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2017-W American Liberty Gold Coin to be issued in celebration of the 225th Anniversary of the U.S. Mint

When the U.S. Mint made the announcement about the American Liberty 225th Anniversary Gold Coin, they mentioned that the coin will begin selling on April 6, 2017.

As a coin with one troy ounce of 24-karat gold, the coin will be at least the spot price of gold plus a premium to account for manufacturing costs and seigniorage (profit). Using the U.S. Mint’s pricing guidelines and their pricing chart, the price of the 24-karat Gold Buffalo Proof coin would be $1,540. However, given that this coin will require extra labor since it will be a high-relief coin and that the U.S. Mint will likely sell these coins in a fancy presentation box, the costs will likely to be higher. I would not be surprised to see these coins to sell at least $100 more than the gold Buffaloes.

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The Allegory of Liberty

The latest “controversy” surrounding the U.S. Mint is that the depiction of Lady Liberty on the new U.S. Mint 225th Anniversary 24-karat gold coin is depicted by an African-American woman.

This comes after 225 years of depicting Liberty as a white woman—or is it? (see below) What has caused even a bigger stir in some sectors was in the statement released by the U.S. Mint, they say that this “is the first in a series of 24-karat gold coins that will feature designs which depict an allegorical Liberty in a variety of contemporary forms-including designs representing Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Indian-Americans among others—to reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of the United States.”

I saw one blog post ask, “How dare they do this?” Followed by asking, “What’s next, a Mexican?”

If these folks would stop fomenting and learn a bit about history, this is part of the evolution of how we have depicted Liberty since the discovery of the New World

One of the first uses of woman as allegorical figures at back to the goddess of ancient Greece and Rome. Both gods and goddesses were allegorical figures of the power they represented using an exaggerated version of the human forms they knew about. Using woman as strong, matronly-like figures guarding over a country’s sovereignty like a protective figure.

Prior to the discovery of North America, Britain had Britannia. Britannia was the allegorical figure as the protector of the British Empire. Named for the Greek and Roman term for the geographical region, Britannia is usually seated facing the water. Although most images has her seated on a shroud-covered seat, sometimes Britannia is depicted sitting on a horse. She is wearing a helmet, hold a trident and a shield emblazoned with the Union Jack to show she is the protector and ruler of the seas. It is not a coincidence that Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty design is similar to the design used for Britannia.

1672 Britannia copper coin

1854 Seated Liberty Quarter with rays and no arrows

When the first European settlers arrived, they used the image of an “Indian Queen, a voluptuous, but stern Native American woman dressed in little more than head feathers. Portrayed sitting astride a giant armadillo or sporting a tomahawk, the Indian Queen represented exoticism, danger and adventure: attributes that 16th- and 17th-century explorers most associated with their new land.”

As colonization grew and the native American tribes and the settlers were not getting along (you would also be angry if these outsiders were pushing you off your native lands), her looks were softened to look more Anglican in appearance trying to represent what was perceived as a less hostile look.

The look of Liberty has changed with the artist that have designed her image. The most famous image of Liberty is the statue by Frédéric Bartholdi titled “Liberty Enlightening the World,” or more commonly known as the Statue of Liberty. Bartholdi, a French sculptor, reportedly used his mother as the model for the statue’s face. This makes the most famous depiction of Lady Liberty a French woman.

Two of the most famous and different depictions of Liberty were created by George T. Morgan and Anthony de Francisci. Morgan used actress Anna Willess Williams as the model for his design noting that her profiles was the most perfect he had ever seen. For the Peace dollar, de Francisci used the portrait of his wife, Teresa, as the model. With rays instead of a crown or a headdress departing from previous designs, using the image of Teresa de Francisci means that an Italian-born woman was depicted as Lady Liberty since she was born in Naples, Italy.

1879-S Morgan Dollar

1921-D Peace Dollar

Historical Note

Many references claim that Martin Van Buren was the first U.S. born president because he was born in 1782, after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. However, the Treaty of Paris, which established the United States as a new country, was not signed until September 3, 1783. Although the colonies declared itself independent in 1776, the United States was legally not a country until the signing of the Treaty of Paris.

These are also not the first examples of someone not being born in the United States being depicted on U.S. coinage. In 1892 and 1893 the U.S. Mint produced the Columbian half dollars with the image of Italian-born Christopher Columbus. Although these coins were only struck as a commemorative, they were circulated and used in commerce. However, the first coin struck for circulation that included the image of a foreign-born person was the Washington quarter. George Washington was born in the British Colony of Virginia in 1732 as a British subject. In fact, the first nine presidents were born British subjects in the colonies. It was not until John Tyler succeeded William Henry Harrison as president in 1841 when a United States-born citizen became president. Tyler was born in 1790 in the State of Virginia.

Although there are many examples of African-Americans appearing on commemorative coins. In the Classical Commemorative Era, the U.S. Mint issued the 1946-1951 Booker T. Washington and 1951-1954 George Washington Carver/Booker T. Washington Commemorative half-dollars. Modern Era Commemoratives include the 1998 Black Revolutionary War Patriots Silver Dollar featuring the portrait of Crispus Attucks, 1997 Jackie Robinson commemorative coins, and 2007 Little Rock Nine Silver Dollar featuring the legs of the Little Rock Nine being lead to class.

For circulating coins, the reverse of the 2002 Missouri State Quarter features William Clark’s slave York paddling the canoe with both Meriweather Lewis and Clark in the boat. The reverse of the 2009 District of Columbia quarter honors Duke Ellington.

Do not forget that Sacagawea is a non-Anglican being featured on a circulating coin, even though the coin really does not circulate.

But is this the first African-American Lady Liberty?

1933 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle (obverse)

Finally, there is a claim that the model used by Augustus Saint-Gaudens for the design of $20 double-eagle gold coin was Harriette Eugenia “ Hettie” Anderson. Hettie Anderson was an African-American model from South Carolina considered an extraordinary beauty. Anderson was known to pose for Saint-Gaudens and many other artists with connections to Saint-Gaudens, such as Adolph Weinman.

Because of the treatment of blacks in America, Anderson’s part in Saint-Gaudens’ work was kept quiet. After his death, Homer, the artist’s son, edit Anderson out of his father’s unfinished autobiography. This information was later discovered by William E. Hagans. Hagen was researching the Swedish artist Anders Zorn, who worked with Saint-Gaudens. While reviewing Zorn’s work, he found a sketch Zorn made with Saint-Gaudens and a nude Hettie Anderson lying in the background. After further research, Hagen discovered that Anderson was modeling for Saint-Gaudens at the time he was designing the double-eagle. It was later that Homer Saint-Gaudens removed Anderson from the history of this coin’s design.

If this is true (see “Written out of History” on this page), then this is not the first time Lady Liberty was depicted as an African-American Woman!

Anders Zorn’s etching of Augustus Saint-Gaudens taken a break with a nude Hattie Anderson laying behind him.

Credits

  • Composite image of the American Liberty gold coin courtesy of coinews.net.
  • Image of Britannia coin courtesy of the Royal Mint.
  • Seated Liberty quarter image courtesy of Numista
  • Morgan and Peace dollar images courtesy of Wikipedia.
  • Anders Zorn etching of Augustus Saint-Gaudens image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

About the ANA Presidency

Mike Ellis

I was reading Dave Harper’s recent blog post on the Numismatic News website and learned that Mike Ellis announced that he intends to run for president of the American Numismatic Association.

Last we heard from Ellis, he resigned from the Board of Governors during the time the ANA was attempting to reach a settlement with former ANA Executive Director Larry Shepherd. According to the quote from ANA President Walt Ostromecki, “[Mike] realized he had made a mistake and chose to step down from the board.”

Not so fast…. Mike made more than just a mistake. In my previous reporting on the matter, I wrote:

A source speaking on the condition of anonymity as reported that Ellis allegedly had worked behind the scenes against Shepherd to rally ANA employees to work against Shepherd in order to create a hostile working environment for Shepherd. The move was allegedly designed to make Shepherd look incompetent in order to get him fired.

According to my notes, following that blog post I was contacted by another source that not only confirmed the story but also said that Ellis did the same thing against Jeff Shevlin.

It has been confirmed by another source that Ellis was approached by the Executive Committee and ANA General Counsel Hollie Wieland about these allegations. The source said that Ellis was presented with evidence of contact with ANA staff which is a violation of ANA policy. Ellis agreed to resign from the ANA Board of Governors rather than face the scrutiny of damaging testimony that would occur during depositions. This opened the door for a settlement with Shepherd.

Although this has been reported in the past it is important to bring all facts to light since Ellis has declared his candidacy to be President of the ANA.

As part of Harper’s reporting, Ellis “objects to the role of the present legal counsel. He wants a new one.” Ellis claims, “She’s making a killing off us breathing down our neck 24/7.”

I have met and spoken with Wieland in the past (not recently). She is an attorney with an attorney’s attitude toward her client, the ANA. While there is not a lot of collective like for attorneys, I am not aware of any problems that she has created for the ANA. In fact, her ability to help unwind the ANA from the legal troubles that Ellis was likely a contributor says more about her competence.

When Ellis cites his troubles with the ANA, he mentions problems with Wieland. Given his history, there is little doubt of his contempt. However, it does not appear to be shared by the rest of the ANA.

Because of his past transgressions while a member of the Board of Governors that required his resignation, Mike Ellis should never be president of the ANA!

I had thought that current Vice President Gary Adkins would run for the president’s position. Adkins has said that he may run but has not decided. While I think Gary Adkins would make a great president for the ANA, something has to be done now.

Therefore, I am preparing to run for President of the American Numismatic Association. Although there are members more qualified than I am, I am more qualified than Ellis especially in the area of ethics and temperament. Should a more qualified candidate submit their paperwork to run for ANA President, I will withdraw from the race.

Image courtesy of Numismatic News.

Certainty

Since the election, there have been a number of stories about the “Trump Effect” on the markets. The narrative is that the economic bounce is tied specifically to the election of Trump.

The premise is that the market is reacting to the election of Donald Trump and is the direct cause for the change in the economic factors in the markets. Unfortunately, the narratives being promoted is shortsighted. Markets are not reacting to the election of Trump. The markets are reacting to the certainty that the election is settled.

Markets hate uncertainty. When there is uncertainty, the markets tend to react to everything and sometimes in an exaggerated manner. Fortunately, the economic indicators have been good and the markets have reacted accordingly with exaggeration.

How the markets have reacted to uncertainty in economic news

When looking at the collecting markets, whether it is numismatics or antiques, you can look at the precious metals markets as a key indicator. In basic terms, the price of precious metals is indirectly proportional to the strength of the markets and economy. It translates to if the economy is strong making investing less of a risk, then the precious metals markets will be weaker. it means there is more cash circulating creating discretionary income that buyers use to spend on non-essentials, like hobbies.

A strong market and economy means that investments in businesses are a better bet. Strong employment numbers and the movement of goods and services mean that there is money to be made by investing in business. If there are good investment opportunities, it does not make sense for investors to tie money up in precious metals.

Investment in metals makes sense when investing in their value is better than the expected rate of return on business investments. Once investors turn to precious metals, the price is based purely on supply and demand. Since the supply stream is relatively constant, demand mostly influences the price of metals. If the demand is high and the supply cannot keep up with the demand, the price will rise. What helps regulate the price is that there continues to be a supply but the demand has been known to outpace the supply.

The fact of the matter is that economic indicators have improved. Prices of metals have been steadily dropping since August as the investment in stocks been going up. Even before the election, the markets were in growth mode but skittish with uncertainty.

All the election brought was a certainty. Markets know who the next president will be, who will be in congress, and who will control the state houses. If markets hate uncertainty then the currency that fueled the rally was the removal of uncertainty.

After the week following the election, the markets leveled off with the next goal to figure out what the Federal Reserve would do. With the uncertainty surrounding the December Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, the drive to record levels stalled. When the FOMC announced the increase in interest rates, rather than reacting negatively, the reactions was as if the markets were saying, “It’s about time.” with the uncertainty of what the FOMC would do, the markets reacted by climbing to record levels.

Market reactions to various news and economic events

In the meantime, the metals markets have been on a steady decline. Since the capital markets are providing a good return on investments, there is no incentive to invest in metals. Although people are buying, the fewer buyers are beating the prices down making bullion-based collectibles cheaper.

Gold free fall began on Election Day 2016

Silver downward trend started on Election Day

What does that have to do with higher end collectibles such as rare coins?

When capital markets are adding to the general wealth of the investor community, they will look for different places to invest their winnings. The new money will start to buy high-end items to supplement their other investments. This is why the collector market thrives during good economic times. Prices of fine art, prime real estate, collector cars, and even rare coins rise.

Rare coins have been resilient since the decline in markets. Rare coins became a safer bet and have attracted new investors which has bucked the trends of the past. This was not lost on the broader investing community who may be looking for diversity in their portfolios.

In review, the markets have been on a six-year rise as the economy has recovered from the Great Recession. Economic indicators are on an extended positive run. The election created certainty in the future of the government and the Federal Reserve created certainty when it raised interest rates. Since markets like certainty, the reaction is not because of the result of the election it is that the election is over.

Certainty is driving the markets, not the details of the results.

Credits

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average charts courtesy of Yahoo! Finance.
  • Gold and silver charts courtesy of Kitco.

Vegans go overboard with polymer notes

Bank of England £5 Polymer note

I have a personal rule that I do not criticize anyone’s lifestyle choices or non-choices. It is not a matter of tolerance but one of respect because if I want acceptance for what I do then it is not my place to judge someone else. But I draw the line where tolerance is pushed beyond acceptance but an insistence that everyone adapt to their ways.

To be a vegan means that you do not use or consume any animal product. It is a movement that began in the 16th century but organized in the 19th century as part of a philosophy to reject the commodity status of animals. In fact, the term “vegan” did not enter the language in 1944 when Donald Watson co-founded the Vegan Society in England. Fundamentally, I do not have a problem with vegans or veganism but it has recently crossed the line where my tolerance is being tested.

In September, the release a new £5 polymer note featuring the portrait of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Even though there were concerns raised at the time of the release, in November, a vegan activist names Steffi Rox asked the Bank of England if the new £5 polymer note contains tallow on Twitter. The Bank of England responded that “there is a trace of tallow in the polymer pellets used in the base substrate of the polymer £5 notes.”

Which was followed up by Ms. Rox asking “what consideration was given to #vegans & their human rights in the making of these?”

This exchange reverberated around the world to all countries that use polymer notes including Australia that has been circulating polymer notes since 1992.

The Bank of England issued a statement confirming that the pellets used to make the polymer substrate contains trace amounts of tallow.

The new notes are produced on a product called Guardian manufactured by Innovia Security. Innovia is the company formed in Australia following the research and production of the polymer substrate by the Reserve Bank of Australia. Although Innovia has not issued a formal statement, press reports note that the company admits that tallow is used in the resin it sources from a supplier to make the polymer pellets used by the banks in the manufacture for the substrate that is printed for currency.

Tallow is made from suet, the fatty deposits around the organs of cows and sheep. It is a byproduct of the process of butchering a cow for its meat and hides. In its natural form, suet is only useful for cooking and some preservation. When it is rendered (by boiling) into tallow, it is used to manufacture soap, candles, and lubricants. The use of tallow in even the most synthetic lubricant is ubiquitous. Machines used to harvest crops or grease moving parts in automobiles have tallow in them.

Tallow is part of using the whole animal rather than killing it for parts and discarding the rest. It is the concept that animal rights activists preach. On this, I agree with their position.

But it isn’t like the Bank of England or Innovia is dumping tallow into its manufacturing process. Based on what how it was explained to me by a chemist familiar with polymer manufacturing but not associated with Innovia or the polymer banknote process, tallow is likely used in the resin as part of the pellet manufacturing process. The resin acts as a binder but has to manufactured in a way that prevents it from sticking to everything. Small amounts of tallow are used as a lubricant to make the resin to prevent it from sticking to the machinery. Trace amounts of tallow remain in the resin in the same manner oil would remain on your tires if you rolled over an oil slick on the street.

Just because there is oil on your tires does not mean your tires are made of oil. But the oil remains a trace element on your tires and continues to exist until removed using some type of friction. But it is such a small trace, you never notice.

The same can be said of the tallow. The chemist said that if there are more than 5 parts per million of tallow in the notes then that the manufacturing process should be questioned. Aside from suggesting the process is dirty the proportions may make the polymer unstable and less useful to use as currency. Its 25-year usage in circulation suggests that there are no problems in the manufacturing process.

To understand what 5 parts per million would mean, you can also think of it as one-two thousandth of one percent.

With all due respect to vegans, you are probably breathing more dander in a single day than you are touching tallow in all of the polymer banknotes that cross your paths. For those of us who know that tallow is used in all sorts of lubrication products, especially those used in transportation, you cannot get away from its use. It is everywhere. You need to better educate yourselves before taking a stand against one-two thousandth of one percent because you look like hypocrites.

Victoria Cleland, Chief Cashier at the Bank of England, presenting the Churchill War Rooms with their New Fiver

Images courtesy of Innovia Security.

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