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.

2017-P Cents are special, but not THAT special!

2017-P Lincoln Cents are selling for high multiples over face value

Sometimes, I do not understand collectors and the speculation market.

I had read a few stories about the one-year-only 2017-P Lincoln cent selling for high multiples online. I had to check it out for myself. What I found are rolls of uncirculated Lincoln cent selling for upward of 20-times face value!

Since the U.S. Mint did not announce that they would be adding the “P” mintmark to the one-cent coin as a one year issue, there has been a frenzy of interest. It seems to the point of overpaying for a coin that is really not worth more than its face value!

These are business strike coins, struck for circulation. They are the coins ordered by the Federal Reserve to satisfy the nation’s commerce. Although they have a mintmark “P,” the U.S. Mint will strike billions of these coins. In 2016, the Philadelphia mint struck over 4 billion one cent coins—4,698,000,000 to be exact.

According to the U.S. Mint production figures, 515,200,000 of the 2017-P Lincoln Cents were struck. Extended out over 12 months, that means the U.S. Mint will strike over 6 BILLION of these coins.

One day of 2017-P pocket change finds

Before typing this blog post, I checked my pocket change to see how many I had. Since I empty the change from my pocket daily, I found five coins just from my daily travels on Saturday.

This is an unfortunate state of society. The collective ADD and instant satisfaction will have people spending more than they should only to be disappointed later when the coins are not worth more than face value. It will be like those who bought 50 State Quarters on the home shopping channels only to later realize they would be lucky if they could recover half of what they paid.

I understand that online sellers are trying to satisfy the market. Capitalism at its most greedy. But it is not good for the hobby.

Maybe it is time for the American Numismatic Association and Professional Numismatic Guild to issue a statement warning the public. If these organizations are about protecting the collector, here is a clear case of price gouging that they should show concern!

Numismatics is not a dying hobby but…

One of my favoite items in my collection are these 2007 Somalia Motorcycle Coins

During the last month, I have had email conversations with a few readers about the future of the hobby. To sum up the several conversations, the following are summaries of the issues I heard:

  1. Politics: In the last 20-years, the American Numismatic Association and many of the regional organizations and clubs have be overcome by politics. If you are not with the “in crowd” you are welcome to come to the meetings but do not expect the same treatment as those within the inner circle.
  2. Acceptance: A progressions from politics, if you are not the same demographic of the inner circle, usually white male over 50, you have no chance of being admitted into the inner circle.
  3. Elitism: You do not collect something cool like Bust Dollars or Morgan VAMs? What is this, transportation tokens? Gaming Tokens? That is not cool and you cannot be in our club.

We live in a politically charged society where opinions are magnified into binary choices: yes or no, up or down, for or against, etc. There are no shades of gray and common sense is not as common as we would like to think. Things are so bad that it is reported that a woman filed for divorce after 22-years of marriage because her husband voted for Donald Trump!

While I am be guilty of adding politics to the hobby, I believe I have worked in the hobby’s best interest. During my tenure as president of the Maryland State Numismatic Association I told the board that we look too much like an insular club and need to branch out. My final President’s Letter published in the Maryland Numismatist spoke of this.

If your club’s board has consisted of the same people for more than a few years, it is time for you to step down and let someone else take the position. While it may be fun to be the king of the club, adding new people is not only good for the hobby but it will allow newer members a chance to participate. If you are not working to turn over your leadership every few years, then you are helping to destroy your organization through stagnation.

In order to have a lineup of people ready to take over leadership of the club or organization, we have to get more inclusive. This is one of the aspects of the hobby that has bothered me for a long time. If you go to many club meetings, shows, and even ANA conventions, you look out over the crowd and see an overwhelming number of white males over the age of 50. As a white male over the age of 50, I can say there is nothing wrong with that demographic. But it is not the demographic that will sustain the hobby.

I stull own this Fort McHenry Commemorative Medallion I bought at the gift shop.

Over the years there has been an effort to bring more women into the hobby. Since half of the population consists of women, that is a good start. However, the few women I see roaming the bourse floors are either middle-aged and white or accompanying their children. And given my previous discussions about bad customer service, it is no wonder women stay way from the hobby.

And someone please tell the Girl Scouts that the conditions surrounding the failure of the Girl Scouts commemorative still exist. On many occasions, the Girl Scouts have been accused of being insular and parochial in their attitudes. Maybe, if they step away from their cookie boxes they will better help the girls expand beyond the attitudes these leaders think are keeping women back.

Another problem I have seen in numismatics is the lack of ethnic diversity. Where are the people of color? We work with the Young Numismatist programs through schools and the Scouts appear to reach youngsters of all ethnicities. Why does this stop after the age of 18? Why is there no outreach to non-white adults?

You cannot tell me there are no non-white adults who collect numismatics. One place I have seen a nice mix of ethnicities has been at the FUN shows. And the argument that Florida is more ethnically diverse than someplace like the Chicagoland area where the World’s Fair of Money has been held for too long is not a good argument.

I created my own Large Cent collection using a Gardmaster album

Maybe it is because of the stuck up nature of the hobby. Why does everyone have to create a set that fits nicely into a blue, brown, or green album? Why does everyone have to buy plastic holders with numbers as close to 70 as possible? Why are most of the emphasis and programs surrounding numismatics have to be about coins or currency?

We pay lip-service to numismatics being an all inclusive hobby but the mid-to-lower collector can be made to feel unwelcome. Dealers who are older may have a difficult time relating to younger and, frankly, a non-white demographic. It has created a culture where if you are not white, male, and collecting the thousands of Morgan dollars that are on the bourse floor or the more expensive stuff in the cases, you are a nuisance.

Although there are dealers who do cater to the average collector, the rest treat the books, boxes, and junk bins as a necessary evil. And even if you are a white male over the age of 50 but enjoy searching the junk boxes for that odd item or the rows of tokens for something from your hometown you have never seen before, you are just not the type of person the dealer wants to work with. While this is not true of every dealer, I have experienced a lot of dirty looks while carefully searching through red boxes of tokens and other items in 2×2 holders looking for that cool item from Brooklyn and New York City.

My 1902 Panama 2½ Centesimos on the left known as the “Panama Pill.” On the right is a national brand coated aspirin. I still own the coin because I think it is interesting.

EVERYONE needs to be more inclusive or risk the hobby dying. Mainstream publishers may want to consider creating an imprint to support niche publications in order to get that information into the hands of the collectors. And an open note to the members of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society that devoted an edition of The Asylum, their quarterly publication, to electronic publishing of numismatic information, those who worry about maintaining the status quo may want to think about how the status quo is making numismatics look like an exclusive club. Stop hoarding information and make it available to anyone who will appreciate it.

Now that we have identified the problem, how do you we fix it? How do we get the YNs to continue to collect into their 20s and 30s? How do we recruit women and people of color into the hobby? How can we teach the dealers that can barely spell customer service that they need to change their ways or there will be nobody to buy their coins because they chased all their potential customers away? I am open to suggestions!
 

A check from the First National Bank of Inwood (NY). Inwood is a hamlet on Long Island where I grew up. Even though FNBI was bought out long before I was born, having this in my numismatic collection gives my collection a personal touch.

A little rebellion now and then is a good thing

There’s a revolution brewing in the numismatics markets that is being fed by its own successes causing its own failures.

The first salvo was fired by the Professional Numismatic Guild and Industry Council for Tangible Assets in 2006 when they jointly performed their own survey. One of the results was that PNG and ICTA were sued by a few of the services whose services were deemed unacceptable.

Following the report, the services not named Numismatic Guarantee Corporation and Professional Coin Grading Service went into turmoil. PCI went out of business around the time the J.T. Stanton left the company. James Taylor bought ANACS from Anderson Press and move the company to Englewood, Colorado. Taylor raided graders from Independent Coin Grading Company. As a result, ICG moved to Tampa, Florida.

In the meantime, most of those companies rated “Unacceptable” in the PNG-ICTA report either went out of business or have been marginalized to the point of irrelevance.

Next was the creation of the Certified Acceptance Corporation as a grader of the graders. As I have explained in the past, although a fourth-party or validation service might be helpful, the CAC is not an independent organization providing the service. The company trades on its inside information in what it calls “market-making.” This type of arbitrage activity would be illegal in the securities industry but has given a false sense of security in the numismatics world.

Now there are rumblings again and this time there are a few significant people doing the talking.

For the last six month, noted numismatist and author Q. David Bowers has written several stories for Coin World that has been both critical of the coin grading business and the complexity of the grading system. Although Bowers recognizes that there are advantages to third-party grading there has been changes and not for the better.

In other words, third-party grading and authentication is good for the hobby but the services have problems.

Could you tell the difference if they were not in the holders?

Following NGC’s change in its registry rules to no longer allow coins graded by PCGS in their sponsored registry sets, NGC Chairman Mark Salzberg publishes an analysis on what he claims is the decline in PCGS-graded coins. In his analysis, Salzberg looks at the prices realized from auction sales of certain PCGS coins over time and compares them to PCGS population reports for those coins.

Through a set of charts that resemble the supply-and-demand curves, it is unsure if the charts prove anything. If Salzberg is trying to say that PCGS is practicing grade inflation, known as gradeflation, then he could prove that with the changes in the grading for many modern coins. However, comparing the population report (supply) of a classic coin like the 1912-S Liberty Nickel, may not be valid without looking at other factors, such as the population report of lower grades declining. Also, Salzberg only uses the prices realize from auctions held by Heritage Auctions and not a survey of the industry as a whole.

Does PCGS practice gradeflation? Can we also ask does NGC practice gradeflation? And we do not know how these services fare with CAC who keeps its raw data hidden from the public while using it to increase the value of the coins it examines.

Dave Bowers provides good insight into the problems with coin grading without trying to overburden the reader with statistics even with the suggestion that dealers may overly emphasize grade differences and not the aesthetics of the coin.

Bowers is not the only one complaining about grading, last September, Rick Snow wrote an article on the CDN Publishing Blog suggesting grading be adjusted to a 15-point technical scale without the qualifying notations such as “”Full Head” or “Full Bands.”

The numismatics industry has put too much trust in these grading services without oversight. When oversight was tried by industry representative organizations, the companies that did not like the results litigated rather than fix their problems causing the attempt at oversight to be eliminated. Then a validation service appears to only turn out to be something they are using to manipulate the markets in their favor.

Is this coin worth less because it is is in an ICG holder?

In numismatics as in politics, I agree with Thomas Jefferson when he said, “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” Maybe it is time to stand up and ask PCGS why their population reports are going up in higher grades? We should ask why NGC is concentrating more on gimmick holders than the coin in those holders? And are NGC’s population reports without reproach? I am sure we can find problems with their population reporting. What happened to ANACS? Did Taylor get too cozy with the television shopping networks to justify general feeling that their coins are better priced as raw? And what the heck happened to ICG?

Rather than implicitly trusting these companies, collectors and investors may want to start questioning all of these companies about their practices. Otherwise, you may find that coin you paid MS-70 prices for is really not worth more than an MS-68, which was a better looking, to begin with!

PNG-ICTA 2006 Grading Service Survey

Read their 2006 press release below or on Scribd.

The Allegory of Liberty

The latest “controversy” surrounding the U.S. Mint is that the depiction of Lady Liberty on the new U.S. Mint 225th Anniversary 24-karat gold coin is depicted by an African-American woman.

This comes after 225 years of depicting Liberty as a white woman—or is it? (see below) What has caused even a bigger stir in some sectors was in the statement released by the U.S. Mint, they say that this “is the first in a series of 24-karat gold coins that will feature designs which depict an allegorical Liberty in a variety of contemporary forms-including designs representing Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Indian-Americans among others—to reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of the United States.”

I saw one blog post ask, “How dare they do this?” Followed by asking, “What’s next, a Mexican?”

If these folks would stop fomenting and learn a bit about history, this is part of the evolution of how we have depicted Liberty since the discovery of the New World

One of the first uses of woman as allegorical figures at back to the goddess of ancient Greece and Rome. Both gods and goddesses were allegorical figures of the power they represented using an exaggerated version of the human forms they knew about. Using woman as strong, matronly-like figures guarding over a country’s sovereignty like a protective figure.

Prior to the discovery of North America, Britain had Britannia. Britannia was the allegorical figure as the protector of the British Empire. Named for the Greek and Roman term for the geographical region, Britannia is usually seated facing the water. Although most images has her seated on a shroud-covered seat, sometimes Britannia is depicted sitting on a horse. She is wearing a helmet, hold a trident and a shield emblazoned with the Union Jack to show she is the protector and ruler of the seas. It is not a coincidence that Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty design is similar to the design used for Britannia.

1672 Britannia copper coin

1854 Seated Liberty Quarter with rays and no arrows

When the first European settlers arrived, they used the image of an “Indian Queen, a voluptuous, but stern Native American woman dressed in little more than head feathers. Portrayed sitting astride a giant armadillo or sporting a tomahawk, the Indian Queen represented exoticism, danger and adventure: attributes that 16th- and 17th-century explorers most associated with their new land.”

As colonization grew and the native American tribes and the settlers were not getting along (you would also be angry if these outsiders were pushing you off your native lands), her looks were softened to look more Anglican in appearance trying to represent what was perceived as a less hostile look.

The look of Liberty has changed with the artist that have designed her image. The most famous image of Liberty is the statue by Frédéric Bartholdi titled “Liberty Enlightening the World,” or more commonly known as the Statue of Liberty. Bartholdi, a French sculptor, reportedly used his mother as the model for the statue’s face. This makes the most famous depiction of Lady Liberty a French woman.

Two of the most famous and different depictions of Liberty were created by George T. Morgan and Anthony de Francisci. Morgan used actress Anna Willess Williams as the model for his design noting that her profiles was the most perfect he had ever seen. For the Peace dollar, de Francisci used the portrait of his wife, Teresa, as the model. With rays instead of a crown or a headdress departing from previous designs, using the image of Teresa de Francisci means that an Italian-born woman was depicted as Lady Liberty since she was born in Naples, Italy.

1879-S Morgan Dollar

1921-D Peace Dollar

Historical Note

Many references claim that Martin Van Buren was the first U.S. born president because he was born in 1782, after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. However, the Treaty of Paris, which established the United States as a new country, was not signed until September 3, 1783. Although the colonies declared itself independent in 1776, the United States was legally not a country until the signing of the Treaty of Paris.

These are also not the first examples of someone not being born in the United States being depicted on U.S. coinage. In 1892 and 1893 the U.S. Mint produced the Columbian half dollars with the image of Italian-born Christopher Columbus. Although these coins were only struck as a commemorative, they were circulated and used in commerce. However, the first coin struck for circulation that included the image of a foreign-born person was the Washington quarter. George Washington was born in the British Colony of Virginia in 1732 as a British subject. In fact, the first nine presidents were born British subjects in the colonies. It was not until John Tyler succeeded William Henry Harrison as president in 1841 when a United States-born citizen became president. Tyler was born in 1790 in the State of Virginia.

Although there are many examples of African-Americans appearing on commemorative coins. In the Classical Commemorative Era, the U.S. Mint issued the 1946-1951 Booker T. Washington and 1951-1954 George Washington Carver/Booker T. Washington Commemorative half-dollars. Modern Era Commemoratives include the 1998 Black Revolutionary War Patriots Silver Dollar featuring the portrait of Crispus Attucks, 1997 Jackie Robinson commemorative coins, and 2007 Little Rock Nine Silver Dollar featuring the legs of the Little Rock Nine being lead to class.

For circulating coins, the reverse of the 2002 Missouri State Quarter features William Clark’s slave York paddling the canoe with both Meriweather Lewis and Clark in the boat. The reverse of the 2009 District of Columbia quarter honors Duke Ellington.

Do not forget that Sacagawea is a non-Anglican being featured on a circulating coin, even though the coin really does not circulate.

But is this the first African-American Lady Liberty?

1933 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle (obverse)

Finally, there is a claim that the model used by Augustus Saint-Gaudens for the design of $20 double-eagle gold coin was Harriette Eugenia “ Hettie” Anderson. Hettie Anderson was an African-American model from South Carolina considered an extraordinary beauty. Anderson was known to pose for Saint-Gaudens and many other artists with connections to Saint-Gaudens, such as Adolph Weinman.

Because of the treatment of blacks in America, Anderson’s part in Saint-Gaudens’ work was kept quiet. After his death, Homer, the artist’s son, edit Anderson out of his father’s unfinished autobiography. This information was later discovered by William E. Hagans. Hagen was researching the Swedish artist Anders Zorn, who worked with Saint-Gaudens. While reviewing Zorn’s work, he found a sketch Zorn made with Saint-Gaudens and a nude Hettie Anderson lying in the background. After further research, Hagen discovered that Anderson was modeling for Saint-Gaudens at the time he was designing the double-eagle. It was later that Homer Saint-Gaudens removed Anderson from the history of this coin’s design.

If this is true (see “Written out of History” on this page), then this is not the first time Lady Liberty was depicted as an African-American Woman!

Anders Zorn’s etching of Augustus Saint-Gaudens taken a break with a nude Hattie Anderson laying behind him.

Credits

  • Composite image of the American Liberty gold coin courtesy of coinews.net.
  • Image of Britannia coin courtesy of the Royal Mint.
  • Seated Liberty quarter image courtesy of Numista
  • Morgan and Peace dollar images courtesy of Wikipedia.
  • Anders Zorn etching of Augustus Saint-Gaudens image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Certainty

Since the election, there have been a number of stories about the “Trump Effect” on the markets. The narrative is that the economic bounce is tied specifically to the election of Trump.

The premise is that the market is reacting to the election of Donald Trump and is the direct cause for the change in the economic factors in the markets. Unfortunately, the narratives being promoted is shortsighted. Markets are not reacting to the election of Trump. The markets are reacting to the certainty that the election is settled.

Markets hate uncertainty. When there is uncertainty, the markets tend to react to everything and sometimes in an exaggerated manner. Fortunately, the economic indicators have been good and the markets have reacted accordingly with exaggeration.

How the markets have reacted to uncertainty in economic news

When looking at the collecting markets, whether it is numismatics or antiques, you can look at the precious metals markets as a key indicator. In basic terms, the price of precious metals is indirectly proportional to the strength of the markets and economy. It translates to if the economy is strong making investing less of a risk, then the precious metals markets will be weaker. it means there is more cash circulating creating discretionary income that buyers use to spend on non-essentials, like hobbies.

A strong market and economy means that investments in businesses are a better bet. Strong employment numbers and the movement of goods and services mean that there is money to be made by investing in business. If there are good investment opportunities, it does not make sense for investors to tie money up in precious metals.

Investment in metals makes sense when investing in their value is better than the expected rate of return on business investments. Once investors turn to precious metals, the price is based purely on supply and demand. Since the supply stream is relatively constant, demand mostly influences the price of metals. If the demand is high and the supply cannot keep up with the demand, the price will rise. What helps regulate the price is that there continues to be a supply but the demand has been known to outpace the supply.

The fact of the matter is that economic indicators have improved. Prices of metals have been steadily dropping since August as the investment in stocks been going up. Even before the election, the markets were in growth mode but skittish with uncertainty.

All the election brought was a certainty. Markets know who the next president will be, who will be in congress, and who will control the state houses. If markets hate uncertainty then the currency that fueled the rally was the removal of uncertainty.

After the week following the election, the markets leveled off with the next goal to figure out what the Federal Reserve would do. With the uncertainty surrounding the December Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, the drive to record levels stalled. When the FOMC announced the increase in interest rates, rather than reacting negatively, the reactions was as if the markets were saying, “It’s about time.” with the uncertainty of what the FOMC would do, the markets reacted by climbing to record levels.

Market reactions to various news and economic events

In the meantime, the metals markets have been on a steady decline. Since the capital markets are providing a good return on investments, there is no incentive to invest in metals. Although people are buying, the fewer buyers are beating the prices down making bullion-based collectibles cheaper.

Gold free fall began on Election Day 2016

Silver downward trend started on Election Day

What does that have to do with higher end collectibles such as rare coins?

When capital markets are adding to the general wealth of the investor community, they will look for different places to invest their winnings. The new money will start to buy high-end items to supplement their other investments. This is why the collector market thrives during good economic times. Prices of fine art, prime real estate, collector cars, and even rare coins rise.

Rare coins have been resilient since the decline in markets. Rare coins became a safer bet and have attracted new investors which has bucked the trends of the past. This was not lost on the broader investing community who may be looking for diversity in their portfolios.

In review, the markets have been on a six-year rise as the economy has recovered from the Great Recession. Economic indicators are on an extended positive run. The election created certainty in the future of the government and the Federal Reserve created certainty when it raised interest rates. Since markets like certainty, the reaction is not because of the result of the election it is that the election is over.

Certainty is driving the markets, not the details of the results.

Credits

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average charts courtesy of Yahoo! Finance.
  • Gold and silver charts courtesy of Kitco.

Vegans go overboard with polymer notes

Bank of England £5 Polymer note

I have a personal rule that I do not criticize anyone’s lifestyle choices or non-choices. It is not a matter of tolerance but one of respect because if I want acceptance for what I do then it is not my place to judge someone else. But I draw the line where tolerance is pushed beyond acceptance but an insistence that everyone adapt to their ways.

To be a vegan means that you do not use or consume any animal product. It is a movement that began in the 16th century but organized in the 19th century as part of a philosophy to reject the commodity status of animals. In fact, the term “vegan” did not enter the language in 1944 when Donald Watson co-founded the Vegan Society in England. Fundamentally, I do not have a problem with vegans or veganism but it has recently crossed the line where my tolerance is being tested.

In September, the release a new £5 polymer note featuring the portrait of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Even though there were concerns raised at the time of the release, in November, a vegan activist names Steffi Rox asked the Bank of England if the new £5 polymer note contains tallow on Twitter. The Bank of England responded that “there is a trace of tallow in the polymer pellets used in the base substrate of the polymer £5 notes.”

Which was followed up by Ms. Rox asking “what consideration was given to #vegans & their human rights in the making of these?”

This exchange reverberated around the world to all countries that use polymer notes including Australia that has been circulating polymer notes since 1992.

The Bank of England issued a statement confirming that the pellets used to make the polymer substrate contains trace amounts of tallow.

The new notes are produced on a product called Guardian manufactured by Innovia Security. Innovia is the company formed in Australia following the research and production of the polymer substrate by the Reserve Bank of Australia. Although Innovia has not issued a formal statement, press reports note that the company admits that tallow is used in the resin it sources from a supplier to make the polymer pellets used by the banks in the manufacture for the substrate that is printed for currency.

Tallow is made from suet, the fatty deposits around the organs of cows and sheep. It is a byproduct of the process of butchering a cow for its meat and hides. In its natural form, suet is only useful for cooking and some preservation. When it is rendered (by boiling) into tallow, it is used to manufacture soap, candles, and lubricants. The use of tallow in even the most synthetic lubricant is ubiquitous. Machines used to harvest crops or grease moving parts in automobiles have tallow in them.

Tallow is part of using the whole animal rather than killing it for parts and discarding the rest. It is the concept that animal rights activists preach. On this, I agree with their position.

But it isn’t like the Bank of England or Innovia is dumping tallow into its manufacturing process. Based on what how it was explained to me by a chemist familiar with polymer manufacturing but not associated with Innovia or the polymer banknote process, tallow is likely used in the resin as part of the pellet manufacturing process. The resin acts as a binder but has to manufactured in a way that prevents it from sticking to everything. Small amounts of tallow are used as a lubricant to make the resin to prevent it from sticking to the machinery. Trace amounts of tallow remain in the resin in the same manner oil would remain on your tires if you rolled over an oil slick on the street.

Just because there is oil on your tires does not mean your tires are made of oil. But the oil remains a trace element on your tires and continues to exist until removed using some type of friction. But it is such a small trace, you never notice.

The same can be said of the tallow. The chemist said that if there are more than 5 parts per million of tallow in the notes then that the manufacturing process should be questioned. Aside from suggesting the process is dirty the proportions may make the polymer unstable and less useful to use as currency. Its 25-year usage in circulation suggests that there are no problems in the manufacturing process.

To understand what 5 parts per million would mean, you can also think of it as one-two thousandth of one percent.

With all due respect to vegans, you are probably breathing more dander in a single day than you are touching tallow in all of the polymer banknotes that cross your paths. For those of us who know that tallow is used in all sorts of lubrication products, especially those used in transportation, you cannot get away from its use. It is everywhere. You need to better educate yourselves before taking a stand against one-two thousandth of one percent because you look like hypocrites.

Victoria Cleland, Chief Cashier at the Bank of England, presenting the Churchill War Rooms with their New Fiver

Images courtesy of Innovia Security.

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