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.

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.

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