more nickel than copper, but there were problems with that desire.
Nickel is hard. That's why we use it in armor plating. Striking nickel coins is difficult, as the mint had already learned in 1857 with the Flying Eagle Cent. That coin was only 12% nickel, these three and five cent nickel coins were specified to be 25% nickel, which would make them that much harder.
The design made a bad situation even worse. With coinage, you want to avoid lining up raised areas front and back. An ideal coin (for ease of minting) would be one in which any raised part would have blank space on its opposite side. Of course that can't be perfectly achieved in practice, but this nickel design had a big raised area on the obverse and quite a lot of metal to bring up on the opposite side.
Combined with harder metal, this meant the coins had to be stamped multiple times. That meant slower production and more die damage, costing the mint money and decreasing the expected volume. The reverse was redesigned to make minting easier, but troubles still plagued these coins.
These difficulties also mean that well struck examples are more rare and command premium prices. So called "full shield" nickels can be worth much, much more than their less fully detailed brethren.


It may sound odd to counterfeit a nickel, but because of coin shortages and the fact that a nickel in 1866 had purchasing power close to a dollar today, there was reason to attempt it. A merchant desperate for small change might have welcomed a visit from someone who could solve that problem quickly and at less expense than going to his bank.
The counterfeiters would have the same problems the mint had with nickel. If they used much less to make striking easier, the color would have been off. If they substituted something softer, the weight would be wrong. If they used the same mix, their dies would would suffer just as the mint's did, so they would have to compensate in other ways and these counterfeits show their difficulties.

A plugged nickel?

"Not worth a plugged nickel" was a common expression for worthless things in my youth. It probably came from the practice of drilling out the center of silver coins and replacing what was removed with base metal. What silver remained in a dime or other silver coin would still have value, but a plugged nickel, being worth little in metallic value to start with, would be truly worthless (and not worth plugging, of course).
Nickels and other coins often are found with holes that were used to string them as jewelry. I would have thought that a coin this unattractive would escape that treatment, but I have seen many "holed" nickels, so that may also serve to explain the phrase.
Although these nickels didn't exist until hostilities had ceased, this article explains the somewhat macabre use of coins as body tags in the Civil war.

The Metric Connection

This coin has an interesting connection with attempts to switch the U.S. to the metric system. Congress had authorized the use of the metric system in 1866 and those who supported that wanted the coin to have its weight specified in grams. It actually does weigh 5 grams, but the Coinage Committee didn't quite dare make that specification, so they fixed its weight at 77.16 grains (which is 5 grams).

Collecting the ugly nickel

I only can recall finding one shield nickel as a child in the early 1950's and that was extremely worn. Early mintages were high in spite of the Mint's troubles with dies. There are some prohibitively scarce dates later in the series, though, making a collection by date difficult for those of us who are not wealthy.

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Grades are back on the Silver Kennedy's

I had three sets to work from and really spent a long time trying to pick out the best. I'm not at all upset by the Reverse Proof - I think those are really ugly things anyway.

Line #Item #Cert #PCGS No.CoinDateDenominationVarietyCountryGrade
11313874255301692014-P50C50th Anniversary Set, SilverUSAPR69DC
21313874265301742014-W50C50th Anniversary Set, Silver, Reverse PRUSAPR68
31313874275349882014-S50C50th Anniversary Set, Silver, Enhanced Mint StateUSAMS69PL
41313874285301792014-D50C50th Anniversary Set, SilverUSAMS69

I was happy the Enhanced Unc. made Prooflike (PL).

I had TrueView on one (the 2014-S) but was surprised to see that the rest of the coins had photos too - not TrueView, but nice photos.  According to http://forums.collectors.com/messageview.cfm?catid=26&threadid=933965  that happens sometimes.

I could have requested and paid for First Strike labels on all of these, but did not.  The interesting thing about that is that these obviously were produced before the cut-off date, so if that designation actually meant anything rather than being made up nonsense, these should command a premium. But they will not, because that labeling is artificial.

The PCGS numbers get VERY confusing on this.

534990 2014-S 50th Anniversary Set, Silver, Enhanced Mint State Prooflike according to Coinfacts
534998  2014-S 50th Anniversary Set, Silver, Enhanced Mint State Prooflike according to my certification
530177 2014-S 50th Anniversary Set, Silver, Enhanced Mint State NOT Prooflike
535117 2014-S 50th Anniversary Set, Silver, Enhanced Mint State DM (Deep Mirror)

Then there's a whole other set of numbers for these as First Strike!

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Whizzed, damaged or low grade? What's your tolerance?

There are some coins I'd love to own, but unless I hit the lottery those particular pieces will always be beyond my reach.  Kellog & Company $50 gold, 1793 Chain Cent and a few others are just too expensive for my budget.

There are other coins that are just within my reach but only if they are problematical: very low grade, badly cleaned, damaged or otherwise troubled.  One example of that is Massachusetts 1652 silver coins.  I'd love to own an Oak or Pine tree piece - any one of them.  But some of the choices are just too deficient for my taste.  Look at this recently listed Pine Tree Shilling on eBay. It's offered at $725 and it's barely a coin. It's just about completely worn away and it's holed too!  

ebay listing
I don't want that at any price.

Then there is this at Heritage Auctions:

As described by them:

"An edge split is noted at 12 o'clock, and a ragged mint clip at 6 o'clock affects a few peripheral letters. A thin mark is west of the lower left tree branches."

I could live with that, though I expect it will sell out of my range even with those defects.

I noticed this at Facebook: someone agreed that they'd take two 1921 Peace Dollars in exchange for some work they did. The problem is that the coins are whizzed.  Because of their rarity, he may still have got a good deal, but I wouldn't want them.

What's your tolerance when it comes to coins out of your comfort zone?

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

Monday, December 22, 2014

"Nature printing" on early currency

Image source Heritage Auctions http://ha.com , used by permission
Ben Franklin is known to have done "nature printing", which is the process of printing from a natural object such as a leaf.  Some say he invented the process, but Wikipedia suggests that Joseph Breintnall was doing this several years earlier.

Whoever perfected the process,  Franklin definitely used it as an anti-counterfeiting measure.  This "Collecting Colonial Currency" by Lou Jordon mentions that specifically, although his claim that 'paper money is uniquely American and was actually “invented” in colonial America'  is inaccurate: the Chinese were doing that many centuries earlier.  They were not doing nature printing, though!

I was reminded of all this because of the recent discovery of an early leaf printing block.  Although the title here says "Benjamin Franklin Printing Blocks Identified", the article itself admits that "this particular block was almost certainly cast not by Franklin but by his successor David Hall".

Well, close enough, I guess.   I know almost nothing about Colonial Currency, but  I checked Heritage Auctions and found that many examples can be had at reasonable prices.  For example, the note pictured above sold for $75.00 in 2000.

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

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Walker for the Pocket Collection

Today I added a 1918-D Walking Liberty Half to my Pocket Collection (these are low value coins from the late 19th and early 20th century that I carry with me, loose in my pocket).

I have a few more coins coming for this collection: a Barber Half, a Peace Dollar, some Liberty nickels and some Barber dimes.  It's a fun and very different way to collect and of course you can show your collection anywhere you happen to be!

A Pocket Collection could be from any period: the Civil War, the Roaring Twenties, the Fifties, the Seventies - whatever you like.

It's a collection where you don't worry about grade, where nothing is protected by plastic, where you don't have to wear gloves or handle the coins by their edges. You can hand one of your coins to someone and not panic if they drop it on the floor.

For me, it brings back some of the pleasure I had collecting as a kid in the 50's. These walkers were still in circulation then and even Barbers and Indian Heads would turn up now and then.

A Pocket Collection is for fun. It's up close and personal, not sealed in plastic and hidden in a bank vault.  It's coins you can touch, spin, jingle in your pocket.

Speaking of jingling, it's been a long time since I have heard the melodic sound of real silver coins. That's yet another reason I enjoy carrying these in my pocket - I haven't heard that jingle since the 60's!

Update: Just after writing this, the Barber half I ordered for this collection showed up.  It's a 1915-S, well worn and with some rim damage - really a perfect coin for this collection!

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: 4th edition Top 100 Morgan Silver Dollar Varieties: The VAM Keys

I've been bitten by the VAM bug. VAM, if you don't already know, is the Morgan dollar variety system devised by Leroy Van Allen and George A. Mallis. There are several books and a large website devoted to identifying die varieties and die states. Many of the varieties are obscure and unimportant to any but the most serious collectors, but some have slipped into the Morgan mainstream and can command astonishing prices.

People bitten by the VAM bug could spend a fortune buying these coins, but it is possible to still find very rare and expensive varieties offered at normal prices by people who just do not know. For example, very recently someone reported snatching a 1888-O "scarface" variety from an unknowing Ebay seller. That it's a $10-$20,000 coin is amazing enough, but this particular variety is very easy to spot!

This book only covers the important varieties like Scarface, Hotlips and so on. It's vest pocket sized, so it is something you could carry to coin shows or unknowing pawn shops. The picture quality is very good. If I can't have digital, this is as good as it gets.

My VAM infection is not too serious. I don't have the financial resources to buy very many Morgans, even if I cherry picked every single one. Fortunately, my interest is only in one year: 1878. That's still a daunting task as there 22 even in the Top 100 list, so I doubt I'll ever complete that set, but it will be fun hunting and this book will help.

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.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pawn Stars and coins

Pawn Stars is a History Channel reality show about a Las Vegas Pawn Shop.  Every now and then they handle coins, which makes it more fun from my point of view.

Rick, one of the owners, says that he has a lot of experience in coins, but I'm not sure that's true. He may have had experience buying and selling the kind of stuff that might come into a pawn shop, but he's definitely not a numismatist as his lack of real knowledge shows through now and then.

However, he's certainly more knowledgable than the average person of the street.  There was an episode where I was sure he was clueless: he told an employee that Standing Liberty Quarters were very rare and worth $1,000.00 each. It turned out that he knows better and was trying to teach a lesson.

Rick does sometimes seem to be out of his depth.  On the other hand, trying to judge the value of something from a brief glimpse on a television screen is obviously not ideal.

Many people have said that these shows are scripted.  According to people who have actually been on the show, that's not entirely true.  Apparently the negotiations are unscripted, though some coaching does take place (see the post by The Penny Lady here).

Like any pawn shop, bad things can happen with stolen coins: "'Pawn Stars' shop apparently melts down stolen coin collection"

If yo've never seen the show, this 2 minute clip will give you an idea of what happens.

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

To cull or not to cull

I've been working on my pocketful of culls collection ( http://coins.aplawrence.com/2014/12/a-cull-dollar.html).  It's coming along nicely, thank you:

I have a few more coins to add, but take a look at the Indian Heads.  They are  low grade, scratches or minor rim dings. Perfectly fine for my pocket and I bought a lot of four for $8 including shipping.  In one sense that's ridiculous as I could buy a roll of IHC's for $50 or less, but I don't need or want fifty of them; I just want a few for my pocket, so I was fine with that.

You'll notice just three coins in that picture, though.  The fourth I just couldn't bear to consign to my pocket.  It does have a tiny, tiny bit of rim damage at 7:00 o'clock obverse, but my gosh:

Aside from that very minor scrape, this coin is a solid XF/AU.  Some Young Numismatist of limited means would be very happy to have that.  Maybe that's what I'll do with it - I wonder if PCGS would give it a net XF grade?  

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home.
Contests and giveaways: http://coins.aplawrence.com/2014/05/contests-and-giveaways.html

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: A Guide Book of United States Coins Professional Edition

Speaking of Red Books as we did yesterday, I did not know this "Professional Edition" existed. I found out about it because I was reading back issues of The Numismatist. 

Let me quote from the introduction:

Its combination of more photographs, detailed higher-grade valuations, listings of additional varieties and rare early Proof coins, certified-coin population data, auction records, and other resources provides a wealth of information on every coin type ever made by the U.S. Mint. The Professional Edition is not an exhaustive study of die varieties, though it does expand (with close-up photographs, valuations, and chart notes) on the regular edition’s coverage of such coins. Rather, it is a handy single-source guide that educates its users in auction and certification trends, retail valuations, and similar aspects of the marketplace.

I bought the digital edition as I do with almost books where I have a choice.  This, however, is a case where I'll recommend that you buy the physical book.

It's not that the digital edition is badly formatted - that's actually done well. It's that the mintage and pricing tables are done as pictures that are somewhat fuzzy and do not zoom well.  These are probably much easier to read in the print edition.

That quibble aside, the content is excellent. This goes into much more detail than the traditional Red Book, though I do have to ask why publish both? There are unlikely to be many extra sales - I would think that, going forward, people will buy one or the other, not both.

The 5th edition shown here didn't cover Colonials, Tokens or Modern Commems - neither does the 6th edition (available now).  It seems odd to leave those out.

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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Whitman "Red Book"

I bought my first Red Book ("A Guide Book of U.S. Coins" ) in 1956 and bought them every year from then up to 1977.  I have only 9 of those now; less than half.  The rest went missing over the years, lost or given away.

Those I still have vary in condition from almost new to quite worn.  Some seem almost untouched, others are nearly ready to fall apart.

A few years ago Whitman started publishing the prices of old Red Books in the current editions.  It's Appendix B in my 2014 book and I noted that most of these are not worth very much.

However, that doesn't mean that they are easy to find.  I searched Amazon and was not able to find any of the earlier dates at all and not very many even in the 60's and 70's.

By the way, if you want to search there, I found this works well:  

"GUIDE-UNITED-STATES-Illustrated-Catalog coins"

The first Red Book is dated 1947 and only 18,000 were printed.  My 2014 book (which I bought in the digital Kindle edition) says it is worth $300 - $1700 depending on condition.  That's a bit out of my price range, but in 2006 Whitman published a "Redbook Commemorative Guide Book of United States Coins" reprint of it. I bought one of those for $15.00.

It's fun to look through the older books, but not so much fun that I'd want a complete set as this guy did: "A Complete Collection of U.S. Coins Red Books"

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