1917-D Type I Standing Liberty Quarter VF35 SOLD!

Gorgeous “bare breast” SLQ with outstanding strike and luster! Toning much more attractive than photo. A stunning Type I for your type set! Only $140

1938-D Buffalo Nickel AU58 SOLD!

Here’s a nice lightly circulated Buffalo from the final year of issue. Lots of luster and a pretty gold tone. Only $15



1926-P Buffalo Nickel AU55 SOLD!

A beautiful Philly Buffalo from the ’20’s. Would make a great Type II for a type set! Only $25

1916-P Buffalo Nickel AU58 SOLD!

Above average quality and generous splashes of orange toning on this Buffalo. Only $30

1913-S Type I Buffalo Nickel AU58 SOLD!

Excellent strike on this tougher branch mint Type I Buffalo! Only $110



1913-P Type I Bufffalo Nickel AU58 SOLD!

A very nice slider Type I Buffalo nickel  ideal for a type set or as a starter for a clean high circ. set. Only $30



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prior to this book, and the history behind the half cent are excellent reading, even if some of the information is out of date.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!

A World War I Widow’s Gift

Around 1979 or 1980 I traveled to Pensacola, Florida to spend some time with my aunt. She lived in an apartment complex and in the center was a pool for the use of the residents. I remember spending every spare minute either in or next to that pool. Of course it was a huge draw to a 10 year old midwestern boy, but the people who converged there every day were also very interesting.

One particular day I was playing in the pool and all of a sudden I see two huge men that I automatically recognized from television. They were professional  wrestlers who I watched virtually every Sunday. But wait, these guys were deadly enemies, bashing each other with chairs, microphones, announcers, whatever they could get their hands on, every week that I tuned in! How could they possibly be sitting here laughing and drinking beer together? This was very confusing.

But the most interesting person at the pool that summer was a very old woman who always sat in the shade covered to her neck in a big white bathrobe. She never got in the water or took in the sun. No one paid her any attention, no one seemed to notice her. Except my aunt.

So one day my aunt introduced us. The woman, Mary, was very friendly and told me all sorts of wonderful stories. During one of our visits I told her I liked old coins. Mary said she had some old coins her husband brought back from Europe a long time ago and, if I would like to see them, she would bring them to the pool tomorrow. I couldn’t wait!

Tomorrow came and I almost couldn’t stand to wait until the afternoon when Mary usually came to sit beside the pool. When I saw her walking to her table I saw she had a little black box. She emptied the box and out fell coins from Germany, France, Belgium, Russia and places I never heard of! And then she told me a story that any ten year old boy would love.

Mary’s husband had served in World War I in 1917 but for reasons I can’t remember, didn’t return until 1919. They weren’t married until after he returned. The coins had a gruesome history. It seems soldiers didn’t receive their military pay at the front for months at a time. And so, to get by, it was necessary to go through the pockets of the fallen. This box full of coins had come from the corpses of her husband’s enemies because he couldn’t bring himself to take from his allies, even though the money was no longer of use to them.

That summer ended and it came time for me to return to Illinois. My aunt must have told Mary I would be leaving because she came to the apartment and gave me the box full of coins with a Christmas bow on top. 

After 30 years many of those coins have gone to others. A 1868 French 5 Franc piece of Napoleon III was given to a friend. A  5 Kopeck piece issued by Germany during the occupation of Russia in 1916  was a give away for a local coin club. But every time one of those coins left my hands and went to another, I always included Mary’s story.

The Money of King Arthur II: Mercenary Gold


In last week’s post we learned of a 5th century Briton, Riotimus, who was recruited to help defend Roman Gaul from the Visigoths by the Western Roman emperor Anthemius. We have to assume that this arrangement was looked upon by Anthemius as a business agreement between the empire and an army of mercenaries. To think that the emperor of  Western Rome viewed a regional barbarian “King” as an equal, and thus an ally worthy of trade agreements, defense pacts, and other benefits between independent nations, would be hard to justify even though Rome hadn’t had a presence in Britain for almost 50 years.

So what did the payoff consist of? Well, you don’t entice a warlord with 12,000 men at his disposal to cross the ocean with small change. The most likely answer: gold.

Anthemius was fresh to his new post in 468. The worsening situation in Gaul prompted the Eastern Roman emperor Leo I to appoint him emperor of the West in 467, a post that had been vacant since the murder of  Severus III in November of 465. The mints were sure to have begun commemorating  Anthemius’ reign almost immediately after his appointment but this coinage certainly would not have been the most likely to be doled out in payment.

Severus III

In contrast, the gold coinage of Anthemius’ predecessor was relatively plentiful and easily at hand in 468. Severus III was merely a puppet ruler of Ricimer, Master of Soldiers, whose power didn’t extend much past the borders of Italy during his brief tenure of 461 to 465.  Although his legitimacy was never recognized by Leo, Severus did manage to produce coinage at the western mints of Milan and Ravenna during his almost 4 year reign and it is here that we find our first likely candidate for the gold paid to Riotimus and his troops.

Majorian preceded Severus, ruling from April of 457 to August of 461. He was very successful in his dealings with the Visigoths and Burgundians, maintaining an uneasy peace throughout his reign. Unfortunately he was another puppet ruler of Ricimer’s design and, once he had shown a backbone, was eliminated in favor of someone more controllable. Most of Majorian’s surviving coinage are small bronzes, definitely not a respectable payment for an army.

Valentinian III

Now we come to Valentinian III. A ruler over a span of 30 years (425-455) who produced gold coinage at the mints of Rome, Ravenna, and Milan to name but a few. During his reign the Vandals arose as a power in Spain, the Visigoths and Franks were successfully defeated, and the capital of the western empire was moved from Rome to Ravenna. Like most late emperors, he was murdered in what the perpetrators might call a “hunting accident”.

 Years later when it became necessary to pay the British warlord for his services, I speculate that the chest of gold he received contained an abundance of the coinage of Valentinian III from the local western mints. There would be a few from the reign of Severus, Anthemius, and the eastern emperor Leo I. But there is one problem. Jordanes, writing in 551, tells us that Riotimus suffered a humiliating defeat (due to treachery, maybe Mordred?) at the hands of the Visigoths and retreated, never to be heard from again, to the land of the Burgundians. Did he ever return for his chest of gold? You decide.

All photos courtesy of  Wildwinds.com

The Money of King Arthur Pt. I: A Numismatic Prologue

To begin, I should probably define what (or who) I mean by “King Arthur”. Let’s forget about the standard English form of the Arthurian legends. This popular collection of romances was completed by Sir Thomas Malory around 1469 but has nothing to contribute to our quest for the coinage that would have been familiar to the historical “Arthur”.

To make the case for this historical figure, we can start with one of Malory’s earlier sources, Geoffrey of Monmouth. Sometime around 1136 Geoffrey finished his “History of the Kings of Britain”. Now the word “history” in the title should be taken lightly since this History includes early Britain being populated by giants, Trojans, and Saxon eating dragons. But once again we are led to an even earlier source, and here is where things get very interesting.

His name was Sidonius Apollinaris, an aristocrat who lived in south-central Gaul in the 5th century A.D. As luck would have it, Sidonius wrote many letters to prominent Britons and much of his correspondence has survived. It is from these letters that we discover the historical source of Malory’s Arthur.

Remember that Sidonius was alive during the time period he was writing about, unlike Geoffrey or Malory who were writing 700 to 1000 years after the events had occurred. With that in mind, Sidonius tells us that in 467 the Roman Emperor in Constantinople, Leo I, appointed Anthemius the Roman Emperor of the West.  After Valentinian III was murdered in 455, western rulers tended to have short life spans and turnover was frequent. Avitus ruled less than a year. Majorian was assassinated 3 years into his reign. And Majorian’s successor Severus III was poisoned 4 years later in 465.

Euric, king of the Visigoths in Spain, took note of this instability and set his sights on the western Roman territory of Gaul.

In 468 Anthemius sought a British alliance to thwart Euric’s plans of conquest. We have an account from a book by Jordanes, who was writing in 551, less than 100 years after these events. Here is a portion of his account, which I am quoting from Geoffrey Ashe’s 1987 book “The Discovery of King Arthur”:

“Now Euric, King of the Visigoths, perceived the frequent changes of Roman emperors and strove to hold Gaul in his own right. The emperor Anthemius heard of it and asked the Britons for aid. Their King Riotimus came with twelve thousand men into the state of the Bituriges by the way of Ocean, and was received as he disembarked from his ships.”

Here is our Arthur, not in name but in title. Many scholars, past and present, feel that this man is the source. 1000 years of elaboration resulted in the ultimate publication of Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur”. And if this is so, we need only look to the Western Roman coinage of the period, roughly 425 to 470 A.D., to imagine what the High King of the Britons carried in his pockets.

See the results of my imagination in my next post!

The Abduction of Europa

Mythology has always played an important role in the iconography portrayed on coinage. One very enduring myth that saw widespread representation on the coins of many eras and cultures was the story of  Europa and her abduction by Zeus.

According to Greek myth, Europa was a Phoenician princess, the daughter of King Agenor of Tyre. One day as she was gathering flowers by the sea, the god Zeus looked down upon her and became enamored with her beauty. Zeus disguised himself as a white bull and descended to mix in with King Agenor’s herds. When Europa saw him, she approached and, seeing that the bull was tame, climbed onto its back. Zeus then leaped into the sea and swam to the island of Crete. Upon arrival, Zeus revealed himself to Europa in his true form and eventually fathered three sons with her.

The first mention of Europa in literature can be found in Homer’s “Iliad” which is generally dated to about the 8th century B.C. The myth is mentioned by numerous sources throughout history including  Herodotus, and the Roman poet Ovid.

With regard to coins, the depiction of Europa being carried away on the back of a bull has been a popular motif almost since the advent of coinage as a medium of exchange. Beginning around the 4th century B.C., this scene has been reproduced on coins of Greece, Rome, and Cyprus just to name a few. And being a native of Phoenicia, Europa of course figured most prominently on the coins of that ancient nation.

The above coin is a bronze from the city of Sidon, Phoenicia dating from the 1st century B.C. On the obverse is the Phoenician god Melqart facing right, possibly the Phoenician equivalent of the Greek Heracles according to Herodotus. On the reverse is the famous scene of Europa in a divine halo seated on the back of Zeus in the form of a bull. Below is the name of the mint city, Sidon, written in Greek. There is another line of text below the mint name and a possible date to the left of the bull but I have yet to decipher them.

Geographically, ancient Phoenicia corresponded approximately to the modern day country of Lebanon. It was a powerful seafaring nation in its heyday, famous for its navy, wine, and purple dye. Sidon was known for its skillful metalworkers as early as the 7th or 8th century B.C. Sidon fell under the sovereignty of the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians in antiquity and was conquered by Alexander III the Great in 333 B.C. The Ptolemies and Seleucids followed as Sidon’s overlords until self government was achieved around 250 B.C.

Around the time this little piece of small change was minted, Pompey the Great of Rome recognized Sidon as a sovereign city-state. Representations of the abduction of Europa continued on Sidon’s coins even after it was assimilated into the Roman Empire under the emperor Elagabalus c.218-222 A.D.

You can still find this myth portrayed on modern day coins, such as the 50 cent coin of 1994 from Cyprus. The Abduction of Europa has endured on coinage for over 2500 years and I’m thinking a collection from ancient to modern times would be a very rewarding endeavor!


Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I’m in the process of cleaning up the site after someone had a little fun dropping random site links throughout the text. Regular posts will resume shortly. In the meantime, if you should happen to run across any links that redirect to gamer sites, search sites, “You Win!”, etc., please bring it to my attention. Thanks for your patience!

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!


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.

A Numistories Milestone!

Another Pennsylvania September has arrived with its customary cool weather, high school football games, and fall festivals. It’s this general slowdown that allowed me to begin this blog one year ago this month. At the time, I had no idea that in 12 short months my site would garner the following it has today. On September 1 Numistories surpassed the 100,000 hit mark. It makes me wonder where we would be if my posts hadn’t been so sporadic in the beginning!

In the course of the past year I’ve made many new friends, some of whom were kind enough to submit stories of their own for our enjoyment. Members of the forum at PCGS.com and the Early American Coppers club have been particularly helpful. The forum is free at PCGS so if you haven’t dropped in to see the amazing array of topics being discussed there you really should. The EAC is also an excellent group to join if you have an interest in early U.S. copper.

It became apparent early on that the most popular posts were the ones with a heavy emphasis on the human interest side of our hobby. We all seem to have a dash of nostalgia in our psyches that enhances our enjoyment of the numismatic pursuit. Perhaps that’s why we collect. As we grow older that connection becomes more tenuous and the presence of these small solid metal objects that we have attached significance to serves to reassure us of our power over the past.

A special thanks goes out to Mr. Ron Pope. His kindness over the years has served to keep my interest in coin collecting alive. At times the mind can wander, particularly when the cash to add some new object of affection is non existent. Mr. Pope unknowingly sparked interest in new directions for me when other distractions came to the fore.

And so here’s to another year of Numistories. I invite anyone with a collecting story, be it a profound achievement or a simple warm childhood memory, to please submit it to numistories@gmail.com and I will share it with this wonderful audience. Thank you!

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 Gift

Here’s another great story from a friend over at the forums on pcgs.com. Richard has graciously allowed me to share his story and I want to take this opportunity to sincerely thank him for this privilege. Many of you may recall the story of Tim Mayberry’s purchase of a lincoln cent set I reprinted from the forums back in October of ’09. One of my purposes for starting this site was the fact that I wanted to show the emotional side of coin collecting rather than the investment aspects of the hobby. Richard, Tim, and myself have a passion for numismatics and here is a perfect example:

“About 40 years ago as a young boy I found out that I really like collecting coins. I had some cent albums I would try to fill. When we would visit my Uncle’s house about once a month a cousin and I would walk about 2 miles up the road to the corner of Scottsdale Rd and Shea Blvd in Scottsdale, AZ and visit a little coin shop. Sure that area is in the middle of town now but back then I can assure you it wasn’t. The dealer was a kind enough old guy who always let us look through the junk box and “give us a deal”.

I even somehow was able to secure a 1912-s V Nickel as a part of a year set that I got out of his junk box. I had put them in a Jefferson Nickel album and had written $8 / 23 coins in the book. I only found out it was a “s” mint about 5 or 6 years ago.

Sorry, I got sidetracked as this story is not about that nickel.

Anyway as a couple of years of random visits to that shop went on I’d always drool over the gold Saints in the guys case. I set my sights on obtaining one of these beautiful coins. At the time he said one would cost me $160. That was a lot of money for a kid but I knew that I’d have to somehow raise the cash.

I set out mowing lawns in the hot Arizona summer raising a few bucks at a time. I saved it all. I didn’t buy ice cream off the truck that came by, I didn’t go to the movies… nothing. I mowed lawns…. lots of lawns all summer. I told everyone that would listen that I was working to save money to buy a gold coin. During my summer visits to the coin shop I’d give the guy updates on my progress towards owning a Saint. He would take the time to show me one and that just fired me up more.

The day came that I had raised my $160 and my folks took me out to my uncle’s place. In hindsight I have no idea why they didn’t drive me to the coin shop but they didn’t. My cousin and I walked up there and I announced that I was ready to buy my gold coin.

After all that I need to tell you that this story is not about a gold Saint Gaudens.

Here’s what I remember…

The dealer asked me if I truly had the money so I showed him I did. He asked me to think seriously why I wanted a Saint and I said that I wanted a gold coin.

He said that IF it was gold I was after that for the same money I could purchase a Mexican 50P piece which had about 1.2 oz of gold whereas a saint had less than an oz.

He showed me a 50P coin and I immediately fell in love with it. When he went to ring up the coin we all realized that I didn’t have enough money to cover the tax. The dealer thought for a moment and said for me not to worry about it. He even put it in a nice acrylic holder.

Fast forward to maybe 1981 or so and I found myself a young married father of one who was really strapped for cash. Gold had shot up in value to a shocking level. I called another dealer and he offered $1000 sight unseen for my 50P. Even though I really didn’t want to sell the coin I saw no alternative. I wasn’t about to borrow money from my folks. During a lunch together just prior to selling the coin I told my Dad what I was planning on doing and he reminded me of how hard I worked to get it. I told him I just didn’t see any alternative. That is when he announced that instead of selling the coin to the dealer he’d like to buy it for the same price, so we shook hands and made the deal.

Now you need to fast forward to about 25 years later. The “coin” never once came up between my Dad and I during that time. Anyway one Christmas maybe 2005 or 2006 we were at my folks house in Phoenix and my parents gave me a small gift from under the tree. It felt hefty…. hmmmm. Upon opening up that gift you cannot imagine my shock as there was my 50 Peso gold coin from my childhood. I think I damn near cried. Not wanting to take it as a gift I tried to pay my parents for it but they wanted nothing to do with that. All I could do was to thank them from the bottom of my heart. It was truly a moment I will never forget.

Let’s fast forward to today. You see I sent that same coin into PCGS recently as a part of my 8 coin “freebie” submission for the Collectors Club thing. I don’t submit many coins and in fact put the 50P in there as a filler. The old acrylic holder was all scratched up and in my mind the coin was probably only an AU58 or something. Honestly I didn’t look at it that close as I didn’t really care what the grade came back as because I just wanted it in a nicer holder. I have no intention of ever selling it anyway.

Well… when the grade posted on the computer I was SHOCKED. In fact I figured there must have been some mistake so I waited until the package came today to see it with my own eyes.

No… this is not a “you suck” kind of thing as the grade likely doesn’t change the value all that much I don’t think and it doesn’t matter as I’ll not sell it. It does make it a “special coin” though in that as far as I can tell… at least to this point in time it is the only PCGS Graded Mexican 50 Peso with a “+” sign after the grade.

Anyway… just wanted to tell you the whole story behind this coin. I hope I didn’t put you all to sleep or make you miss out on any “ebay threads”….”

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

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.

Doing Some House Cleaning

The last few days have been taken up by site maintenance rather than new posts and for this I do apologize. In an effort to keep Numistories fresh I felt it was necessary to add some new things and update a few others.

You’ll notice the addition of several links to other websites on the blogroll to the right. These are great sites to catch up on what’s current in the world of numismatics, with varied content and daily updates. Be sure to check them out. Seriously!

There have also been many new additions to the “Resources” pages. The book titles in these categories are considered the standard references for these topics. Click on the title and you will be taken to their respective pages at Amazon.com. This is a great place to pick up these titles, many of which are very hard to find otherwise. As I acquire them in my own library I will provide reviews. For the record, Numistories now holds the #4 spot on Google for the search “The Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins”! Woo hoo!

That brings me to shameless self promotion. I’ve joined coinnetwork.com, another great info site, to promote Numistories in the coin bloggers group. Soon you’ll also be able to follow along on Facebook and Twitter.

Next on the “to do” list is the final installment on John Hull’s Massachusetts coinage. Look for it on Monday as we return to our regular schedule!

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!