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!

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 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.


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!

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.


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-

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

Coin Auction Catalogs

CatalogsI had anticipated a nice coin purchase upon receiving my tax refund this year but, as you can tell from my silence this past week or so, my laptop decided to take its own life and so my coin purchase turned into a new computer purchase. Despite the lack of funds, my local second hand book store did turn up an interesting and inexpensive find.

Some of you may recall a few posts back when I mentioned that picking up a reference book or auction catalog is a great way to keep your hobby interest burning when you find yourself low on cash.Well, after being all bummed out from losing my coin money, I went down to a little hole in the wall book store that let’s you trade in your used paperbacks. After some digging I came up with an old auction catalog from the ’80s. It was from a series of four sales conducted by Bowers and Ruddy Galleries featuring the incredible Garrett collection.

This catalog is the fourth in the series and contains photographs and in depth descriptions of some of Garrett’s more esoteric holdings, including a huge collection of Washington related coins and medals, 1792 dated coinage, Confederate States coinage, and early Indian Peace medals, just to name a few. Pair that with all the great historical background information and I’d say I clearly got my $5 worth!

Auction catalogs are usually overlooked as a reference option. But many catalogs are a great read. They allow you to have access to some of the greatest collections ever assembled, often illustrating the best examples known of rare and not so rare coins. Specialized collections have even produced catalogs that become THE photographic reference for their particular series.

Look into putting together a reference library of great auction catalogs. They can be had for little money for the most part and can provide for hours of interesting reading. Check out this website to get you started.

Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins

You’ve probably noticed over the last year that I am very partial to the books of Q. David Bowers. As a matter of fact you’re probably sick of hearing me talk about him and his incredibly vast knowledge of American coinage. If you have been to my Resources page, you’ve no doubt also noticed that he is represented very heavily across many denominations and topics. So if you haven’t figured it out yet, he’s just that good!

Rewind to a few days ago. I find myself at the local Barnes & Noble and there it is, the new Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins by, you guessed it, Q. David Bowers. Now I won’t even pretend that I have a bank account that could support my building an incredible collection of U.S. colonials. But I can enjoy the diversity and history of these coins with this book.

In true Bowers style, you not only come away with an education on the different coin series’ that drove the commerce of the infant U.S. nation, but he also differentiates between all the different die varieties of each series, citing all the classic references from the respective experts in each field. From the New England coinage  of 1652 through the Congress authorized coinage of the 1780’s, every series is described in detail.

As usual, simple coin descriptions aren’t enough for a Bowers reference. The economy of the time period, the processes used to strike these coins, the methods of distribution, and different ways to collect are all chapter topics. He also deals with contemporary counterfeits, the many foreign series’ that are included in the colonial section of the Red Book, and the extensive Washington portrait coinage of the 1795 to 1820’s period.

Now check out the Colonial section of my Resources page again. You’ll notice it’s pretty short. I’m not saying you can forego all the classic references for this book, but this should be the starting place for your future research. If you don’t find it here, you’ll find it in the Bibliography at the back of the book. Happy reading!

Top 10 Christmas Gift Ideas for the Coin Collector

christmas-tree-giftsChristmas is just about upon us and everywhere you look someone has a “Top 10 Hottest Gifts for 2009” list. A quick search will yield up Top 10 Toys for Boys, Toys for Girls, Top 10 Electronics, Movies, CDs, etc. but what about Top 10 Gifts for the Numismatist?

In the world of coin collecting, knowledge of your subject is key. Trying to buy a coin collector a coin probably isn’t the best idea. Every collector has their own set of standards. To avoid disappointment, a book is the best gift for the beginner up to the most advanced collector. Here are my picks and, best of all, every one is under $20!

1. A Guide Book of United States Coins

Otherwise known as the Red Book, this is the the U.S. coin collector’s bible. Published annually since 1947, the Red Book contains photos,historical information, and average retail price listings for every U.S. issue from colonial times through the modern age. Recently sections on patterns, tokens, and Philppine coinage have been added. The Red Book is an essential volume in every numismatists library and for $16.95 in hardback it’s a huge bang for the buck.

2. Photograde: Official Photographic Grading Guide for United States Coins by James F. Ruddy

The coin collector on your Christmas list will use this book to the point where it falls apart. My own current copy is in rags. Descriptions of both the obverse and reverse of all U.S. coin series from 1793 to present in all grades from About Good to Uncirculated along with illustrations of each make this book the best tool for every coin purchase. There are also chapters on detecting cleaned or counterfeit coins. If your collector doesn’t have a copy he (or she) needs one.

3. The Expert’s Guide to Collecting and Investing in Rare Coins by Q. David Bowers

If your collector enjoys a good read then this book will probably be number one on their list. In 650 pages Bowers gives in-depth collecting & investing information on every U.S. series along with market analysis, coin collecting history, purchasing tips and every other aspect of the hobby you can think of. This book truly is the authoritative resource that it claims to be.

4-9. Whitman’s “A Guide Book of…” series

A few years ago Whitman Publishing tapped several well known numismatic authors to create reference books on specific U.S. coin series’. The books in this series are extremely comprehensive. They contain date by date analysis of rarity in different grades, strike characteristics, and a wealth of historical information that places the reader in the time period in which these coins were produced. If you know what series of coinage your collector is interested in these will make a great gift. Here are just some of the volumes available in order of collecting popularity:

10. Handbook of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins by Zander Klawans

This is a great introductory reference book on the fascinating field of ancient coin collecting. It provides information on reading coin inscriptions, identifying the emperors and dates on Roman coins, and other methods of attributing coins of this era. If you’ve got a budding ancient coin collector on your Christmas list, this will give them a great foundation on the topic.

That is my Top 10 list for the coin geek. Every one of these books can be purchased for less than $20 and is guaranteed to get a lot of use. Where else can you get so many hours of enjoyment at that price?

Happy holidays!

“Buy the Book Before the Coin”

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Could there possibly be a coin collector out there who isn’t familiar with this phrase? It’s more likely that most of you have heard this repeated so much that you would rather take up stamp collecting than ever hear it again! (Please, no angry comments from offended philatelists. It’s only a joke!)

Well, let me give you a few reasons why it’s the best piece of advice you will ever receive.

1. Ammunition: you will never walk into a purchasing negotiation unarmed. If you have ever been taken advantage of by an unscrupulous dealer you know what I’m talking about. In 1982 I was 14. My family took a trip to New Orleans and, while in the French Quarter, I found a small coin shop. All of my trip money was spent on a Maria Theresa Thaler from Austria dated 1780. I had to have it. It would be the oldest coin in my collection. Little did I know that the Maria Theresa Thaler had been struck with the date 1780 on and off ever since 1780. And, believe me, the dealer took no pains to inform me of that fact. I still have that coin to remind me never to make a purchase without doing the research first.

2. If you’re like me, you go through some economically lean times where the pursuit of your collecting interests has to take a back seat to putting food on the table and keeping the heat on. And if you’re like me, when you can’t feed the collecting monkey your interest begins to wane. So I’ve found that supplementing the collecting monkey’s diet with specialty books, auction catalogs, and online forums helps me keep the monkey from going comatose.

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One of the benefits of starting a numismatic library is all the different collecting paths you discover that never really interested you before. I was assembling a short set of Buffalo nickels (1934-38) in PCGS certified MS65 (this was obviously before my current fascination with circulated coins) and ran out of money. So I started requesting auction catalogs to pass the time until the money tree bloomed again. I discovered ancient Roman & Greek coins, American Colonial coins, patterns, obsolete currency, and authors whose works I wanted to pursue further. Consequently, I never finished the nickels and now I collect books about coins. Go figure.

3. Dave Bowers said it. That in itself should be enough but I will elaborate. Bowers has been in the business since 1953. The list of positions held, honors received, and collector’s he has influenced is endless. During his stint as a founder of Bowers & Ruddy Galleries virtually every legendary coin you can think of passed through his hands. 4 of the 5 1913 Liberty nickels, several 1804 dollars, Chain cents, 1792 coinage, I can go on and on. Okay, now you assume he’s an elitist jerk who has no time for the common collector. This man will make time for a 12 year old kid who collects Lincolns. He will write a letter (WRITE, as in by hand) to you when you have a question about something in one of his books. When you purchase one of his many books, if you ask, he will personally sign it, personalize it, and write a little inspiration in the inside front cover. Take what this man says to heart. He cares.