You can design a coin

Have you ever looked at a coin and wondered where the design ideas come from? Have you ever said to yourself that you could do a better job? Then here is your chance!

US Mint 2018 WWI Design CompetitionBeginning February 29, 2016, the U.S. Mint is having an open competition to design the 2018 World War I Centennial Commemorative silver dollar.

There is a caveat: you have to be an artist of some type and a U.S. citizen 18 years of age or older. Phase I of the competition is the evaluation of up to five examples of your work submitted digitally to the U.S. Mint who is hosting the competition committee. You have to be able to submit a digital portfolio. Even if your work is good and you think you can be part of the competition, you either have to be able to take a good picture of your work or find a photographer who can help.

The “expert jury” will review your portfolio and select no more than 20 artists for the second phase.

Phase II, those selected artists will be asked to submit one design along with a plaster model of both the obverse and reverse for the proposed coin. Only one artist’s design will be selected

The winning artist will receive $10,000 and have your name etched in numismatic lore for being the designer of the coin. For this, your initials will appear on the coin, the Certificate of Authenticity, and in places like the Red Book!

“Artists are expected to distill the program’s design theme to its essence, representing a complicated subject on a very small palette.” A silver dollar is 38 millimeters in diameter!

Application deadline is April 28, 2016.

Cassie McFarland holds up Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Dollar with her design

Cassie McFarland holds up Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Dollar with her design

Remember Cassie McFarland? She was the artist from California who entered the National Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin competition and won the design contest. This is the coin whose clad half-dollar won Coin of the Year honors for the most innovative coin on a commemorative that was just about a sellout (over 1 million coins struck).

Artists are always looking for a something to add to their portfolio. McFarland has had her picture in nearly every major newspaper throughout the United States and the image here has made the rounds on social media. I hope she has been able to boost her career with this. She definitely deserves any attention she receives.

Think about it… your design on thousands of coins in the hands of collectors, preserved forever. Cassie’s design is. How about you?

Images courtesy of the U.S. Mint.
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Pounds, shillings, pence and the power of 12

Collection of old pre-decimal coins from during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

Collection of old pre-decimal coins from during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

As a collector of Maryland colonial currency, I was reading about the differences with exchange rates and the problems the colonies faced when they started to issue paper currency. While reading the references, the amounts did not make sense until I figured out the old British monetary system. Once that was figured out, it was easier to understand the disagreements between the colonies about the values each was expecting their currencies to maintain.

A very short, simplistic, and incomplete history begins with the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror. His invasion of England from Normandy on the northern shores of what is France today in September of 1066 and coronation on December 25, 1066, marks the birth of what would become England.

During the next nearly 50 years, William I (1066-87), William II (1087-1100), and Henry I (1100-35), most of the emphasis has been to finish the conquest and consolidate the ruling under the single crown. The Treaty of Alton (1102) and the subsequent conquest of Normandy (1106) was capable of consolidating power and allowed Henry to attempt to create a sustainable government. Insurgencies from Whales, Rebellion of 1115-20 and the crisis of succession, where is his wife Matilda had not conceived a child, did not allow Henry to finish his work by his death in 1135.

£sd Symbolism

The pound symbol is a fancied “L” based on the Latin librae for weight or balance. It was intended that the 240 pence could be placed on a balance to weigh one pound sterling. The shilling, adapted from the Latin solidus, for solid, was the primary coin of commerce represented with an “s.” For the pence, it used the “d” from the Latin denarius, the smallest Roman coin. Multiple denominations are separated with a slash. For example, 1 shilling can be written as “1/-” while 2 shilling and 3 pence might be written as “2/3d.”

Henry I was succeeded by Stephen, the grandson of William I, with much contention. The problem was that Stephen’s younger brother, Henry of Blois, was embraced by Henry I and subsequently by the Normans. The subsequent civil war lead to a period called “The Anarchy” (1135-1154). During that time Stephen tried to continue with Henry’s reforms but was not able to hold on to the control of the government. Toward the end of his reign, Stephen recognized Henry as the heir to the throne.

With a peace treaty negotiated by Stephen, there was a new peace during the coronation of Henry II in 1154. During the peace, Henry II continued to consolidate power of Norman and Anjou (today this is northern France) and reconstructed the English government.

As part of his reconstruction, Henry II decided to base the currency on the troy pound. The troy pound was based on the Roman libra, which was the basis of weight that England accustomed with. In order to make the money more acceptable, it was divided into 20 units which were originally called testoons. Later, it was renamed as the shilling. As an attempt to make the testoon (shilling) the major unit of currency which corresponded to the Roman solidus. As the solidus was divided into 12 denarii, the testoon was divided further into 12 units with one called a penny and multiples called pence. This was to keep current with the current standard that a pound sterling weight 240 pennyweights.

Early on, it was clear that pence was not small enough of a denomination and was further divided into four parts, two halfpennies or four farthings (quarter pennies). This division was used because the one pennyweight coin representing a penny could not be cut further to represent smaller denominations. Farthings were further divided into smaller denominations using tokes until coins were first used in the 17th century.

To understand this system, I came up with the following table.

Denomination Years struck Equivalents Relative to a Pound Nicknames
Quarter farthing 1839-1853, 1868 1/16 d (16 = 1 penny) 1/3840 pound  
Third farthing 1827-1913 1/12 d (12 = 1 penny) 1/2880 pound  
Half farthing a 1828-1856 1/8 d (8 = 1 penny) 1/1920 pound  
Farthing 1860-1956 1/4 d (4 = 1 penny) 1/960 pound  
Halfpenny 1672-1860 1/2 d (2 = 1 penny) 1/480 pound  ha’penny
Penny 1707-1970 1d 240 pence = 1 pound  
Three halfpence 1834-43, 1860-62 11/2 d 1/160 pound  
Twopence 1797 2d 1/120 pound  
Threepence b 1547-1970 3d 1/80 pound  
Groat 1836-1855, 1888 4d 1/60 pound  joey, sixpenny bit
Sixpence 1551-1970 6d 1/40 pound  tanner
Shilling 1503-1970 1/- (12 pence) 1/20 pound  bob
Florin 1849-1970 2/- (24 pence) 1/10 pound  two bob bit
Half crown 1707-1970 2/6p (26 pence) 1/8 pound  
Double florin 1887-1890 4/- (52 pence) 1/5 pound  
Crown 1707-1965 5/- (60 pence) 1/4 pound  
Sovereign (pound) c 1817-1917, 1925, 1957- 240 pence 10 Shillings  
Half guinea 1699-1816 10/6d 1/8 ounce of gold  
Guinea d 1663-1814 21/- 1/4 ounce of gold  

  1. Half farthing was originally made for Ceylon
  2. Three halfpence produced for circulation in the British colonies, mainly in Ceylon and the West Indies
  3. A one pound coin made of gold was called a Sovereign
  4. The guinea came into English after the Guinea region of West Africa was discovered by the British and mined its gold
  5. Not listed is “quid,” the nickname of a one-pound paper note

This was the system until Decimalization Day on February 15, 1971.

Today, British coins are divided into 100 pence to one pound. The coins struck for circulation by the Royal Mint are 1 Penny, 2 Pence, 5 Pence, 10 Pence, 20 Pence, 50 Pence or Half-Pound, £1 (pound), and £2. Paper currency is issued for denominations of £5 and greater.

United Kingdom modern decimalization redesign of 2014 resembles a shield.

United Kingdom modern decimalization redesign of 2014 resembles a shield.


  • Image of pre-decimalization coins courtesy of Coincraft
  • Image of 2014 United Kingdom shield set courtesy of the Royal Mint

Free Meaningful Access

iBill Talking Banknote Identifier

iBill® Talking Banknote Identifier

Earlier this week the Bureau of Engraving and Printing announced that in honor of Low Vision Awareness Month, blind or visually impaired persons can request a free iBill currency reader as part of the BEP Meaningful Access program.

The iBill currency reader is a product of Orbit Research. Retailing at $119.00, iBill is a pocket-sized reader that can identify all Federal Reserve Notes in circulation. Orbit Research claims that “most bills are identified in less than one second” and can announce “the denomination in a clear female voice; tone and vibration modes protect privacy.” It requires one AAA battery that is included.

The Meaningful Access Program came about as the result of a settlement between the government and the American Council of the Blind who brought suit claiming that U.S. currency violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. This was first confirmed by the courts in 2006 and subsequent appeals had judges requesting a settlement. Following the 2009 settlement, the BEP began to work on meaningful access programs.

IDEAL Currency Identifier

IDEAL Currency Identifier

BEP developed EyeNote

BEP developed EyeNote

One of their first attempts was EyeNote, an iPhone app the camera to scan the note and identify it in 2-4 seconds. Although slower than the iBill, it is a very capable app that will allow the visually impaired iPhone user to carry one less device.

According to the BEP Meaningful Access mobile application page, the BEP worked in collaboration with the Department of Education to have the IDEAL Currency Identifier that works on Android devices. This app can be found on the Google Play Store.

A more impressive app is the LookTel Money Reader available for iOS and the Mac. For the visually impaired traveler, not only can Money Reader recognize U.S. currency, but the currency of 20 other countries including the Australian Dollar, British Pound, Canadian Dollar, Euro, Indian Rupee, Japanese Yen, and Saudi Arabian Riyal. Money Reader is faster at identifying currency than EyeNote and can identify fragments, as I found in my last review.

LookTel Money Reader

LookTel Money Reader

In order to qualify for the free iBill reader, a “competent authority” must certify that your vision is 20/200 or less in your better eye with corrective lenses or that the widest diameters of visual field angular distance not greater than 20 degrees or that the “competent authority” certifies that you cannot read any printed material regardless of correction. The competent authority is usually a doctor, registered nurse, licensed therapists, institutions and welfare agencies familiar with your case.

If you think you, a relative, or someone you care for qualifies, download and fill out the simple form and send it to the BEP address on the form&rsqou;s instructions. It will take up to eight weeks for you to receive your free iBill currency reader.

As an aside, this is not a taxpayer funded venture. BEP earns its funding from their business operations. Most of their money is earned from printing money for Federal Reserve. They also earn a smaller amount of profit from sales to collectors.


  • iBill image courtesy of Orbit Research.
  • IDEAL Currency Identifier screenshot courtesy of IDEAL Group Inc. on the Google Play Store.
  • All other images are property of the author.

More words

Dictionary_IconSince having the Numismatic Dictionary active for over a month, the reception has been more than my expectations!

According to the server statistics, there have been over 500 unique visitors to that page with more 20-percent returning for another look. Since I put a bit of work into that database, it is nice to see it is being used.

I also received feedback with corrections and requests for additions. Corrections are wonderful and encouraged. If you see something wrong, send me a note and I will make the correction.

As for the additions, I received a request for 12 additional terms. As I was researching some of the terms to ensure I entered the right information, I found a few more to add. I had to stop at adding 51 additional terms. Some of the new additions include banknote, bit, branch mint, coin orientation, crown, encased postage stamps, euro, farthing, intaglio, legal tender, manganese, medal orientation, pet crime, pound, real, shilling, small dollar, and third-party grading service.

I really appreciate all of the input and hope it helps the numismatic community!

Keys and Mints Reference

referenceRecently, I was notified that the company whose notebook-like program decided to close its virtual doors. Its concept was simple: act like a notebook that you can stuff anything into. Although other programs passed it in some features, it was still a solid way of keeping a digital notebook. Now that they are out of business, I do not want to rely on what we call “abandonware.”

As I was reviewing a few of the notebooks I created, I found now with a lot of numismatic notes. This notebook contains lists, ideas, and other items of numismatic information. Rather than keep them hidden from the public on my disk, I will start to publish what I find as part of my Collector’s Reference section.

Today begins with two additions:

  1. Key Date Coins is a list of coins that may be considered key dates for their series. Determining key date coins sometimes is a matter of opinion, especially on older series. My notes had several lists which I used a basic polling system, mintage statistics, and third-party grading company’s population reports to determine what to add. This list only does this for non-gold coins. I will try to find similar references for gold coins and add them in the future.
  2. Mints and Mintmarks documents every branch mint operated by the U.S. Mint and provides a little information paragraph about them including the branch mint in Manila while the Philippines was a colony of the United States.

I hope you find this helpful. As always, you can always send me additions or corrections. Other comments are welcome below.

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