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.

Here we go again: U.S. Mint fights collectors

Experimental 1974-D Lincoln cent made struck on an aluminum planchet

Experimental 1974-D Lincoln cent made struck on an aluminum planchet

After all the U.S. Mint has tried to do to make itself more appealing to the collecting community, they are now reverting to their old form and attacking a collectors for owning a coin they claim is “contraband.”

The argument is over a 1974-D Lincoln cent made of aluminum that was to be auctions by Heritage Auctions during the April 2014 Central States Numismatic Society auction. Rather than being auctioned, the U.S. Mint requested its return as government property even though it was reported that no records of the coin’s production exist.

According to an updated report appearing in Coin World, the coin was given to Harry Lawrence, a former Denver mint assistant superintendent, as part of a retirement gift in 1979. Upon his death, his possession were willed to his son Randall Lawrence.

Randall Lawrence and Michael McConnell, a San Deigo-area dealer working with Lawrence, consigned the coin to Heritage in hopes to be able to donate at least $100,000 from the sale to charities helping the homeless in San Deigo. Heritage had estimated the coin to be worth $250,000. Lawrence and McConnell are asking the federal court to determine the coin’s ownership.

U.S. Mint does not have records of the aluminum cent being struck in Denver. There are records of 1 million coins struck in Philadelphia. Nearly all were destroy.

The U.S. Mint’s mishandling of their own records are legendary. Some of the more famous coins that have escaped official record include the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle and the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels. Numismatic researcher Roger Burdette has documented significant gaps in the way the U.S. Mint has historically mishandled their own documents. Even in recent years, the U.S. Mint has played fast-and-loose even with required documentation during previous director’s term because the narrative of the annual report would make the U.S. Mint’s performance look less than stellar.

Unfortunately for the U.S. Mint, Coin World reporter Paul Gilkes was able to interview former Denver Mint employee Benito Martinez “who said he personally struck fewer than a dozen of these coins as a die setter on aluminum planchets provided by the Philadelphia Mint.” Martinez said that these coins eventually made its way to the U.S. Mint headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Aside from the bad precedent this would create for all pattern coins and trial strikes, this has the potential to undo whatever good will the U.S. Mint has built with the collecting public in the last few years. Problems with the Kennedy gold coin not withstanding, the work that the U.S. Mint has done after the departure of Director Edmund Moy to build a more collector-friendly can be undone by continuing this fight.

Maybe it is time that the lawyers at the U.S. Mint and the Department of the Treasury stop trying to flex its muscles and realize the goodwill that would be created by changing policies and attitudes. After all, like all lawyers it is possible to interpret the law in a manner that would be more helpful while protecting the U.S. Mint and the U.S. government.

Image courtesy of Coin World.

You should comment to the U.S. Mint

U.S. cents have been made of copper, steel, and copper plated zinc. What's next?

U.S. cents have been made of copper, steel, and copper plated zinc. What’s next?

As part of its ongoing study of alternative medals to be used for coinage mandated by the Coin Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010, (Public Law 111-302 [PDF]), the U.S. Mint is seeking comment from “ stakeholders” as to the impact expected if congress was to approve a change in coinage metals. The Request for Comment (RFC) was published in the Federal Register (79 F.R. 19971 [PDF]) asking for stakeholders to provide more input to its ongoing research effort.

Although the U.S. Mint does not define who they consider stakeholders but does mention the “coin industry” in one paragraph, the guideline questions are clearly targeted to the coin-operated machine industry. Coin-op machines are more than the soda and candy machines that may be in the break room where you work. These machines include toll booth machines, machines that produce bus and/or train fare cards, parking meters, game machines, and even the few pay telephones that are still in use. Everything that accepts coins will have to be replaced, repaired, adjusted, or scrapped should there be a change in coinage metals.

The new technology used by the Royal Canadian Mint to protect the Toonie (C$2)

The new technology used by the Royal Canadian Mint to protect the Toonie (C$2)

The trouble that the United States is in for can be seen just across the border in Canada. Although the Royal Canadian Mint produced test tokens that anyone could have used to verify and adjust their systems two years prior to the introduction of the new Loonie (C$1) and Toonie (C$2) coins, Canadian news followed the trials and tribulations of many communities whose parking meters and other parking-related systems would not accept the new coins.

In the United Kingdom, the Bank of England and law enforcement is engaged in a difficult fight against counterfeit £1 coins. Sources estimate that between 3-percent of the £1 coins in circulation are fake amounting to more than 45 million counterfeit coins. These fakes are so convincing and very well constructed that they can be successfully used in vending machines for payment including in London’s Underground. In an attempt to stem the problem, the Royal Mint has designed a new £1 coin to be circulated by 2017 in hopes to cut the counterfeiting rate.

New edge view of the coin the Royal Mint hopes will be able to thwart counterfeiters.

New edge view of the coin the Royal Mint hopes will be able to thwart counterfeiters.

Changes in the Loonie and Toonie were subtle as compared to the changes in the £1 coin. While the size of the coin will remain about the same, it will go from being round to have 12 sides. Rather than it being make of one metal, the new coin will be bi-metallic with a yellow metal on the outer ring and a silver-colored inner core. Rather than the edge being milled with a single incuse inscription, the edge will have alternating milling and the year in Roman numerals on each of the sides.

The coin-operated businesses in Britain are beginning to complain about the changes even though they are being given nearly three years to adjust. For their systems, the new coins will have a different weight, specific gravity, and the electromagnetic signature will differ from the current coin. Every system from the Underground to parking systems to food and beverage vending machines will have to be upgraded to accept the new coins. One report estimates that it will cost up to £50 million (approximately $82.3 million) just to update parking systems.

The Automatic Vending Association, the U.K.’s vending industry trade group, estimates that the new coin will costs its members over £100 million ($168.5 million) to convert their machines.

Expect the costs in the United States to be much higher mainly because of scale. The National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), the $45 billion per year vending industry trade association in the United States, has already issued a report saying that it will cost from $100 to $500 per machine to convert them to accept new coinage.

The American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA) has come out against any change in U.S. coinage. It was reported that AAMA president John Schultz said to leave the coinage alone “because it works, rather than risk the costly consequences.” AAMA has not provided an estimate for those costly consequences.

The last significant change in coinage composition was in 2000 on the introduction of the Sacagawea “Golden” dollar coin. Following the debacle of the Susan B. Anthony small dollar coin that was mistaken for a quarter, the coin was redesigned without a reeded edge and given a golden color by adding manganese to the metals mix. Although this change primarily impacted the gaming industry that relied on the dollar coin, the vending machine industry did respond by converting old machines and manufacturing new ones that accepted the new coin.

The change to copper-coated zinc cents created a seven coin set for 1982

The change to copper-coated zinc cents created a seven coin set for 1982

Previously, the one cent coin went from being made of 95-percent copper and the rest zinc to being made of 98.5-percent zinc with a copper coating. Not only did this change occur in the middle of 1982, but it created seven collectible varieties of coins that are not that expensive to own. Although this change did not affect many industries, new automated cash registers being used primarily at grocery and home improvement stores can accept both the copper and zinc coins without problems.

Any discussion of coin composition changes has to include the change from silver to clad coinage. When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Coinage Act of 1965 (Pub. L. 89-81) into law on July 23, 1965, the composition of the dime and quarter dollar was change from 90-percent silver and 10-copper to 75-percent copper and 25-percent nickel bonded to a core of pure copper. This mix of metals was selected so that the coins would have an electromagnetic signature that was very similar to their silver counterparts. The half-dollar was reduced to 40-percent silver surrounding a pure copper core.
This change in coinage was done for the same reason that congress has asked the U.S. Mint to study alternative metals: the cost of materials and labor to make the coins is higher than the face value of the coin. As of the Fiscal Year 2013 (October 2012-September 2013) Annual Report, it costs the U.S. Mint 1.83 cents in labor and materials to manufacture the one cent coin and 9.41 cents for the five cents coin.

As a comparison, the cost for the dime including labor and materials is 4.56 cents per coin while the quarter dollar costs 10.5 cents to make.

1853 Braided Hair Half Cent Obverse

1853 Braided Hair Half Cent Obverse – The last lowest denomination coin eliminated by the congress.

Deciding what to do about U.S. coinage goes beyond the accounting details. A change by the federal government will impact everyone domestically and those overseas that use the dollar as their currency. There will be quite a few collateral issues including economic, political, and philosophical considerations. From a policy perspective, congress will have to think about the following before making any changes to our change:

  1. Does the U.S. eliminate the one cent coin?
  2. Does the U.S. eliminate the one dollar note in favor of a coin?
  3. If a transition to new metals is approved, does the government provide economic assistance to small businesses and sectors that will feel a bigger impact from this change?
  4. Will the federal government provide assistance to communities to help convert municipal services to be able to take the new coins?
  5. Should the U.S. Mint, a government agency, be allowed and/or required to earn a profit from its operations?
  6. How will the people be educated on the new coinage?
  7. What role will the Federal Reserve play?

Since the U.S. Mint did not define who their stakeholders are, it is fair to say that the stakeholders are all citizens of the United States. If you would like to comment, the U.S. Mint is looking for input on the following factors:

  • Costs to convert to circulating coins composed of alternative metals given the following possible changes to coins:
    • Weight
    • Electromagnetic signature
    • Visual changes, such as color and relief
  • Transition time needed to introduce a circulating coin composed of an alternative metal.
  • Comments on how best to inform and educate both affected industries and the public on changes to circulating coins.
  • Environmental impact from the use of circulating coins composed of alternative metals.
  • Other issues of importance not identified above.
  • When commenting, note that the U.S. Mint said it is not considering aluminum alloy metals.

    Responses are due to the U.S. Mint 60-days following its printing in the Federal Register (April 10, 2014 making the due date June 9, 2014). Electronic comments can be sent to Coin.StakeholdersResponse@usmint.treas.gov. If you prefer to send your comments the traditional way, mail them to Coin Stakeholders Response, Office of Coin Studies, United States Mint, 801 9th Street NW., Washington, DC 20220.

    If you do comment and would like to share what you said with the rest of the community, either send it to me via email or post it as a comment below.

    Photo credits: All photographs are the author’s except the image of the Toonie from the Royal Canadian Mint and the One-pound coin prototype from the Royal Mint.

    Alternative metals for U.S. coins

    U.S. cents have been made of copper, steel, and copper plated zinc. What's next?

    U.S. cents have been made of copper, steel, and copper plated zinc. What’s next?

    When the White House released its budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015 on Tuesday, included was a request that the Department of the Treasury perform “a comprehensive review of U.S. currency production and use, including developing alternative options for the penny and the nickel.”

    According to the budget report [PDF], it says:

    The production and circulation of currency in the United States have been largely unchanged for decades, despite the growth in electronic financial transactions. Treasury is undertaking a comprehensive review of U.S. currency, including a review of both the production and use of coins, in order to efficiently promote commerce in the 21st Century. These studies will analyze alternative metals, the United States Mint facilities, and consumer behavior and preferences, and will result in the development of alternative options for the penny and the nickel.

    Some of this has been ongoing for the last few years. As part of the Coin Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010, (Public Law 111-302 [PDF]), the U.S. Mint performed and Alternatives Metals study that was completed in August 2012 and then reported to Congress in December 2012.

    The problem with the study is the politics written into the law which the report addresses in the executive summary. Key to the problem is the provision written into the law that gives too much consideration to the vending and coin-operated industry. Rather than find the best metals possible while considering the factors that would have to be changed to make new coins work in devices like vending machines, parking meters, and other machines that take coins for payment, the law is written as if the vending industry has veto power over the choices.

    Reading the alternative metals report is like taking a college course in metallurgy. When reading the report, it is apparent that there is no perfect solution. Either the coin sizes and weights will have to change in order to meet electromagnetic signature (EMS) requirements to make new coins similar enough to provoke fewer changes to existing equipment or the EMS of the coins will have to change and the machines reprogrammed. In either case, something will have to change.

    In short, the EMS is the waveforms that are sensed when a coin is exposed to low frequency radiation (harmless to humans). The waveforms are read by sensors and compared with a programmed baseline to verify that you dropped a real coin into the machine and not a slug.

    As part of the alternative metal study, the U.S. Mint is holding a stakeholders meeting. Interested members of businesses, industries, and agencies will meet with the U.S. Mint study group to share their perspectives on the impacts of alternative metal compositions on circulating coins. This meeting will be held Thursday, March 13, 2014, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (EDT) at the U.S. Mint Headquarters located at 801 Ninth Street NW, Washington, D.C., 2nd floor. Attendance is by invitation only. Anyone interested in attending can contact Leslie Schwager, Office of Coin Studies at OfficeofCoinStudies@usmint.treas.gov, or by calling 202–354–6600 no later than Monday, March 10, 2014 to request an invitation and obtain additional meeting information.

    You can read the full announcement about this meeting in the Federal Register 79 F.R. 6672. [PDF]

    Because of the recent storms and closing of the federal government, my work requirements have shifted making it difficult for me to attend. Anyone who will attend this meeting is invited to contact me. I would be interested in hearing all perspectives about the meeting.

    Given the political nature of both the budget process and the law behind the alternative metals study, it is reasonable to believe that nothing will be accomplished by the president’s budget recommendation or the meeting at the U.S. Mint. In fact, since congress has to approve any changes to U.S. coinage and that this congress has been the least productive in history, do not expect change in your pocket change any time soon.

    Weekend change

    CoinsPresident’s Day is supposed to be the day that we celebrate the lives of the Presidents of the United States (POTUS). It became a holiday in 1968 when congress passed the Unified Monday Holiday Act (Public Law 90-363, S.cornell.edu/uscode/text/5/6103″ title=”5 U.S.C. 6103(a)” target=”_blank”>5 U.S.C. § 6103(a)) to standardize holidays on Mondays. Prior, most of the country celebrated February 22, George Washington’s birthday, as a holiday while some but not all states celebrated Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12. The law made the third Monday in February the holiday.

    There are few traditions for the holiday except for sales by various retailers. Prior to the 1980s, many stores closed on George Washington’s Birthday. But amongst the first retailers to introduce George Washington’s Birthday sales were the automobile dealers. This was a time that the automobile manufacturers were going through a transition to more fuel efficient cars. Style was an issue since many began to look “boxy.” Seeing the success of increased sales, other stores followed and it has become rare to see a store closed on Presidents’ Day.

    Even with the Winter Olympic Games in progress, just going out for usual errands required patience as many people chose to partake in the usual weekend sport of shopping. Rather than get worked up, I decided that I would see what I could find in my change by paying using cash.

    I set out on Saturday and Sunday emptying my pocket of change along with my plans for the day. A stop at the gas station, where I admit to paying with a credit card, a proper beverage for the day (tall, 3-shot, extra hot, skim latte), and a stop at the bank for cash, I went on my way.

    After two days of paying in cash, I counted my change. While collecting almost $18 in coins, I was surprised to find nothing remarkable. There were a few copper (pre-1982) Lincoln Memorial cents, but nothing that would give this post an interesting climax.

    However, there was on interesting omission: no 2014 coins. In the half-dozen shiny, very red cents I found, all were 2013 cents except for one dated 2012. Those very shiny nickels were almost all dated 2013-D and there were no dimes newer than 2011. Similarly, the only of the National Parks quarters I found was a 2013 Fort McHenry quarter.

    I also found three very shiny 2009-D Guam quarters and a mix of other circulated state quarters along with two pre-1999 quarters with the eagle reverse.

    Under the guise of “A penny saved is a penny earned,” the entire lot was put into a container that sits on top of my dresser. When the container is full or in December, whichever comes first, I will bring the coins to a bank’s coin counter and donate the money to a worthy cause making the weekend’s activity worth something.

    Counting Down the Top 10: #7 Dollars and What Sense

    Two discussions that transcended numismatics is what to do about the one dollar coin and common one-cent coin. Both coins cause different problems depending on who is doing the arguing. I find it amazing that the logic that is used to support the argument is not used consistently.

    Dollar coins have been around since the beginning of the republic. In fact, the coin that currently holds the record for being the most expensive coin sold at auction is a 1794 Flowing Hair dollar. The coin is reported to be amongst the first dollar coins minted at the newly created Mint was bought by Legend Numismatics for more than $10 million. Laura Sperber, one of the principals of Legend Numismatics, was quoted as saying that she was prepared to bid higher for the coin.

    If that is not enough to show how important the dollar coin has been in our history, there is always the 1804 Bust dollar, also known as “The King of Coins.” The U.S. Mint ceased to strike dollar coins in 1804 because of hoarding when the price of silver rose. The dollars that were struck in 1804 were struck using dies dated 1803 and are indistinguishable from the coins struck in 1803. The U.S. Mint continued to strike “minor coinage” to encourage circulation.

    In 1834, eight dollar coins were struck with the 1804 date to include in a special set created as a gift for the King of Siam (the area known today as Thailand). One coin was included in the set, one was retained by the U.S. Mint for its collection that is now part of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and the six others were kept as souvenirs by Mint officials and eventually landed in private collections. Between 1858 and 1860 seven more specimens were surreptitiously by U.S. Mint employee Theodore Eckfelt. It is alleged that Eckfelt created 15 coins. Six are in private collection, one is now part of the National Numismatic Collection and the others were reported to be destroyed when seized by the government.

    The Coinage Act of 1873, known as “The Crime of ’73,” ended the free coining of silver and put the United States strictly on the gold standard until the western states where silver was being mined became upset. Two weeks later, congress passed the Bland-Allison Act to required the Department of the Treasury to buy the excess silver and use it to strike the Morgan Dollar. Morgan dollars, especially those struck at the branch mint in Carson City, Nevada are popular with collectors because of their ties to the days of the old west. Collectors can find quite a few nice examples of Morgan and the Peace dollars that were struck from 1921 through 1938 because many did not circulate. These coins were held as backing to silver certificates in circulation and did not get released to the general public until the GSA Hoard sales that begin in the 1960s.

    Such a colorful history also has a downside that is used as fodder against the dollar. After ending the production of the Peace dollar in 1938, no dollars were struck until 1964 when the U.S. Mint struck 316,076 1964-D Peace dollars in May 1965. The coins were never put into circulation and the entire population of 1964-D Peace dollar were allegedly destroyed. There have been reports that some Peace dollars were struck using base metals (copper-nickel clad) as experimental pieces in 1970 in anticipation of the approval of the Eisenhower dollar. The same reports also presume these coins have been destroyed.

    The Eisenhower dollar was not well received because of its size. The 38mm coin was seen as too big for modern commerce and with the exception of dollars struck with the special bicentennial reverse in 1975 and 1976, most coins did not circulate.

    The Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was introduced in 1979 with much fanfare for being the first coin to honor a woman. The coin was a failure because it was confused with a quarter

    The Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was introduced in 1979 with much fanfare for being the first coin to honor a woman. The coin was a failure because it was confused with a quarter

    To try to improve circulation someone came up with the idea of the small dollar as part of an attempt to honor suffragette Susan B. Anthony. The copper-nickel coin was very close in size to the Washington quarter, had reeded edges like the Washington quarter, and on a simple glance was consistently confused with the Washington quarter. I even have heard coin collectors use the fiasco of the Susie B.’s as a reason not to pursue the dollar coin.

    Since the introduction of the Sacagawea dollar in 2000, the dollar coin’s size has remained the same but with the addition of manganese has a golden color to be visually different from other coins. For the visually impaired, the reeding was removed from the edges. Today, the Presidential $1 coins and the Native American $1 Coins have edge lettering that keeps it tactically different from the quarter dollar. However, people continue to bring up the Susan B. Anthony dollar as a reason not to use dollar coins.

    Historically, dollar coins has been more popular in the western regions of the United States where the east prefers paper. Financial centers and big city government prefers paper for its alleged ease of handling. When circulated side-by-side, the public tends to choose paper over coin.

    When we look around the world for examples of how to handle this situation, we find that the United States is the only country where the unit currency is available in both paper and coin. Other countries did not give people a choice. Rather, their governments made a decision based on overall economic benefits of using a coin with a predicted 30-year lifespan over paper currency that can last 18-24 months in circulation. Instead of the argument being of practical economics where every other country and the European Union have put on their proverbial long pants and made a decision that is in their best economic interest, factions in the United States comes up with mind boggling arguments of alleging that taking the paper dollar away is akin to taking away our freedom.

    Obverse of the 2013-S Lincoln proof cent. Lincoln's portrait, designed by Victor D. Brenner in 1909,  is the longest running design of any United States coin.

    Obverse of the 2013-S Lincoln proof cent. Lincoln’s portrait, designed by Victor D. Brenner in 1909, is the longest running design of any United States coin.

    Then why is that not an argument that can be used to figure out what the do about the one cent coin? Are we not giving up the same freedoms by forcing those who pay for good and services using cash to sacrifice their ability to pay what is due and not over pay?

    The United States has a history of using its currency to boost the economic status of its citizens, aside from the various silver laws and the laws that eventually took the United States off the gold and silver standards, the creation of the half-cent was made because of the economic status of its citizens. Following Alexander Hamilton’s Treasury Secretrary’s report to congress “On the Establishment of a Mint,” Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson had another idea. Jefferson thought it would be better to tie subsidiary coins tied to the actual usage of the 8 reales coin. At the time, rather than worry about subsidiary coinage, people would cut the coin into pieces. A milled dollar cut in half was a half-dollar. That half-dollar cut in half was a quarter-dollar and the quarter-dollar cut in half was called a bit.

    The bit was the basic unit of commerce since prices were based on the bit. Of course this was not a perfect solution. It was difficult to cut the quarter-dollars in half with great consistency which created problems when the bit was too small, called a short bit. Sometimes, short bits were supplemented with English pennies that were allowed to circulate in the colonies.

    As an aside, this is where the nickname “two bits” for a quarter came from.

    Jefferson felt that in order to convert the people from bit economy to a decimal economy, the half-cent was necessary to have 12½ cents be used instead of a bit without causing problems during conversion from allowing foreign currency to circulate as legal tender until the new Mint can produce enough coinage for commerce.

    The half-cent would come into focus in the 1850s when the cost to produce the United State’s copper coins was nearly double their face value. In 1856, the Mint produced the first of the small cents, the Flying Eagle small cent, and produced 700 samples to convince congress to change to the small cent. As part of the discussion was the elimination of foreign currency from circulation making the U.S. Mint the sole supplier of coins.

    There is no record of outcry from the public on the elimination of the half-cent. Its elimination came four years after the Coinage Act of 1853 that created the one-dollar and double eagle gold coins in response to the discovery of gold in North Carolina, Georgia, and California. The gold rush caused a prosperity and inflation that not only made the half-cent irrelevant but not something on the public’s mint. In that light, the Mint and congress felt that it just outlived its usefulness and would not be necessary with the elimination of foreign currency from circulation.

    More controversy was generated in 1857 over the demonetizing foreign coins in the United States than the elimination of the half-cent. While the half-cent continued to circulate, it was estimated that one-third of the coins being circulated were foreign, primarily reales from Mexico. Redemption programs did not go smoothly, but in the end foreign coins were taken out of the market and the American people adapted and it could be said we prospered as a nation.

    Like the 1850s, the last seven years have found that the cost of the copper used to make the one-cent coin has increased to more than the coin’s value. Combined with the labor and manufacturing costs, it costs the U.S. Mint between 1.6 and 1.8 cents for each copper-coated zinc cent struck. Although people argue that the cent is not needed and is barely useful, the U.S. Mint reports that 65-percent of its production are for one-cent coins that are ordered by the Federal Reserve to be circulated in commerce.

    Eliminating the cent has caused controversy from those concerned with the economic welfare of the less fortunate. Many are using the same arguments that Jefferson made in 1791 to create the half-cent in order to keep the one-cent coin in circulation while others point to what other countries are doing. Canada is currently the country with the largest economy to eliminate its lowest denomination coin. Proponents of eliminating the cent point to Canada’s rocky success (withdrawal of the cent had been delayed twice) as an example of how the United States can handle the situation.

    Canadian 1-dollar and 2-dollar coins. The 1-dollar coin is called a Loonie because its reverse depicts a common loon. “Toonie” is a play on the Loonie nickname.

    Canadian 1-dollar and 2-dollar coins. The 1-dollar coin is called a Loonie because its reverse depicts a common loon. “Toonie” is a play on the Loonie nickname.

    Canada also does not circulate paper currency smaller than their 5-dollar banknote. Rather than paper (or polymer as they are converting away from rag-bond paper), Canada circulates a one-dollar (Loonie) and two-dollar (Toonie) that is regularly used in commerce. The Bank of Canada is also considering eliminating their 5-dollar note in favor of a 5-dollar coin that would be produced by the Royal Canadian Mint for circulation.

    Suggesting that if the United States follows Canada’s lead in the elimination of the cent, should the United States follow Canada’s lead and eliminate the one- and two-dollar Federal Reserve Notes in favor of one- and two-dollar coins?

    This debate will continue until someone decides to act like an adult and make a definitive policy decision—especially when the Fed publishes a “working paper” that cherry picks facts to support a specific viewpoint.

    Image of the Susan B. Anthony dollar and Lincoln cent courtesy of the U.S. Mint.
    Image of the Canadian Loonie and Toonie courtesy of Noticias Montreal.

    A whole lotta bread

    Lincoln cent wheat reverse (1909-1958)When Teddy Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States following the assassination of William McKinley, he set out to reform the United States into a robust nation giving everyone opportunities while protecting what he felt made this nation great. One of Roosevelt’s reform was to redesign U.S. coinage that he called his “pet crime.”

    Roosevelt hated the designs created by U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber. In fact, Roosevelt had called Barber’s designs “atrociously hideous.” Roosevelt ordered coinage whose designs were more than 25 years old to be redesigned. Since Roosevelt was a fan of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, he asked Saint-Gaudens to help redesign American coinage.

    Before Saint-Gaudens would finish, he died of cancer in 1907.

    Roosevelt still wanted to redesign the cent but did not have any ideas. In 1908, Roosevelt was posing for a Panama Canal service medal that was being designed by Victor David Brenner. Brenner, an immigrant who admired Abraham Lincoln, suggested that he design a coin honoring Lincoln to coincide with the centennial of Lincoln’s birthday in 1909. Roosevelt asked for samples and agreed to Brenner’s design proposal.

    Brenner designed the reverse of the with two ears of durum wheat, one the most prolific wheat grown in the United States today. Wheat is the United States’ most successful crop and largest agricultural export.

    Not only is it a successful crop, but over the 50 years in production, the U.S. Mint has produced a lot of its own wheat with every cent it made.

    If you think about it, all that wheat could make a lot of bread.

    • The seeds on the stalk of wheat is called a kernel.
    • On average, there are 48 kernels in a head of wheat and 15,000 to 17,000 kernels in a pound.
    • According to the National Association of Wheat Growers, there are 1 million kernels of wheat in a bushel.
    • Since there are two heads of wheat on the reverse of the Lincoln cent, there are about 96 kernels of wheat per coin.
    • According to the U.S. Mint, there were 25,980,000,000 (25.98 billion) wheat cents struck between 1909 and 1958.
    • To find the number of kernels of wheat produced, multiply the number of kernels per cent (96) by the number of cents struck: 96 x 25,980,000,000 = 2,494,080,000,000 (2.49408 trillion) kernels of wheat.
    • If there are 1 million kernels of wheat per bushel, 2.49408 trillion kernels/1 million = 2,494,080 bushels of wheat produced by the U.S. Mint.
    • The National Association of Wheat Growers claim a bushel of wheat yields 42 one-and-a-half pound commercial loaves of white bread or about 90 one-pound loaves of whole wheat bread. Let’s use an average of 66 loaves of bread per bushel.
    If 25.98 billion wheat cents yields 2.494 million bushels of wheat where each bushel yields 66 loaves of bread, if the U.S. Mint all the wheat struck on every Lincoln cent between 1909 and 1958 would have produced 164,609,280 loaves of bread.

    Don’t like bread? What about pasta?

    If a bushel of wheat makes 42 pounds of pasta, which is about 210 servings of spaghetti, 2.494 million bushels of wheat would have produced 104,748,000 or 523,740,000 servings of spaghetti.

    We’ll need a few extra meatballs for dinner!

    Credits

    • The idea for this post came from Montgomery County Coin Club Treasurer Jack Schadegg during a talk at our recent coin club meeting.
    • Various sources were used to calculate and verify the production of Lincoln cents from 1909 though 1958.
    • The National Association of Wheat Growers’ website provided the capacity figure.
    • Lincoln cent wheat ears reverse image courtesy of Wikipedia.

    REVIEW: “The Wishful Penny” should delight your young reader

    Rosie was not just a riveter during World War II but she also worked at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia making blanks for coins.

    Working in the blanking room at the U.S. Mint was not an easy job. It was hot, loud, and Rosie was confused. Even though she was supposed to feed a sheet of zinc coated steel into the blanking press, Rosie fed a sheet of copper. With the press of a button, 40 copper blanks were made.

    Rosie panicked. The president ordered that the U.S. Mint not use the copper for coins so it could be used for the war effort. Not knowing what to do, Rosie let the coins proceed to the next stations where they were washed and “pinched” to create rims keeping her fingers crossed that nobody found out.

    The copper blanks were fed into the press along with the zinc-coated steel blanks and thus was born Penny, a 1943 copper cent.

    The Wishful Penny is the story of Penny’s adventure from her accidental birth, to an ice cream shop, across the Atlantic, back again, and how one wish made on Penny comes true.

    Written for readers in grades 3-5 with a story that can be appreciated by younger students, The Wishful Penny written by J.J. (Jennifer Jo) Young, co-founder of the publisher See the Wish, surrounds the story of a wish made on a penny as it is thrown into a fountain with factual information about the coin and conditions. The story opens with the book’s Rosie, a name obviously chosen, who never worked before but was thrown into working at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia because the men were off at war. It mentions that President Roosevelt order that copper be preserved for the war effort and even approaches the angst of the time with relative off at war and businesses hoping for survival in difficult times.

    The use of factual information makes the story more appealing. Forget the fact that I am some-number-of-many-years beyond the target age group for this book, it has the ability to not only teach the students but also the teachers who may have not thought about using coins as a teaching tool. If a teacher wants to use this book for classroom instruction, the authors offer a teacher’s kit that includes books, worksheets, discussion questions, activities, history tie-ins, and script with a CD of music to allow the students to perform the book as a play.

    Aside from the history, the book teaches about real world perseverance from the perspective of Penny, whose optimism about carrying her wish is a good lesson for all children. While having optimism is good, the book also teaches how there is a long road to fulfilling goals that comes with the bumpy road of life. As someone who grew up with parents who wanted me to skin my knees because learning not to was as important as losing the game in order to understand life is just not handed to you, the book portrays that as a series of disappointments. With optimism in tact, Penny goes from the fountain where she meets the silver coins, to Ireland where she lives in a safe with other coins, to running away from thieves, and helping catch them before being mailed back to the United States and finding that a coin is different from the stamps that make the journey with her.

    If you buy the book individually, it will come with a CD with 12 songs interspersed with acted audio scenes from the book. It is not exactly faithful to the dialog in the book, but your youngster may not mind. Remember, that the music is intended for your children and that an adult may request their child listen with headphones. After growing up with Peter, Paul and Mary, I am not sure I would have ever like the music. Since I am not the target audience I am not going to complain! However, the audio CD could be just the thing to keep your child busy for an hour during a long drive.

    You can also buy the book as an audio CD. The audio book is read by January M. Akselrad, the other co-founder of See the Wish. Ms. Akselrad reads the book just like you would expect to a younger audience. However, I found myself re-reading the book along with her thinking that this might be good for a student who may have a difficult time reading to follow along while listening to the book being read for them.

    Although I am not a teacher, I can see using the audio CD with the books in order to show visual highlights of story but the history it shows. Since I was not provided the teaching materials, I can only hope the authors provide teachers with this information.

    Coins can teach us a lot about history and history can teach us a lot about ourselves. Although the exact reason for the existence of the copper 1943 cents can only be speculated, turning it into a story for children works on so many levels. I even like that the person who found Penny only to realize she was special was a girl learning about collecting coins. Add to that the collector who buys the coin was a woman is also a lesson that this should not be a male-dominated hobby!

    I did not know what to expect when I agreed to review this book. But I was surprised how engaging it was even for a “vintage” person like me. Even though Penny ends up at less than an Mint State (MS) grade by the end of the book, I grade this book MS68 with a recommendation that if your young reader does have reading difficulties also purchase the audio CD. In fact, you may want to consider purchasing the teacher’s kit and donate it to your child’s school. Or for the classes looking to put on a play, why not consider the full-length musical with recorded music. It has to be a great idea for teachers needing new material!

    POST SCRIPT FOR PARENTS: After your child reads the book and she wants more information about coins and collecting, let them vista the U.S. Mint h.i.p. pocket change website. “H.I.P.” stands for History In your Pocket, which best describes how many of us see coins.

    POST SCRIPT FOR TEACHERS: After your class read this book and performs the play, I would recommend teachers visit the U.S. Mint teacher’s website for additional resources to using coins in the classroom. Who knows, maybe we can turn you and your students into numismatists!

    Disclaimer
    A copy of the book and audio CD was provided by the author in exchange for this review. Even as I type this, the author does not know what I will say. However, I did inform her I will be donating the audio CD to the county library to be placed in an area where the children need the most help.
    Apology
    I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the author for taking so long to do this review. She was prompt in sending the book and I should have made the time to reward her promptness with a timely review. I appreciate her patience.

    I’m back with a story from Canada

    I am back after taking two weeks off for a little travel. As part of my ventures I spent some time in Canada. My wife, whose family is from the French-speaking areas of Quebec, had me trail along while she visited relatives. Even though I cannot speak French (très peu or “very little” is my response to when I was asked) I did have a good time. My wife’s relatives are good people and it would be interesting to see some of them come to the United States to visit.

    While I was in Canada I decided that it would be interesting to buy rolls of one dollar (Loonies) and two dollar (Toonies) coins and see what I can find. The process was very interesting. First, I had to find a teller who could help me in English and accept U.S. currency. Thankfully, my wife had business at a local bank and the banker she worked with introduced me to a teller I could work with.

    As I was introduced to the teller, I decided to buy two rolls of Loonies and Toonies. I thought this would be a good idea since these rolls may not have many coins. After all, rolls of U.S. dollars has 25 coins and the half dollars have 40 coins. I was surprised to learn that both the one and two dollar Canadian coins contain 50 coins! Playing it cool, I pretended I was not surprised and decided that purchasing 100 of each coin would be more fun to go through.

    The rolls that were handed to me were clear plastic with locking tabs to hold the coins in place. Opening the roll is as easy as pulling apart the tabs. It does not require banging the rolls on the counter or tearing apart paper. While I did not open the roll all of the way, I was able to press the tabs closed to keep the rolls together.

    Since I was paying for the rolls using U.S. currency, the bank used the current exchange rate for the conversion. With an exchange rate of a fraction over 98-cents per Canadian dollar, the two rolls cost less than $150 in U.S. currency. This presented a problem trying to pay with coins. Thankfully, my wife had some Canadian currency and paid for part of the transaction and added the C$5.00 fee since I was not a customer. What was more interesting was that without one-cent coins in circulation, the change had to be rounded. In this case, the change was rounded up!

    After I walked out of the bank I began to wonder how the bank balances its books? Having worked on computer systems that supports accounting with all of the auditing capabilities and the ability to balance many accounts at once, what happens when the balances do not match? Do the banks track the plus-or-minus cents in order to make the books balance?

    While in Canada I had to continue with my usual coffee habit and found myself at a Tim Hortons. For the United States audience not in the northeast where there are Tim Hortons franchises, Tim Hortons was founded in 1964 by Miles “Tim” Horton, a hockey player and entrepreneur, in Ontario as a donut shop. Although Horton died as a result of a 1974 automobile accident, his namesake restaurant is the largest fast-food chain in Canada. When I am asked to describe Tim Hortons I say that it is similar to Dunkin Donuts but with a better system and better coffee. When purchasing coffee at the Tim Hortons and paid using cash, the store worker would enter the amount of money I handed over and the electronic cash register calculated the change. On the screen it noted the change and how much would be actually dispensed without the one-cent coins. When I made a $1.78 purchase and handed the cashier a toonie, the cash registers said I was owed 20-cents in change.

    Even though these transactions were in my favor, I had mixed feelings about the situation. I could have paid the exact amount using a credit card, but I am not comfortable using my credit card for small transactions.

    Canadians seem to be comfortable, or at least accepting, with the elimination of the one-cent coin. I noticed they are comfortable with the one and two dollar coins. In fact, I liked having the coins from change while purchasing my coffee or other items while in Canada.

    I am not sure that eliminating the one-cent coin or the paper dollar is ever going to happen in the United States, but if Canadians can adapt then I do not see why we should not be able to!

    Whitman Show in Baltimore is always fun

    When I returned to the hobby, the first show I attended was the Baltimore Coin Show. Back then, it was privately run by an area dealer who grew the show to something that required a facility the size of the Baltimore Convention Center to hold for a twice per year show. I remember walking into the hall at the time and being overwhelmed with the rows of tables and starting my adventure. Even when the show occupied only Halls A and B was really a sight to see.

    Then Whitman bought the show and propelled it to levels greater than its previous owner, which did not seem possible. Not only has Whitman done a great job, but they expanded the show to three times per year and expanded the number of dealers to include Hall C. Hall C also includes Whitman’s own booth along with providing space for a Kids Corner, exhibits, services, and some numismatic organizations. In many ways the size and scope exceeds last summer’s World’s Fair of Money in Philadelphia.

    New Campaign Button

    New Campaign Button

    I arrived at the Baltimore Convention Center mid-afternoon on the Ides of March to take in the show and meet with my fellow board members of the Maryland State Numismatic Association for a scheduled meeting. Before the meeting I was able to get through about a quarter of the bourse talking with people and handing out my new buttons for my campaign.

    Since the MSNA president could not get away from work, I presided as the organization’s vice president. I kept the meeting under 45 minutes while still getting a few things done. We set a new meeting, adjourned, then went to the elevator for the two floor descent to the main level and the bourse.

    I did not buy much at this show since I did not take my usual inventory before going. I did look for New York-related tokens and medals and for Maryland colonial currency. But I did not find anything that intrigued me.

    Later in the day, I did go by the table of Butternut Coins and COL Steve Ellsworth. This is not the first time I have spoken the Steve but every time I do I find him a very intriguing and engaging person. Ellsworth is a specialist in Early American Copper Coin along and the Civil War. It was his expertise in Early American Coppers that I was interested in.

    As I was looking through his cases, I told Steve about my One Page Collection idea where I would fill a single 20 coin pocket page with nice coins for around $50-100. Since I posted it, I wanted to put the collection together and plan to talk about it at the upcoming National Money Show in New Orleans. He gave me suggestions as to what to look for based on my price and condition guidelines and found two coins that will be added to the collection.

    1851 Braided Hair Large Cent obverse

    1851 Braided Hair Large Cent obverse

    The first coin I found was an 1851 Braided Head large cent that his holder has marked as VF30. It is not a rare coin but a nicely preserve coin with a smooth brown color, nice details still remaining, very clear “Liberty” in the headband, and the signs of slightly weak strike on the reverse that does not detract from the look of the coin.

    1853 Braided Hair Half Cent Obverse

    1853 Braided Hair Half Cent Obverse

    The other coin is a 1853 Braided Hair half cent that his holder has marked VF35. Again, this is not a rare coin but one that is really beautiful. The coin shows some streaks of red and I asked whether it might have been cleaned at one time. Remember, it was a common and acceptable practice to clean coins to bring out their shine and color. But Steve did not think so and that the streaks of color may be original toning. Even if the coin is naturally recolored from a previous cleaning, the coloring does not detract from the beauty of the coin.

    Both coins were well within budget and will be included in my one page collection. I appreciate the help that Steve provided in my search.

    I have to start working on the 2, 3, and 5 cent coins one-pager.

    Now that I decided to present these ideas at a Money Talks program in New Orleans, you will have to come to the show to hear about different ideas I have.

    In the mean time, if you are in, near, or can get to Baltimore on June 20-23, it is a good way to spend a day or even the weekend. And let me know, we can sit down for coffee at the stand on the third level.

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