Learning from History using Numismatics

Portrait of George Santayana by Samuel Johnson Woolf (1880-1948)

One of the most popular aphorism was written by philosopher and essayist George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Although it was one line in Volume 1 of his five volume The Life of Reason, the statement is so profound that it stands out as a seminal statement.

Events this past week in Charlottesville, Virginia are forcing us to heed Santayana’s warning and look at our history to understand how we got here and why. Regardless of how anyone feels about the issues behind the divisions we cannot condone the use of violence to try to force opinions on others. This is what was tried in the past, which is why we have to learn from it because it seems to repeat itself time and again.

We should not hide our history behind political correctness. We need to put both the good and the bad out front for all to see. We need to learn from both and improve going forward. And this is not only about the Civil War. The United States has had a long record of abuses to the native tribes in the 19th century that we should be ashamed of. In fact, this country continues to abuse the native tribes and violate treaties that were designed to protect both sides. For an example, see the Dakota Pipeline project.

Americans want to celebrate their past and learn from the mistakes but are we continuing to make the same mistake? For every Civil Rights Act of 1964 Silver Dollar (2014), there are stories of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II whose only “crime” was to have Japanese ancestry.

Commemorative coins have always been used to help raise money for one cause or another. Members of Congress would bring the request to Washington from their home state and use the support of these bills to bargain with their fellow members to support other bills. It became so bad that the commemorative coins programs were ended following the 1954 release of the George Washington Carver Half Dollar.

During the early period of commemorative coins, Congress authorized the issuance of three commemoratives with themes tied to the Civil War. Two were created to memorialize battlefields and the other a memorial that is causing controversy today.

Stone Mountain Memorial Half Dollar

The 1925 Stone Mountain Memorial Half Dollar features the images of Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The monument was commissioned by the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Association to create a monument to the leaders of the south on the large granite face of the mountain. Both the coin and the monument was designed by Gutzon Borglum. Borglum was the same designer of Mount Rushmore.

The project began in 1916 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. They were deeded the side of the mountain by the Venable Brothers, who used to mine the stones. Sam Venable used Stone Mountain as a central meeting place as part of the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.

The carved memorial was supposed to be a 12-year project. Aside from funding issues, Borglum, who was known to associate with the Ku Klux Klan, quit the project in 1925. That lead to having many problems with funding and maintaining sculptors throughout the years. After the mountain was purchased by the State of Georgia in 1958, there were two attempts to complete the memorial. It was finally completed in 1970.

Congress authorized a production of 5 million coins. These coins were struck in batches of 500,000 at a time in Philadelphia. The coins were sent to the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Association which offered them for sale. Despite brisk sales, they only sold about 1.3 million coins. The balance of the last run was returned to the U.S. Mint to be melted.

Battle of Gettysburg Half Dollar

The 1936 Battle of Gettysburg Half Dollar issued to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle. The obverse features generic the profiles of Union and Confederate soldiers with the words “Blue and Gray Reunion” under the portraits.

During this time, the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association had been transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service for administration. But the area needed additional infrastructure and support. As part of the plans to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the commemorative coin was used to Pennsylvania the necessary money. As with many of the commemorative coins issued during The Great Depression, the program fell short.

Congress authorized a production of 50,000 coins. These coins were struck at Philadelphia and sent to the Pennsylvania State Commission which offered them at $1.65 each. They sold just under 27,000 coins. The rest were returned to the U.S. Mint to be melted.

Battle of Antietam Half Dollar

The 1937 Battle of Antietam Half Dollar was issued to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the battle which General Geroge B. McClellan preventing the invasion of Maryland by General Robert E. Lee’s Army of the Potomac near Antietam Creek. Although Lee’s army was able to withdraw back to Virginia, President Abraham Lincoln relieve McClellan because it was felt that the battle did not defeat Lee’s army.

Similar to the Gettysburg Half Dollar, Maryland proposed a commemorative half dollar in order to improve the infrastructure around the battlefield and cemetery. One of the differences between Antietam and Gettysburg was the network of roads built around the battlefield area that Sharpsburg, the main city along Antietam Creek, was a gateway across the Potomac River into these western areas even before the Civil War. As a natural crossing point, Lee’s army was going to use it to attack the Union from the west.

Congress authorized a production of 50,000 coins. These coins were struck at Philadelphia and sent to the Washington County (Maryland) Historical Society which offered them at $1.65 each. They sold about 18,000 coins. The rest were returned to the U.S. Mint to be melted.

Learning from History

During the times that these commemorative coins were proposed, the commemoratives were met with little interest and even with some disdain that the U.S. Mint would be required to produce so many commemoratives.

Specifically, regarding the Stone Mountain Memorial half dollar, a review of newspaper archives does not mention an outrage over the production of the coin. However, there was plenty of stories about the Jim Crow laws. Predictably, northern newspapers were against them and southern newspapers defended them.

Stone Mountain itself has had an interesting history even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. In the 1980s, Daniel Carver, former Grand Dragon of the “Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” donated money to the Stone Mountain Memorial Association to upgrade the park. In return, the organization was going to rename the park in his honor until protests convinced the organization otherwise. Carver would go on to make a spectacle at the park during the week before the 1988 Democratic National Convention that was held in Atlanta.

History is addressed to understand the context. It is easy to look back and ask, “What were they thinking?” By understanding the history, it does provide an insight into that answer.

But Continue to Collect History

History is a great teacher but it is not enough to have the words. We build museums with artifacts of history so that we can learn from the past. We collect artifacts of history so that we can preserve the past. We study these artifacts to understand “What were they thinking” because it is important to the context of history.

Whether it is for curiosity, pride, interest in the subject, or the thrill of the chase, collecting historical artifacts is not only educational but also vital to ensure we do not forget the history regardless of whether it is good or bad.

If your passion is classic commemoratives, make sure you include a Stone Mountain Memorial Half Dollar in your collection.

If your passion is Confederate currency, some were well made and will make for an interesting collection.

If your passion is military medals and awards of the Civil War or of the Confederacy, make sure you find as many as possible. Document what your find. Research their provenance. Understand what they mean because it is important that history is remembered.

Whatever you collect, share it with the rest of us because we all need to learn about history so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Adding Collecting Guides

Over the last few weeks, I have been working on a few writing projects that include primers about collecting numismatics. While some of these articles have allowed me to repurpose blog posts, I have had to create some content not posted before.

In the past, I posted a few including the series on small dollars and about Seated Liberty Dime Varieties. They were posted as regular articles because I thought they would be of general interest.

A few may not make for exciting reading but could be used as a reference for those interested. Last week, I added one of those articles rewritten for the blog and posted it under the Collector’s Reference menu.

A Collector’s Guide to Understanding U.S. Coin Grading” is a simple overview of coin grading. It starts with a short narrative that explains the origin of coin grading and its standardization. It is not an extensive overview. It is just the basics to give a collector an idea of the evolution.

This is followed by three tables:

  • Coin Grading Scale correlates the words with the expected grade that might be printed in an advertisement or on a grading service label along with a definition of what that grade means. These definitions were adapted from The Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins edited by Kenneth Bressett. I own the 6th Edition but I am sure it has not changed much between then and the 7th Edition!
  • Strike Quality is the attributes of a coin that signifies the strike and the wearing of the dies. Each of these designations begins with “Full” like “Full Bands” or “Full Steps.”
  • Surface Quality is those grade attributes assigned to the quality of the coin’s fields. These are for proof coins designated as “Deep Cameo” or a business strike exhibiting “Proof Like” surfaces.

It ends with a section on a summary of the “eBay Coin Grading Policy.” There are aspects of their grading policy I did not know until I read eBay’s rules carefully.

If you find these types of write-ups helpful, let me know. I can convert some of the other guides into posts for the community.

Image courtesy of the American Numismatic Association.

Weekly Numismatic World News for August 13, 2017

The reasons why counterfeiters are successful is that people do not pay attention. Even when people do allegedly pay attention, it is almost as if the brain is not engaging.

A report from the U.K. says that people returning from mainland Europe are trying to pass euros because they look like the new £1 coin.

Although both coins are bi-metallic, the new pound coin is 12-sided meaning that there are 12 distinct “corners” that should be able to be felt on the coin. The euro is round with a milled edge that should have a different feel.

Even though the outer ring of both coins is made of nickel-brass, the ring of the euro coin is thinner than the outer ring of the new 12-sided pound coin.

The final clue in telling the difference is that the pound coin, like all legal tender coins minted by the Royal Mint, the coin features the portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II while the euro features a map of Europe and the denomination.

The cost for not paying attention is a loss of about 9 pence since one euro is worth about 91 pence.

And now this week’s news.

 August 7, 2017

Two of the rarest one cent coins ever made have sold at auction for a combined total close to half a million dollars. A 1943 Lincoln Penny fetched $282,000 while a 1792 Birch Cent which had been thought to have been lost for 130 years sold for $211,500. → Read more at dailymail.co.uk


 August 8, 2017

HOLDREGE — Robert Kinkaid of Lexington had worked to get the book “Forgotten Colorado Silver” published since 1982. His efforts paid off, and the book was published this year. One of the authors, Robert D. → Read more at kearneyhub.com


 August 8, 2017

The new £5 Prince Philip coin that has been released to celebrate his 70 years of service could be worth a fortune in the future. The coin costs £13 to pre-order through the Royal Mint and will be shipped in late August. → Read more at metro.co.uk


 August 8, 2017

UK’s Royal Mint will supply Argentina with 150 million peso coins, after the institution won a contract to assist with the minting of a new coin series. Announced on social media by UK chancellor Philip Hammond, the mint will work closely with its Argentine counterpart – Sociedad del Estado Casa de Moneda – to produce blanks for the new coin series. → Read more at en.mercopress.com


 August 11, 2017

Holidaymakers returning from Europe are trying to pass off euro coins as the new pound coins in British shops because they look so similar. Shopkeepers are warning staff to be vigilant after noticing the huge increase in one euro coins being found in takings. → Read more at metro.co.uk


 August 11, 2017

His initials are on every British coin minted since 2015, but who is the Jiu Jitsu enthusiast who designed the Queen's head, despite never having met her? He is an artist whose most famous portrait has been reproduced billions of times, and you probably have one in your pocket right now. → Read more at bbc.com


 Aug 12, 2017

This full-dimensional 3D coin weighs 100 grams and is made of pure silver and there will be 251 pieces available for sale in the Indian market. → Read more at hindustantimes.com


 Aug 13, 2017

The federal government plans to pay tribute to Georgia’s largest barrier island by issuing a special coin. → Read more at fox5atlanta.com

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Lack of leadership at the U.S. Mint

Following the sell out of the 225th Anniversary Enhanced Uncirculated Coin Set, a few readers asked if I was going to post a comment. I declined to let the rest of the industry have this discussion. I would rather have a discussion about a different issue related to the U.S. Mint: the lack of leadership.

Since the resignation of Edmund Moy as of January 9, 2011, the U.S. Mint has not had a permanent director. Even though Moy’s term would have expired on September 5, 2011, there has been no permanent leadership as required by law.

Since Moy’s departure, there have been three people acting as director and two attempts at nominating a director that was not acted upon in the Senate.

As of this post, the U.S. Mint has not had a permanent director for 2,407 days or 6 years, 7 months, 3 days and counting. This appears to the longest vacant position in the federal government.

In the past, this seemed to be a good thing because the government professionals taking the reigns of leadership seems to have made decisions that did not appear to hurt collectors. That was until the 225th Anniversary Enhanced Uncirculated Coin Set was sold without household limits.

Given the current state of the government where it is estimated that over 40-percent of the positions open for appointments, including those that do not require Senate confirmation, maybe this is something we have to live with regardless of consequences.

Sirius Collecting

Always Together 2016 ½ oz Silver Proof Coin
(The Perth Mint)

Ancient Romans used to measure time by the position of the stars. One of the stars they observed was Sirius because it was the brightest star in the sky. During their observations, they found that starting about 20 days prior to its apex and 20 days that follow, the temperatures would be its hottest. This coincidence suggested to that Sirius was the cause of the heat and humidity.

Sirius is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (big dog). Because ancient Romans thought Sirius contributed to the heat and humidity, this period would be called the Dog Days.

Astrologically, the Dog Days begins on July 3 and runs through August 11.

Today’s society has attached many meanings to the Dog Days of Summer. Usually, it is associated with the time following July 4 through whenever school starts. In baseball, it is the jockeying for position to get ready for the pennant races. Football begins training camps, politicians warm up to run for office (sometimes a year early), and the temperatures are rising with the east getting too wet and the west not getting wet enough.

On the numismatic calendar, the Dog Days begin after the World’s Fair of Money and leads up to the start of school. Although this period is changing as some school districts are now starting earlier in an attempt to hedge against the potential for weather-related closings during the winter months.

With Congress on vacation, it also means that any numismatic-related legislation will remain in committee until they return.

Leading into the fall season, some mints will release some new coins, but these will be non-circulating legal tender (NCLT) coins. Very few significant releases will be made in the next few weeks leaving some of us to clean off the top of our desks and organize the collection (guilty as charged).

But your intrepid numismatic blogger is here ready to comment on whatever comes to mind… or a topic you suggest. I do take requests!

Image courtesy of The Perth Mint.

NGC Adds to its Numismento Line

NGC slab featuring the U.S. Mint 225th Anniversary Label

Going through my email, I found a note from Numismatic Guarantee Corporation announcing a new label for the 10-coin 225th Anniversary Enhanced Uncirculated Coin Set. The label has the image of “Ye Olde Mint,” the mid-19th century picture of the original U.S. Mint building in Philadelphia.

Funny thing is that the outrage of putting a building that has been long demolished on the label of a slab is non-existent.

I wonder why?

I am not begrudging NGC for creating new labels for their products or anybody buying them. But the argument about the subject matter of one label versus another shows the hypocrisy by some of the people in this hobby.

When NGC announced that reality television star Rick Harrison would be featured on an NGC label, the umbrage by some was deafening. Notes that I received about the Harrison numismentos were so profane that I had to force a few people to apologize under the threat that I would publish their uncensored words and email addresses!

It is not a secret that I am not a fan of slabs. To me, there is something antiseptic about a coin entombed in a slab.

It is also not a secret that I am not a fan of these special labels. They are a gimmick to make you buy the slab and not the coin.

I am not going to argue with anyone who likes the labels, slabs or anything I am against. No! If this is what drives you to collect, then have fun. I welcome those who enter the hobby to collect whatever they like.

HOWEVER, I am not a fan of inconsistent arguments. If you are in favor of these labels, then you have to take what you like with what you perceive as the bad. If you want NGC, Professional Coin Grading Service or any other grading service to use special labels, then you have to accept all of the labels these companies produce regardless of the subject.

I am not saying you have to add one to your collection. You can ignore the ones you do not like. But if you are in favor of the grading services creating the labels you like, then you have to accept the ones you do not like, too.

As an aside, NGC produced a label autographed by former U.S. Mint Director Edmund Moy. The same person who was in charge of the U.S. Mint when they were caught flat-footed when there was run on American Eagle coins, especially the silver coins. This caused the U.S. Mint to have to break the American Silver Eagle Proof series in 2009 because of his incompetent leadership.

If you are going to get upset that a reality television star was added to a label, I am going to call having a label that features an incompetent politician even worse for the hobby.

Of course, this does not include my feelings about the “Early Releases” and “First Strike” designations. These bogus designations are far worse for the hobby than who is featured on the label.

Slab image courtesy of NGC

POLL: Are you interested in the remaining U.S. Mint special collectibles?

Not including the regular issues that will be sold by the U.S. Mint, the items left on their schedule is the American Liberty Four Silver Medal Set and the American Palladium Eagle.

American Liberty Four Silver Medal Set will be on sale on October 19, 2017 at Noon ET

I previously discussed the Palladium Eagle. The American Liberty Four Silver Medal Set are four silver medals featuring the gold 225th Anniversary American Liberty Gold design struck in silver and without a denomination. Each medal will contain one troy ounce of silver and consist of one medal from each of the active mints with different finishes:

  • Philadelphia Reverse Proof
  • San Francisco Proof
  • West Point Enhanced Uncirculated
  • Denver Uncirculated

Although the price has not been announced, given the current 225th Anniversary American Liberty Silver Medal $59.95, it is within reason to predict that the four medal silver set with special packaging will cost around $250 (plus-or-minus 15-percent).

The poll question of the day is are you going to buy these items?
 

Are you interested in the remaining U.S. Mint special collectibles?







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Image courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

Weekly Numismatic World News for August 6, 2017

I guess things went well at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money. There seems to have been a little reaction on social media and some input from the regular numismatic media, but for the most part, I am going to have to wait until my coin club meeting on Tuesday to speak with those who attended.

A recent purchase of six Canadian Tokens

My week has not been without the ability to acquire numismatic items. While rummaging through an estate sale I found some Canadian tokens. Since I own a copy of the Breton book, Illustrated History of Coins and Tokens Relating to Canada, this will give me a chance to look into the few token I was able to buy at a very inexpensive price. Who knows, maybe this will spark another collection interest!

Finally, I want to wish my brother Joel a Happy Birthday. I cannot believe the old man is 53!

July 31, 2017

As far back as he can remember, he has collected coins. As a young boy, he tagged along with his father to coin club meetings and exhibitions, gaining an interest in Canadian pennies and U.S. cents. "I don't remember not collecting," said Hallenbeck, who owns Hallenbeck Coin Gallery at 711 N. → Read more at gazette.com


July 31, 2017

OSKALOOSA — Jerry Jenkins, a former Oskaloosa resident who now lives in Texas, recently mailed two old coins to the Oskaloosa Herald. Jenkins said he wanted the coins to be donated to Nelson Pioneer Farm and Museum as part of Mahaska County history. → Read more at oskaloosa.com


July 31, 2017

BENGALURU: Investors and history lovers made a beeline this weekend for Nanyadarshini 2017. This was the first edition of the annual numismatics exhibition post-demonetisation by the Karnataka Numismatic Society at Shikshakara Bhawan on Kempegowda Road in the city. → Read more at economictimes.indiatimes.com


August 1, 2017

In 2013, David McCarthy spotted a rare coin in an auction catalog and immediately had a hunch it was the first coin minted by the fledgling United States of America in 1783. Not the first run of coins, mind you, but the very first one. → Read more at npr.org


August 1, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — Old inns along the Revolutionary War trails boast of George Washington sleeping there. But coin experts say they have found the first silver piece minted by the United States — one likely held by the most en vogue of Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton. → Read more at seattletimes.com


August 1, 2017

A picturesque stretch of land in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is set to grace a special quarter the United States Mint unveils for 2018. The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is among the places featuring on the reverse side for the America the Beautiful Quarters program, officials announced Wednesday at the American Numismatics Association’s World’s Fair of Money. → Read more at detroitnews.com


August 2, 2017

The design for a coin representing Voyageurs National Park was unveiled this week along with the designs for four other national sites to be included in the United States Mint multi-year "America the Beautiful Quarters" program. → Read more at ifallsjournal.com


August 3, 2017

The Royal Mint is celebrating Prince Philip‘s retirement the same way they celebrate, well, all big royal milestones: with a new coin. The Queen‘s 96-year-old husband retired from official duties on Wednesday, after 64 years of service on behalf of the royal family. → Read more at people.com


August 3, 2017

ULAN BATOR, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) — The Central Bank of Mongolia has issued a commemorative coin dedicated to the Gobi brown bear which is on the verge of extinction. The coin made of pure silver has the shape of a circle with a diameter of 38.61 mm and a price of 300,000 togrog (122 U.S. dollars). → Read more at news.xinhuanet.com


August 3, 2017

Recently in The Hill, we heard former Reps. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) and Tim Penny (D-Minn.) promote currency reforms as a way to save taxpayers money. Unfortunately, their proposed solution, The Currency Optimization, Innovation, and National Savings (COINS) Act of 2017, misses the mark completely and would move the country in exactly the wrong direction. → Read more at thehill.com

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Palladium Eagles are coming

American Palladium Eagle mockup as presented to the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee

According to reporting by Coin World, the American Palladium Eagles will be released by the U.S. Mint sometime in September.

As part of the lame duck session following the 2010 midterm elections, Congress passed the American Eagle Palladium Bullion Coin Act of 2010 (Pub. L. 111-303) telling the U.S. Mint strike one-ounce .9995 fine palladium bullion coins as part of the American Eagle Bullion Program. The coin will have a $25 face value and require that “the obverse shall bear a high-relief likeness of the ‘Winged Liberty’ design used on the obverse of the so-called ‘Mercury dime’” making it yet another bullion coin that will feature a design from the early 20th century. For the reverse, the law says that the coin “shall bear a high-relief version of the reverse design of the 1907 American Institute of Architects medal.” Both the Mercury Dime and 1907 AIA medal designed by Adolph A. Weinman, whose Walking Liberty design is used on the American Silver Eagle coins.

The catch to the law was that the U.S. Mint was to perform a feasibility study to determine if there will be market demand. Although the study showed that there is a market for palladium coins, it was not overwhelming. Based on the wording of the law, the U.S. Mint opted not to strike palladium coins.

This did not sit well with Rep. Dennis “Denny” Rehberg (R), Montana’s only member of the House of Representatives since the primary source of palladium in the United States is the Stillwater Mine in Montana. The mines, which also provides the U.S. supply of platinum group metals (PGM), is owned and operated by the Stillwater Mining Company. Rehberg added an amendment to the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or the FAST Act (Public Law 114-94, 129 STAT. 1875, see Title LXXXIII, Sect. 73001) that took away the U.S. Mint’s option and added the word “shall.”

The FAST Act was also the law where the law was changed to allow the U.S. Mint to use better than 90-percent gold and silver in commemorative coins by changing the wording to say “not less than 90 percent….”

Palladium Eagle coins may have roughly the same impact on the market as the Platinum eagles since palladium is about $100 less expensive than platinum, 69-percent of the price of gold, but 53-times the price of silver. Based on the way the U.S. Mint prices precious metal products, the Palladium Eagle should cost within $100 of the platinum coins.

Precious Metals Price Snapshot as of August 4, 2017
(This is a static chart—it does not update)

Although palladium is only the fourth metal to have an official ISO currency code (XPD), it is not readily thought of as a precious metal that is used to hedge against financial disaster. Gold (XAU) and silver (XAG) are usually thought of first. Sometimes, platinum (XPT) is part of the discussion, but not as frequently as gold or silver.

Palladium does have industrial uses. Because of its ability to absorb hydrogen and compounds with hydrogen, like hydrocarbon, its major use is in catalytic converters used in every gasoline powered vehicle. It is also seen as a key element in the potential of cold fusion because of its ability to absorb hydrogen.

It is likely the American Palladium Eagle will be as popular as the Platinum Eagle. Maybe the U.S. Mint will sell more of these coins because they will be slightly cheaper and have a design more appealing to collectors, but neither of these coins will approach the sales totals of the gold or silver version of the American Eagle coins.

It is not a coin I am likely to collect. However, I will probably purchase the 2017 coin to have one from the first year of issue just as I did with the 2007 American Buffalo 24-karat Gold Proof coin.

Palladium Eagle images courtesy of the U.S. Mint via Coin World.

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