Foreign coins at the U.S. Mint

When looking for reference materials, there is nothing better than finding the authoritative source

During this past week, I have been working on two projects to satisfy my curiosity. One of those projects was to find and document all of the coins the U.S. Mint has produced for foreign governments. One of the questions I wanted to be answered was what was the first coin the U.S. Mint produced that was not for the United States and what was the last.

Finding most of the information was easy. After searching a number of online archives and digitized publications, especially the Newman Numismatic Portal hosted at Washington University in St. Louis, most of what I was looking for was printed in the publication Domestic and Foreign Coins Manufactured by the Mints of the United States.

Although I have a printed copy, it would be easier if someone else digitized the book. After poking around a few archives, I found a digital copy and downloaded the entire image as a PDF. Although other formats were available, the PDF image was the most complete and the only one that my optical character recognition (OCR) program was successful in converting the printed page to something a computer can understand.

These printed tables have been updated ever since the Bureau of the Mint began to publish this compilation, which appears to begin around 1905. Prior, bits and pieces have been added to the Director’s report which was submitted to congress as part of a larger report by the Department of the Treasury. The problem is that the tables were created in a matter that would be easier to typeset using the technology of the time. It is not optimal for the person that wants to digitize the information.

I will spare the details, but it took more than two weeks of part-time work to extract the data and format it in a way that made sense for a computer. Even though I felt that it might have been faster to manually transcribe the data, the work will benefit future projects.

Not coincidentally, the last time the Mint published this book was in 1980, the last year they stopped striking accepting orders to strike coins for foreign countries.

The first coins struck by the Mint for a foreign government was the 1876 one centavo and 2½ centavo coins for Venezuela. In 1875, the Mint in Philadelphia struck 8 million of the one centavo and 1.5 million 2½ centavos coins for Venezuela. The composition is reported as being an alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc but there is no record of the ratio.

Apparently, it was common for the Mint to strike coins for foreign countries with the following year’s date. In one document, it explained that these coins were struck at the end of the year following the completion of the minting of United States coins. Since coin production and transportation was a bit slower than it is today, it allowed foreign governments to plan for their following year’s demand.

2000 Leif Ericson Icelandic Krónur Commemorative Silver Proof (Obverse)

The last coin produced for a foreign country was the 2000-W Leif Ericsson 1000 Krónur silver coin produced for Iceland as part of the Leif Ericsson commemorative issued in the United States. The last circulating coins the Mint produced for foreign governments were coins for the Dominican Republic and Panama in 1980.

One thing that none of these tables include are the coins struck at the Manila Mint. To help relieve the burden of making coins for the Philippines after they became a colony of the United States, the Mint was allowed to establish a branch mint in Manila. It is the only branch mint outside of the continental United States. The mint opened in 1920 and produced coins in one, five, ten, twenty, and fifty-centavo denominations. Coins struck by this mint bear either the “M” mintmark or no mintmark. The mint was closed in 1941 because of the outbreak of war.

Official records from the Manila Mint are difficult to find because they were not included in the regular Treasury reports. Using a combination of the colonial government reports to congress, which required a trip to the Library of Congress, and the Standard Catalog of World Coins, I was able to compile the data of coins produced in Manila.

Although the list is being edited for consistency in formatting (I like things accurate and pretty), the following is a summary of the coinage produced by the Manila Mint from 1920 through 1941:

Denomination Composition Diameter (mm) Weight (g) Mintage
 1 Centavo Bronze  5.30 25.00 142,310,195
 5 Centavos Copper-Nickel  4.75 19.00 32,242,041
10 Centavos .750 Silver, .250 Copper  2.00 16.70 16,413,038
20 Centavos .750 Silver, .250 Copper  4.00 21.00 13,123,046
50 Centavos .750 Silver, .250 Copper 10.00 27.50 2,736,763
Total Mintage 206,825,083

When the table is completed and I figure out a way to display the data in a useful form, I will upload it for everyone to reference. I know that there will be some that would disagree with adding the mintage from the Manila Mint to those located in the United States. But the Manila Mint was owned by the United States government at a time that the Philippines was a colony of the United States and was run by administrators that were part of the Mint’s reporting structure. As the editor of the data, that is enough reason for me to include it with the rest of the data of foreign coins produced by the U.S. Mint.

Credits

  • Venezuelan coin images courtesy of Monedas de Venezuela.
  • 2000 Leif Ericsson Krónur Proof coin image courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

Red Books are here!

Whitman Publishing debuted the 71st edition of A Guide Book of United States Coins at the Whitman Expo on March 31, 2017. Early orders have been taken and some retailers are still waiting for their orders to arrive. For the hobby, waiting for the new Red Books is an annual rite of passage, even though some do not buy the book.

Over the years, the Red Book has been updated to include more color, better images, and more information. With the work of Q. David Bowers and the Whitman staff filling out the library of books about every coin type, mint and proof sets, and even a Red Book for the Red Book, there is an incentive to increase the purchase pattern.

Then there’s MEGA RED, the phonebook-sized version that includes more information, in-depth analysis of some coins, and more items including significant tokens and major errors. For those not old enough to remember the phonebook, a relic caused by the Internet, if you lived in a densely-populated area, the 1500-page MEGA RED book is about as thick as the telephone book used to be in those areas.

Contributors page from the 71st Edition of the Red Book

There is something a little different in this version of the Red Book. If you open to the Contributors page you will see the name of your favorite numismatic blogger. Last year, I responded to a call for pricing contributors to the Red Book. We provided an area of expertise and were assigned to submit the prices for our area. I volunteered to work on modern coin prices.

Modern coins are those classified as being struck after 1964 when silver was removed from most U.S. coins. These are the coins that some dealers do not show a lot of love for because they are not perceived as worth the effort to sell. Although some of that has changed since the State Quarters were first introduced in 1999, the hobby should show more respect to these coins especially since we are 53 years into the modern era.

Although many feel that the Red Book pricing is obsolete when it comes out, it is still a good guide to understanding the foundation of pricing even if there is are market fluctuations. Thus, it would not hurt to get these prices closer to being correct, especially for the upcoming collectors. After all, this is a “guide,” not a price list.

Lapel pin given to Red Book contributors

For my part, I would attend shows with a worksheet I created of modern prices. The worksheet is stored on my iDevices and was editable as I attended shows and looked at coins online. When I noticed a glaring difference between what was once printed in the Red Book versus what I was seeing on the bourse floor, I would note the changes in my worksheet. Using this information, I would take the average of the prices and use that to recommend updates.

Using modern terms, the coin prices reported by the Red Book is the result of crowdsourcing. Volunteers enter prices and the editors make the final determination from the input provides. It is not a perfect system but it works in an area where coin pricing is more of an art and not a science. Although I did not check to see how my recommended updates affected the prices in this edition of the Red Book. I just hope it helps.

March 2017 Numismatic Legislation Review

If you think congress is dysfunctional based on what you see on the television news, try working behind the scenes. Recently, I met someone who started working for the government in 1972, before the explosion of the Watergate scandal. With the environment being so toxic, he decided to join the march of government employees into retirement. Very senior government employees with significant institutional knowledge are leaving the government in droves. This is not going to turn out well for the people these agencies are supposed to serve.

In the mean time, here is the legislative review for bills that will probably languish in committee for the forseeable future.

H.R. 1582: Duty First Act
Sponsor: Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK)
• Introduced: March 16, 2017
• Summary: To require the Secretary of Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of the 1st Infantry Division.
• Last Action: Referred to the House Committee on Financial Services: March 16, 2017

Track this bill at http://bit.ly/115-HR1582

H.R. 1683: National Purple Heart Hall of Honor Commemorative Coin Act
Sponsor: Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY)
• Introduced: March 22, 2017
• Summary: To require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor.
• Last Action: Referred to the House Committee on Financial Services: March 22, 2017

Tack this bill at http://bit.ly/115-HR1683

S. 759: Currency Optimization, Innovation, and National Savings Act of 2017
• Sponsor: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
• Introduced: March 29, 2017
• Summary: To save taxpayers money by improving the manufacturing and distribution of coins and notes.
• Last action: Read twice and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs March 29, 2017

Track this bill at http://bit.ly/115-S759

225

On April 2, 1792, President George Washington signed the Coinage Act of 1792 into law, giving birth to the United States Mint. David Rittenhouse was appointed as the first director of the Mint whose first job was to build or purchase the first government owned building. It would take four months to be able to have any type of operations in the new government building. The first coins were struck on July 30, 1792, allegedly using silverware provided by First Lady Martha Washington.

The Coinage Act of 1792 set the basis of U.S. coins to be the dollar that would be on par with the Spanish Milled Dollar (8 Reales). It established gold coins for the Eagle ($10), Half Eagles ($5), and Quarter Eagles ($2.50). The half dollar, quarter dollar, dismes, and half dismes were to be struck in silver while the cent and half-cent would be struck in copper.

The law outlines how the Mint operates in order to preserve its integrity and sets the basis for making debasement (such as shaving the metals from the edge) and counterfeiting illegal acts. Over the years, we learned that the laws required for self-oversight that was akin to the foxes guarding the hen house (see the stories of the 1913 Liberty Nickles and 1933 Double Eagles).

From good economic times to bad politics, the US Mint has been working for 225 years to meet the demands for circulating coinage while creating objects that drive the passion of numismatists.

Let’s raise a cheer and wish the US Mint a Happy Birthday!

The Coinage Act of 1792

coinage_act_1792

COINS Act is Deja Vu all over again

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) once again introduced the Currency Optimization, Innovation, and National Savings Act of 2017 (COINS Act). Similar to the same bill he introduced in the last congress, the COINS Act (S. 759) proposed to end the production of the $1 Federal Reserve Note, reduce the production cost of the five cent coin by changing its composition, and eliminating the one cent coin. Mike Enzi (R-WY) is a co-sponsor.

“With our country facing $20 trillion in debt, Congress must act to protect the American taxpayer,” in a statement issued by McCain’s staff. “By reforming and modernizing America’s outdated currency system, this commonsense bill would bring about billions in savings without raising taxes.”

Of course “common sense” has a very different definition in Washington than the rest of the country. The first attempt to introduce a bill to end the production of the $1 note started in 1991 by then Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) and died at the end of the 102nd Congress. Kolbe introduced the legislation every session until his retirement in 2007 following the adjournment of the 109th congress. McCain has introduced the bill in the last three sessions of congress.

“Change can be hard sometimes, but switching to a dollar coin could save our country $150 million a year,” Enzi said. “Our country is in a difficult financial position because we didn’t value the cost of the dollars we spent. We can’t afford to keep that up, and these innovative opportunities are a way to save taxpayer money that is really just being wasted with each new dollar we print and penny we mint.”

I am sure that the usual arguments about eliminating the paper dollar will come up again. Even though a GAO report has shown that eliminating the paper dollar could save the government about $4.4 billion in production and handling costs, economic surveys have claimed a potential $16-18 billion benefit for the government.

When the public is asked about eliminating the paper dollar, the arguments usually line up along generational lines. Surveys have shown that Baby Boomers (those born before 1964) and those older are overwhelmingly not in favor of eliminating the the paper note. The GenXers, those born 1965-1980, are almost evenly divided while the Millenials, those born since 1980, do not care because they are mostly tied to their credit and debit cards.

The Baby Boomer that writes this blog is in favor of eliminating the paper dollar. In the past, he was in favor of eliminating the one cent coin but is beginning to have second thoughts.

For the longest time, the Massachusetts delegation have held these types of bills back. This is because the Dalton, Massachusetts based Crane & Co., the maker of currency paper, has been the exclusive currency paper supplier to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing since 1879. Although Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has become a more powerful figure in the Senate, she is not a favorite amongst the majority and is tolerated by the more centrist members of her own party. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) does not have the gravitas either of his predecessors, the late Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, to yield influence. The only power the Senators have would be to filibuster any measure that would eliminate the $1 note. Sen. Warren has railed against military-related spending for non-essential equipment so that members of congress could keep these jobs in their districts. Would she be willing to follow her lead that could reduce the revenue of a company in her home state?

In for a pound

The old Round Pound and the new 12-sided £1 coin

By the time the sun rises on the east coast of the United States, the Royal Mint, on behalf of HM Treasury, will have released the new 12-sided £1 coin. Billed as the most secure coin in the world, the Royal Mint touts the following security features:

  • 12–sided — its distinctive shape makes it instantly recognisable, even by touch.
  • Bimetallic — it is made of two metals. The outer ring is gold coloured (nickel-brass) and the inner ring is silver coloured (nickel-plated alloy).
  • Latent image — it has an image like a hologram that changes from a £ symbol to the number ‘1’ when the coin is seen from different angles.
  • Micro-lettering — it has very small lettering on the lower inside rim on both sides of the coin. One pound on the obverse heads side and the year of production on the reverse “tails” side, for example 2016 or 2017.
  • Milled edges — it has grooves on alternate sides.
  • Hidden High Security Feature — with a patented High Security Feature to protect it from counterfeiting into the future.

Of course, the Royal Mint is offering collectibles for the new pound that includes a “farewell” to the one being replaced nicknamed the “Round Pound.”

Design and production of the new pound coin have been nearly three years in the making following the discovery of a large number of counterfeit £1 coins. Sources estimated that about 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.

The coin-operated businesses in Britain began complaining three years about the changes with reports that only a small fraction of all vending machines will be able to accept the new coin. Each coin-operated machine will have to be reprogramed and recalibrated to detect a coin that will have a different weight, specific gravity, and the electromagnetic signature.

Amongst those systems not ready include the London Underground and several major supermarkets.

While watching the news, I found that British supermarkets charge for people to use their trollies, which are called shopping carts on this side of the pond. I do not know if it is a deposit similar to the carts available at the airports, but could you imagine having to pay to use a shopping cart at your local supermarket? I do not think that would go over well in the United States!

Back in October 2016, the Royal Mint published education material and test coins that the coin-operating machine companies could use to test their equipment. Some of these test coins have appeared for sale on websites like eBay. Since then, there have been weekly stories about the new coin and stories have appeared daily in the British media.

Now that the new £1 coin has been released, it will co-circulate with the round pound through October 15, 2017. Banks will only distribute the new £1 coins while stores and other businesses will be allowed to accept either. During that time, it is expected for coin-operated equipment to be converted as soon as possible.

On October 16, 2017, the round pound will be demonetized and lose all legal tender status. Once the round pound loses legal tender status, they may be exchanged at some banks and the Post Office. The plan is to end the exchange of the round pound by March 27, 2018.

For collectors, this is an opportunity to collect something that was once a real circulating coin. The current round pound came into existence in 1971 when the UK transition from the pounds, shillings, and pence (£sd) system based on the power of 12 to a decimal system, called decimalization. Of course, when this happened in 1971 the web did not exist and real paper newspapers were the primary means of spreading the information about the new currency. Based on reports, there were some issues during the one-year transition but there were no stories of tragedies once the new money was issued.

Somewhat like the end of the Canadian cent, this is the end for a significant circulating coin. Except the Canadians did not replace the cent while the British are exchanging coins.

The Trade Dollar

Before you write to me to explain about the Trade Dollar, I know it was demonetized in 1876. However, it gained legal tender status again as part of the Coinage Act of 1965.

For those concerned over proposals that the United States change composition of various coins, including the one-cent coin that costs 1.5-cents to produce, watching how the UK handles the change will provide an insight as to how it might be handled here. Except for one problem: The United States does not demonetize coins (see the note in the box to the right). Every coin produced by the U.S. Mint can be used as legal tender at their face value, although it would be foolish to spend a Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle for its $20 face value since its gold content would be worth more!

It will be interesting to see how stiff those proverbial stiff upper lips hold up during this transition.

All images, videos, and British-style English text courtesy of the Royal Mint.

Hooking a big one

A recent purchase: 1897 Barber Dime

Although I have been writing about something other than coins, I continue to expand my collection. Most of the items I have been buying are ordinary like the uncirculated National Parks quarters struck in San Francisco. I also have been filling some of the holes in my albums. Nothing really extraordinary. I did pick up a 1915-S Barber quarter and an 1883-S Morgan dollar, both in about extra fine (XF) condition. I like the coins but these are not something to write about, until now.

Almost every series has at least one key coin. The one coin that is not that difficult to find but if you are trying to stay within a budget, it is something you hope to find at a good price. For these coins, I am just looking for a coin that appeals to me regardless of the grade. Sometimes, if it is a good buy, I can drop my standard just a little. After all, I love bargains.

In this case, I dropped my standard a little to pick up a coin that would only grade very good (VG) to fine (F). Not only did I get a good buy but when I received the coin it had a nice look that the online images could not convey.

My new purchase is a 1932-S Washington Quarter.

Between the 1932-D, which I own, and the 1932-S there were fewer Washington quarters struck in San Francisco (408,000) and Denver (436,800). Granted, it is easier to find higher quality quarters struck in San Francisco, but to find a decent quarter that survived from having only 408,000 minted is a very good thing.

And I paid less than the value listed in various price guides!

With this purchase, I can now say that I have a complete set of silver Washington quarters in my blue albums. Next, I will work on completing the Standing Liberty quarter set so that I can say I have every quarter of the 20th century.

Finding error dies

Lincoln Cent Dies from the Denver Mint

In the hunt for something interesting, I stumbled across two listings on eBay for a two error dies from the Denver Mint being sold by noted error expert Fred Weinberg. These Lincoln cent dies are not dies with errors but dies with part of the design still visible.

Dies from the U.S. Mint makes for an interesting collectible. Standing about 2½ inches tall and about 1¼ inches across the base where it is loaded into the coining press, it is really an unremarkable piece of metal. Weighing 192 grams (about 6.8 ounces), the only distinguishing marks on the die is the serial number stamped on the base.

Before being discarded, workers at the U.S. Mint are supposed to completely grind off the design so that it cannot be used to strike counterfeit coins. Even though it is not cost effective to flood the U.S. economy with counterfeit Lincoln cents, the U.S. Mint does not want to take the chance someone will try. Once the design is removed from the die it can become a collectible.

Close-up images of the dies make the visible design look more dramatic than in person. After all, the images were likely taken with a macro lens on a die used to strike a coin 19.05 mm (0.750 inches) in diameter. Even so, the idea was fascinating enough for me to submit bids high enough to win both dies.

The first “error” die was used to strike the obverse of 1993-D Lincoln cents. This die is not completely filed down since it does show some of Lincoln’s hair. Although not a large area, there is enough of the incuse portion of the die’s section to be able to identify it as hair and providing a good guess as to where it would be on the coin. The sticker in the image was placed there by the seller. I decided to leave the sticker.

The other error die was used to strike the reverse of 1994-D Lincoln cents. In this case, the “error” is very subtle. There are two lines that would have been where the bottom two steps of the Lincoln Memorial would have been. Based on the placement, these would be to the center-right of the Lincoln statue in the monument. In the image, it is at the bottom of the “R.” I do not know why the “CR” is written on the die but I am not removing it, for now.

I do not know how Fred Weinberg finds these items but they are fascinating. The next time you go to a show you should check out his inventory. He finds some really interesting errors that have to be seen to be believed.
 

Looking down on the Lincoln Cent “error” dies. The 1994-D reverse die is on the left, The 1993-D obverse die is on the right.

Single images courtesy of Fred Weinberg & Co.

It’s lucky

2016 Canada Lucky Four-Leaf Clover 1 oz Silver Coin

When Patrick was 16, he was captured by Irish pirates and was taken to Ireland as a slave to look after the animals. After six years, he escaped his enslavement to return to his family in Great Britain. After becoming a cleric, he returned to Ireland follow his vision that he was called to help the people.

Patrick was not welcomed when he arrived but worked with the society to convert them to Christianity. Although most of his writings portrayed that he was probably more successful than he was, but after working with the people, first in the northern regions of Ireland, he did find success. He once wrote that he baptized thousands of people and some have written that he baptized hundreds on a single day. Using the native three-leaf shamrock to describe the Holy Trinity, Patrick was promoted bishop and apostle of Ireland. He died on March 17, 461 in Saul, where he founded his first church.

For thousands of years, the Irish have observed the day of Saint Patrick’s death as a religious holiday, attending church in the morning and celebrating with food and drink in the afternoon. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was celebrated in 1762 when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City.

With Saint Patrick’s Day, talk about “the luck of the Irish” and associate the shamrock of four-leaf clover as a lucky symbol. I was thinking if there are coins or currency that would bring you luck. After searching around online for lucky coins there was a common theme: something that is special to you. Here is a composite of the types of lucky coins:

  • Coins from the year of your birth: I have helped several people buy proof and mint sets of coins from the year they were born. On one of my father’s milestone birthdays, I bought uncirculated coins from the year of his birth and had them slabbed in an NGC multi-coin holder when they were still being offered.
  • Coins from a country special to you: On one of my wife’s milestone birthdays, I purchased a Canadian proof set from the year of her birth. Although she was born in the United States, her parents were from Canada and it has become a special collectible.
  • Coins that have a special meaning: A friend keeps a Morgan Dollar in his top desk drawer. The desk used to belong to his grandfather who kept that coin as his “emergency dollar” during the Great Depression.
  • Coins found during a happy or coincidental time: A client once showed me a 1958 Cuban peso that he found on the street in Miami that he keeps as a pocket piece. He decided that since it was the same year his family fled Cuba, it was a fortuitous find.
  • Coins of a specific design: Sometimes the design may be added to the coin. I once met someone who had several Love Tokens from his relatives he says it is his family’s way of watching over him.

A silver sixpence in her shoe

1962 British Sixpence

A more specific coin that is supposed to bring luck is the British sixpence. According to the Victorian poem, to bring luck to the marriage, the bride is supposed to wear “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe.” The lucky sixpence would be placed in her left shoe by her father to wish his daughter good health and great wealth for the couple. Although the sixpence was discontinued in 1971 when the United Kingdom converted from the old system to decimalization. The tradition remains popular in the UK and to a certain degree in the U.S. except a silver quarter is used.

Feng Shui

Feng Shui Coins

Then there are Feng Shui Coins. These are Chinese lucky coins that are supposed to attract wealth and success. Feng Shui coins are round and have a square hole in the middle. The round shape represents the heavens. The square is a symbol of the four corners of the earth. For luck, Feng Shui coins should be tied together using a red ribbon or thread. The red ribbon is said to activate the power of the coins to protect your existing income and attracting more money.

The number of coins tied together is important. One coin is believed to promote loneliness and will leave you empty. Two is better but does not have the power of rebirth that three does. Three coins tied together represents the heavens, earth, and mankind. Four represents death and not something that would promote Feng Shui. The Chinese do not know why five is not lucky but this is accepted. While three is considered proper Feng Shui, making it more powerful would be three-times-three, or nine, coins.

For luck, you can hang Feng Shui coins on the on the inside of your front door, not the outside. You want the luck inside. Do not hang your Feng Shui coins on your back door because it will luck to leave your house.

You can place three Feng Shui coins on top of items to bring them luck. When you do this, it is important to place the Yang side facing up to invite the luck to protect your item. The Yang side is the side with the four characters.

When giving a gift, attach three Feng Shui coins to the package to bring double happiness. It tells the recipient that with the gift you are also wishing them wealth, prosperity, and happiness. Doing this will add to your Feng Shui for giving generous and unselfish wishes.

Numerology and currency

Numerology is the belief in the divine or mystical relationship between numbers and the physical world. Many people practice a mild form of numerology called a “lucky number.” For those who believe in some type of numerology can turn to the serial number of currency to add to their collection.

One of the more expensive aspects of notaphily is the collection of patterns numbers. Typical patterns are as follows:

  • Solid: every digit the same
  • Ladder: numbers that count up, like 12345678, or down, like 98765432
  • Low or High numbers
  • Radar numbers: when the serial number repeats forward and backward, like 12344321
  • Repeater numbers: when the serial number is repeated, like 12341234
  • Super Repeater: pairs of numbers that repeat four times, like 36363636
  • Double Quad: two pairs of four numbers, like 88889999
  • Seven of a kind: both in a row or seven of the same number

Notes that represent dates can bring luck such as one that has your birthdate. For someone born on March 17, 1977, finding a note with the serial number 03171977 or even 19770317 could be very lucky. Since the numbers reset for every series and there are 12 Federal Reserve branches used as a prefix, you have quite a few chances of finding these.

$1 Lucky 777 Note

Of course, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing will help. If you go to their website at moneyfactorystore.gov and look under Premium Products, they sell special sets with serial numbers from the current year.

The BEP also sells lucky money that includes the Lucky 7 set. These notes have a serial number that begins with three 7s. You can also buy notes in special Chinese holders with serial numbers that begin with “8888” and “168.” In Chinese, the “eight” sounds similar to the word for “prosper” or “wealth.” Selling the Lucky 8888 note is to help promote prosperity and wealth.

The “168 Prosperity Forever” note plays on the Mandarin pronunciation of the number that sounds similar to “prosperity forever.” If the BEP used the Cantonese pronunciation, they would have the use the serial numbers beginning “768.”

Go find your lucky coin and may you have health and prosperity.

Credits

  • Canadian coin image courtesy of the Royal Canadian Mint
  • Sixpence image courtesy of Wikipedia
  • Feng Shui coins image courtesy of eBay user “technology-onsale
  • Lucky 777 Note courtesy of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Buying your collectibles someplace other than coin shows

How would you like to find one of these at a flea market?

There are buying options for numismatics that go beyond online auctions, shows, and shops. You may be missing some opportunities if you do not consider exploring other collectibles markets. Since my business interests have me working in other areas of the collectibles markets, here are some of the places I have found numismatics and had fun at the same time.

Estate Sales and Auctions

In my current business, I am able to buy inventory from estate sales and estate auctions. Most estate sales are either the lifetime accumulation of a deceased loved one or a forced sell-off of assets mainly as part of a court-ordered restructuring. An estate sale company will come into a home, stage it for a sale, add prices to everything and open the house for the public to buy what they want.

Adding prices mean tagging the items with a price that the company running the estate sale thinks is a fair price for the item. This tagging also has these sales also called Tag Sales. When it comes to tagging, some companies are better than others. After they pick the better items, the rest of the house is tagged either at prices too low or prices too high because most of the estate sales company do not know about the items they sell. They might use an average price of similar items they sold in the past or they just pull prices out of the air.

Estate sale companies have little to know expertise with coins and currency which is reflected in their prices. I cannot tell you how many times that I have walked into an estate sale and seen common date Morgan and Peace dollars priced at over market value.

Case of foreign coins at a flea market

Unfortunately, many of these companies are not interested in learning about how to price coins. During a recent estate sale, I found quite a number of Walking Liberty half dollars. Most were in the VG-XF range. Some were better dates but none were the 1921 key date coins. Using the Numismedia Fair Market Value pricing guide I came up with a bulk price that I feel was fair for the entire lot. Unfortunately for the company, it was less than 50-percent below their price and about 20-percent lower than the fair market value. I am a reseller and I need to be able to make a profit. The manager on site acted as if I told him his baby was ugly.

When I presented my offer, I told him that I understood the coin market and would explain how I came up with the price. I showed him the Numismedia Fair Market Value pricing guide and explaining that it is a retail price guide. Confused by the differences in grade pricing he questioned how to grade coins, I show him the condition of the coins compared to the images in the PCGS Photograde app. After being confused by everything he said that he would take a chance on his price and turned down my offer.

I returned to the estate sale on Sunday afternoon about a half-hour before closing and noticed that none of the coins sold. I lowered my offer to a small percentage above its melt value. The offer was declined. A week later I found out that the coins were brought to a local coin shop. Imagine their surprise when they were offered a price between my two prices.

If you go estate sale shopping for coins, be prepared to be patient. Even though it is not their merchandise, they act as if it is their personal property. Most will be reasonable if you are reasonable with them. I would recommend reviewing the “Negotiating” section in my post “How Are Coins Priced (Part II).”

Silver halves and Peace dollars found at a recent flea market

Estate auctions are very different than what most people are used to if their only experience has either been at coin shows or eBay. If you attend a live estate auction, there is a possibility to purchase bargains. But like any auction, two people can also drive the price of the coin higher than fair market value. Most auctioneers understand how coins are priced and how bullion-based coins should not sell below their current melt value.

In my experience, gold and U.S. Mint packaged items usually sell at prices greater than fair market value. I cannot tell you why a 1977 Proof Set would sell for $15 when it is valued at $8, but it happens at these auctions.

If you are not involved in this market, there is a world of online estate auctions that hides in the open. Online estate auctions are hosted on sites that are not quite well known outside of those of us who work and shop in this world. These auctions are simply a company imaging and posting the inventory online, managing the auction, collecting money, and making sure everyone is paid. Most companies will hold absolute auctions that run for 7-10 days with all items starting at $1.00.

For those who do not know, an absolute auction is one where the lots sell at whatever the price is when bidding ends, also known as the hammer price in reference to a hammer that is used during live auctions. Winners will also pay a buyer’s fee which average 15-percent of the hammer price.

Although it is possible to find bargains in these estate auctions, many times I have seen numismatic items sell for more than fair market value. This is not good if you are a re-seller but sellers are doing well.

Antique Shows and Flea Markets

I go to a lot of antique shows and flea markets. I will set up a table at a few flea markets in a month and do a big show at least every month. One big I regularly participate is D.C. Big Flea, the mid-Atlantic’s largest antiques show and flea market. The show attracts 400-700 vendors, depending if they can use the entire center, with a variety of antique, vintage, and collectible items.

German Notgeld found at a flea market

Although I will buy and sell some numismatics, I do not bring numismatics to these shows mainly because they do not sell as well as other items. But when I have a chance to walk around the tables, I can find a number of cases with numismatic items.

Buying numismatic items at these large shows can be problematic. One of the biggest problems is that the vendor might have bought the item at full price and has overpriced it to gain a profit. There was also the time that a vendor had bought a roll of American Silver Eagles, placed them into AirTite holders and was selling them at a premium similar to the collectible Eagles struck at West Point with the “W” mintmark. When I questioned his prices and showed him that he was charging a 100-percent markup based on the per-roll price at a known distributor, he bluntly told me how unhappy he was with my questioning.

Most dealers will not try to swindle you based on a false narrative of value. In fact, many appreciate the education including the pointer to online resources. They will negotiate, and if you are fair with them, they will be fair with you. Sometimes, you can find items that you might not see on a bourse floor. During the last show I attended, one dealer had a case with a lot of German Notgeld, most in Extra Fine and Uncirculated condition.

During a previous show, I found a dealer who emptied boxes of tokens, trinkets, buttons, and medals on a large table. It was a treasure hunter’s dream! Although I did not have time to do an extensive search, I did find a few small New York-related items that I had never seen before including a merchant token for a business I know existed into the 1970s.

Although estates sales and auctions, antiques shows, and flea markets could present problems because most of the dealers are not as knowledgeable, if you come armed with knowledge, patience, and be on your best behavior, you can find some good bargains.

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