Coin jewelry is not legal everywhere

If you have not visited Etsy, you will find a shopping site where you can find unique items that are not available elsewhere. Most of the sellers on Etsy sell handmade designs, vintage items, repurposed vintage items, supplies, and unique low volume goods. It would not be farfetched to call Etsy an Internet craft fair and a neat place to go shopping.

One of the more interesting items on Etsy are coin jewelry. Coin designs are themselves a form of art but can become ordinary when repeated over millions of coins. Take a meaningful design and add it to a bezel, attach it to a pendant, or hammer it into a ring and these artists take the coins to the next level.

Many of these artists will take requests for the type of coin for their creations. Some will even let you send a special coin or a coin they cannot obtain to create your design.

A quick search on Etsy for coin jewelry found over 100,000 different jewelry items including bracelets, rings, earrings, bracelets and more. Aside from the different types of jewelry the artists will also use coins from all around the world including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Norway, and more.

Resin ear rings made by InspiringFlowers using Roosevelt dimes

Resin ear rings made by InspiringFlowers using Roosevelt dimes

1996 Half Dollar Ring by LuckyLiberty

1996 Half Dollar Ring by LuckyLiberty

Hummingbird cut from a Trinidad and Tobago penny by SawArtist

Hummingbird cut from a Trinidad and Tobago penny by SawArtist

Click on the image to visit artist’s store

Coin jewelry hunters may be unknowingly accessories to a crime. According to an article in The Straits Times, it is illegal to make jewelry using coins from Singapore.

Like many other nations, Singapore takes pride in the art on their coinage. Aside from being their means to promote commerce, they are used to represent their culture and society. However, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the Singapore equivalent of the U.S. Treasury Department, has said that under Singapore’s Currency Act, it is illegal to “mutilate, destroy or deface” their money. Offenders can be fined up to $2,000.

If you search for “Singapore coin jewellery” (the British spelling of “jewelry”) on Etsy, you will find around 200 different jewelry items returned as part of the search. It is common to see Singapore flower series coin or older coins that featured seahorses.

Painted Singapore Dollar coin ring by Monedus

Painted Singapore Dollar coin ring by Monedus

1990 Singapore Horse bullion coin 1/20 oz. in a ring by BritanniaJewelry

1990 Singapore Horse bullion coin 1/20 oz. in a ring by BritanniaJewelry

Pendant made using a cutout 1979 Singapore coin

Pendant made using a cutout 1979 Singapore coin

Click on the image to visit artist’s store
None of these artists are based on Singapore

While United States law allows for people to use coins for jewelry or other purposes as long as there is no attempt to use them as legal tender currency (18 U.S.C. § 331), this might not be the same for other countries. Although European laws are similar to those in the United States, there is some question as to whether the laws of Canada and Australia can be interpreted to have the same restrictions as Singapore.

When I asked an attorney, he questioned whether an international buyer would convicted of a crime. We both agreed that if you buy jewelry with an international coin, leave it home if you plan to visit that country.

Etsy was asked for a comment but attempts to contact them via email has not been answered.

All images are courtesy of their respective artists on Etsy.

An auction hunter’s lesson

Over the weekend I attended an estate auction that included coins for sale. While my new business venture concentrates on all vintage collectibles, I am still a collector and continue to look for those interesting items and the good coins to add to my collection. As I was looking over the lots I noticed one had several blue folders of Lincoln cents. The collector in me could not resist and I picked up the folders and started looking.

Every hold was filled.

What drew my eye first was the hole marked “1909-S VDB.” Even though the 1914-D may be worth more, the 1909-S VDB is considered the Holy Grail amongst change hunters. With only 484,000 struck the odds of finding one are not in a change hunter’s favor. But we keep looking and hoping.

After reaching into my pocket for my ever present loupe, I asked the attendant if I could remove the coin to see the reverse. I had to check for those three letters on the back because it did say it was a 1909-S on the front. With the attendant watching me, I removed the coin from the slot, turned it over and brought it up to my loupe.

Using a 16X loupe I zeroed in on the area where I could find the “V.D.B” only to find something unexpected. On this coin, the “VDB” with no periods were punched into the coin. Holding the coin and turning it in the light to see how the light reacts, it was easy to see that the coin was not real.

Being very disappointed I quietly told the attendant that the coin was altered. She did not know what to do. When I suggested she tell her boss, she took the coin from me and went into a back room. A moment later, she returned and asked me to follow her to the office.

Scott’s 1909-S VDB

Scott’s 1909-S VDB

While the owner of the auction house was a bit upset, we talked to establish who I was and how I was qualified to judge the authenticity. After asking him to bring up my blog and showing him that I own a real 1909-S VDB, I told him how I know that the coin was altered. I handed him my loupe and told him to look at the letters. When he saw that the letters were punched into the coin instead of being in relief, he became upset again, but not at me.

I understand how he felt. In the auction business, they earn money from the buyer and seller fees. If the item sells for a high price, the auction house makes more money. In this case, since the coin was a solid VF, it could have sold for $700-800 alone.

Before he became too angry, I asked to see the 1914-D. At VF that coin is about $400 in the retail market. When I looked carefully I could see that the mintmark was added to the coin. It was not a very good job when you see it under magnification but looked all right on first glance. I showed the auctioneer how I know it had the mintmark added. He agreed with my assessment.

He asked if there were any more important dates that he should know about. I zeroed in on the hole for the 1922-D that had “No D” written in pen under the date. Even before finding the date under the loupe I could tell the coin was whizzed. That is a bad sign to begin with but if the coin was real, it would diminish its value but not make it worthless. What made it worthless was that you can tell someone filed the mintmark off the coin. Whoever did the filing did not do a good job because it made a little hole where the mintmark should be. This coin doctor probably whizzed the coin in order to cover up the alterations.

To say I gave this gentleman a shock would be an understatement. He shook my hand and offered me a discount on the buyer’s fee for helping him. After leaving his office he had the attendant who helped me remove all of the blue binders from the auction. When I spoke with the attendant later, she said they were all from the same consignor and that he was going to return them as being unsalable.

This was not the first time I attended an auction at this place and it will not be my last. Aside from being able to purchase good inventory for my business, they have proven to me they have integrity. Knowing this helps me buy with confidence.

I tell this story to provide two lessons. First, always examine the items before you bid. Even for online auctions, examine the pictures and read any descriptions carefully. If you are afraid to buy ungraded coins, then buy only graded coins. But make sure you are fully aware of what is being sold. Do not be afraid of asking the seller a question or even asking for a better picture. If the seller cannot help you then do not buy from that seller.

Buy the book before buying the coin!

Buy the book before buying the coin!

When buying from a live auction, look carefully at the coins. Even if the coin was encased by a grading service, take out that loupe and examine. This means you should know what you are looking at. Educate yourself about the coins you are interested in purchasing. In a future post, I will discuss my portable reference and buying tools.

My second lesson is to know who you are buying from. This is more difficult online but you do have to take the feedback seriously. Again, if you have any questions you should ask. Every site has a way to contact the seller in order for you to ask questions. If the seller is not cooperative, let that be a sign for you.

When working with auction houses, it takes a little longer to establish a relationship. But you need to introduce yourself, talk with people and ask questions. Make yourself known and show that you are a serious buyer. It may take a few auctions to establish a relationship, but be persistent. Aside from preferential treatment and discounted seller fees, someone with a relationship can be told bout unpublished items in advance so that you are prepared to buy quicker than someone off the street. Another advantage is that if you specialize in something that the auction house cannot sell, you can buy it as a good price. As a reseller, I find that very good for business.

Even though online auctions are very popular, there is nothing better than being there live. I highly recommend the experience.

Stay Safe Online: RCNA warns of attempted phishing attack

PhishThe Royal Canadian Numismatic Association sent email to its members notifying them that on April 24 someone attempted a phishing scam trying to impersonate the RCNA Executive Secretary trolling for information. The RCNA did not send out an email note asking for information and recommended deleting them email.

Phishing is the term used to describe the attempt to convince someone to reveal personal information by sending them an email that looks like it came from a legitimate source. In this case, the attacker made their email look like it came from the RCNA hoping that members would give up their personal information.

When I am not blogging, meeting with other numismatists, or being with my family, I work in information security for the United States federal government. In my professional life, I have seen a lot of attempted and successful attacks against both government and commercial systems. However, the one attack that is the most difficult to defend are those where humans are convinced to act against their own best interest, such as a phishing attack.

Social engineering attacks are my favorite attacks. One reason is that it helps demonstrate to the organizations that I try to help that security is more than controls, encrypted communications, or anything else you might have read in the news. Security is a process that requires diligence, the same as it does in the real world.

The following are four rules that you can follow to help keep safe online:

Rule #1: Unless you are 100-percent certain that the email is legitimate, do not click on the link!

You will be never 100-percent certain that any email you receive is legitimate so make sure that you are as close as 100-percent certain as possible. One thing you can do is to move your pointer over the link, stop, and wait for the tooltip to show you the address.

Tooltips are those balloon-like popups that will tell you something about the link or element before you press the mouse button. One way to tell that a link is bad is that if the address is not what you think. For example, if the link is supposed to send you to the RCNA website, the tooltip better say that it will send you to rcna.ca. If it does not, then do not click on the link.

When you check the link, the address of the server is the first part of the address. If what should be the server name is not in that area at the beginning of the address, do not click on the link.

One trick the phishers use is to show you what looks like a complicated address in the message, but the link behind it will send you to another website. This is where tooltips can help. If you hover over the address and they do not match, it is an attempt to trick you and you should not click on the link.

If you are using a web-based email client, you can check the address on the status line at the bottom of your browser window. Check to see if the address makes sense is also a good tool. For example, if the link is supposed to be from the RCNA and “rcna.ca” is not the address of the server in the link, then it is a phishing attempt and you should not click on the link.

If you are unsure about the link, then go to your browser and type in the address yourself. Rather than clicking on a suspicious link, you can visit the RCNA website by typing “http://rcna.ca” directly into your browser’s address bar.

Anatomy of a Phishing email(courtesy of the University of California-Davis)

Anatomy of a Phishing email
(courtesy of the University of California-Davis)

Rule #2: No legitimate company or organization will send you a form to fill out and email back

One of the tactics that the phishers use to try to trick you into giving them your personal information is to create a form that looks like it is legitimate. Just as it is easy for someone with moderate skills to fake a web page, they can create a counterfeit form. Not only will the form be counterfeit, but they could also embed programs in that form to steal your information.

Embedded code in documents is called macros. Macros are used to command programs to do something for the user. When used in productive environment, macros can be a wonderful tool to create dynamic documents. But the same instructions that can make macros a productive tool can also be used to do bad things.

Unless you are certain about where the document came from, then do not open a document. If you open the document and the program asks if you should enable or run macros, do not enable macros.

This is not just a problem with word processing document. PDF documents can also deliver very nasty malware (malicious software). Not only can an attacker add macros to a PDF document, but someone can embed the technology called Flash in those PDF. Flash is the technology that helps you see videos and add enhancements to the visual interface of some websites. But Flash can be used to attack your computer system. Opening a PDF file sent by someone you do not know can be as dangerous as a word processing document.

Rule #3: Do not open suspicious attachments

Another trick the attackers try to use is adding an attachment named in a way to try to trick you into opening the file. File names consist of the name of a file followed by a period followed by a file extension. The file extension is used to tell the computer the type of program to open to allow you to work with the file. There are three file extension that very dangerous and should never be opened unless you are absolutely sure who sent them to you: .zip, .exe, and .dmg for Mac users.

The .zip file extension tells the computer that the file is something called a Zip archive. A Zip archive is a file that is formatted to allow it to store many files that are compressed. Zip files are used for many legitimate purposes including being the default format of Microsoft Word’s .docx file. Unfortunately, it can contain files that can be used to attack your system.

One of the types of file that can be included in a Zip archive is an .exe or executable file. Simply, these are programs in the same way that Microsoft Word is a program. Once an executable file is opened, it will do whatever it is programmed to do. Among the things that the program can do is key logging. A key logger reads what you type on your keyboard, what you click on the screen, and in some cases what is displayed on your screen. The key logger will be able to capture the user name and password you entered when you visit any website including your bank’s website. The problem is that when a key logging program is run, you do not know it is watching what you type. Nor do you know that it connects to a server somewhere on the Internet to send the information to the attacker.

While Macs are more difficult to attack, they are not immune. Mac users should never open a file with a .dmg file extension unless you know who sent the file. The Macintosh .dmg file is a disk image file. A disk image file is formatted to look and acts like a disk so that when you double click the file, it will mount on your computer as if you plugged in an external disk drive. Because .dmg files are commonly used to install legitimate software, sometimes the installation can be automatically started. If you allow the installation to continue, it you can install software as dangerous as what I described for the Windows .exe file.

Rule #4: When in doubt, throw it out!

delete-messageWhile all this seems simple to me, I have been in this industry for over 30 years and am used to the complication. The problem with email is that it was developed as a way for researched to communicate by plain text across the Arpanet, the forerunner of the Internet. Essentially, email is a text-based service that has been extended in so many ways that it has created a complicated series of standards that requires a degree in computer science to analyze.

Even if you cannot fully analyze whether the message is spam or legitimate, if you have any doubt, then just press the delete button. If the message came from a source you know, contact them off line and ask if the mail is legitimate. If you think the email is from your bank, call the bank and ask. If you think the email is from your credit card company but not sure, call the credit card provider and ask. If you think the email sent from the RCNA is suspicious, call them and make and ask.

A little intuition can be of great help in these circumstances.

Stay safe online and have a good weekend!

Image courtesy of Duke University.
Anatomy of a phishing attack courtesy of UC-Davis.

My coins are geo-what?

SatellitesComputer and online security has been a topic for the news lately. This was because of a mistake made in software that was being used to try to keep your password from being seen by criminal hackers was making it visible to those criminals. In the wake of the news, the Doug Davis of the Numismatic Crime Information Center sent out a message to his list of contacts that had one central message for every dealer and collector:

Shooting simple photos from your smart phone or personal camera can lead criminals right to your location… with pinpoint accuracy using GPS satellites.

You might have heard the term “metadata” in the news in the context of its collection by the National Security Agency. For those who do not know what metadata is, think of it as a description of the data. Think about an exhibit in a museum. The exhibit contains several artifacts arranged in a certain way to try to tell a story. But the story is incomplete because a little more information is needed to put it into context. But the information cannot be shown as an artifact in the exhibit, so the person setting up the exhibit adds a description added to the exhibit to make it more understandable. That description would be the metadata to the exhibit.

Example of what you can find out about your image in the file's Properties under Windows

Example of what you can find out about your image in the file’s Properties under Windows

Embedded within the pictures you take with your digital camera is a description of the picture that is not visual on the picture. Within this description is the type of camera you are using, the shutter speed, and other exposure information. One of the descriptive items that your camera can record is where the picture was taken. This is called geotagging or geocoding.

Modern cameras, cameras built into smartphones, and even some memory cards that can be inserted into older cameras can determine where you are located and record that in the metadata in the picture you take. And contrary to what you have read, new technologies do not have to use the Global Positioning System (GPS) to figure out where you are located. There are services that use WiFi to record your position. It is called WiFi Positioning System (WPS). Basically, WPS determines where it is located and communicates that to WiFi connected services so that it could be used to determine your location.

I know geotagging can be a lot of fun. A few years ago when my wife and I drove from Portland, Maine to Canada, I had taken pictures of the scenery along the way hoping to find a moose. After all, how can you go through the woods of Maine without seeing a moose?! When I loaded the pictures on my Mac in iPhoto, it was fun to see the plot of where the pictures were taken on the built-in map. I was able to follow the road into Canada just based on the geocodes.

What I did not do is post those pictures while on the road. Aside from the lack of cellular connectivity, posting those pictures would advertise to evil doers that I was not home and too far away to do anything.

If you take geocoded pictures of your coins and post them online, whether it you are posting them to a social media site or a discussion forum, you are advertising where the coin is located. This might not be a problem if you collection consists of what dealers would call ordinary or common coins. But if that 1937-D Buffalo nickel has only three legs, that geocoded picture announces that you have at least one high value coin that someone might want to acquire through less than legal means.

The problem is that I love to see pictures of interesting coins. This is one of the reasons I love Pinterest. Aside from sharing my own picture, Pinterest allows me to pin coin images from around the Internet to create virtual scrapbooks. Do you have an interesting coin? I want to see it. Different types of tokens and medals are excellent artwork.

However, when you take the pictures of your prized collection, make sure you turn off geotagging!

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how to do it on every camera because the process is different. To help, I found the following two articles that provides an overview of how to turn off geotagging on the common smartphones:

  1. How to Disable Geotagging on Your iPhone, Android Phone or Blackberry
  2. “How to disable a smart phone’s geotagging feature

For other cameras, you need to find the manual that came in the box to figure out how to do this.

In the meantime, stay safe online and let’s see those beautiful coins!

How can we expand the hobby?

1921-D Peace DollarIf you have not read “Hobby Must Fill the ‘Empty Chair’” that Michael S. Turini wrote a few weeks ago, then click here to read it first. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

How do we fill the empty chair?

After years of growth spurned by the 50 State Quarters program, the hobby seems to have plateaued at levels lower than expected. Explanations for the slowing in the hobby’s growth range from the downturn in the economy through the downturn in confidence of the products being produced by the U.S. Mint.

I think Michael Turini stumbled on the problem: those of us most interested are getting old.

Not only are we getting old, but we are not doing what it takes to make numismatics inviting to younger members.

We seem to do pretty well in attracting young numismatists (YN), those under 18 years old. In fact, there are programs that actively recruit YNs for the hobby. But we are not doing enough. Not only are there no programs to keep YNs interested after they stop being YNs, there is a real lack of diversity in the hobby.

During my recent trip to Orlando for the 2014 FUN Show, I noticed that there were an increased number of women than I have seen at other shows. I also noticed that other minorities were attracted to the show. Seeing this was great, but how can it be spread to more areas of the hobby?

Numismatics can be a fascinating look at our history. The money that was used reflects the economy of the time which can tell a great story. What can the Morgan dollar teach us about the history of silver, the economy, and the politics of the time that could interest someone? Would learning about the ‘Crime of ’73’ make people think differently about the impact of politics on our economy?

"History Instructing Youth" Educational Series $1 Silver Certificate, Series 1898,

“History Instructing Youth” Educational Series $1 Silver Certificate, Series 1898,

What about the Educational notes series? These one, two, and five dollar notes depict neoclassical allegorical motifs as a representation of the theme written on the front of the note. The back pictured two American figures. Aside from the phenomenal artwork, why were they produced? What was the Bureau of Engraving and Printing hoping to do with these notes?

Our thoughts may also be too old.

There are great stories in other areas of numismatics beyond coins and currency. So-called dollars, tokens and medals the size of a dollar coin, were struck to commemorate something, some event, dedication, or anything of significance. So-called dollars tell stories that coin cannot and yet does not get the same attention in the numismatic press as coins.

If you are looking for new numismatic areas to explore or to use as a source to educate someone about history using numismatics, what about items like trade tokens or tax tokens? Trade and tax tokens were local currencies used to build business. In many ways, trade tokens could be considered coupons before someone issued paper coupons!

New York City Type 2 Subway Token error. It's missing the punched out "Y"

New York City Type 2 Subway Token error. It’s missing the punched out “Y”

Transportation tokens traces the history of mass transit which can make learning local history fun. For instance, a New Yorker can easily find subway tokens that can tell the history of both the subway and economics since the tokens were first issued in the 1950s. Adding a Metro card to your collection also explains why the token is no longer used.

In Canada, there are collectors who collect the interesting coupons from a particular tire company.

I know a European-based collector who collects communion medals from a particular region because it traces the history of Catholicism in the area where his family has lived for centuries.

You can even collect the coins of the country where your ancestors or other members of your family are from. I became interested in Canadian coins since my wife’s family is from Canada. Now I am looking at the large cents produced during Queen Victoria’s reign which are affectionately called ‘Vickie Cents.’

Numismatics does not have to be about plugging coins into the holes of a folder or album. It does not have to be about buying coins encased in plastic holders with high numbers or extra symbols. Use numismatics to learn about your past. You can learn more about yourself by understanding your past and what better way to understand your ancestral past than to collect something from that era.

Go collect something new and make sure you tell people about your finds. Tell someone the interesting stories of the past using numismatics as the prop. Make sure you tell them they can have fun with this, as well. Then invite them to your next club meeting and make sure someone is there to talk about their finds and history.

It is only when we can move beyond the cold metal and paper to make the stories interesting can we think about filling all of the empty chairs in the room.

Want to propose a commem? Be prepared to make sausage

As a comment on my post about the selection design for my 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative coin a reader commented with a simple question: Can you offer a suggestion as to who I can approach to offer an idea for a commemorative dollar?

Winning design for the obverse of the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative

National Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative was introduced by Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) whose district includes Cooperstown, NY

The easy answer is to say “write to your member of congress.” But as anyone who has written or called their representative in congress, your proposal has as much chance as being considered as the various factions have for working together. Neither your proposal nor congress working together will happen without help.

While I cannot fix the fractious nature of congress, I can offer suggestions as to how to get a commemorative coin recognized as a good idea.

As you read this post, let me remind you that former German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once said, “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” What follows is a look into what it takes to make the sausage in order to propose a commemorative coin and have it become law.

First, rather than starting with congress talk with organizations in the area of interest. After all, commemorative coin programs are fundraising vehicles for the organizations. It helps congress know who will receive the money. In this case, my correspondent wants to see a commemorative coin to be issued in 2017 commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first ever heart transplant.

“My hope is to get more people aware of the need of people to sign up for the donor list to make more organs available,” my correspondent writes. “A donor sign up card could be included with each order. Proceeds could fund awareness program….”

The problem is that this is a good and noble idea but the first question a congress person would ask is what organization would receive the money? Unfortunately, congress is not into creative thinking and would like to know who could receive the money, how the money would be used, and what guarantees that the money earned from the commemorative program would be used for its intended purposes.

Do not expect the representative to do all of the work. In fact, do not expect the congress person to do much of the work until the bill is written and submitted. Even though congress will be in session fewer hours this year than in recent recorded memory, the members will tell you they are too busy to work on this issue. The nature of modern politics is that unless you are going to cut them, the party, their political action committee, or one of their other campaign committees a check, your chance for success is diminished.

However, you can cut through the fog of politics by working with a credible non-profit organization—or a coalition of non-profit organizations—with your interest.

I'm just a bill Yes, I'm only a bill And I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill

I’m just a bill
Yes, I’m only a bill
And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill

If I wanted to propose a commemorative coin program to honor the first ever heart transplant that would be used to raise money and awareness, I might first talk with the American Heart Association. I would either try to talk with whomever is involved with their legislative affairs office (maybe out of their Greater Washington, DC-area office) or try to contact CEO Nancy Brown and other members of the AHA Board to pitch the idea.

When contacting these people, I would have an elevator-speech ready. An elevator speech is one that pitches your idea in the time it would take to ride an elevator. In other words, keep it short and to the point. Make sure your pitch includes something compelling to want them ask for more information and make sure you anticipate any questions.

The nice part about partnering with the AHA is that they are very experienced with legislative affairs. I have no doubt that they either have a full-time lobbyist on staff or have hired a lobbying firm to represent their interests before congress. This is one area where you do not have to answer questions. However you should know a little about commemorative coin bills that congress has considered. These issues are as follows:

Q: After a commemorative coin bill is introduced, which committee will it be assigned?
Q: How does the organization make money from a commemorative coin?
A: Congress sets a surcharge over and above the cost to produce the coin that will be given to the sponsoring organization. Usually, the surcharges are $35 for gold coins, $10 for silver dollars, and $5 for clad 50-cent coins.
Q: Are limits set for the number of coins sold?
A: There are no pre-set limits unless written into the law. Usually, congress has set the limits to be not more than 100,000 $5 gold coins, 500,000 $1 silver coins, and 750,000 50-cent clad coins. The number of uncirculated versus proof issues is determined by the U.S. Mint as long as they remain within these limits. Coins are produced and sold by the U.S. Mint only during the year of issue.
Q: Who designs the coins?
A: The U.S. Mint Sculptuor-Engravers and/or members of the Artistic Infusion Program will take the description that was written into the law and work with the sponsoring organization to come up with a few design samples. Those design samples will then be submitted to the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and U.S. Commission of Fine Arts for a recommendation. The Secretary of the Treasury will then make the final determination.
Q: How do we request that heart health and transplant awareness be inserted into the coins with the Certificate of Authenticity?
A: Make sure that the information is added to the law. Unless the sponsoring organization can compel the U.S. Mint to add it, you are better off making sure the law requires that the U.S. Mint does this.
Q: Can you give me an example of how one of these bills is written?
A: Most of the time, when you read the bills submitted to congress, you will see text that calls for editing of the law, which is called the United States Code (U.S.C.). It may say to strike words, replace words, add paragraphs, add sections, and all sorts of other editing that does not make sense unless you know what the U.S.C. says when the bill was written.

Since most commemorative coin bills are additions to the law, they are usually added to Title 31, Section 5112 of the United States Code (31 U.S.C. § 5112). Many times, the bill does not mention where the new law will be inserted when it is introduced. It will be corrected before passage.

If you want to provide the member of congress with the text of a bill, which many times is helpful, you may want to use something that has already been introduced as an example to write your own text. Two good examples are as follows:

When visiting the website, look on the right side in the lower half for the link marked “Read Bill Text.”

Both bills specify gold, silver, and clad coins. Your proposal does not have to include all three. In fact, to raise awareness, you might want to consider just a silver dollar and a clad half-dollar.

Too bad there's so much dysfunction in such a beautiful building.

Too bad there’s so much dysfunction in such a beautiful building.

To help raise awareness, you should visit congress. Make an appointment, come to your nation’s capitol, and avail your rights as a citizen to speak with your representative. In fact, if you work with an organization like the AHA, maybe they will help you talk with your representative to get the bill introduced. Even though you are probably not going to be donating a lot of money to their various campaigns, a story and picture with a constituent does look good in the campaign. If they know you are passionate about the cause, they can expect that you will campaign for the cause and mention that the member introduced the bill. It makes for good press coverage for a congress whose approval ratings are worse than horrible.

Once you convince a member of congress to submit the bill and get the member’s support, a professional legislative affairs person would know how to convince other members to sign up as co-sponsors. While having a lot of co-sponsors does not guarantee success, it helps with the bill’s awareness and make it more attractive to pass.

There are other political maneuvers that can be used to have the bill passed, such as convincing a member to bring up the bill under a procedure called “suspension of the rules.” In the House of Representatives, a bill brought to a floor vote under the suspension of the rules are usually non-controversial measures that have no objections—or no objections that would be voiced on the floor. The bill would then pass by unanimous consent or a voice vote.

The procedure is similar in the Senate.

Once the bill passes one chamber, it is sent to the other for it to work on passage.

House of Representatives

House of Representatives

Since commemorative coin bills are considered “money bills” and the constitution requires all money bills to begin in the House of Representatives, it is likely better for the bill to be submitted to the House first. A companion bill may be submitted to the Senate with the same wording but it is not necessary. The only reason to submit a bill like this in the Senate first is when there is no support in the House and you hope to gain support before the session ends on January 2, 2015.

While the bill is in congress it does not mean you have to sit on your hands and wait. One of the best things you can do is to tell your friends, relatives, and anyone else who will listen to call or email their representative to support the bill. If they are not a co-sponsor, tell their staff that they member should be and why. If they are a co-sponsor, thank them for their support and ask if they could get other members signed on as co-sponsors. If you can find people whose representatives are a member of the House Financial Services Committee or the Senate Banking Committee, then they should modify their support by saying to please help get the bill passed through the committee.

The United States Senate

The World’s Most Deliberative Body, the United States Senate

If the bill is passed and sent to the other chamber, the work starts again. If the bill is in the Senate, you have to remember it is not called the ’world’s most deliberative body” for nothing. Unless there is an impending disaster or something politically charged, a bill in the Senate would lose a race with the tortoise and a glacier!

But that does not mean to stop your efforts. Citizen lobbying efforts in the Senate are doubled because each state has two senators. Make sure you and your supporters contact both of your senators. Remember, it is your right as a citizen to meet with your representatives and this includes senators. You can make an appointment to let your senators know how your feel. If your senator is a member of the Senate Banking Committee, then they should be asked to help move the bill out of committee and to the floor for a vote.

The work is not done until the bill is passed or congress is adjourned for the last time on January 2, 2015. Bills not acted upon when congress adjourns for the last time in the session will be considered to have “died in committee.” If the bill dies in committee, you can do this all over again and try to convince a member of congress to submit the bill in the 114th congress that would open its session at noon on January 3, 2015.

If the bill passes both chambers it is likely it will be signed by the president. As far as I know there has never been a commemorative coin bill to have been vetoed by any president.

Although there are a lot of good ideas, many of them are not properly introduced to congress. The few that do make it do not receive enough support to move beyond introduction. Even fewer are passed by one chamber and not both. Those that make it past congress to the president’s desk had some effort behind them besides being just a good idea. After all, with only two commemorative coin programs allowed per year, congress has to be convinced to believe your commemorative idea is better than another for that same year.

Sausage anyone?

Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative coin courtesy of the U.S. Mint.
Images of congress and the capitol courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol.
Image from School House Rock’s “I’m Just a Bill” can be found all over the interwebs.

Can you really invest in coins?

I always welcome email from readers and the curious but I received an email with an interesting question. My correspondent had become interested coin collecting as an investment and wanted to know if I knew where to find out how much the gold coins would be worth in 10 or 20 years. Channeling my inner Edward Moore (from his play The Gamester) or Dr. McCoy for the Star Trek fans, I replied “If anyone knew the answer to that question they would rich beyond the dreams of avarice!”

This is not the first time someone asked me what I thought would be the price of rare or gold coins in the future. It is also a question that I do not like to answer since I am a collector and not an investor.

Markets are difficult to predict. Even the experts get it wrong. For example, a simple Internet search will find articles that appeared in MarketWatch, Reuters, and The Guardian from the United Kingdom predicting $2000 per ounce prices for gold. In March, the financial site The Motley Fool had an article saying that gold could hit $2000 per ounce next year.

In reality, gold opened the year at 1670.95, the high for 2013 and is 1309.64 as of Friday’s (October 25) close. Even with a small spike in August, the trend is going down. But does the trend mean that gold will still go down?

Kitco gold chart for 2013 through October 21, 2013

Kitco gold chart for 2013 through October 21, 2013

Trying to read the financial tea leaves has long been a sport for the financial pundits. One pundit writing for Forbes noted that the dollar strengthened while gold and crude oil dropped while last week, another pundit from Bloomberg wrote that stocks and gold rose as the dollar falls on the reaction earnings that have been topping estimates and the prediction of slower economic growth predicted by the Federal Reserve saying it will maintain its stimulus program. In between, an analyst at Yahoo Finance was predicting “a major turnaround in the US Dollar versus the Euro, but gold prices may actually outperform versus the Greenback.”

Predicting the price of gold and rare coins can be a similar test of ones nerves. One interesting way to look at the market is to see what the PCGS3000 Index says. The PCGS3000 index uses a sampling of collector coins, type coins, varieties, and differing grades to create a market index. Their sample are considered classic coins (1792-1964) including gold and early commemoratives to total 3000 coins.

This recent history of collector coins shows an upward trend over the last year as the economy has improved (see graph below on the left). However, looking over the last 10 years (graph below on the right) the peak occurred before the economy turned sour at the end of 2008 and has largely remained flat since falling to a low in 2010.

Does this mean gold and rare coins are not a good investment? If you bough during the run up in value in 2008, you are behind. However, coins purchased from the beginning of the ten-year chart should yield a better return for investors.

Those thinking that gold coins may be a better investment might want to consider that the price of their coins will be tied to the price of gold. Both the PCGS Generic Gold Coin Index (below on the left) and the PCGS Mint State Rare Gold Coin Index (below on the right) almost mirrors the gold market over the last year. In fact, looking at the 10 year history the Mint State Rare Gold Coin Index almost mirrors the PCGS3000 Index while the Generic Gold Coin Index is all over the place and does not even follow the price of gold for the last 10 years.

While you are thinking that this may be particular to gold coins, investors in 20th Century Coins (see chart below on the left) and Morgan and Peace Dollars (below, right) may be scratching their heads looking for a better return.

As a layman, what appears to be a hot market is the very high end market. These are the extremely rare coins, coins with extraordinary pedigrees, and unique collectibles. Not every collector or investor is going to be able to own a 1794 Flowing Hair dollar that sold for $10 million last January, the George Walton 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, or a 1880 Coiled Hair Stella which is really a pattern that sold for $2.5 million in September. Even rare copper coins are selling at a premium.

1857 Seated Liberty half dime

1857 Seated Liberty half dime

The mantra of investing is to buy low and sell high. The problem is knowing what to buy. By the time someone figures out what is the best investment, the prices are going up and the investor value is lost. Along with knowing the coins and their value, timing is everything. For example, is now the time to look at what are sometimes called exotic U.S. coins? Exotic coins are those produced before the 1870s like the Bust and Liberty Seated coins, Trade dollar, and even the rare two- and three-cent coins. Many of these coins are overlooked by a lot of people, including collectors, sometimes because of cost other times because they are not as readily available.

Predicting the coin market is more difficult than stocks and commodities. With the capital markets there is company performance data, yield of crops, world conditions, and a lot of measurable factors that the professionals use. None of that exists in the coin investing market. Prices can be predicted by rarity to a certain degree, much of the pricing appears to be based on emotion: what will you pay for the coin. For instance, if the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar sold for $10 million what would the only legal-to-own 1933 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle sell for today? It used to hold the record for the most ever paid for a single coin when it sold at auction for $7,590,020 (including buyers premium and the $20 that was required to monetize the coin) in 2002.

In case you were interested, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator, adjusted for inflation, the price paid for the 1933 Double Eagle in 2002 is $9,867,321.33 in 2013 dollars. Even adjusted for inflation, the price does not beat the 1794 dollar!

If you are interested in trying to test this market, I wish you well. I am a coin collector not an investor. I do not think that will change. However, if you are looking for an interesting investment market, I hear the market for classic cars, including the muscle cars of the 1960s and 1970s are an affordable and growing market. And if you do not want to enter that market for investment, at least you can consider an emotional purchase—like I did!

This 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster with a 225 Slant 6 is a memory that is on a truck on its way to is new home in my garage!

This 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster with a 225 Slant 6 is a memory that is on a truck on its way to is new home in my garage!

Gold charts are courtesy of Kitco
The coin market charts are all from PCGS and their PCGS3000® index.
Half Dime image from Wikipedia.

Time to renew my ANA Membership and talk about its future

American Numismatic AssociationOn Friday, I received a notice to renew my American Numismatic Association membership by the end of this month. Even though a few people wrote to me after the election saying that they would not renew their membership, I believe that the ANA is still a good organization worth of the support of every numismatist regardless of age, experience, and collecting interest. My only question is whether to change to the basic level to save trees.

Members renewing at the Basic level can read The Numismatist online or via my computer or the iPad app. I stopped using the iPad app for a while after having problems. The app was updated and seems to be working fine now. I think I would prefer to read it on my iPad than the paper version. It is more portable. However, if the program could be converted to work with Apple’s Newsstand, the ANA may be able to find a new revenue stream by selling individual issues.

After the election I received a lot of complaints about the the ANA and how it operates. In many cases, I agree with the assessments but I also see where there are changes coming and all of the changes are for the better!

First and foremost, the ANA is being dragged into the technology of the 21st century. In a move started by former Executive Director Jeff Shevlin, the ANA has engaged Amos Digita, the technology arm of Amos Press, the publisher of Coin World. Anyone who has seen the positive evolution of the Coin World website and has read Coin World Next online can see examples of their work. Working with Amos Digital is a very positive step for the ANA.

Between Amos Digital, the commitment of the ANA staff involved, and the Technology Committee (which I am a member) the future to better the ANA’s technology is looking very good!

Technology alone is not going to make the ANA a better organization but the technology will provide a platform to make the ANA more responsive to its members. Technology can help with virtual clubs, education, and to bring the information out to the members. Technology can enhance shows and deliver some of the content to the members who may not be able to attend the shows.

However, technology is only an enhancer—a tool to make the ANA better for you. The problem is that those of us who are putting the tool together may not know what will make the ANA a better organization for you. What do you want to see from the ANA? How can the technology be used to make your experiences better?

Although I have some ideas, I am a systems guy. I put together systems to do what my customers want. And even though I know what I want as a member, it is only my opinion.

As a member of the ANA Technology Committee I want your opinion. What do you want from this tool? How can the ANA use these tools to make your experience as a member the ANA better? I am handing you a blank sheet of virtual paper (the comment section, below). Let me and my fellow Tech Committee members know how we can use this tool to better serve the membership.

Medal image courtesy of Wikipedia.

One Page Collection: 2, 3, and 5 cent coins

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a one page collection starting with the one cent coin. The set also included an example of a half-cent to cover the lowest denomination of coins produced by the U.S. Mint.

The concept of the one-page collection is to create a meaningful collection using a single 20 pocket page that holds 2×2 holders. Using this format, I can create any type of collection without being bound to the albums and folders that are published by the numismatic press. I can also personalize the collection with information I find and other stories, some that I write.

When creating a one page collection, I am looking at ungraded coins that could be graded Fine or better and costs under $100 each. While I try to keep purchases under $50, having the ability to go over for certain coins gives me a little flexibility while staying closer to affordable.

I was asked what I used as a price guide to determine affordability. For full disclosure, I had been consulting the NumisMedia Online Fair Market Value Price Guide of collector coin. The site is free, updated monthly, and is the same information printed in their monthly publication. The NumisMedia Online Dealer Price Guide as well as their printed version requires a subscription.

Since my first one-pager was of the lowest denominations, I will move up a bit and put together a collection of 2, 3, and 5-cent coins.

The first coin struck by the newly created Mint was the half disme in 1794. As one of the original coins designated by the Coinage Act of 1792, legend has it that the coins were struck using silver donated by Martha Washington. Although there is no proof that our first First Lady donated her silver, it makes for a good story.

The first half-dismes were really not struck for circulation but over 86,000 coins of the 20.8 grains (1.35 grams) of .8924 fine silver were delivered to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (under the First Coinage Act, the Mint was placed under the Department of State). Originally designed by Robert Scot, the early Flowing Hair and Draped Bust half-dimes (the “s” was dropped in 1796 since it was silent anyway). Production ceased in 1805 with the shortage of silver.

Production picked up again in 1829 with the Capped Bust design by William Kneass and continued until 1837. After the passage of the Act of January 18, 1837, the weight of the coin was reduced to 20 5/8 grains (1.34 grams) and the fineness raised to .900 silver. For this change, Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty design was used for the new coin.

This is where the series gets interesting. First, there was a change in design in 1838 to add stars to the obverse. In 1853, to show that the size and weight was change, arrows were added to the date from 1853 through 1855 before being removed in 1856 when the weight was returned to the old standard. In 1860, the legend was move to the obverse replacing the stars and the reverse laurel leaves were made larger.

The silver half-dime was made through 1874 after the successful release of the copper-nickel coin we call the Shield nickel. Nobody is sure when the coin started to be called a nickel, especially since it is made of only 25-percent nickel. It has been speculated that it was called a “nickel” because of the composition while it circulated along side the silver half-dime.

The U.S. nickel is unique in that it is the only coin that has been made of the same .750 copper and .250 nickel composition since its introduction in 1866 except for the silver alloy used during World War II from 1942-1945.

Starting this collection with an easy to find 1865 3¢ Nickel

Starting this collection with an easy to find 1865 3¢ Nickel

Two and three cent coins were conceived out of the coin shortages during the mid-19th century. The three-cent coin, nicknamed the trime, was conceived in 1851 for better handling by the post office for buying postage. The silver three-cent coin was struck between 1851 and 1873. However, when silver became expensive and people were hoarding the coins for their silver content, congress authorized the striking of copper-nickel three-cent coins where were called to as three-cent nickels. Mint engraver James B. Longacre designed both coins that used a Roman numeral “III” on the reverse.

Bought this 1865 2¢ coin from my coin club's auction

Bought this 1865 2¢ coin from my coin club’s auction

During the Civil War, the silver shortage caused hoarding of coins. The only circulating coins were the copper large cents. In order to produce more coins that would circulate, congress passed the Coinage Act of 1864 that eliminated the silver half-dime, the silver three-cent piece (trime), and authorized the production of the bronze two-cent coin. The Longacre-designed coin featured a shield on the front and the denomination “2 CENTS” on the reverse between two wheat stalks.

Beginning with the Liberty Head “V” nickel, most of the coins should be easy to find and not cost a lot of money. In fact, it may be easier to find an 1883 Liberty Head nickel without the “CENTS” on the reverse, also called the Racketeer Nickel, than an 1883 nickel with the “CENTS” in Fine to Very Fine grades. It may be easier to find a 20th century version that would fit this collection nicely.

For the rest of the series, you can find nice coins at all grades without problems. Just be aware of the major varieties, such as the two types of Buffalo nickels, and the modern changes in the Jefferson nickel. It should be fun to complete this set:

✓ 1964-1873 Two Cent piece: When I started to look for a an example of a two-cent coin, I was surprised as to how many I could find that were nicely preserved and affordable. Most VF-XF coins in this series can be purchased for $40-60 or even less if you find a dealer having a good day.
✓ 1851-1873 Silver Three Cent piece (trime): It will be difficult to find silver three-cent coins from 1863 through 1872 because most were melted in 1873. One of the best examples I have seen were the 1852 coins. Not only are they affordable but the mintage of over 18 million make them the most available coins of the set.
✓ 1865-1889 Nickel Three Cent piece: After the two-cent coin, this was the other coin minted in reaction to the hoarding during the Civil War. Early dates are easily found because of their mintage figures in the millions and for affordable prices. It should not be difficult to find a nice Extra Fine coin for around $40.
✓ 1829-1837 Capped Bust half-dimes: If you want a real challenge, put together a typeset of all half-dime types. Part of the problem with that is the Flowing Hair half-dimes will cost thousands of dollars, if you can find them. For the average collector, I suggest a Capped Bust half-dime to start the five cent part of this set. Based on the price guides and what I have seen at dealer tables, you should be able to buy a nice one graded around Fine for $60-65. This should be a good representative start of the five cent series.
✓ 1837-1873 Seated Liberty half-dimes Types 3 &amp 4: No collection is complete without a representation of Christian Gobrect’s Seated Liberty design. Inspired by the similar image of Britannia, Gobrect posed Miss Liberty in the same manner except holding a union shield and a phrygian cap on a pole that signifies liberty and the pursuit of freedom. For this set, I recommend the 1853-1855 “Arrows at Date” (Type 3) variety. Aside being affordable at $60-70 in XF, the arrows tell the story of how the composition was changed while the coin was being used. The “Legend on the Obverse” (Type 4) variety is an interesting change and would be even more affordable. For the “Arrows at Date” variety, you may want to consider finding one with the “O” mint mark from the New Orleans mint to keep it interesting. “Legend on the Obverse” varieties from San Francisco are affordable and would make for an interesting addition to this collection.
✓ 1866-1833 Shield nickel: Rather than worry about the “Rays” versus “No Rays” types, I decided on the “No Rays” to keep this coin around $40. However, it is your collection and if you what to spend about $100 for a VF-XF Shield Nickel with Rays, go ahead since it will give your collection a little more depth.
✓ 1883 Liberty Head nickel “Without Cents” When Charles Barber designed the coin, his idea was to use a Roman numeral “V” on the reverse and not include the word “CENTS.” Since the three-cent coins used the Roman number “III” it was a logical progression. However, since the coin was about the same size of the $5 gold-half eagle, the Liberty Head nickel was gold plated in an attempt to pass them off as the $5 gold coin. These coins were then nicknamed Racketeer Nickels. It was then decided to add “CENTS” to the bottom of the reverse. After this decision was made, people thought that the coins would be recalled and started to save them, thus making it easier to find the 1883 without CENTS nickel than it is to find an 1883 with CENTS coin.
✓ 1883-1912 Liberty Head “V” nickel: Most XF coins in this series will be around $40 each, if you can find them. It is easy to find very worn coins and very expensive to find the higher grades. In fact, if you can find a nice XF 20th century issue, that would make a nice entry in this collection and only cost around $30.
✓ 1913 Type 1 Buffalo nickel: This iconic American design by James Earle Frasier ranks as one of my favorite. While it is a great design, the coin did not wear well and it is possible to find a lot of coins where the dates have been worn flat. On the reverse, Fraser designed the coin where the buffalo (actually, an American Bison) is standing on a grassy mound. On the mound was the denomination and mint mark. This high surface wore easily in circulation. It was later changed to remove most of the mound for a line. You can find nicely preserved Type 1 Buffalo nickels from Philadelphia for around $25. Spend as little as $10-15 more for an example from Denver. San Francisco coins will be $40 more.
✓ 1913-1938 Type 2 Buffalo nickel: Basically, the mound was hollowed out leaving the buffalo standing on what looks like a line. While not as aesthetically pleasing, it did preserve the denomination and mint mark on the reverse from wear. Best bet for this collection is to find a late 1930s example for $10-15. If you spend a little more, you can own an uncirculated 1935 or 1936 with a mint mark for $35-40. These make stare-worthy coin in any collection.
✓ 1938-1942,1946-2003 Jefferson nickel: Jefferson nickels come in four types with the left-facing portrait being the dominant coin of the series. With the exception of the 1939-D, you can find an uncirculated example for under $10. If you want an example with the mintmark on the reverse, select a coin from 1964 and earlier since the mint marks were move to the obverse starting in 1968 and no coins had mint marks from 1965 through 1967. Maybe you would want to add a 1970-S coin which was the last year the nickel was produced in San Francisco and had an obverse mint mark.
✓ 1942-1945 Wartime Silver Nickels: to reduce the amount of copper and eliminate the nickel that were need for the war, the Mint produced nickels using an alloy of .560 copper, .350 silver, and .090 manganese. To distinguish these coins from regular nickels, the Mint added a large mint mark over Monticello on the reverse. It was the first time the Mint used a “P” mint mark on any coin. Since the mint mark makes them unique, one from each mint would make a nice example. Maybe one from each year with each on representing one Mint. You can find nice uncirculated examples for an average of $5 each without looking too hard.
✓ 2004-2005 Westward Journey Nickel Series: After the success with the start of the 50 State Quarters series, to honor the 200th anniversary of the exidition by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in the newly purchase Louisiana Territory and westward, congress authorized this two-year four coin series to commemorate the journey. These modern circulating commemoratives are readily available and the four should not cost a lot of money, even as uncirculated coins. Make sure you find all four coins: 2004 coins with the left-facing portrait with the Peace Medal and Keelboat designs on the reverse. The 2005 coins had a wonderful obverse portrait designed by Joe Fitzgerald that included the word “Liberty” reproduced from Jefferson’s writing. The reverse included the American Bison and “Ocean in View.”
✓ 2006-Present Front Facing Portrait: With the return of Monticello on the reverse, a new front-facing portrait by Jamie Franki based on the 1800 portrait painted by Rembrant Peale and includes the “hand written” version of “Liberty” on the obverse.

An interesting aspect of this collection is that the coins are of all the basic metals used in non-gold coins. The 2-cent pieces were made from copper while the 3-cent coins had one type made in silver and anther in nickel. While most of the 5-cent coins were made of copper-nickel, the wartime composition removed the nickel and lowered the copper content by adding silver and manganese. It is a good representation of coinage metals circulating in the United States.

This is one set where it was difficult to think about how to keep it to 20 coins. Depending on where you shop, your patience, and your budget, this is a collection that can easily be expanded.

If you decide to use this guideline for your set, do not limit yourself to my suggestions. Consider other options. Consider adding another page. Make it personal. Make it yours.

Most importantly: HAVE FUN!

One Page Collection: The Cent

Someone who may be interested in collecting coins may look at the options and think that they are too daunting. Guide books talk about series of dates, mint marks, and varieties. Type books talk about every representative type, even ones that are not affordable to the average collector. Then the folder and album publishers give their interpretation of what a type collection should look like. What the novice to average collector is left with is confusion.

Collecting coins, specifically United States coins does not have to be daunting. You can put together sets of your own design that represents any time or any period. What is great is that once you define your goals, you can have the fun in putting the set together and showing it off to friends and relatives. It is also something that you can develop your own story and include it in your own album.

Supersafe 20 Coin Pocket Page for 2x2 holders

Supersafe 20 Coin Pocket Page for 2×2 holders

This is why I decided to create the One Page Collection. My one-page is a 20 pocket archival safe page to hold 2×2 holders of some type—for this, I prefer the self-adhesive cardboard holders with mylar windows. These pages can be placed in three-ring binders that can be used to build any number of collections. It is as flexible as your collecting whims can be.

An alternative to the pocket page are Gardmaster Coin Albums. Gardmaster is made by Collector’s Supply House of Paris, Ontario in Canada. Their albums are based on a slide system where the coins are placed into pockets of a strip and the strip is slid into the page keeping the coin in place without the need for an extra holder. The albums are a smaller size with a “Snappy” binder to remove, mix, and match pages. I discovered these albums while putting together a collection of Canadian coins. I then adapted a blank 16-pocket version to create a year set for large cents. You can do an Internet search to find a dealer who sells Gardmaster albums.

For these articles, I will stick with creating a collection using the 20-coin pocket page.

As a general rule, the coins in this collection must gradable at Fine or better and cost under $100. When I create a set of half-dollars and dollars, the limit will have to be raised because of the silver values and the rarity of earlier coins.

Since these are 20-coin sets, many die varieties are ignored to a certain degree. However, design and composition changes are always significant.

The first set I will create are the copper coins. Cents and half-cents were specified in the Coinage Act of 1792 that authorized the creation of the U.S. Mint. Under the new law, the half-cent and its larger cousin the one-cent coin was struck in pure copper from 1793 through 1857.

The first half-cent struck in 1793 weighed 6.74 grams and was 22 mm in diameter. Subsequently, the half-cent weighed 5.44 grams and its diameter varied between 22 mm and 22½ mm.

The 1793 large cent had two designs, the controversial chain reverse which was then changed to a wreath weighed 13.48 grams and varied between 26-28 mm in diameter. In the 19th century, the large cent weighed 10.89 grams and its diameter varied between 27 and 27½ mm.

Consistency in the size of both coins would not be achieved until the introduction of steam-based coining equipment starting in 1836.

Large copper coins were eliminated by the Coinage Act of 1857. Signed into law by President Franklin Pierce February 21, 1857, this act repealed the legal tender status for foreign coins in the United States. It required the Treasury to exchange foreign coins at a market rate set by Treasury. This act discontinued the half-cent and reduced the size of the one-cent coin from 27mm (large cent) to the modern size of 19.05mm (small cent) that is still being used today.

First small cent was the Flying Eagle cent designed by James B. Longacre. The eagle was based on a design Christian Gobrecht used on the reverse of the Seated Liberty dollars. The Flying Eagle cent was a short lived series because of its difficulty to strike properly.

After having problems with the Flying Eagle cent, Longacre designed the Indian Head cent—which is not the image of an Indian but a representation of Libery wearing an Indian-style headdress.

Rounding out our copper collection is the Lincoln cent. Introduced as part of President Theodore Roosevelt’s “pet crime,” the Victor D. Brenner designed coin has been around over 100 years with a periodic change in reverses including the new Shield reverse that began in 2010, 101 years after the coin’s debut with the wheat stalks on the reverse.

Looking at over 230 years of copper coinage there is a lot to choose from to try to make a representative set. The following is what I came up with:

✓ 1840-1857 Braided Hair Half-Cent: A typeset of copper coins has to include a half-cent. To represent I am including a later version of the coin. Not only are these coins readily available but you can purchase a quality example for under $100. Choose one with nice features and a rich chocolate brown color to best represent this series.
✓ 1816-1863 Matron Head Large Cent: For large cents, I am picking two coins. For the early Matron Head cent, I would look at the early dates. They are readily available in better grades at reasonable prices. If you can find a version before 1836, that would represent the pre-steam press era.
✓ 1839-1857 Braided Head large cent: Walk any bourse floor and you will find later large cents that are nicely struck and at reasonable prices. If you want to spend more money you can find a red-brown example, but those with that deep brown color are well struck and wonderful. Having a large cent from this era is a good representation of the pre-small cent times.
✓ 1857-1858 Flying Eagle cent: Forget the lettering varieties. Concentrate on finding a nice coin that would grade Fine or Very Fine for your collection.
✓ 1859 Indian Head cent: This copper-nickel coin with a lauren wreath reverse is a one-coin type.
✓ 1864-1909 Indian Head cent: While there is a copper-nickel version whose reverse has an oak wreath with a shield over the wreath, the bronze version is a new composition with the same reverse. I consider the 1859 copper-nickel covers the composition and the bronze oak wreath reverse covers the change in metals. Coins from the 20th century are very available and affordable. In some cases, if you can spend more than $100 for a coin, you can purchase a nice red or red-brown example.
✓ 1909 VDB Lincoln cent: First year of issue with the “VDB” initials on the reverse is much less expensive than the San Francisco minted coins. For a few extra dollars you can even find a nice red or red-brown coin.
✓ 1909-1958 Lincoln cent: With almost 50 year of coins you can find an affordable example as a bright red coin. Spend a little more money and try for a 1909 cent without the “VDB” initials to get a first year of issue.
✓ 1943 P-D-S Lincoln steel cents: The only coin produced for circulation by the U.S. Mint that did not contain copper (the .999 silver coins contains .001 copper and the .9999 American Buffalo Gold Coin contains .0001 copper). This is worthy of adding one of each to this set.
✓ 1944-1946 Lincoln shotgun cents: Although they are Lincoln cents in every way as the 1942 and earlier cents, these coins were made from the spent shells taken from the training fields around the country. These coins might look a little darker and very available at higher grades for the average collector.
✓ 1959-1981 Lincoln cent with Memorial Reverse: These coins are made from .950 copper with the Lincoln Memorial on the reverse. These are the last copper coins struck for circulation. Adding a 1959 coin would give you the first year or add your birth year.
✓ 1982 Lincoln cent copper and copper-plated zinc coins: In 1982, the U.S. Mint transitioned from copper cents to copper-plated zinc coins. If you do not want to supplement this part with the entire seven-coin collection, then it is not a problem to ignore the lettering size and find an example of a copper and a copper-plated zinc coin. Otherwise, any coin from 1983-2008 Lincoln cent could be used for the copper-plated zinc coin.
✓ 2009 Lincoln Bicentennial cents: This four coin set should not cost more than 50-cents per coin. For a bigger challenge, find proof version that were struck on .950 copper planchets.
✓ 2010-today Lincoln cent with Union Shield reverse: The end of this set pending and further updates.

A page of Scott's Large cent collection in a Gardmaster album

A page of Scott’s Large cent collection in a Gardmaster album

With these 20 coin you now have a set that represents the history of half- and one-cent coins ever struck by the U.S. Mint. While my concentration has been on affordable and easier to find the coins for this collection, you can extend it by looking for more expensive coins or even better grades. One challenge would be to find all of the Lincoln and Indian Head cents as red or red-brown coins. I have seen nice red-brown Flying Eagle coins but were very expensive. And for a little more money, find an 1850s Large cent that is more red-brown than brown.

Another idea is to use the Gardmaster album, buy two 16-coin pages, and expand your collection. As you look through the types, you may want to start with my “Manageable Lincoln Cent Collection” for an idea on expanding your Lincoln cent typeset. From there, you can adapt those concepts to the other cent series.

Showgard pocket pages image courtesy of Vidiforms/Showgard.

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