Selling Your Silver Coins? Not Until You Read This Article!

Don't Sell Your Silver Coins Until You Read This Article!

Photo courtesy of coincollector.org

Here’s a very helpful article from coin dealer Tony Davis originally posted at coincollector.org. Tony gives a dealer’s insight on what you should be aware of before selling and explains the different points to consider in order to receive a fair price. All too often collectors go into the sell process unarmed with this necessary knowledge. Read on and enjoy!

As a coin dealer, we regularly meet with customers who are interested in buying and selling various types of silver coins. Our customers tell us that they have no problem finding online resources about purchasing silver coins, but that it is difficult to find anything online regarding the specifics […]

 

Beyond the Grade, the Devil is in the Details

1929 Quarter ObvEver since the advent of third party grading services there has been an ever growing trend toward chasing numbers instead of quality. Worse yet, at some point third party grading became a crutch, an excuse for novices and veterans alike to no longer rely on their own grading skills. As a result, many newcomers to the field of coin collecting rely solely on the grade to direct their buying decisions, never realizing there are so many other aspects to a coin’s value and appeal until they try to sell.

Truth be told, the best way to build a truly exceptional collection, one that immediately distinguishes itself to any viewer that it has been painstakingly selected rather than simply accumulated, is to understand these matters of esoterica and apply them to your collecting habits. One of the most misunderstood and greatly overlooked aspects of a coin’s eye appeal is the strike.

Now if you are a collector of the classical designs of the early 20th century, i.e. Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, Standing Liberty quarters and Walking Liberty halves, then you probably have a grasp on this concept already. These coin series are noted for their artistry in the presentation of their subject matter, but are also notorious for the inconsistency of the design strike. The high relief of the designs, the hardness of the metal (in the case of nickel), and the economic considerations of the Depression era mints all contributed to this high variability in strike. Thus, many of the coins of this era look “mushy” and worn though they may still be in uncirculated condition with no real wear from handling.

However, when you wean yourself from chasing just the number on the coin holder and understand that every MS63 isn’t just like every other MS63, with a little perseverance you can find coins in these series that truly stand out! In the case of Buffalo nickels you may be familiar with the Full Horn designation, referring to the fact that this feature is not always present and so differentiates a typical Buffalo nickel from one with an exceptional strike. Mercury dimes have the Full Bands designation, Standing Liberty quarters use Full Head, etc.

But why stop there? These aren’t the only details on these particular designs that didn’t strike up well. Regarding the quarter, what about the rivets on Liberty’s shield or the line of drapery on her right leg? Shouldn’t the Buffalo nickel display the Indian’s braid and hair to its fullest extent, or the line of fur on the buffalo’s left shoulder? These are points that separate the collector from the accumulator. These are things that make the hunt so much more enjoyable. And not all dealers take these matters into consideration. They’re just chasing the numbers. Take advantage of this and see the difference for yourself!

Collecting the Cents of 1798 by Donovan Epling

1800 S196 obv

The S196 1800/179, a repurposed 1798 die

Mr. Donovan Epling is a former EAC member who wrote a wonderful piece for that club’s journal, Penny-Wise, back in May of 1999. The article, entitled “Collecting the Cents of 1798”, is both an excellent introduction to a fascinating method of collecting and a scholarly tutorial on the world of early U.S. copper collecting as a whole. As a current regional chairman of EAC, I love to share these stories about my particular favored niche of the hobby. Mr. Epling  and Penny-Wise editor Dr. Harry Salyards have generously allowed me to reprint this article here.  Enjoy!

 

Well, I’m back collecting early copper again. I first began about 10 years ago and collected off and on for several years. The first cent that I attributed was an 1802 S232 in VG8. I bought it unattributed and with the help of Penny-Whimsy, I was on my way toward a larger world. I took the shotgun approach at first and collected everything I could afford that caught my eye, at least in the early and middle dates, which held the most interest for me. I never did escape the shotgun approach and at one time owned a pretty awful S9 Wreath, several ’94’s, quite a few Draped Busts, an almost complete set of Classic Heads, a 1817 set, and quite a few other middle dates. I had fun along the way but my numismatic interests were broad and I drifted away. I sold my large cents to finance other pursuits, including a substantial collection of Barber Halves among other things (please don’t cringe, it gets better).

I’ve found that any old coin can be an interesting talisman of a bygone era but the interest lies in the link between the coin and the era. It’s more than that with early cents. I keep getting drawn back to early cents because the coins themselves are interesting, apart from any historical link. They are handmade Americana, the product of the engraver’s skill and the coiner’s art, or lack thereof. They are interesting because each one is unique and has a story to tell about how they are made, apart from history.

Now that I’ve been drawn back, what should I collect? This is the question that everyone asks and everyone wants the answer to. The Draped Busts have always been my favorites. I’m not sure why, they just are. I’ve decided to put away my shotgun and acquire some discipline. I may indeed expand my focus to include all Draped Busts but for now, I intend to narrow the chase to one year, 1798. Why? First, let me include a little historical background. Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I’ll borrow John Wright’s format somewhat.

In 1798, on the heels of the infamous XYZ affair involving French diplomats attempting to intimidate the Adams administration, the Federalist-led Congress passed the Sedition Act, which among other things threatened fines and imprisonment for publishing malicious writings against the government. The American schooner Retaliation was captured by France, which prompted Congress to end the treaty signed between the two countries in 1778, and an undeclared naval war began. Ex-President George Washington was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the army to instill confidence and deal with the impending war with France. Congress officially created the U.S. Marine Corps. The 11th amendment was passed, preventing citizens from one state from suing another state. Finally, Mississippi Territory was created, including present-day Mississippi and Alabama.

Now to the cents. Why 1798? The year 1798 contains 46 varieties, 44 numbered and two NC’s, which are more varieties than any other year of the Draped Bust design. There are two distinct head punches with different hair styles, the only year in the Draped Bust series to use both, unless you count the 1800 / 1798 overdates, which are 1798 dies anyway. There are two different letter styles, two date sizes, two distinct wreaths used, and the 1798/7 overdates, which are the first overdates in the large cent series. In addition, the 1798’s were struck in 1798 and 1799. There are also distinctive die breaks, rim cuds, die failures, reused dies and individual rarity ratings from R1 to R7, none of which are impossible to obtain. It is also an 18th century coin, which has a certain appeal. All of these factors put together make 1798 a year with a little bit of everything that a cent collector could hope for.

There are six different groups that Sheldon used in Penny-Whimsy to classify the 1798’s, based on their obverse die characteristics. They are,

Group 1: Style 1 Hair, Style I Lettering, Large 8’s:

This group contains six varieties employing four different obverse dies. The point of interest for this group is that they have style 1 lettering which was replaced in late 1797 with style 2 lettering. In fact, the last 1797 obverse (S142 and S143) has style 2 lettering. It was the practice of the mint in those years to create working obverse dies but omit the final digit so that it could be used the following year if needed, i.e. a die would be created bearing the date 179 which could be punched with a final digit of 7 or 8 depending on the year of use. The 1806’over 179 cents are good examples of dies created initially with the date of 179 . I suspect that the 1″~98’s with style one lettering were created as follows: Late in 1797 four dies, the four from this group, with style I lettering were on hand, dated 179. An unknown number of additional dies were created using the new style 2 letter punches and dated 179. These two groups of dies were probably put together on a shelf until needed. At some point, the current 1797 usable dies were almost gone and three 179 – dies were pulled from the shelf, all three being style 2 letter dies. A seven was punched in for the last digit which created three additional 1797 working dies with style 2 lettering but only one was put into service, the die used for S142 and S143. The other two remained unusual at the end of the year. At the beginning of 1798, this left four style 1 letter dies dated 179 and two unused 1797 dated style 2 letter dies. I believe at this time in late December 1797 or early January 1798 that the four style 1 letter dies were punched with a final digit of 8 to create the four obverse dies that form this group.

Group 2: Overdates, Style 1 Hair, Style 2 Lettering, Large 81s:

This group contains three varieties employing two different obverse dies. Continuing the discussion above, I believe these two dies were created when two unused 1797 working dies were on hand at the end of 1797. The reason they have style 2 lettering rather than style 1 lettering is discussed above. They were sent back to the engraver, heated and softened, then punched with an 8 with the intent that dies should be dated bearing the year that they are used. As I’ll discuss later, this adherence to the law concerning dating was only casually observed.

Group 3: Style I Hair, Style 2 Lettering, Large 8s:

This group contains two varieties employing two different obverse dies. These two obverses continue to use the large 8, which is noticeably larger than the other digits. I haven’t read any theories as to why the 8 is larger on these and the preceding dies while subsequent dies, except one, use a smaller 8. No half dollars were minted bearing the date 1798 so it may or may not be the half dollar 8 punch. I don’t believe the large 8 is the same as used on 1798 Draped Bust Dollars. The dollars that I have seen have a noticeably different style 8 which is taller and thinner with oval loops rather than the round loops on the large cent 8 punch. There is no evidence that the large 8 punch broke and was replaced with a different, smaller 8, either. Further research may shed some light on the reason for these different 8 punches.

Group 4: Style I Hair, Style 2 Lettering, Small 8’s:

This group contains twelve varieties employing eight different obverse dies. This group is also the first to contain the reused 1796 reverses and in addition, contains both NC varieties. The classification of the cents up to this point, along with the emission sequence, seems straightforward and logical. This group however is hard to fit into a neat sequence. The annual yellow fever epidemics prevalent in Philadelphia in the late 18th and early 19th centuries may hold the explanation. After the epidemic of 1796, the Mint Director, Elias Boudinot, successfully petitioned Congress to give him the authority to close the mint during an epidemic if the severity warranted. In 1798, yet another epidemic broke out in Philadelphia, which was particularly severe, and the Director closed the mint for three months beginning August 20th . Although the mint had closed for a month in 1797 due to yellow fever, it didn’t completely shut down. In fact, Adam Eckfeldt, Henry Voight, and Albion Cox remained behind to carry on some of the mint duties. During the 1798 shutdown however, the mint completely ceased to operate. Among other things, all usable dies were boxed up and shipped to the Bank of the United States for safekeeping. Apparently, the reverse dies used in 1796 were among the dies deemed usable and boxed up with the others. When the mint reopened in November, whatever dies were on hand were used, which accounts for the odd pairings of 1798 obverses with 1796 reverses. In addition, this probably accounts for the rusted dies used in this group, which were not stored properly during the shutdown.

Group 5: Style 2 Hair, Style 2 Lettering, Large 81s:

This group contains three varieties employing one obverse die. I believe this obverse die may have been completed and used before the dies in the previous group. It’s well documented by Sheldon and Breen that the style 1 hair punch, or matrix, began to break sometime in mid 1798. This is evident by several obverses in the preceding group with style 1 hair that have the top of the hair unfinished where the matrix had chipped. This necessitated the creation of a new matrix and the style 2 hair punch was created. I believe that when dies were created, they were not created one at a time. Instead, four or five dies were probably made at the same time, which would have been more efficient. This would create a reserve of five to ten unused dies on hand at any given time. I suspect that several style 1 hair dies were being created, the matrix broke, the style 2 hair matrix was created, then more obverse dies were created with the new matrix. All of these dies were dated 179_ and kept together until ready to be used. During this time, style 1 hair dies with the large 8 continued in service. When a new die was needed, I believe a style 2 hair die, the one from this group, was pulled from the shelf, possibly along with one or more style 1 hair dies. These dies were punched with a large 8 and put into service. I believe this puts the obverse die from this group chronologically before the dies from the previous group. I believe the chronological sequence can better be determined by the 8 punch rather than the hair style, because the 8 was punched in immediately prior to use, whereas the creation of a die up to this point may have included a period of several months where the die sat on a shelf waiting to be used. This theory assumes that a clean chronological break occurred between the use of the large 8 and small 8. 1 think with the evidence we have that this is more likely than assuming a clean chronological break between the style 1 and style 2 hair punches.

Group 6: Style 2 Hair, Style 2 Lettering, Small 8’s:

This group contains twenty varieties employing thirteen different obverse dies. This is by far the largest of the groups of 1798 cents and the hardest to attribute. The majority of cents in this group were probably minted in 1799. The delivery records from the mint show 979,510 cents delivered in 1798 and 904,585 cents delivered in 1799. As even the casual cent collector knows, the 1799 cents are considerably rarer than the cents of 1798. Breen speculates that 42,540 cents were coined with the 1799 perfect date obverse die. There were also 1799/8 cents coined and die break progression on the two reverse dies used proves that these cents were coined before some of the 1798 varieties. One of the varieties in this group also employs a reused 1796 reverse, which was used after the obverse had already been paired with 1798 reverses. Based on this information, it’s hard to classify this odd paring as a result of the reopening of the mint after the yellow fever epidemic of 1798. Perhaps it was an odd pairing after the 1799 epidemic. I’m sure we’ll never know for certain. It’s curious that the mint at times took great pains to overdate usable dies, to conform to the law requiring coinage to bear the current year, but at other times continued to strike coins with dies dated the previous year, such as the 1798 cents. I suppose we’ll never know exactly why. Perhaps it was left up to the engraver or coiner to make the decision. Perhaps it had something to do with the Director’s unofficial policy. Once Robert Patterson assumed the position of Mint Director in 1805, the practice largely stopped. This is just another of the mysterious intricacies of the early cents.

On a final historical note, I own a copy of the Worcester Gazette dated October 3rd , 1798. it includes the following: “State of the Fever: In Philadelphia, it has not at all abated. The number of deaths, from the 1 9th of September, at noon, to the 2e at noon, was 517. The number of new cases reported in the same time, was 658. By this statement, it appears, that nearly four fifths of those, who are taken with the disorder, die.”

Entries were also made for New York, Wilmington, New London, and Boston.

An ad states: “Ran away on the night of the 19th of August, a lad, named Moses Stone, 19 years old. Whoever will take up said runaway, and return him to the subscriber, shall have one cent reward. Seth Stone.” I wonder if it was a 1798 Draped Bust Cent!

I currently have four of the 46 varieties – an S171, S182, S185, and S186. All are in the VG to Fine range. I would really like to build a choice Fine to VF set, but I’m sure I’ll be limited by the availability of nice coins, not to mention my finances. Oh well. As Sheldon observes, you can’t shoot an 18 in a round of golf but you can go from 90 to 80- I’ll have to keep that in mind as I build my set. Wish me luck!

Descriptive vs. Numerical Grading

Mexico gold

Ambiguity in grading can be the bane of your existence when perusing coin ads, whether it be a print ad, eBay description or a dealer’s scribbled notation on a 2×2 coin holder. Among the most misleading grading terms are Select, Choice and Gem. These terms usually refer to some degree of the Uncirculated grade and have been in use for decades. For this reason, we can safely say with a bit of certainty that not all dealers who use these terms are intentionally trying to mislead. But it is up to you, the collector, to determine for yourself the level of comfort with which you can transact business.

The above terms are examples of descriptive grading. Numerical grading is much more precise. Rather than describing a coin as Select Brilliant Uncirculated (or Select BU), numerical grading should represent the same coin as Mint State 62 (MS62) or so. Descriptive grading allows for much more leeway in the range of a grade. Numerical grading is specific.

So what can you expect when an ad reads “Choice BU Morgan Dollars, grades our choice”? In a perfect world you should receive a nice mix of MS63 to MS64 common date Morgan dollars at a fair price. However, the term “Choice” has no definitive grade range and so a disreputable dealer can be less than honest when selecting your “Choice” purchase. “Select”, “Gem”, High End” and all those other descriptive terms we run into have no specific numerical equivalent either.

Because these descriptive terms have been in use at least since the beginning of modern coin collecting (some of the earliest American auction catalogs from the 1850’s contain them), you can reasonably expect a certain level of quality when these terms are used. Generally:

“BU” or “Select BU” would indicate a range of MS60 to MS62.

“Choice BU” in the range of MS63 to 64.

“Gem BU” in the range of MS65 or higher.

Again, by no means is any equivalency between  numerical and descriptive grading written in stone. When you accept an offer involving descriptive grading, you need to be aware that the level of quality you receive is open to the dealer’s interpretation of that term and it may differ greatly from your own. The best investment you can make to avoid ugly surprises when purchasing coins sight unseen is to educate yourself and learn how to grade. Below are three excellent guides to help you!

MAKING THE GRADE: Comprehensive Grading Guide for U.S. Coins

ANA Grading Standards for United States Coins: American Numismati Association (Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins)

Photograde: Official Photographic Grading Guide for United States Coins, 19th Edition

 

And Now A Word From John Kraljevich…

1834 Half Cent obvMany of you are probably already familiar with John Kraljevich. John is a professional numismatist, researcher, and cataloger specializing in early American coinage and ephemera. In addition he is a very entertaining individual. If you haven’t visited John’s website, http://jkamericana.com, you are truly missing out on an excellent place to land for an afternoon.

In the April 28, 2008 issue of CoinWorld John wrote an article entitled “Understanding Context”. I can remember thinking how much this article mirrored my own philosophy of coin collecting, and how much more eloquently John explained it than I could. John has graciously allowed me to reprint that article here, a perfect fit for Numistories. Thanks John!

“Archaeologists are obsessive about context. While an object may be interesting, when divorced from its context even the best object is but a stepchild. In archaeological terms, context means all the stuff that surrounds an object – where in the ground it was found, what that patch of ground has to do with the patches of ground around it, the depth of the find and thus the approximate era of its deposit, and more.

Collectors tend to be of a different mind – it’s all about the object. A coin is to be enjoyed because of, for lack of a better term, its “coinness” – its condition and designs and legends and metal and color and everything else collectors might enjoy about a coin. A story is nice, but the vast majority of collectible coins  – even those from the historically rich early American era – tell only a brief story.

Through my own collecting and interaction with collectors, I’ve found that placing a bit of context with the coins immeasurably enriches the objects.

The most obvious context is the broad historical narrative surrounding them. Knowing about the provisions in the Articles of Confederation allowing Connecticut to coin its own coppers, knowing about the proportion of British halfpence in circulation, and understanding the profit-center economics of coining underweight coppers all add to the story. Having a “hook” with a human connection makes the story even better, such as knowing that the Connecticut copper may well have been struck with copper misappropriated from the federal government and originally intended for the production of Fugio coppers.

Such stories make the coin a bit more alive, make it into a genuine historical bookmark allowing the owner to open the correct page in the long saga of American history.

What kind of stuff can collectors of early American numismatic items place with their coins to further provide historical context?

Some collectors are fond of collecting almanacs, particularly those that state the value of one type of coin in reference to another. While we seek to uplift our coins, sometimes returning our coins to their natural habitats as low-down, dirty pocket change make their history come truly alive. If you can, read Colonial-era newspapers and other contemporary documents. Seek out other objects that may further shed light on the world your coins inhabited.

Seeing the context can make your coin collecting become much more fun and rewarding.

The Jefferson Davis “Death to Traitors” Medal

1861JDOne comes across some very interesting things at a coin show. And after years of traveling to different shows and meeting the many interesting characters that make up the world of coin dealers, one comes to expect the odd and seldom seen from certain of these gentlemen (and ladies). One of these is John Kraljevich. John is younger than you would expect when envisioning a “coin dealer”, but his depth of knowledge of all things common or esoteric belies his lack of years. Take a look at John’s website, jkamericana.com , and you will get some idea of the breadth of John’s expertise.

So last year at a coin show in Buffalo, New York I came to John’s table, knowing full well that he would have amazing things I had never seen before, from contemporary counterfeit Spanish coins to huge, thick medals commemorating some 19th century camera club event. Seriously, check the archives on his site! Anyway, on this occasion I spotted this little brass coin with a depiction of a hanged man on the obverse with “Jefferson Davis” above and the date “1861” below. On the reverse was the legend “Death to Traitors” in three lines. Being a history nut and not really having anything from the Civil War era, I was smitten. I could even overlook the unsightly hole drilled clear through the coin at 12 o’clock.

Well John was a busy man and I didn’t want to take up his time by grilling him when others were vying for his time. We had met on a few previous occasions so I said hello, good to see you, plunked down my money and happily went on my way with my new acquisition.

Fast forward to a couple of days later and my first opportunity to sit down and research my purchase. Just out of curiosity, I drop by John’s website and there is my coin! In John’s inimitable style, he had written this thought provoking description:

“A scarce and popular medalet from the dawn of the Civil War, showing President Jefferson Davis hanging on the obverse, a scene that wins some sort of numismatic prize for lack of subtlety…a specimen like this must hide an interesting story of a vociferous Unionist, perhaps a soldier, who was so moved by this medalet that he wore it for what must have been most of the conflict.”

How’s that for an interesting description? A little more research brought some enlightening background to the manufacturer of this piece. From www.americanhistoy.si.edu :

“This medal was made by the Scovill Manufacturing Company of Waterbury, CT around 1861. The Scovill Company was established in 1802 as a button manufacturer that is still in business today. Scovill was an early industrial American innovator, adapting armory manufacturing processes to mass produce a variety of consumer goods including buttons, daguerreotype mats, and medals. This medal was struck in reaction to the secession of the Confederacy and the election of its President, Jefferson Davis.”

At your next show, be on the lookout for dealers like John. Your collecting interests can take a new and fascinatingly dramatic turn!

A Numistories Quiz and Giveaway!

R8 q113

 

Hugh Bodell is a friend of mine who creates quizzes for publication in the Early American Coppers (EAC) Region 8 newsletter for which I write. He has graciously allowed me to reproduce one of his quizzes here for the first  Numistories Giveaway! Here’s how it works:

Have a look at the above coin and answer the following questions:

1. This is:

a) an early date

b) an over date

c) a draped bust

d) all of the above

2. What variety is this?

3. What hair style is this?

Whoever submits the correct answers by March 15th wins issues 256 through 261 (all the issues from 2010!) of the EAC  publication Penny-Wise. Each issue runs around 60 pages and is full of excellent articles on colonial and early American copper coinage. It’s a great introduction to the world of EAC. In the event of a tie, the winner will be drawn from the pool of correct submissions.

Simply fill out the form below and submit your answers before 3/15/13. Good luck!

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Your Answers

 

Counterstamped Coins – The References

Ever since I brought up the topic of counterstamped (or countermarked) coins in my earlier blog post, Counterstamped Coins – Twice The History, the responses, questions and comments have flooded in. Apparently there is a large following of this very interesting sub-genre of collecting, and a severe lack of material on the subject. At least, that’s what I understand from the responses that I’ve received. Counterstamped coins were never a focus of my own collecting. They were always more of a curiosity, something occasionally encountered at a show or shop, an enigmatic circle of copper or silver that someone long ago put their name or business to in an effort to drum up some business.

When I acquired my old Sloop Halfpenny it lay in my collection for quite some time before the research bug bit me and I began searching for T.F. Haywood. The inspiration came from an article by Q. David Bowers which appeared in “The Token: America’s Other Money”, a collection of essays published by the American Numismatic Society in 1994. Bowers’ 48 page contribution entitled “Two Coins In One: Large Cents With Interesting Counterstamps” was the only information I had found dealing with these interesting artifacts. When the responses started coming in regarding the posts I had written about counterstamps, I knew many people would probably appreciate some direction in their pursuit of more information on the topic. Here’s what I’ve found. Happy hunting!

1. American and Canadian Countermarked Coins by Gregory C. Brunk

This is THE countermark reference. When you find a counterstamped coin for sale by a reputable dealer, you find a reference to Brunk. A hard to find reference, most easily found in your local library. Copies can occasionally be found on Amazon or eBay. If you are having particular difficulty locating a copy, contact publisher Rich Hartzog at exonumia.com. Historical information and a comprehensive price guide are features of the newest edition. Also check for the title “Merchant and Privately Countermarked Coins: Advertising On The World’s Smallest Billboards”.

2. Merchant Counterstamps on American Silver Coins by Maurice M. Gould

A short, descriptive volume on the counterstamps common on early American and Spanish silver coins.

3. World Countermarks on Medieval and Modern Coins: An Anthology by Gregory C. Brunk

An excellent hardcover anthology, 400 pages in length, showcasing articles from the venerable publication “The Numismatist”. If you are a true counterstamp addict, or just a newbie wanting all the relevant backgrounf information on this subject, dive into this one!

4.The Token: America’s Other Money, edited by Richard G. Doty, Coinage of the America’s Conference #10

This is a sweet little hardback with essays by many of the greats of numismatics covering topics from encased postage advertising to advertising tokens and counterstamps. The pertinent essay by Bowers begins on page 65 and runs for the next 48 pages, shedding light on many aspects og the counterstamp how, why and who.

The historical implications of these coins is overwhelming. Be sure to read my adventure in discovering the identity of T.F. Haywood in my previous post, link provided above. If you truly want to broaden your collecting horizons, this area of numismatics is for you!

5 More Essential Books for Your Colonial Coin Library

If you enjoyed part 1 of this post last month, then be warned that we’re about to get even more esoteric. We covered some great general references in part 1 and now it’s time to look at some specific attribution guides for specific coin series’. In the world of eBay these guides can be very beneficial in scoring rare varieties at great prices. Knowledge IS power!

Also be warned that some of these books are difficult to locate. Where possible, I have provided links to the sites where you might find them available, but because of their very limited printings, they typically disappear quickly.

1. New Jersey Coppers by Michael Demling

I’m very partial to New Jersey coppers. This book has been an incredible help to me over the last year. Mike Demling’s attribution technique and large photos make this volume a huge improvement over the Maris guide which was published back in 1881. Long overdue, you can’t find a better guide to this fascinating series. Click on the above title for a review and ordering info.

2. A Historical Sketch of the Coins of New Jersey by Edward Maris

Also known as “The State Coinage of New Jersey” in recent reprints, this was the first ever numismatic publication on the coppers of New Jersey. Originally published back in 1881, the volume has gone through many versions but is very difficult to track down. Though somewhat overshadowed by Michael Demling’s new book, Maris’ effort is very interesting for its historical value and huge attribution plate depicting 140 obverse and reverse combinations.

3. The Copper Coins of Vermont and Those Bearing the Vermont Name by Tony Carlotto

Unfortunately, this is one volume I don’t own. What I can say is that Tony Carlotto is a highly respected member of the Colonial Coin Collector Club, or C4, and at 218 pages, this book is considered THE definitive guide to Vermont coppers.

4. The State Coinage of Connecticut by Henry C. Miller

This one is tough to track down but the above site link occasionally has the hardback version in stock at a great price. Miller allows the Connecticut copper lover to make sense of the hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of varieties through identification of the many odd and interesting punctuations between words in the obverse and reverse legends. A must have if you’re into Connecticuts!

5. The Copper Coins of Massachusetts by Hillyer Ryder

Originally published in 1920, this short 11 page guide can be found as a decent reprint. As the first American coins to be designated as “cents” (and half cents) this is a neat series with some interesting varieties.

5 Essential Books for Your Colonial Coin Library, Part I

Easton, Pennsylvania, 1783. You are frustrated. Your paper currency, issued by your “government”, has been deemed almost worthless by the merchants in your state. Continental Currency is worth a fraction of face value, and many merchants refuse to accept it. The New Jersey border is just a few miles away and, thankfully, your currency has a little more purchasing power over there. That’s right. The states regulate the value of your national currency. And if you’re only hard currency consists of local copper issues, chances are they’re counterfeit. If not, it may require 24, 30, or even 32 to the shilling rather than the English standard of 12. The only safe money is Spanish silver. But that’s about to change.

Fast forward 230 years to 2012, and you’ve been bitten by “the copper bug”. Half cents, large cents, Hard Times tokens, these are your fascination. You have delved into the banking crisis of the 1830’s, the copper coinage that saw the burning of Washington during the War of 1812, and the first efforts of the Philadelphia mint in its 18th century infancy. What came before? Here’s my top 10 books to bring colonial coin collecting to life.

The Early Coins of America by Sylvester S. Crosby

First published in 1873, this book was the standard reference to the colonial genre for decades. This is not an attribution guide, but a solid introduction to the coinage of colonial America. Each series is described in detail with extensive historical background provided as well. An essential reference that is still a must for the collector 140 years later.

Money of the American Colonies and Confederation (Numismatic Studies (ANSNS))

Here is a book that places pre Federal coinage in its historical, political and economic context, providing a deep understanding of the environment in which our national coinage was shaped. An essential volume for the collector who is dissatisfied with simply owning a a group of round pieces of metal and wants to gain a better appreciation of the coins and their time.

Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins

Back in January of 2010 I did a review on this excellent book by one of my favorite authors, Q. David Bowers. For more on this reference, here’s the link!

John Hull, the Mint and the Economics of Massachusetts Coinage

Louis Jordan provides us with a clear interpretation of the daily operation of the Massachusetts mint established in 1652. His sources include John Hull’s actual ledgers which provide incredible insight to Hull’s business practices, the economic environment of the time, and the productivity and profitability he was able to establish. One can also gain an understanding of the role Spanish silver played in 17th century North America and the obstacles Hull had to overcome to compete with this most popular medium of exchange.

In Yankee Doodle’s Pocket, the Myth, Magic, and Politics of Money in Early America

Here’s one I don’t own…yet! I do know from viewing the table of contents and a few reviews that this has something for everyone. From beaver pelts and wampum to the advent of steam coinage in 1830, any lover of colonial coinage OR colonial history should be able to find a topic of interest in this 541 page reference. If you’re a newcomer to the money of America’s colonies, this should be a great place to start!

That wraps up Part I of my essential books for your Colonial coin library. You’ll notice that the above 5 books give a broad view of the coins and their times. In Part II we will look at some specific attribution guides to help you identify those rare and not so rare varieties of your colonial coin series of choice!

 

 

 

Your Guide to the Standard Reference Books on Early American Copper: The Top Ten

For the uninitiated, the world of early American copper can be a confusing place. The fledgling United States was decidedly behind their European contemporaries in minting technology and resources. The Philadelphia mint suffered for lack of good die steel, quality planchets, and skilled labor. As a result, those of us who collect the half cents and large cents of the late 18th and early 19th centuries have a vast number of distinct varieties to draw our attention. Consider: the 1794 large cent alone has 58 different varieties!

Luckily there are many excellent standard references to assist us in navigating the myriad possibilities open to us in this fascinating field of numismatics. Here are the meat and potatoes books to illuminate your path.

1.The Half Cent Die State Book 1793-1857

Since its publication in 2000, this volume has become THE half cent attribution book. Each variety is illustrated with multiple plates and individual die states are described for each variety as well. The research is far superior to Breen.

2. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents, 1793-1857

For a complete review of this book, see my review post here.

3. American half cents, the “little half sisters”: A reference book on the United States half cent coined from 1793 to 1857

This was the original attribution guide for U.S. half cents. Somewhat obsolete, the volume still has much merit and should be a part of every half cent lover’s library if for no other reason than to compare and contrast with the newer references.

4. WALTER BREEN’S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY UNITED STATES CENTS 1793-1814

Published in 2001 in collaboration with Del Bland and Mark Borckardt, this is by far the most current reference for early large cents. Not only are all known varieties illustrated and described but there are also many additional chapters on minting technology, mint errors, and much more.

5. United States Large Cents 1793 – 1814

From EAC: “A revision of Sheldon’s “Penny Whimsy”. Updated rarity ratings and condition census data for all varieties. Contains approximately a dozen new varieties not in Penny Whimsy. Superb 3 inch diameter plates of obverse and reverse of each variety with lots of additional plates for important die states.”

6. Penny Whimsy

The standard reference on early date large cents from 1958 until the Noyes update. Still very adequate today, though some newly discovered varieties are not represented.

7. United States Large Cents 1816 – 1839

Like his early date volume, this reference features huge 3 inch diameter plates of the obverse and reverse of every middle date variety. The Noyes books make attribution easy. Rarity ratings and condition census data are also a plus.

8. The Cent Book 1816 – 1839

This is my middle date reference of choice, simply because I’m so familiar with it. Like Noyes, every variety is illustrated front and back by large 3 inch photos. Historical information is plentiful and the included quick finder section is simple and easy to use. General condition census info and updated rarity ratings are included.

9. Attribution Guide for United States Large Cents 1840-1857 by John R. Grellman & Jules Riever

Unfortunately, I cannot locate a copy of this book to review it properly. However, every late date collector I know highly recommends it.

10. The Die Varieties of United States Large Cents, 1840-1957

Again, from EAC: “A 400+ page book which greatly improves upon the Newcomb book by the use of high quality line drawings for each variety. Contains much more descriptive data on each variety than found in Newcomb. One full page is devoted to each variety. Attribution of late date large cents has been greatly simplified by the use of this book.”

Hopefully this will help fuel interest in the early copper coinage of the United States. Next week we will discuss some of the important references available to those with a colonial bent. Colonial coinage has been gaining in popularity over the last 3 to 5 years and there are still some very affordable areas in which to concentrate your interest. If you love early American history and want to become a caretaker of these relics of our past, arm yourself with this knowledge. Enjoyment awaits!

Bonding With Our Coins by James Higby

Image courtesy of auctionshelp.com

This story comes from fellow Early American Coppers member James Higby. His experiences mirror our own as we become custodians of our little pieces of history. This article originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of Penny-Wise, the quarterly EAC newsletter, and is reprinted with the permission of Early American Coppers, Inc.

There I sat, toward the end of the first day of a two-day show, having found nothing for the
collection. Even Tom Reynolds’s copper stock, always broad and deep, had failed to yield any
needed variety, at least in the way-down-low state of preservation to which I have had to resort
in these latter days of collection-building. Tom had a corner setting at this particular show, with
what I call his “cheap seats” (where I was firmly ensconced) down the aisle, and his more
stratospheric items on the endcap table. Just for fun, I craned my neck over to the more pricey
Boardwalk/Park Place area, where he also displays his slabs, and, squinting mightily, thought I
spied an item that had twice eluded me in the past – a silver dollar bearing the mystical date of
1799. The more recent of those second-place finishes had found me on cellphone hold with a
favorite dealer, who, when he came back to my call and heard what I wanted, had to tell me that
he wished I had initiated my call 13 seconds sooner. Yes, there I sat, remembering all that, and
loaded for bear.

The chairs at Tom’s end table were occupied, so he obliged my request that he get it out of
the case for me. What a beauty it was in its PCGS holder, with its original color and surfaces,
plus a delightful array of die cracks here and there on the obverse (did I just now prematurely
betray that I brought it home with me?)! I quickly became oblivious to my surroundings, going
over the coin again and again, as Bill Noyes advises in the introduction to his books, to find any
and all defects that might be there. I must have flipped the slab between obverse and reverse two
dozen times, before another EAC member and friend sitting next to me leaned over and wryly
observed, “You’re bonding with that coin, aren’t you?” That was the first time I had ever been
asked that question. I responded with another question: “How did you know?” “I recognize the
look,” was his answer.

Suddenly a host of questions coursed through my mind: Was I sweating, or worse, drooling?
Could he somehow detect my elevated adrenaline level from afar? Were my increased pulse and
blood pressure observable from the outside? Was I [gasp] breathing heavily? Or babbling
meaningless syllables? Was I “sugaring the strawberries,” as the French refer to tremors of the
hands? Was I humming my college fight song without realizing it? No, a quick check answered
in the negative to all. But I’m still not really sure. In any event, thanks to Jeff Noonan for
identifying and naming this phenomenon and inspiring this essay.

All of us have probably observed it in others, even if we are not aware of it in ourselves. We
have watched someone else sitting at a dealer’s table, mulling over a potential purchase,
justifying and rationalizing until the decision is made. Some of these potential buyers maintain a
constant patter of verbal interchange with themselves and with the dealer, while others, such as I,
contemplate the purchase in silence. The painful part, handing over the wad of greenbacks or
writing out the check, is mercifully over in practically no time, and the coin is now his/ours. We
then relive the many times we have gone through the exact same sequence of activity in adding a
coin to our collection. Into a secure place in the coin bag it goes, along with assorted other things
that have attracted our fancy at the show. When it’s time to go home, the coin bag is kept close at
hand, just in case we have an opportunity to cop a quick glance at our new treasure while sitting
at a red light or other suitable time. The bonding continues…

It seems that the return to the home domicile is always accompanied by many distractions:
wife and kids to greet, mail to sort through, dog to wrestle with, voice mail to triage, weekend
“work” emails (don’t those guys ever take a day off?) and plumbing emergencies to handle. “Oh,
and your Mom called, twice. She didn’t say what she wanted.” As we go about the fulfillment of
these obligations, we do not forget that a fresh bonding session eventually awaits us. But it may
be hours before we can get back to the coin cache, or, if it was a Sunday show, maybe days.

Ah, finally, it’s Wednesday evening, the most urgent obligations of the work week have been
dispatched, the kids are off to jobs and music lessons, we’re caught up on at least some of the
reading material, and find ourselves in the sole company of Fido, now fed and pottied and
contentedly chewing on a rawhide bone. We remember the treasures we brought home from that
now long-ago weekend coin show. We rescue the coin bag from behind some things that have
accumulated in front of it: our bowling bag from Monday evening, our briefcase containing work
we really should be doing instead of looking at coins, and our son’s guitar case that he just didn’t
have time to put away. But once we dig into the special compartment reserved for the latest
acquisitions and carefully draw them out, we know we’re in for a pleasant evening.

Old copper coins are such easy things to bond with! Perhaps more than any other early
American coins, they have both the look and feel of times gone by. The fact that they were used
by rich and common people alike adds to their appeal. Far from being flashy, they look humble
themselves, sometimes worthy of our pity as much as our admiration. Unaffected by the current
spot price of bullion, they have to stand entirely on their own merit. But there was that something
about these coppers from the show that especially attracted our attention, so we afford them extra
time. We wonder if Lady Liberty feels the same about us as we feel about her.

When I have several new coins to look at in a single session, I like to get them all out and
arrange them in some sort of symmetrical pattern on the top of my desk and under the bright
lamp. I try to include some of my older acquisitions so that they will all get to know each other
better. Doing so emphasizes the spectacular range of colors that old copper takes on, and the less
attractive ones are somehow acquitted of the charges against them and validated by their
acceptance into the company of the nicer pieces. After all, they might just have feelings, and I
wish all my coins to feel good about themselves while they are in my custody.

So, I bond with them. The more I do it, the easier it becomes, for me and for them. As coins
become harder and harder to locate and buy, the realization grows that I might be coming closer
to the time when new purchases are fewer and farther between, all the more reason to fall more
deeply in love with the ones I have managed to make part of my life. At some future time each of
us will purchase our “last” coin, usually without knowing that it is our “last.” Perhaps more true
than with any other series, we buy our coppers less for financial gain, and more for highly
emotional reasons. Thus should we gather our coppers while we may, and make it a point to find
the time to spend with them and strengthen the bond we have made with them across the
centuries.

Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents

In last week’s post, “An 1809 Half Cent from eBay“, I mentioned as my attribution guide “Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents”. Published in 1983 and weighing in at almost seven pounds (!), this book is an excellent update to the original half cent book by Roger S. Cohen, “American Half Cents, the Little Half Sisters”.

The main strength of this book is of course the illustration and description of each known variety, organized by date and cross referenced to earlier works. Each variety commands multiple pages and plates. Not only are the variety markers described but die states are also illustrated along with easy to follow descriptions. Breen also provides rarity ratings for each variety and die state, condition census information, and auction appearances for the finest known specimens.

Breen’s chapters on minting technology, the literature that was published prior to this book, and the history behind the half cent are excellent reading, even if some of the information is out of date. Breen wrote in a very readable and conversational style, to the point that you can envision a sly sideways glance that would probably follow a particular statement.

For all its positive points there are a couple of drawbacks. Breen’s habit of speculating when source material is lacking or absent is apparent, though this doesn’t detract from the attribution portion of the book. In addition, the auction records and rarity ratings are somewhat dated. One needs to keep in mind that this book was published almost 30 years ago. Subsequent discoveries and new attributions change these statistics over time.

All in all, “Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents” is an outstanding attribution guide and an entertaining read. It’s also one of the more affordable numismatic volumes at around $50 for a new hardcover copy. If your interest in these fascinating early American coins is new, or if you are a long time collector, this book should be the foundation of your half cent library.

 

An 1809 Half Cent from eBay

As a break from my usual posts, I thought it might be fun to present a coin and explain my thought process when I was contemplating the purchase. A perfect opportunity presented itself when I recently purchased an 1809 Half Cent that had some problems off of eBay. I’ll also tell you that I overpaid. The best part is I would do it again in a minute. Here’s why!

I was browsing through some early copper auctions on eBay and came across this coin. It was listed with no attribution and no reserve. The seller also made no claims to its grade, rarity, or originality. The seller did however have many previous coin sales and a great satisfaction rating. She also offered a 7 day, no questions asked return service. These are all “must- haves” for me when I decide to turn loose of my cash for something I can only judge by a photo, which in this case was large and of good quality.

From that photo it was obvious that the coin had been cleaned. The surfaces were unnaturally red for a 200 year old coin that had seen a substantial amount of circulation. If you focus on the actual wear present on the high points of the design (hair curls, leaves of the wreath) you can see that the coin is around a low to mid VF. There’s also a scratch traveling diagonally through the I and B in LIBERTY which is fairly well hidden, ending in the hair.

So why did I buy this coin? Well I just happened to have a copy of  “Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents” (see the Resources page for a link). Breen describes 6 distinct varieties for the 1809 Half Cent, ranging from Rarity 1 (Common, more than 1250 known) to Rarity 6 (Very Rare, 13 to 30 known). From the diagnostics on this coin I attributed it to be the Cohen-2 variety. The ES in STATES is punched higher than STAT and the date is punched close together and straight rather than having the 1 and 8 spaced wide apart. This particular variety is listed as a high Rarity 3, nearly Rarity 4 in the Breen Encyclopedia. A fairly scarce variety!

With shipping I ended up paying about $35 too much if this had been a common variety. But even after knocking the grade down to a Fine-12 for the problems, once I took into account the scarce variety designation, I figure I made a good purchase. In time this Half Cent will tone to a more natural color and I can live with that for the price paid. Knowledge is power!

Rarity Pt.2: Rarity Scales and Relevance

Common. Scarce. Rare. Very Rare. Unique.

 Collectors have attempted to determine the difficulty involved in obtaining the objects of their desire since collecting began. Pertaining to coins, numerous catalogers, authors, auctioneers, etc. have thrown the above descriptive words around (sometimes seemingly at random) to convey the relative scarcity of individual coins. Through the research of Dr. William H. Sheldon, the 8 point rarity scale he popularized for early date large cents around 1958 has become the most common quantitative rarity scale in use today and is commonly used for other coin issues as well. Here it is:

R8     Unique or nearly unique (1 to 3 known)
R7     Extremely Rare (4 to 12 known)
R6     Very Rare (13 to 30 known)
R5     Rare (31 to 75 known)
R4     Very Scarce (76 to 200 known)
R3     Scarce (201 to 500 known)
R2     Uncommon (501 to 1250 known)
R1     Common (More than 1250 known)

It’s important to understand that coins can move between rarity levels depending on new discoveries. Previously unknown examples come to auction frequently, and other events such as hoard discoveries have contributed to this in the past as well. Another important point is that these upper and lower limits are estimates. Any rarity scale will be imperfect. The idea is to take rarity out of the realm of mere guesswork. The true measure of the validity of the scale can only come through time, and Dr. Sheldon’s attempt has held up well when compared with other endeavors.

In 2009, Q. David Bowers proposed the Universal Rarity Scale in his book “The Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins”. The scale is expanded to include 16 divisions from URS-1 (unique) to URS-16 (16000 to 31999 known), each successive division doubling the one prior.

Back in the first part of this effort to define rarity I mentioned a question that came to me from Robert Wasserman. He wanted to know how rare in general Massachusetts Pine Tree coinage was thought to be. I would say that the vast majority of Pine Tree coins in existence today are of the shilling denomination and that the average variety falls somewhere between Bowers’ URS-10 and URS-11. So for the series, the varieties most people are apt to own have around 250 to 1000 examples in existence.

And now to put this topic to bed, here’s a quote from Jack Robinson’s new edition of “Copper Quotes by Robinson” : “No one really knows what rarities are. They were assigned a long time ago. They have been modified as populations became better defined and identified…Maybe they are in the ground, oxidizing away, or in undiscovered drawers…but by any stretch, they are speculative.”

EAC 2011: A Big Thank You To All My New Friends

This past week my wife, Wendy, and I traveled to Portland, OR for the 2011 Early American Coppers Convention. This was the first opportunity we have had in the last 8 years to vacation together sans children. I had some misgivings that Wendy would enjoy an outing that was primarily a coin convention since she really has no interest in coins. But through the efforts of so many fellow members, and the wonderful hospitality extended to us both, we look forward to next year’s convention in Buffalo, NY with equal anticipation, if nothing more than to reconnect with our new friends.

We arrived Monday evening and had a quick, easy ride on Portland’s Max Light Rail to the Doubletree Hilton Hotel. Let me just say that I have never slept better in any hotel in my life! With a few days to go until the convention, Wendy and I headed downtown on Tuesday for a leisurely self guided tour of the city’s various pubs and eateries (once again thanks to Max Light Rail). Davis Street Tavern was the first stop, Kell’s Irish Pub, Powell’s Book Store (pack light, you’re hauling home some books!), and then on to Henry’s Tavern. Hats off to Kell’s! Fish and chips, lamb stew, shepherd’s pie, beer I can’t get in PA, ’nuff said!

Wednesday featured an outstanding 9 mile hike through Silver Falls State Park courtesy of Jerry Bobbe. Harry and Phyllis Salyards struck up a conversation with us on the bus and never hesitated to stop and talk with us throughout our trip. I lost count of all the waterfalls but I’ll never forget the lunch of pastrami sandwiches and the most amazing trail mix ever, eaten in a cave behind an enormous waterfall. Thanks Jerry, Larry, and Ricky for shepherding us slow computer geeks out of the ravine and up 271 steps!

Thursday was kicked off by a grading and counterfeit detection seminar by Steve Carr and Doug Bird. Wendy sat this one out but I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to learn about EAC grading and actually grade and compare 31 Half and Large Cents. I sat next to Bill Eckberg, the Region 8 administrator, who was very friendly and forthcoming with his information. At the kickoff reception that night, Wendy and I met Brad and Dee Vries. Brad, who had several coins consigned to the Saturday auction, showed us a refrigerator magnet he made out of a damaged 1794 Large Cent. How cool?

Friday was spent on the bourse lusting after coins I had no chance of owning (yet). I met too many big names to list but every one of them had time for my questions. Jack Robinson, you are a gentleman. I was  short a little cash to purchase the new CQR, yet you said, “Go ahead, I’m sure I’ll catch you.”, and then you threw in two back issues just for reference! And Jack Beymer, back in 1977 or so you were my first mail order purchase, a 1868 three cent nickel, and yet you treated me like an old friend!

Out of all the educational seminars, I only managed to attend one. Buell Ish, from the Colonial Coin Collectors Club, gave a great talk on how to form an interesting New Jersey type collection. The seminar was well attended and Buell stuck around afterwards to speak with any individuals who had questions or comments. Buell also moderated the CCCC meeting Saturday morning, a small meeting but very enjoyable. His seminar will probably be the topic of another upcoming post (with permission of course).

It was also Friday that I set my sights on several coins at the lot viewing for the Saturday auction. 12 coins met my criteria but my wallet didn’t meet theirs! That evening Wendy and I attended the EAC dinner in honor of author John Wright. John’s stories entertained and educated us all, even Wendy and the other wives who tolerate us self proclaimed numismatists, a better term for the obsessive compulsive basket cases we really are!

Saturday Rob Norvich and his wife Nikki treated us to a waterfall tour (by bus) located in the Columbia River Gorge. One word describes Oregon’s forests: primeval. At any time you fully expect a Velociraptor to step out onto the trail. It’s amazing. And once again everyone on the tour treated us like old friends, even though this was our first EAC convention.

The Saturday night auction was exciting to say the least. Out of those 12 lots I had marked in my catalog, I ended up with 3. Lot #7, a 1786 NJ copper, quickly fell into my hands, followed by a beautiful 1834 Half Cent, and a 1800/79 Large Cent in VG. Look for future posts about the history of these coins here!

Sunday arrived and the convention came to an end. I caught John Wright and his wife Mabel after the Annual Meeting and purchased a copy of John’s book from him. We exchanged email addresses and John took a look at my acquisitions from the previous night. After looking at my 1800/79 Large Cent John told me I have a good eye. Coming from John, I couldn’t have asked for a greater compliment!

A special thanks to Bim Gander and his wife Cindy. Bim, who organized the convention and now serves as the club’s VP, met me in the elevator Tuesday night and made it a point to inquire numerous times as to how Wendy and I were enjoying ourselves throughout the week. I look forward to becoming more involved with this wonderful club in the future and hope that our experiences serve to drive more interested souls to join EAC.

Rarity: A Complex Topic

For some time now I’ve been considering how best to approach an article on rarity. The longer I thought (and read) about it, the more I realized how complex the topic actually is. There are so many factors that contribute to the relative scarcity of any one particular date, variety, or series. In addition, we now have something called “condition rarity”, a subset that has grown out of the advent of third party grading services such as PCGS, NGC, and ANACS to name a few.

When Robert Wasserman, a reader here on Numistories, commented on my post “The Pine Tree Coins of Massachusetts” I decided the topic of rarity had to be addressed. So thank you, Robert ,  for the final push. Hopefully what follows will answer your questions!

Many beginner numismatists make the assumption that the sole deciding factor in how rare a particular coin is would be the mintage figures found easily in the Red Book. But if this were the case, we would expect, for example, a 1901-S Morgan Dollar with a mintage of 2,284,000 to be about as hard to find as a 1973 Eisenhower Dollar with a mintage of 2,000,056. Here is where the concept of “surviving examples” comes in. After 110 years, how many of those 1901-S Morgans are still around? How many escaped being melted down for their bullion value as silver prices skyrocketed (relatively) in the early 20th century?

Now we know there are a lot more 1973 Ikes around nowadays. Ikes were never popular as circulating currency. They were kept as novelties for the most part which accounts for the fact that, of the 2,000,056 that were struck, the vast majority are still hanging around.

Let’s continue the Morgan/Ike comparison to shed some light on “condition rarity”. I’ll bet that if you decided to collect a set of Eisenhower Dollars, you would have no problem procuring an outstanding Mint State 1973 example for around 20 bucks. I’ll also bet that you won’t find a Mint State 1901-S Morgan without a lot of  difficulty, and definitely not for 20 bucks!  However, you could probably find a lot of Fine to Very Fine examples for around the current price of silver. Why?

Here are just a few reasons:

1. The 1901-S (San Francisco) Morgan Dollar was used heavily in local commerce. Most surviving examples are worn down by a lot of pockets.

2. In 1901, a dollar was a third of a day’s pay. These weren’t given to a child for a birthday present or tooth fairy loot. They got used and used and used.

3. In 1973 when Grandma gave you an Ike dollar for an A on your report card, you bought your comic books, the merchant deposited it in the bank, and there it sat, almost as fresh as the day it was minted.

But wait, there’s more! Sometimes this works in reverse. Let’s stick with Morgans for another paragraph. There are many dates that languished in bank vaults until the 1960’s. When these were discovered, many coins thought of as rare became quite common. And because they were never released into commerce, they are quite easy to locate today in high grade. A Very Fine example may be more difficult to find! Mint State 1881-S Morgans are easy to locate in high grades because many bags of this date never made it into circulation. A flood of silver dollars had resulted from the passage of the Bland-Allison Act of 1878 and a few years of heavy production had already met demand.

So there’s a little background, but how does it pertain to Mr. Wasserman’s question? Robert wanted to know how rare, in general, were the Pine Tree coins of Massachusetts thought to be? For the answer, look for my next post where we will discuss the Rarity Scale of Dr. William H. Sheldon and the more applicable Universal Rarity Scale of Q. David Bowers. ‘Til next time!

5 Great Early Copper Websites

Huge personnel changes at my place of employment have placed me in the position of interim General Manager and so my free time has suffered immensely. In the meantime you have all been enormously patient with me and I thank you all for that as well as the emails and comments.

First, a shoutout to all my fellow EAC members. I look forward to meeting you all in May at the 2011 Early American Coppers convention in Portland, Oregon. My wife and I will be attending and can’t wait to experience all that I’ve been reading so much about in the club’s publication “Penny-Wise”.

Speaking of EAC, here are some great websites from a few EACers. If you have a love for Colonial issues, Half Cents, or Large Cents, these are great resources for coins, information and reference materials. Some include wonderful articles and stories that shouldn’t be missed. Give them a try!

www.earlycents.com 

This is an excellent, easy to navigate site by Chris Victor-McCawley. Featured coins are accessed through the clickable links on the home page, all accompanied by large photos. Don’t miss the Fixed Price List link for a much larger selection. Coins are listed by date and variety with very detailed descriptions.

www.earlycoppercoins.com

Not only are all coins on this site accompanied by photos but Mr. Shawn Yancey includes personal articles, a link to his own collection, AND discounted pricing for EAC members. Join up and enjoy all the benefits Shawn offers our members!

www.uscents.com

This site by H. Craig Hamling features a copper coin grading guide and a tutorial on digital coin photography. Then move on to the link www.hcraig.com for the coins, all photographed and listed by date and denomination.

www.largecents.net

You’re going to love this site! Tom Deck’s articles are great. He also offers a photo service for your coins. Not only are coins offered here (all expertly photographed) but some excellent reference books are available here too.

www.earlycoppers.com

Visit this site by Tom Reynolds for reference books, colonial series, half cents, large cents, the works! Coins are accompanied by large photos and listed by type and date. Extensive offerings priced for every budget.

Big Joe’s Little Box of Coins and the French Comet

This story comes from Red Henry, a fellow Early American Coppers member. Red and I each had a coin collecting grandfather who passed a love for the hobby on to us. Enjoy, and thanks, Red, for the great story.

My grandfather Arthur Joseph Henry was born in 1891 in Lake City, Florida. Known as Joe Henry all his life, he was called “Big Joe” by the family. (This distinguished him from his oldest son and namesake, who was called Joe Baby, then Little Joe, then Doctor Joe.). Big Joe attended the University of Florida, studying accounting, engineering, and law.

As a young man, Big Joe enjoyed an active life. He entered the U.S. Army during World War I, and was sent to France and Germany. In the early 1920s, as a member of the Corps of Engineers, he surveyed for railroad lines in the jungles of Central America, and then walked across the State of Florida twice, doing survey work for a cross-Florida barge canal. Finally he left the army for good and married my grandmother, Evelyn Whitfield, in 1923.

Big Joe and Eve moved around quite a bit early in his working career, but they settled down in the mid-1930s, living with her parents in their spacious old frame house on Calhoun Street in Tallahassee. Built in 1901 with several bedrooms and called (naturally) the Big House, the place had been enlarged over the years. One addition included a bedroom and bath at the rear of the second floor. There Big Joe and Eve lived as they raised their three sons, cared for her parents, and spent the last 30 years of their lives, while Big Joe worked as an accountant for the State of Florida.

The Big House was a large and mysterious place for me to explore when I was small, but nothing there was more fascinating than what I found on a sleeping porch off my grandparents’ bedroom. There, in the top drawer of a large old-fashioned dresser, was a small cardboard jewelry-store box which contained dozens of coins. After I began collecting in 1959, my grandmother Eve gave me the wonderful box.

Those coins were small round souvenirs which Big Joe had acquired during his youth and work in many countries. Apparently he just picked up whatever caught his fancy, and the sources of several of them are mysterious. The oldest coin was a small Roman bronze from the early 300s A.D., the “Constantinople commemorative” (Seaby-3890), with a nice glossy green patina. There were small, nearly-uncirculated copper and bronze pieces from the 1800s, issued by the German states. There were several small coins from Italy, France, and Austria, along with a gold ducat from Holland, dated in the 1770s.

There were farthings or halfpennies from every British monarch beginning with George IV, who came to the throne in 1820, down to George V, who reigned during World War I. There were handsome nickel Cuban pennies in the box, along with small-denomination coins from the Dominican Republic. (These were badly worn, bringing to mind the desperate condition of the people there.) There was a nice silver Mexican dime with a neat rim cud. Among the U.S. coins were three copper-nickel Indian-head pennies, saved as curiosities.

All these coins interested me as a youngster, for I had seen nothing like them. But none of them holds more fascination for me now than three old pieces of copper.

Perhaps the most important coin in the box, by today’s standards, was an 1834 small-date cent, Newcomb-1. There is little or no wear on the coin, and it is a semi-glossy medium brown, but on the reverse there was a little residue, easily removed, of some whitish, granular stuff—perhaps the little boys, my father and his brothers, shined the coin up for fun back in the 1930s. I value it none the less for that.

Another copper item in the box had a story behind it, though I did not learn so for many years. Conder collectors will recognize this 1793 Inverness Halfpenny. The lettered edge on this example reads PAYABLE AT MACKINTOSH, INGLIS, & WILSON’S. I wondered for a long time just why Big Joe had kept this coin. Then, later in my life, I learned that among his Georgia ancestors were a family named Mackintosh, from Inverness-shire, far to the north in the rugged mountains of Scotland. “Our” Mackintoshes came to this country in Revolutionary times. Big Joe must have felt confident that some distant cousin of his had issued that copper token, although he never talked much to me either about his ancestry or about any of the coins.

Now we come to a case of parallel phenomena. First, let’s delve into Early American Copper for a bit, and discuss the 1807 Sheldon-271, the famous Comet Variety large cent.

The “American Comet,” as we may call it, is remarkable for its die break behind Ms. Liberty’s head, which looks much like a comet in the sky. (For more details about this variety and how it got its name, see my article Which Comet was It? in the January, 1999 Penny-Wise.) At top right is a photo of that distinctive die break. Note how the break extends from Ms. Liberty’s hair all the way to the rim at about 10:00, angling down slightly from left to right.

Now we come to a third item from the little box. Slightly larger than a half cent, it’s a Half Sol of the French king Louis XV, who enjoyed a long and magnificently forgettable reign long ago. The coin’s reverse bears the royal arms along with the date, 1721. The obverse features a bust of the king, his long hair elaborately styled, and the legend LUDOVICUS XV DEI gratia. So far, so good—this was all I noticed about the coin for a long time. But if we pay close attention, we will see a die break on the obverse—and suddenly it is deja vu, for we have seen nearly the same die break before.
This die break extends from the king’s hair all the way to the rim at about 10:00, angling down slightly from left to right. The position and size of the break resemble the break on our familiar S-271 so much that we could say that this is, indeed, a French Comet!

Time never stands still. Big Joe and Eve both died in the 1960s, and the vacant house was torn down. The lot was sold a few years later. Now a huge, modern brick residence stands among my great-grandparents’ gardens. But I kept a few things from the house. That little box of coins stayed with me through school and life, even as (in the customary way) I stopped collecting while college and work kept me over-occupied for 25 years. After I began collecting again at age 41, I incautiously sold the gold ducat and a few other items from the box to finance early copper purchases.

Most of Big Joe’s coins, however, are still with me, and here they will stay. The little cardboard box is gone now, but the coins rest on a tray all their own in my coin cabinet. There are 39 of them, ranging in size from the little Roman bronze to a big piece of Chinese “cash”. Few of the coins have much value in this day and age, but there’s at least one exception. I do sometimes wonder what Big Joe himself would say if he could learn of that 1834 cent’s market value today. That must be the only item from the box that is worth much now. But sometimes personal importance and market value are a long way apart, and nothing numismatic I own has fascinated me more, or taught me more over the years, than Big Joe’s little box of coins.

Counterstamped Coins – Twice the History

For the numismatist who loves the coins and history of the U.S., counterstamped coins are a dream come true. For years they were only curiosities in dealer junk boxes but now enjoy a strong following of collectors who serve to drive demand for these relics of a bygone era, as well as reveal the secrets hiding within the often mysterious words and phrases stamped into their surfaces.

In the 19th century it was very common for merchants to advertise their services by stamping coins, especially Large Cents, and passing them back into circulation. A Dr. G.G. Wilkins of Pittsfield, New Hampshire was especially prolific, stamping thousands of coins advertising various medicines and other services. Dr. Wilkins engaged in many professions including a dental practice, barber shop, saloon owner, and peddled products such as “Pure Bear’s Oil” for “what ails you”.

Political slogans were also popular, like “VOTE THE LAND FREE”. This appeared on many copper cents of 1844 and earlier. Q.David Bowers says in his book “United States Copper Coins” that this was the slogan of the Free Soil Party in the 1848 election for which Martin Van Buren was the presidential candidate. Buren campaigned on a platform that urged the prohibition of slavery.

Many coins also carry the hallmarks of silversmiths, blacksmiths, and jewelers of the day. But the advertisements for patent medicines are by far the most popular. OIL OF ICE, GOODWIN’S GRAND GREASE JUICE FOR THE HAIR, DR. KIDDER’S FAMILY PILLS, are just a few.

So back to my 1858 Flying Eagle cent. What could the stamp “PAID” possibly mean? Well I do know that hard currency, starting with silver and eventually copper, disappeared from circulation during the Civil War. It became necessary to issue paper money in denominations of less than a dollar to make up for the lack of coins because everyone was hoarding coins for their intrinsic value. Perhaps stamping hard currency received during this time with the word PAID had a particular significance to a merchant in the 1860’s or ’70’s. I may never know but it sure is fun to ponder.

A Counterstamped Flying Eagle Cent

A few years ago I picked up this Flying Eagle cent from a fellow collector. At the time I was working on a circulated set of Indian Head cents and thought I would knock out the copper-nickel dates first. I needed an 1858 Small Letters Flying Eagle but couldn’t find a nice one to match what I had already accumulated. The collection was coming together with the early dates in the Fine to Very Fine range and a friend let me know he had what I was looking for but it had “problems”. He said he’d take $12.00 for it if I was interested.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Flying Eagle design, it was the first small cent design following the Coinage Act of 1857 that abolished the Large Cent. About 1000 were struck in 1856 as presentation pieces and to educate the public who had only seen the copper cent in large format since 1793. The new design, struck in copper-nickel rather than 100% copper, was only struck through 1858 and in 1859 was changed to the familiar Indian Head.

In 1858 two very distinct obverse designs were struck, the “small letters” and “large letters” designs. The different designs are easy to recognize. On the “small letters” obverse, the A and M of AMERICA are clearly separated. On the “large letters” obverse, the A and M are connected, the lower serif on the right leg of the A touching the lower serif on the left leg of the M.

So after having no luck locating a 1858 SL that I liked, I reluctantly had a look at my friend’s “problem” coin. The problem turned out to be the fact that the coin had been counterstamped PAID, once on the obverse and twice on the reverse. I had to have it. I quickly plunked down $12.00 and took my new coin home.

Now you’re probably thinking “Why would you want to include an altered coin in your collection?”. All I will say for now is that, from a historical standpoint, counterstamps can be fascinating. They can also be very enigmatic, the meanings lost over the gulf of years. More on counterstamps and my speculation on this coin in my next post.

The Pine Tree Coins of Massachusetts

John Hull’s Massachusetts coinage went through three different incarnations in the 15 years from its beginnings in 1652 until the final design change in 1667. It was this design that would remain until the end of Hull’s contract in 1682. Far from the crude “NE” coins of the early mint, Hull’s Pine Tree coinage was the culmination of minting technology in 17th century colonial America.

The Pine Tree design evolved over time rather than springing forth fully formed. The Pine Tree design shares a common reverse with three Oak Tree sixpence and the Oak Tree shilling variety designated Noe 14 (after Sydney Noe’s die numbering system) is the first of Hull’s coinage to begin showing the spiney branches typical of the Pine Tree design. Also, the earliest Pine Tree coins are on the same large, thin planchets common in the Oak Tree series, a result of the rocker press technology. Later Pine Trees are struck on smaller, thicker planchets indicative of the acquisition of the then state of the art screw press, this being acquired around 1675. Threepence, sixpence, and shilllings were all struck with the Pine Tree design, the twopence denomination being dropped for some unknown reason.

Bowers states that the Pine Tree coins were struck in large numbers with the shilling being the most encountered of the series today. Philip Mossman relates a story about the recovery of many Massachusetts coins from the 1711 wreck of the H.M.S. Feversham. Of the 92 coins salvaged, all but 2 were of the shilling denomination, 54 being of the Pine Tree design. Without a doubt, the silver Massachusetts coinage was widely circulated in its time.

It’s interesting to note some of the legends surrounding Hull and his coinage. There’s the story of how the dowry of Hull’s daughter Hannah was paid in Massachusetts silver, the amount being equal to her weight, when she married judge Samuel Sewall in 1675. This was the same judge Sewall who presided over the Salem witch trials in 1692! Before it was noted that the rocker press technology was the cause of so much bent Massachusetts silver, the superstition was that colonists carried a bent silver coin to ward off witches. This practice has no contemporary proof but is still an interesting
coincidence.

John Hull died in 1683, just months after his minting contract with the General Court ran out. As early as 1684 the mint is mentioned in the past tense in newspaper accounts of the day. Hull’s coinage served the colonists well, providing a much needed medium of exchange in local commerce. The “NE” and Willow Tree coinage are far out of reach for most collectors but the Oak and Pine Tree coinage can be had in attractive though well worn condition. These survivors from the 17th century would be the highlight of any collection.

John Hull’s Oak Tree Coinage

In the Oak Tree coinage of 1660 to 1667 we find the only coin of Hull’s four New England series’ to be dated other than 1652. The twopence, a new denomination for the Massachusetts coinage, was authorized by the General Court on May 16, 1662 and all twopence bear the 1662 date. This gives further credence to the theory that the dates on Hull’s New England coinage represent the year the coins were authorized rather than the year they were minted.

In addition to the new twopence, the threepence, sixpence, and shilling denominations continued with the new design. And not only did the design change, but it’s very evident even to the casual observer that the technique of manufacture improved greatly as well. Where the earlier Willow Tree coins were obviously hand struck we now have the Oak Tree coins being struck with fixed dies on uniform planchets. In fact, all Oak Tree coinage (and some early Pine Tree coinage) was struck in a rocker press. Minting technology took a leap to mechanization in 1660!

According to Bowers, the Oak Tree term was used to describe the design by collectors at an early time. Besides the twopence, the date and legends remained the same, the tree being the only design change.

Oak Tree pieces are far more often encountered than the Willow Tree and “NE” coins. Collectors who want a specimen of the Massachusetts coinage usually must limit themselves to the Oak or Pine Tree series. More on Hull’s final design, the Pine Tree, coming up!

Buffalo Nickels – The Abraded Die Varieties by Ron Pope

Great opportunity awaits the dedicated Buffalo variety collector, and this book is the ultimate guide in that endeavor. One look at the advancing values of the two best known abraded die varieties, the 1937-D 3 leg and the 1936-D 3 1/2 leg Buffalo nickels, and one can see the genuine need for this reference. Taking into account the increasing popularity and Red Book acceptance of these varieties, now is the time to begin your search!

What are abraded die varieties? In Part One of this book Ron Pope defines traditional and non-traditional abraded die varieties, explains how these varieties were produced, and devotes a full page to the description of each known date and mintmark for which that variety occurs. These varieties include the 3 and 3 1/2 leg, 2 feathers, and no F (missing designer’s initial). Descriptions include large photos, and a breakdown of the relative rarity, level of collector interest, and up to date values.

Part Two is a fascinating study of every known variety of the 1914 4 over 3 overdate. Huge photos serve to illustrate the diagnostics of each die. Ron’s observations on each of the 8 known dies along with the representation of clear die markers overlayed on to the photos makes this section the best reference to this overdate I’ve seen.

Part Three is essential to understanding the unique strike characteristics of the Buffalo nickel series. Excellent illustrations of weak, typical, good, and full strikes serve to educate the novice or seasoned collector. Here you will learn the difference between wear and a weak strike. The characteristics of Proof dies are illustrated as well. The strike studies of each individual date and mimtmark are dealt with in Part Four, an invaluable guide to your future purchases.

In sum, Buffalo Nickels – The Abraded Die Varieties is a veritable gold mine for the Buffalo nickel cherrypicker. One look through this well written reference and it will be apparent how much Mr. Pope has widened the field of Buffalo nickel collecting.

A New Book From An Old Friend

The most famous abraded die Buffalo nickel

Back in 2004 I was living in Venice, Florida on the Gulf coast just south of Sarasota. My job as a department supervisor was turning out to be more lucrative than expected and so my coin collecting interests were enjoying a nice upswing. I had recently purchased a copy of David Lange’s “The Complete Guide to Buffalo Nickels“. Armed with the knowledge I gained from this book I began a short set of Buffalo nickels from 1934 to 1938 in MS64-65 paying particular attention to the strike quality of each individual coin.

During my quest to complete this set I was frequenting a popular online coin collector forum which allowed me to correspond with other collectors of like mind on a regular basis. This was long before my first attempt at a formal blog, but even then I liked to write informative articles on my numismatic interests. I would often post a picture of a coin from my collection and then write about its characteristics, rarity, history, etc. At this particular time I was combining the new information I had gained from Lange with my own observations to write a series on Buffalo nickels. Some of the other forum members offered to contribute and it was at this point that I met Ron Pope.

Now those of you who aren’t familiar with Ron probably don’t understand why I was so overwhelmed by his willingness to help with my little project. Ron had been studying and collecting the Buffalo nickel series for some 40 years when I first unknowingly contacted him under his forum name. To date he has published three books on the subject: “The Authoritative Reference on Buffalo Nickels” with Kevin Flynn and John Wexler, “Treasure Hunting Buffalo Nickels” with Kevin Flynn and John Wexler, and his newest book, “Buffalo Nickels-The Abraded Die Varieties“. Add to this Ron’s extensive contributions to the “Cherrypicker’s Guide” series and you can see why I was flattered.

Unfortunately Mother Nature intervened that summer and three hurricanes one after another hit Charlotte Harbor, just 7 miles south of my home. The aftermath required me to relocate twice, open a new store in Punta Gorda, and generally abort my articles.

Fast forward to last week and, happily, I managed to reconnect with Ron. We caught up a little and Ron also generously sent me a copy of his new book. A full review will be forthcoming but I can tell you now that this book is a cherrypicker’s dream. You won’t believe the sheer amount of information contained in this book. So until then I’ll let you in on a secret: If you would like a copy, here’s Ron’s email address-

coin.quest@yahoo.com

The price is right and Ron will be happy to get a copy out to you fast. Be on the lookout for my review!