The shameless promotion of the coin business and extraordinary search for special rare coins did not begin with the explosion of the Internet. It can be traced to legendary coin dealer B. Max Mehl. From the empire he built in Austin, Texas, Mehl was probably the first coin dealer to market coins to the general public.
Mehl started advertising in The Numismatist in 1903 and in the following year issued his first catalog. In 1906, Mehl paid $12.50 to advertise in Collier’s magazine offering his Star Coin Book for 10-cents. Later, Mehl would expand the book and sell it for $1.
Benjamin Maximillian Mehl was born in Łódź, Russia (now Poland) in 1884. His family immigrated to the United States in 1895 and worked as a shoe salesman before he became a coin dealer. Stories about his relentless promotion report that he was shipping coins to more than 30,000 times a year.
Mehl is famous for his advertising that he “Will pay $50 for a nickel of 1913 with Liberty Head, not Buffalo.” Although he never found one, that did not stop him from advertising and trying.
Then there is the catalog, Star Coin Book. Before the Red Book, Blue Book, and Standard Catalog, there were few books that provided this amount of information and was affordable to the general public. The Star Coin Book was his marketing tool to make and keep people interested and to keep the orders coming in.
Mehl sold so many catalogs that one can be purchased for as little as $5.00 or as high as $50.00 depending on the year and condition. Many are in poor condition since they were not meant to be saved. Mehl wanted people to buy a new catalog every year.
Imagine my surprise when I was going through a box of odd books that I purchased from an estate and found a 1925 edition of The Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia and Premium Catalog. I picked up the book, paused as I tried to focus on the well-worn cover, and smiled as I realized what I had found.
The book is not in good condition but it is part of numismatic lore. It is Mehl’s work as a cataloger and seller of coins and some currency. It is page after page of coins and the values that he would pay if you wanted to sell your coins. These values are a range of what he would pay and he notes that is based on the condition of the coin. He does include a description of the differences in condition and most coin types include some type of picture, whether it is a photographic plate or a line drawing.
After the lists there are a few pages of history of coins, “Coins Past and Present” that is followed by coins he has for sale. All sales were done by phone or by postal mail. Remember, this was long before fax machines and the Internet!
There are both contemporary and modern writings about Mehl that describe him as a huckster and mendacious. Others describe him as a genius of marketing that helped grow the hobby. Regardless, Mehl has a place is numismatic history that has to be respected for being able to use the tools he had to build a successful business.
Mehl built his company’s offices at 1204 Magnolia Ave. in Fort Worth. The building was rescued long after Mehl had died but his name still appears over the main entrance.
Image of 1204 Magnolia Avenue take from Google Maps.
People seem to come out of the woodwork when there is the story about an error coin being worth a lot of money. Most have folders or albums left behind by long passed loved ones that they have stored in a draw for sentimental reasons. They do not have the passion of the relative for collecting, but they still have the folders.
1943 Lincoln cent struck on a copper planchet
(Courtesy of CoinTrackers)
Since the news reports about the discovery of two 1943 Lincoln wheat cents struck on copper planchets hit the news, I have received a few inquiries as to whether they have a coin that could be worth tens- or hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars. All are disappointed when they find out that grandpa’s old album may not be worth more than $50.00 if that much.
“But the coin is so old!”
Those of us who have been around this hobby for a while know that many factors go into pricing coins including supply and demand, condition, and other market forces. The considerations are so varied, that I wrote a two-part series on “How Coins are Priced” (links: Part I and Part II) that is still relevant.
U.S. cents have been made of copper, steel, and copper plated zinc. What’s next?
The 1943 copper Lincoln cent is known as an off-metal error. It probably happened when the U.S. Mint started to strike the 1943 Steel cents and a few copper planchets were probably still stuck in the machine. According to Coin World, there have been 12 reported 1943 copper cents.
Now that the coin has been reported in the mainstream media, be careful about buying counterfeits coins. Sources report that would-be fraudsters are either taking the abundant supply of steel cents at a cost of 50-cents to $2 each and plating them with copper. This type of counterfeit is easy to detect using a magnet. Copper is not magnetic and will not react to a magnet.
Another trick they try is to alter the “8” on a 1948 Lincoln cent to make it look like a three. If you carefully study the style used on the “3” and the “8” you will see that they are very different shapes on the coins. Also, if you look at the date under magnification, you could see the tooling marks. This is where carrying a 10x loupe is beneficial.
Identifying a 1943 altered date
Otherwise, make sure the coin is encapsulated by a reputable grading service and that you check the serial numbers against the grading service’s database.
While it is nice to have the attention, please do not be disappointed when I tell you that the rusting 1943 steel cent is probably worth about 25-cents or that reprocessed set may be worth one- or two-dollars.
- 1943 copper Lincoln Cent courtesy of CoinTrackers.
- 1943 Steel Cent courtesy of the U.S. Mint.
- Image showing the diagnostics of an altered 1943 date courtesy of The Spruce.
As I am working on a manuscript about counterfeiting coins and currency, I started to search the internet for the location of some information when I stumbled on The British Museum’s website. Rather than find something about counterfeiting, searching the term “defacing coins” lead me to the most recent Curator’s Corner blog entry by Thomas Hockenhull, the curator of Modern Money for The British Museum.
For this entry, Hockenhull found a 1903 large penny with the words “VOTES FOR WOMEN” engraved over the head of King Edward III. It was done as part of the suffragist protests in England prior to World War I. Although not much of a presenter, The British Museum recorded a video featuring Hockenhull describing the coin and his research into how it might have come into existence. Rather than rehash what he said, you can watch the video here:
I have not to been to London for many years, but I remember spending a day at The British Museum was a highlight of the trip. It is one of the great museums of the world and worth setting at least one day touring the museum. There is so much to see that if you love to see the living embodiment of history, consider spending more than a day.
With the introduction of the COINS Act Cents (S. 759) and Sensibility Act (H.R. 2067), there is a possibility that the U.S. Mint will be required to make changes in the coinage it produces for circulation. Although the chances of either of these bills being passed are not very good, we can watch what is going on across the pond to see how a smaller country, albeit with a significant economy, handles a change in their coinage.
The old Round Pound and the new 12-sided £1 coin
After three years of design and production plans, the Royal Mint has produced what they are calling the most secure coin ever. The 12-sided, bimetallic coin includes micro-lettering, a latent image that is like a hologram, and something embedded in the metal to change its electromagnetic signature so that coin operated machines can detect counterfeits. These changes were made necessary by an effort criminals made to flood the market with counterfeit the previous £1 coin.
Initially, there have been complaints about coin-op systems not being able to accept the coin. Everyone from parking lots with metered and machined payment to the London Underground has been seen as not ready for the change even though the Royal Mint produced test coins in 2016 to help businesses convert. In England, where supermarkets charge to use the shopping cart in a manner that U.S. airports charge to use luggage carts, some major chains have unlocked their carts because they cannot accept the new £1 coins.
Acceptance is not the only problem they have run into. The new pound coins appear to have errors.
The first error to show up caused people to think that the coin was being counterfeited when the thistle on the reverse did not strike properly. The Royal Mint confirmed that these were not counterfeits. They were errors in the minting process. Although it was reported that the Royal Mint did not examine the coins, after seeing the images they said:
As you would expect, we have tight quality controls in place, however variances will always occur in a small number of coins, particularly in the striking process, due to the high volumes and speed of production.
First new £1 coin error found with missing detail on the thistle
Next came the center-melt error. A woman in Birmingham found a coin that looks like the copper-nickel center melted across the coin. When minting bimetallic coins, the centers are supposed to expand in order to fuse it to the outer layers. The design crossed over the edges of the two metals to help with the anti-counterfeiting and to make sure the metals are locked into place. Since the coin is struck evenly, it is likely that either the alloy making up the center contains more of the softer nickel than specified, or that the coin was struck as second time causing the already fused centers to melt because of the friction.
Too hard of a strike is likely to have caused the copper-nickel center to melt across the coin.
A European coin expert familiar with the bimetallic minting process suggested that the pressure on the presses were set too high. This caused the coin to not eject properly from the collar leaving it in the machine for a second strike. The second strike on the higher pressure caused the center to melt and position the coin in a way to force it to eject. He is looking for an example to make a closer examination.
A final error find was the separation of the center from the outer ring. Even though the Royal Mint has said that this is impossible and all but accused the person who found the error of a crime (destroying coins is a crime in the United Kingdom), it is possible for the parts to separate if the strike pressure is not hard enough to fuse the centers to the rings. If the melting centers are caused by too heavy of the strike, the removable centers are caused by too light of a strike.
A weak strike can prevent the two metals from fusing properly allowing them to separate
It is theorized that the Royal Mint has two possible issues: quality control when resetting the coining presses when changing the dies and a design that cannot handle the tolerances.
Even when dies are changed for coins struck on a planchet with a single metal, the press has to be adjusted to ensure the coins are struck with the proper force. Even if the dies are made by the same person and machines, they can be mounted millimeters off. Operators are supposed to run a few coins and check the striking tolerances. If the strike is too hard, it will cause the dies to wear quicker (the first error) and possible cause multiple strikes (the second error) when the coins get stuck in the collars. Set too soft and the friction does not generate enough heat to fuse the metals (third error).
Looking for errors on eBay’s UK site, errors include coins without Queen Elizabeth’s portrait and 2016 trial strikes given to merchants to test coin-op machines that ended up in circulation.
Trial strikes found without the effigy of Queen Elizabeth, II
While the Brits are having fun with the Royal Mint’s error, it is nothing like the “Godless Dollar” outrage by the easily offended when the edge lettering with “In God We Trust” was accidentally left off of the Presidential dollars. Maybe the United States cannot handle change to their change!
- Thistle error image courtesy of The Sun.
- Melted pound image courtesy of The Sun.
- Separated pound image courtesy of gtgadget.
Not to be outdone, Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) introduced the Cents and Sensibility Act in the house (H.R. 2067) in order to force the change in our change. Stivers’ bill would require that circulating coins “be produced primarily of steel” and that “ be treated in such a manner that the appearance of the coins, both when new and after they have been in circulation, is similar to the one-cent, five-cent, dime, and quarter dollar coins, respectively, produced before the date of the enactment of this subsection.” This differs from the Currency Optimization, Innovation, and National Savings (COINS) Act (S. 759), introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), in that McCain’s bill would cease production of the one-cent coin, changes the composition of the five-cent coins, and ceases production of the $1 paper currency.
I don’t think either bill has a chance of being passed but if I had to pick one, I would prefer McCain’s COINS Act.
H.R. 2067: Cents and Sensibility Act
Sponsor: Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH)
• Introduced: April 6, 2017
• Summary: To amend title 31, United States Code, to save the American taxpayers money by immediately altering the metallic composition of the one-cent, five-cent, dime, and quarter dollar coins.
• Last Action: April 6, 2017: Referred to the House Committee on Financial Services.
This bill can be tracked at http://bit.ly/115-HR2067.
S. 921: Duty First Act
Sponsor: Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS)
• Introduced: April 24, 2017
• Summary: A bill to require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of the 1st Infantry Division
• Last Action: April 28, 2017: Referred to the House Committee on Financial Services
This bill can be tracked at http://bit.ly/115-S921.
H.R. 2256: To require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in recognition of Christa McAuliffe.
Sponsor: Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)
• Introduced: April 28, 2017
• Last Action: April 28, 2017: Referred to the House Committee on Financial Services
This bill can be tracked at http://bit.ly/115-HR2256.
Welcome to my first 100-percent blog post by iPhone. I am sitting in my booth at DC Big Flea on Sunday waiting for the afternoon crowd and decided to share pictures of some of the coins I found during my Saturday afternoon walk around the show floor. Considering how long it takes to type on the iPhone, and taking care of business, it might take most of the day to finish this post!
A glance into my booth at DC Big Flea
One thing I like about this business is the variety of items that you can find. Aside from the various antiques and collectibles, there are a lot of interesting numismatic items that you may not find at a coin dealer’s table at almost any show. Most of these are not high priced items but are very interesting. For example, while Love Tokens can bring a nice premium, only a few specialized dealers would carry them. Since most of the dealers are also pickers. They will buy all of this stuff and bring it to a show like this.
A couple of smamples that I missed taking pictures of includes someone who had a coffee cup full of buffalo nickels for 25-cents a coin. After searching through most of the coins, all of them had at least a partial date. Not a dateless coin to be found. Another dealer was selling circulated Morgan dollars in VG-to-XF condition for $20 a coin, which is pretty good since the catalog value of most of these coins are $25-45 each. Current melt value of Morgan dollars is a little more than $14.
Although I do not have coins in my inventory at this show, you could have come by and bought a Red Book from one of the contributors, cheap!
Here are the pictures uploaded directly from my iPhone:
Page of odds and ends including a hammered coin, love token, and Hobo Nickel
A $100 Confederate States of America note
1901 $10 Dollar Lewis and Clark Bison note (Fr# 122), Elliot-White
A small selection of Love Tokens
Lots of silver dollars and many at very good prices
Medals, awards, casino chips, and a Challenge Coin
Casino chips and challenge coins make for an interesting display option!
Some decent Buffalo Nickels, although some of these prices are a little high for their condition
A layout of foreign coins. I bought the 1920 Canada Large Cent to the left
The clock on the left is an old Capital Plastics holder. It is the first time I have seen one.
Bracelets are made from Australian pre-decimalisation coins that have been gold plated
Check written to Lorin Wright from her brothers. Lorin Wright endorsed the check on the reverse.
Tray of miscellaneous coins.
While making a run through the local estate sales trying to find specific inventory for an upcoming show, I met JJ. We were searching the cases of jewelry and other higher value smalls when I noticed a pair of Morgan dollars buried under some necklaces. I asked to see the coins as JJ announced in mock protest that he saw them first.
1884 & 1881 Morgan Dollars that were estate finds
The 1884 dollar was in good (G-4) condition with a rim ding while the 1881 coin could pass for an extra fine (XF). When the person behind the cases said that she would sell the coins for $20 each, I added them to growing list of items I was buying. JJ was jealous.
JJ considers himself a hoarder and collector. He likes to find Morgan dollars and hoards them. During our conversation, he said that he hoards all pre-1965 coins regardless of type and condition. As a result, we ended up discussing collecting “modern” versus “classic” coins.
JJ and I are about the same age. We grew up with clad coinage but continued to find silver coins in pocket change until the early 1970s. We filled blue folders from the pocket change we were able to find in our father’s pockets and we have our respective first folders of Lincoln cents. Even though the modern era has been going on for 53 years, there are a lot of people like JJ who gives these coins little to no respect.
There are very few rare coins to be found in circulation. Gone are the days when the 1914-D, 1922 no D, and the 1955 “Spoiled” Lincoln cents were circulation finds. Even with the conflicts around the world, there are no shortages or special production coins that caused the rarities of the 1921 half-dollars, especially since half dollars rarely circulate. Aside from being a sign of how the U.S. Mint has improved its processes, it is also a function of the better economy where there is a need to produce billions of coins every year. We do not want that situation to change!
Reverse of the 1884 & 1881 Morgan Dollars estate finds
During the first few years of the blog, I had provided extensive coverage and review of the State Quarters series. At the time, it was a novel idea that involved everyone as the states held competitions to decide how they will be represented forever. Some designs were really special and showed off the historical importance of their state. Others had great designs. Then there were those that were so ugly one could be excused if they were removed from their collections. The problem is that the state quarters were not rare (Philadelphia produced over 1 billion Virginia quarters in 1999) and the hucksters inflated their future value, especially on the television shopping networks turning people off to the hobby.
I have not said much about the America the Beautiful Quarter series. There seems to be a lack of interest in a lot of places. Collectors have shown a fatigue in yet another series and the public has not been involved with the designs as they were with the state quarters. In fact, the U.S. Mint, National Park Service and U.S. Forestry Service worked together to make the decision as to what National Parks or National Forests to feature without involving the public.
Of course, when you do not involve the public you get the infighting between the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and U.S. Commission of Fine Arts regarding the design. We see the dance between the two as just annoying while the public sees more government bureaucracy causing problems.
It is possible that the dealers have been talking down modern United States coinage because of their business concerns. However, there are companies that are now making a good living fulfilling the needs of collectors putting together sets and selling non-circulating legal tender (NCLT) coins. While I think some of the coins are gimmicks, these companies are doing well selling the colored and other coins from the Royal Canadian Mint, Royal Australian Mint, and the countries that have had the New Zealand Mint produce their coins.
Just because I do not like those coins does not diminish their value as numismatic collectibles. Even though I will not collect many of these coins, there is nothing wrong with those who do. Maybe if the hobby stops disparaging modern and these alternative types of NCLT coinage it will inspire more collectors to use them as a gateway into the hobby. It would not hurt to try!
I previewed this topic as part of the Numismatic World Newsletter that is sent to subscribers Sunday evening. The newsletter includes news about coins, currency, and precious metals from the regular media around the world and not the numismatic press. When I am not previewing what is on my mind, I write exclusive content newsletter readers. To receive the newsletter, subscribe here
This past weekend, I had a discussion with someone I met at an estate sale about collecting modern versus classic coins. Although I recognize the differences in collecting each type, I think that after 53 years, it is time to give modern coins a chance.
1976 Washington Quarter with my favorite, the Drummer Boy reverse
The modern era of United States coins begins in 1965 when silver was removed from circulating coins except for the Kennedy half-dollar. The silver content of the half-dollar was reduced to 40-percent and clad around a copper core while the dime and quarter were copper-nickel clad, as they are today. It would not be until 1982 when the cent was changed from being 95-percent copper to being copper-plated zinc coins. The nickel has used the same copper-nickel composition since the release of the 1883 Liberty Head nickel except for the World War II issues.
For the average collector under 40 years old, coins have always been copper-nickel clad and the cent has always been made from copper-plated zinc. For a significant amount of their lives, the reverse of the Lincoln cent always had the Lincoln Memorial and the reverses of the quarter have been changing ever since they can remember. While many of us grew up with single designs, those of us who were around for the Bicentennial will remember the special reverses produced for the quarters, half-dollars, and dollar coins. In fact, the Drummer Boy reverse of the dual-dated 1776-1976 quarters remains my all-time favorite circulating commemorative reverse.
Maybe it is time to give modern coins more respect. What do you think?
Without a lot of fanfare, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of the ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle coins found by Joan Langbord, daughter of Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt.
The ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles confiscated by the government from Joan Lanbord, daughter of Israel Switt.
Shortly after the sale of the Farouk-Fenton 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle coin, currently the example that is legal to own, in 2002 for $7.59 million at auction ($10.23 million accounting for inflation), Joan Langbord, daughter of Israel Switt, was searching through her late father’s boxes and found ten of these coins. Langbord then sent the coins to the U.S. Mint to authenticate. After a period of time, the Langbords inquired about the coins. They were told the coins were genuine and would not return them, calling them stolen items.
Langbord and her son Roy Langbord hired Barry Berke to help retrieve the coins. Berke was the attorney for British coin dealer Stephen Fenton who was arrested by the U.S. Secret Service when trying to buy the coin at the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York in 1996. Berke negotiated Fenton’s release from prison and the subsequent sale at the July 2002 auction.
After the U.S. Mint refused to return the coins, the Langbords sued the government in 2006. The case went to trial in 2011 with a jury verdict against the Langbords. After the ruling, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero, the government’s lead attorney in the case, came out with a courthouse statement, “People of the United States of America have been vindicated.” Do you feel vindicated?
The case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia.
In a hearing in 2015, Judge Marjorie O. Rendell ruled that the government was too aggressive in its actions and that the lower court judge erred in evidence handling. A subsequent three-judge panel upheld Judge Rendell’s ruling and ordered the government to return the coins.
The government appealed the ruling and asked for a full-circuit hearing. Called a ruling en banc, in 2016, a full panel of 12 judges ruled 9-3 that they agreed the lower court made mistakes in the presentation of evidence but they did not feel that there was not enough evidence that could overturn the ruling. The Appellate Court overturned the appeals and reinstated the original verdict.
Berke, on behalf of the Langbords, asked the Supreme Court to review the ruling of the Third Circuit. Officially, it is called a petition for a writ of certiorari. The petition was filed on October 28, 2016.
On April 17, the petition was denied. Justice Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the decision since he was not on the bench at the time the petition was filed.
Attempts to contact Burke have not been successful.
The inconsistency of how the government has handled the many different cases of coins that were not supposed to be in public hands is infuriating. Although the government has a history of confiscating the 1933 Double Eagles, the 1913 Liberty Head Nickels remain out of government control while the 1974-D Aluminum Cent was confiscated, while the 1974 Aluminum Cent pattern that was allegedly given to janitor by a member of congress was allowed to be sold at auction.
Patterns were never supposed to leave the U.S. Mint yet after the William Woodin served as Franklin Roosevelt’s first Secretary of the Treasury, the government has not tried to confiscate patterns. Woodin was a collector of patterns and trial coins who also had Roosevelt exempt “rare and unusual coin types” when writing the order to withdraw gold from private hands.
Even if the Third Circuit agreed that the evidence was not handled properly by the lower-court judge under the terms of the law, how can they tell whether a retrial would yield a different outcome? Why not return the case and retry the case?
While I love reading a good conspiracy theory, I find many difficult to understand how all of the moving parts can work in unison for or against anything. However, there are aspects of this story where a good conspiracy theorist could spin quite a tale.
Saying, “there ought to be a law” is usually not the real answer to many problems. However, maybe it is time to reconsider that feeling to force the government to act consistently. Considering how congress has turned dysfunction into fine art, I do not see this ever happening.
Do you still feel vindicated?
Continuing my self-education into the subject of foreign coin production at the U.S. Mint, the data was normalized to the point where it can be determined the number of coins that were struck for foreign countries. Although the publication I am using as a primary reference, Domestic and Foreign Coins Manufactured by the Mints of the United States, has a table, it is not complete.
1968 Canada 10-cents coin struck by the U.S. Mint
After adding the coins struck for Iceland as part of the 2000 Leif Ericsson commemorative program and the coins struck at the Manila Mint, it appears that the Mints of the United States have produced over 10.75 billion coins and sold nearly 650 million planchets to foreign countries. That is over 11.4 billion pieces produced by the U.S. Mint from 1875 through 2000 that were not intended to circulate in the United States.
The following table shows the number of coins produced for each country:
||Number of pieces produced
||Number of pieces produced
|China, Republic Of (Taiwan)
||Netherlands East Indies
||Surianam (Netherlands Guiana)
1 Listings marked “(Blanks)” were those countries who purchased blanks and not struck coins.
2 Coins produced prior to Hawaii becoming a state.
3 Includes coins struck at Manila Mint.
I expected to see the number of coins struck for the Philippines to be very high. What surprised me were the volume of coins struck for the Dutch East Indies. Combine that number with the total for the Netherlands, the U.S. Mint has struck over 2 billion coins for them.
Some of the countries on the list are interesting like striking coins for Cuba until 1960, two years into Fidel Castro’s reign. France was also a surprise until I looked at the data and noticed that the coins were struck in 1944, post World War II. In 1968 and 1969, the Philadelphia Mint struck over 85 million 10 cent coins for Canada. This must have been a capacity issue by the Royal Canadian Mint which I will investigate at another time.
NOTE: For the non-technical among the readers, data normalization the process of organizing the data and making it consistent for use in a database. It makes programming easier when all of the data is consistent. Unfortunately, the data on foreign coin production from the U.S. Mint is formatted so that it can easily be printed. I am trying to fix that.
- Image of the U.S. Mint struck Canadian 10-cent coins courtesy of Canadian Numismatist Daniel W. Gosling. See this page for more information on the 1968-69 Canadian 10-cent coins.