A Signed Slab Label is not what is hurting the hobby

Sample NGC Holder with Rick Harrison signature label

Anyone who is a member of Facebook and part of the Friends of the Coin Show closed group, you might have read an interaction between me and a dealer from the west coast regarding the Rick Harrison numismento being produced by Numismatic Guarantee Corporation.

I defended NGC’s position to produce the numismento not because I am interested in purchasing a slab with Harrison’s autograph, but because I do not see a problem with having it as part of the hobby. There are other issues that the hobby should attend to rather than worry about a reality television star and pawn shop owner signing slab labels.

However, my online correspondent, who I will keep anonymous but can respond to this post with an identification, was against the slab not because it will hurt the hobby but because of hidden meanings. When pressed on the real issue, my correspondent brought up a story of an elderly couple being taken advantage of by a company with an alleged A+ Better Business Bureau rating (although there have been questions raised about the Better Business Bureau’s ratings practice). The couple bought coins at a significantly inflated price with promises of a future gain only to learn that the coins were not worth what was promised.

About “The Coin Show”

The Coin Show is a podcast that is periodically produced by Mike Nottelmann and Matt Dinger. Matt owns Lost Dutchman Rare Coins in Indianapolis and is sadly not a fan of modern coins. If you are looking for a numismatic-related podcast, I would recommend The Coin Show. There are enough back episodes to keep you occupied until they produce their next show.

Unfortunately, this type of practice is not only pervasive in numismatics but there are all types of schemes where elderly are sold goods and services under fraudulent circumstances. Whether it is inflated prices of gold, the deflated prices of the hotel room gold buyers or the sets of State Quarters that are not worth thousands, these hucksters represent a problem that should be addressed.

Rather, my correspondent took the frustration of the situation on NGC and Harrison because Harrison does not represent the industry. He represents the pawn industry which does not have a high favorability rating.

My correspondent’s anger is misplaced. Rather than embrace the opportunity to use these slabs as a teaching moment and work with the industry to better educate the public, the response was to complain that this was not good for the industry because of what it allegedly represents. It is looking at the problems through a narrow prism, which is worse for the hobby than a stupid autographed slab. The perceived problems are not because a reality television star signs a slab label, the problem is that this industry has not properly represented itself and allowed those with less than moral character ruin things for everyone. The industry has let itself be denigrated by not properly getting out its message and allowing others to define the message. Industry Council for Tangible Assets (ICTA) has worked hard for the benefit of the industry the issues move faster than ICTA can keep up.

With the dysfunction in Washington lobbying efforts are turning to the state capitals where they can have a significant impact with less of a spotlight. ICTA needs help in nearly every state including California where my correspondent is from. Rather than kvetching on Facebook, I wish my correspondent and others would pick up a phone and join the battle.

Conflating the signing of slabs to the problems of an industry is myopic. If you want to fix the business problems then get look beyond the autograph to the real problems. Although I have never met NGC Chairman Mark Salzberg, his well-deserved reputation leads one to believe that he would not do anything detrimental to the business of numismatics, something he has dedicated his life to.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling that if someone walked into the shop that my correspondent owns and asked to buy the slab autographed by Rick Harrison, the business would find a way to allow the free market to reign and sell the customer what they asked for.

Sample slab image courtesy of Numismatic Guarantee Corporation.

Autographed Slabs and other numismentos

“Pawn Stars” Rick Harrison

Recently, a number of people wrote to me asking what I thought about the announcement that the star of the History Channel’s “Pawn Stars”, Rick Harrison, was autographing the insert for Numismatic Guarantee Corporation holders.

I do not believe there should be a problem with this.

Previously, I wrote about something I called “numismentos,” mementos created from numismatic items. It was prompted when NGC announced they struck a deal with Edmund C. Moy, the 38th Director of the U.S. Mint and currently the last full-time director, to autograph labels. I also noted that NGC also had autograph deals with Elizabeth Jones and John Mercanti, the 11th and 12th Cheif Engravers of the U.S. Mint, respectively.

You can see the list of available NGC Signature Labels here.

But NGC is not the only one in this game. Professional Coin Grading Service has had similar promotions including Philip Diehl, another former Director of the U.S. Mint and a long list of Baseball Hall of Fame inductees who signed labels used in the encapsulation of the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins.

A Goodacre Dollar encapsulated by ICG

Famously, Glenna Goodacre, who was paid $5,000 for her design of the Sacagawea dollar, asked to be paid in the new dollar coin. She sent the coins to Independent Coin Graders to be encapsulated with special labels. Goodacre then sold the coins at a premium. She did not sell out of these coins. Later, about 2,000 coins were acquired by Jeff Garrett who submitted them to PCGS. The coins were encapsulated with a special attribution on the PCGS label and included an insert with an autographed by Philip Diehl.

ICG also had some of the designers of the State Quarters autograph labels.

Does anyone else remember when the original PCI was still in business and they hired J.T. Stanton as company president and they had him autograph labels of coins he graded?

Although all of the grading services include special attribution for coins, NGC and PCGS have special labels that they use for certain coins.

In all cases, these grading services are creating these numismentos for customers interested in having the label be significant to their collection.

The only problem I have with the label designation is the “First Strike” or “First Strike” labels. There are questions as to the validity of these designations that causes an unnecessary premium to be added to these coins.

Besides, If I took any other stance, I could be accused of hypocrisy. In a few cases, I have purchased numismentos. My collection includes a pair of ICG holders with 2001-P and 2001-D New York State quarters autographed by designer David Carr that is part of my New York collection.

As part of my Bicentennial Collections, I own a Bicentennial PCGS Signature set. The set consists of the three proof coins with the special bicentennial reverse in PCGS slabs with the autographs of Jack L. Ahr, Seth Huntington, and Dennis R. Williams, the designer of the coins. There is a business strike version of this set but I find the proof coins more appealing.

1976-S Silver Proof Bicentennial Autograph Set

The only reason that there appears to be some umbrage taken with the autograph by Rick Harrison is that he is a relentless self-promoter whose style is not welcome by everyone. Harrison is not the first non-numismatic-related celebrity to autograph inserts but may be the most controversial to some people.

As I have previously suggested, we can call these types of numismatic-related collectibles numismentos. Numismento is a portmanteau of numismatic + memento.

I suggest the name to distinguish collecting the coins from collecting the slabs, show-related ephemera, buttons, or anything else that is not numismatics.

If collecting numismentos makes you happy? Enjoy yourself!

A lesson in how not to compare grading services

Every so often I will read something and even though I agree with the premise and possibly the hypothesis, I disagree with the method. This is what happened when I read “How do late ANACS slabs stack up with modern PCGS?” This article by Michael Bugeja at Coin Update is not the first of its type on that site but is the latest of what I consider using faulty data to prove a hypothesis.

I submitted comments about my problems to the article. Since whoever is moderating comments has chosen not to publish them, I am using my own platform to call them out on this.

In Bugeja’s showdown of old ANACS versus new PCGS, he found six coins, which is where I begin to have problems. With a potential sample size of thousands or even millions of coins, six coins is a rounding error. And not only did he use six coins but from different dates, mints (Philadelphia and San Francisco), and grades. Anyone who has any knowledge of the scientific method knows that he has just introduced too many variables that will allow anyone to argue about the differences in the metals, machinery, and environmental factors.

The next problem with the experiment is that he uses damaged coins. Every coin Bugjea used was toned. Toning of the coin is a chemical reaction with the metals that cause a change in the original metal that makes it different from the original minted coin. While some consider toning acceptable, it represents a chemical change to the surface making it damaged.

How does one compare one damage to another? Do we know how these coins were damaged? Did the conditions that caused the toning of coin change the surface differently than the other? Did the damage caused by the environmental factors change? How do we know that the old ANACS holders were not sealed well enough to prevent changes in the toning from when they were originally graded?

I will not argue whether something happened to the coin that could have caused damage when it was cracked out of the original ANACS holder. Since there are so many questions about the coins, we can leave this argument off the table. I do hope Bugeja reported the serial number to ANACS so that their population reports can be appropriately adjusted.

Even if the test was to be limited because of the potential cost. A proper test would be to find six coins from the same year and the same mint that were not toned (or damaged). All six coins should be around the same grade or even a grade lower that it would be possible to pass for the higher grade. Once you have taken the variables away then you can test and determine the probability of proving or disproving the hypothesis.

Bugjea concludes that the early ANACS graders were more generous based on information that is so flawed that if that article was sent to a peer-reviewed journal it would be rejected.

He then goes on to warn, “Bid cautiously on early ANACS coins.” How about you bid cautiously on any coin you are not sure about. There are problems with coins in every holder and there are gems found with coins in every holder. Just because a coin is graded does not make it worth the plastic it is encased on.

The ONLY statement in the article I agree with is “Rely on your grading acumen rather than the age of the holder.” In fact, I would rephrase it to “Rely on your grading acumen rather than the holder.”

Translated: BUY THE COIN, NOT THE HOLDER!

Now tell me, does it really matter what holder these coins are in? These coins are so cool that a holder might detract from their beauty!
NOTE: I did not include images from the original article because I do not have permission.

U.S. Mint to stop taking mail orders

When official Washington has an announcement or news that they want to bury as much as possible, they issue press releases after 5:00 PM on Friday, especially before a holiday weekend. Although this type of announcement was coming sooner or later, the U.S. Mint announced that they will stop accepting and filling orders mailed to them after September 30, 2017, the end of the 2017 federal government fiscal year (FY2017).

Beginning on October 1, 2017, the only option to order products directly from the U.S. Mint will be through their online catalog or via telephone at 1-800-USA-MINT (872-6468). Telephone orders may be placed seven days a week from 8:00 AM to midnight Eastern Time.

The U.S. Mint tried this once before but after a lot of pushback from congress the policy was reversed and they just removed the order insert from their promotional mailings. This announcement sets the cut-off date one year later than the previous announcement.

This will probably not sit well specifically with older collectors that have not adapted to the online world. Unfortunately, these are becoming the vast minority of collectors since the U.S. Mint fills more orders from online purchases than any other option. In fact, when you call the toll-free number to order, the customer service representative (CSR) is using the same website that the rest of us are doing to enter your order. I found this out when I called to inquire about and order and questioned the CSR about what she was doing.

With the youngest of the Baby Boomer generation becoming 53 this year, the markets are geared for the GenX, Millenials (GenY), and GenZ (those born after 2000). The U.S. Mint has to keep up with the markets while being able to hold down costs. Removing the snail mail option will help keep costs down. As a member of the Baby Boomer generation, with my own AARP card, I do not remember the last time I purchased something from the U.S. Mint by mail or telephone. Almost everything I have bought has either been online or when the U.S. Mint has had a presence at coin shows.

Even my father, who was born before World War II, orders using the U.S. Mint’s website!

Do not worry if you do not want to use the website. The U.S. Mint will not be ending their telephone ordering system anytime in the near future. Telephone ordering allows the U.S. Mint to support universal access even for those whose abilities prevent the use of the website or who may not have access to the Internet, for whatever reason. It is part of the laws and mandates to keep the government accessible to all of its constituents. Until the technology is available to support universal access online, then the telephone ordering system will continue to be there as an alternative.

ANA Election: VOTE!

Earlier this week I received the ballot information for the election of the American Numismatic Association Board of Governors. There are two candidates for president, one for vice president, and eight for Governors which seven will be selected.

As some of you who are ANA member began to receive your ballots, I have received many emails asking who I support. Since the slate is smaller this year, there is not a big choice. But as a preliminary answer, I have expressed my preference for one of the candidates not be elected as ANA President. I continue to stand by that assessment. Even if Gary Adkins was running unopposed, there would be no issue with supporting his candidacy.

There is also no problem with Don Kagin becoming Vice President. I believe Kagin is the first person who has a Ph.D. in numismatics, is a successful dealer, and I believe is someone good for the ANA.

As for the Board of Governors, only seven of the eight will be elected to the Board. The anti-incumbent sentiment in me says that I should support all those running for the first time: Adam J. Crum, Brian Hendelson, John W. Highfill, and Thomas J. Uram. After reading their statements and watching the candidate forum video, all four will do well.

That means one of the four incumbents have to go. Trying to decide between Steve Ellsworth, Greg Lyon, Paul Montgomery, and Ralph W. Ross is not as easy as I initially thought it would be. I know where I am leaning and why, but I want to take some time to consider my position. I will make my decision sometime the beginning of June.

Until then, you may want to spend the hour-and-forty-seven minutes and watch the candidates forum:

Arguing about the ANA’s future

During my nearly 11 years of writing this blog, there has been criticism and compliments of the work done by the American Numismatic Association, its Board of Governors, and its staff. The organization has come a long way during that time and yet has had a lot of bad missteps over the years.

Any organization is not perfect as long as imperfect humans are part of its governance. Humans are imperfect beings and subject to imperfect thoughts, reasoning, and emotions. Emotional responses are human’s greatest strength while being their greatest weakness. Even when humans claim they have a dispassionate response there is a twinge of emotion associated with the final result. For a real-world example of the problems making these types of decision, “Who Gets What” by Kenneth R. Feinberg makes for interesting reading. Feinberg was the appointed Special Master of the 9/11 Victims Fund where his job was to try to dispassionately determine who gets what compensation, or anything at all.

These thoughts came to mind in a recent exchange between two members of the numismatic community over the upcoming ANA Board of Governors election. Published in Numismatic News in “Letters to the Editor” on April 4, 2017 (see the last letter on the page), Ronald Brown appears to make a case for a stronger line between the Professional Numismatic Guild and the ANA by being more of an advocate for the collector/hobbyist. In short, he advocates that if a dealer wants to serve on the ANA Board of Governors there be a sharper division between their business interests and the interests of the ANA.

In the third-from-the-end paragraph, Brown writes, “In my opinion, any person running for office in the ANA must pledge their allegiance to the ANA and void any other membership activity that has the appearance of conflict of interest.” This becomes a line of contention between Mr. Brown and Cliff Mishler, a former member of the Board of Governors and ANA past president.

In Mishler’s response (posted on April 23, 2017) he rightly notes that many ANA members, including those who serve of the Board of Governors are not members of one organization and that this should not disqualify someone from serving. I believe that Mishler is a member of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association (RCNA), as I am. Like the ANA, the RCNA welcomes all members from around the world. They support numismatics of all types but their members concentrate on Canadian numismatics like the ANA concentrates on United States numismatics.

Should being an RCNA member disqualify either of us to serve on the ANA Board of Governors? It would if we were to follow Mr. Brown’s standards.

This question can be asked of anyone who is a member of any organization that may not be an ANA member or whose mission is somewhat different from the ANA and would prevent members of specialty organizations who could bring a different perspective from serving. It will do nothing to resolve the issue appears to have with dealers dominating the ANA.

A statement that appeared to irk Mishler was when Brown followed up separation suggestion with, “Additionally, stakeholders of coin businesses should put their business holdings into blind trusts for the duration that they hold office in the ANA, to again avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

When I first read the statement, I rolled my eyes and wondered who would comment. Mishler, who can come off as a gruff and cranky old man but is really a sweetheart, appeared to have a button pushed and responded in a way consistent with our politically charged environment. Of course, this did not sit well with Brown and he responded.

Both have overstated good points from their perspective but neither addresses the issues in a manner that would let both sides think about why there is a problem.

From a collector’s point of view, the ANA appears to be run with the agenda to do more to protect the dealer than the collector. When there is an issue in the collector community, policies appear to favor the high-value collector. Since most of the members who run for the Board of Governors seem to be either these high-end dealers or collectors, it appears that these dealers and collectors do not understand most of the rank-and-file members. It looks like an exclusive club that regular members can join but are not allowed into the inner circle.

From a dealer’s point of view, many have been members of the ANA for quite some time. They may have started as a vest pocket dealer or behind the counter in another shop, but they grew up in this industry. These dealers have seen the pains the ANA and the hobby has experienced and seen how bad decisions have hurt everyone over time. In the process, they have cultivated good and profitable businesses understanding what the collector wants. After all this hard work, they are not going to give up the businesses that provide their livings because a “junk-box picker” thinks we don’t understand.

NOTE: I am not calling Ronald Brown a “junk-box picker.” I am using it as emphasis based on a conversation I had with a friend about the series of letters.

As always, reality is somewhere in the middle.

I do believe that the policies are a little slanted to the dealer, but not in the extreme Brown and others correspondents claim. Part of the problem is that more members of the ANA Board of Governors, presidents, and vice presidents come from the ranks of dealers, even though recent past presidents Mishler and Walt Ostromecki are not dealers. I believe that four of the nine elected members of the Board of Governors, including President Jeff Garrett and Vice President Gary Adkins, are dealers.

Why is it a problem that dealer have influence on the ANA Board of Governors?

Like anyone else serving on a Board, regardless whether it is a for-profit or non-profit, there will always be an agenda. You will not do anything to hurt your own livelihood nor will you do anything to damage your potential customers. While dealers have ruled the roost, it is difficult to see how everything they have done is bad for the ANA.

Unfortunately, I believe that their views do not consider the ordinary collector or the collector that may be out of the mainstream. I thought Mishler would be more understanding with his noted collection of stickered coins and a former editor at a major numismatic publication. But his response appeared to be more pro-dealer than understanding that there may be a perception of elitism.

Then again, there is the golden rule: He who has the gold, rules! You can see who has the most influence on the organization by those who spend the money for advertising and sponsorships. As we know, this is the way of the world.

The needs of the collector and the dealer can co-exist. While I may never be a customer of a higher-end dealer, I do respect their accomplishments and contributions to the industry. However, there are some who should stop looking down their noses at the junk-box diver or the blogger who will flip through red boxes of 2x2s looking for something new that says “New York.”

As a member of the Technology Committee, I know that there is work being done to try to bridge some of that gap by considering the rank-and-file members. It encourages more involvement to introduce and extend the hobby in a way that some of the older dealers have accepted, regardless of their phobia to technology. Even Mishler, who I heard recently purchased his first cell phone, supports the effort!

Of course, this is not enough but it is a start. Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

There have been a lot of single steps over the last few years and enough movement to show progress. Progress is not full success and there is a lot more to be done. The only way to move forward to be more responsive to the collector is for collectors to become part of the solution. Collectors should be encouraged to run for the Board of Governors. If you cannot run for the Board, try doing something on a volunteer basis. Work to make your local club successful because sometimes, one of the best solutions is to resolve the issues from the bottom up.

Come in with an agenda. Know what you want to see happen. In fact, if I should ever run again for the Board of Governors, here are some of the issues I would like to see addressed:

  1. Diversity. Face it, the vast majority of the ANA’s membership is white, male, and over the age of 50. The only time I have seen a diverse crowd at a show was at a FUN show. By diversity, I am also including women and younger people. The hobby has to start attracting a more diverse membership.
  2. Get Younger. While there are good Young Numismatist programs, they basically end when the YN graduates high school. The hobby needs to think about that gap when the YN drops the hobby for their life and picks it up again when they have their own YN to bring in. This is one area where the perceived elitism of the high-end dealers is hurting the hobby. We should be able to find some way to keep the YN interested all the way through their life without waiting for them to pick up their blue folders again when their kids become interested.
  3. Club Support. Numismatics is a hobby that can be built from the ground up. Part of that growth are the local clubs. More should be done to support local clubs. Ideas include meeting support where clubs that are getting staid can use the help to bring new ideas to their meetings; program support where the ANA can help arrange for speakers or support other programs that a club can use to highlight their meetings; and advertising support to help get the word out locally. There can also be a club program exchange portfolio where materials used by one club can be borrowed by another.
  4. Secondary and more accessible publications. Although I love the Numismatist, there is more information out there that needs to be publicized. For example, there used to be a YN journal. What happened to that? A YN journal needs to be brought back at least quarterly. Another idea is a monthly review of articles that appear in other journals. Nearly every regional and specialty organization has a newsletter, bulletin, or journal. Why not allow them to submit articles to be nationally featured?
  5. More Technology. Last, but not least, leverage the new technology to bring the ANA to the people. This is something I continually bring up with the Technology Committee, but I would like to see convention programs broadcast over the Internet and stored for later viewing. The technology exists to broadcast all of the Money Talks sessions and have it available for whenever someone wants to use it. In fact, those sessions can become part of the club support where instruction is given to the clubs how to use them during a meeting.

I appreciate Ronald Brown’s passion, but I think he needs to be a bit more realistic. This is not the federal government. Dealer’s should not be expected to make the Board of Governors a full-time job without compensation. But he does have a good point about creating more opportunities and adjusting policies for collectors. If he is not a candidate for the Board of Governors this time around, he should consider running in 2019. Maybe I will join him!

Modern US Coinage needs more love from collectors

1884 & 1881 Morgan Dollars that were estate finds

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.

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.

Reverse of the 1884 & 1881 Morgan Dollars estate finds

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!

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!

NOTE: 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.

POLL: Do you collect modern U.S. coins?

1976 Washington Quarter with my favorite, the Drummer Boy reverse

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.

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?

Do you collect modern coins? If so, how?










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SCOTUS Cops Out

The ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles confiscated by the government from Joan Lanbord, daughter of Israel Switt.

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.

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?

Looking for a numismatic job?

Looking for a job in numismatics? The the American Numismatic Association maybe can help. Earlier this month, the ANA launched an online job service. You can find the service at https://www.money.org/job-board.

The Job Board is open to everyone regardless of membership status. Although it would be nice if you were a member, non-members can visit the Job Board and look at the listings.

Employers looking to post a job can post jobs for free until June 30, 2017. After, listing created by members will cost $50.00 and non-members must pay $100.00.

Now that this resource exists, I would love to see jobs that do not require physical presence. For example, one of the job listings is for a Research Assistant. Does this person have to be located onsite? Can this person do research remotely? What about potential catalogers for auction catalogs, websites, and other documentation? Given the information, someone could do this writing remotely.

It is time that the numismatic industry tries to look for ways to expand its ways of doing business and think about how work can be done by hiring someone who can do the work but is not sitting in your office? Even the federal government utilizes telework when it can.

I know that some jobs cannot be done remotely like someone who can take pictures of the items for a catalog or website. But once the inventory is imaged, does the person posting them to the website have to be sitting on your proverbial lap?

I can tell you from experience that telework can make the employee more productive. With the exception of the times I was involved in classified work, I would work from home 90-percent of the time. This included the ability to teleconference. There is a reason why online teleconference services like WebEx and GoToMeeting are popular with business. It is very effective and you do not have to be in the same location.

Sometimes, it is not possible to do everything remotely. That is why there are local employees. But face it, you can hire a part-time employee to take pictures and email the pictures along with the price to someone that will post them on your website and social media.

Now that we have this resource, it is time for the numismatic industry to consider how they can better engage the broader community.

BTW: Has any dealer thought about contracting someone in another area of the country to bring your inventory to a show you would not normally attend? Maybe, if two-or-three dealers want to try this, I may be talked into setting up a booth at the Whitman Show in Baltimore. It is another outlet to market your inventory. Send me a note if you think that this could work and we can discuss details.

Image courtesy of the ANA.

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