Adding Collecting Guides

Over the last few weeks, I have been working on a few writing projects that include primers about collecting numismatics. While some of these articles have allowed me to repurpose blog posts, I have had to create some content not posted before.

In the past, I posted a few including the series on small dollars and about Seated Liberty Dime Varieties. They were posted as regular articles because I thought they would be of general interest.

A few may not make for exciting reading but could be used as a reference for those interested. Last week, I added one of those articles rewritten for the blog and posted it under the Collector’s Reference menu.

A Collector’s Guide to Understanding U.S. Coin Grading” is a simple overview of coin grading. It starts with a short narrative that explains the origin of coin grading and its standardization. It is not an extensive overview. It is just the basics to give a collector an idea of the evolution.

This is followed by three tables:

  • Coin Grading Scale correlates the words with the expected grade that might be printed in an advertisement or on a grading service label along with a definition of what that grade means. These definitions were adapted from The Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins edited by Kenneth Bressett. I own the 6th Edition but I am sure it has not changed much between then and the 7th Edition!
  • Strike Quality is the attributes of a coin that signifies the strike and the wearing of the dies. Each of these designations begins with “Full” like “Full Bands” or “Full Steps.”
  • Surface Quality is those grade attributes assigned to the quality of the coin’s fields. These are for proof coins designated as “Deep Cameo” or a business strike exhibiting “Proof Like” surfaces.

It ends with a section on a summary of the “eBay Coin Grading Policy.” There are aspects of their grading policy I did not know until I read eBay’s rules carefully.

If you find these types of write-ups helpful, let me know. I can convert some of the other guides into posts for the community.

Image courtesy of the American Numismatic Association.

Errors verus Varieties: Varieties are spice

This is second article of a 2 part series:
  1. Errors versus Varieties: About Errors
  2. Errors verus Varieties: Varieties are spiceyou are here

A variety is a coin that differs from its basic design type in some distinctive way and is thus differentiated by collectors. Varieties are not errors. They are deliberate changes to the design whether it is to better define the design, adjust the design to strike better, or to add or change elements like dates and mintmarks.

A key difference between a variety and an error is that varieties are replicated for multiple strikes. Die changes, repunched mintmarks, repunched dates and over polishing of dies can reproduce the variety for the life of the die or until it is detected by Mint workers.

Nearly every series of coins has its own traceable die varieties that have been studied and catalogued by researchers. Researchers assign the varieties a number that is used by the third-party grading services to provide attribution to the variety on their holder.

Variety collecting is a very specialized subject. If you are going to collect varieties, you should read the references to understand the characteristics of the varieties. Some of the more well recognized and documented varieties include:

Catalog Coin Series Main or Initial Reference
Cohen (C#) Half Cents (1793-1857) American Half Cents – The “Little Half Sisters” by Roger S. Cohen, Jr.
Sheldon (S#) Large Cents (1793-1814) Penny Whimsy by Dr. William H. Sheldon
Fortin (F#) Liberty Seated Dimes (1837-1891) Liberty Seated Dimes – Die Varieties, 1837 – 1891, by Gerry Fortin
Overton (O#) Half Dollars (1794-1836) Early half dollar die varieties, 1794-1836, by Al C. Overton and Donald L. Parsley
Van Allen-Mallis (VAM#) Morgan and Peace Dollars (1878-1935) Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars, by Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis
Fivaz-Stanton (FS#) Varieties from the Cherrypickers’ Guide Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins, by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton

Arguably, the most collected series by varieties are Morgan Dollars. VAM varieties and catalog numbers were introduced to the hobby by Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis who discovered the varieties while examining Morgan and Peace Dollars. Their book, Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars began a hunt that has seen hundreds of more varieties found and cataloged.

Most VAM varieties cannot be seen without magnification and detailed knowledge of what to look for. The primary resource for VAM collectors is the VAMworld website. Aside from listing the identified VAM varieties, there are instructions how to identify VAM varieties.

Examples of VAMs from VAMworld

The third-party grading services have an optional service that will identify VAM varieties on their holders. However, they do not recognize all VAM varieties. There are three sub-lists of catalogued VAM varieties that are recognized. These varieties are as follows:

  • TOP 100: The 100 most significant VAM Varieties known
  • HOT 50: A list of additional 50 VAM Varieties that collectors are interested in finding. Many of these varieties are scarce and have sold for significant premiums
  • HIT LIST 40: A list of 40 new VAM Varieties that have been discovered since the publishing of the HOT 50 list

General searching for varieties and errors should consider picking up a copy of Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton. The book comes in two volumes. Volume 1 covers die varieties of half cents through nickel five-cent pieces. Volume 2 covers everything else including gold and bullion issues.

VAM example images courtesy of VAMworld

Errors versus Varieties: About Errors

This is first article of a 2 part series:
  1. Errors versus Varieties: About Errorsyou are here
  2. Errors verus Varieties: Varieties are spice

FDR dime struck on a nail (stand in for Festivus Pole)

Over the years, I have been asked what are the differences between errors and varieties. While some errors are distinctive, some wonder why some errors are not varieties and some varieties are not classified as errors.

A basic rule of thumb is that even though errors and varieties represent changes to the basic design of the coin, they differ in how they occur and the resulting appearance of the coin.

A Mint Error is the result of an issue with the manufacturing processes causing the coin to be damaged in some way. Errors can be the result in malfunction of the equipment, imperfect coining materials, or created by human error.

Even though modern equipment is supposed the make the striking process more consistent, when the manufacturing process involves striking billions of coins, there are bound to be a few errors. Coining machines have so many moving parts and everything has to work in concern, one variation in speed, force, vibration, or tilt can make the coins look very different than intended.

Then there is the human factor. Humans are imperfect beings subject to making mistakes. Even though the machines are supposed to help guide the humans to reduce mistakes, something can go wrong, especially in an operation that involves making billions of the product.

To help understand where some of the mint errors come from, they can be categorized as three different types: Planchet Errors, Die Errors, and Strike Errors.

Planchet Errors

1943 Lincoln cent struck on a copper planchet (Courtesy of CoinTrackers)

Planchet Errors are defects of a coin that was caused by the planchet, the coin blank, being imperfect prior to the coin being struck. Planchet Errors occur prior to striking the coin but in ways that could sometimes not be detected. Types of Planchet Errors include:

clipped planchet: Term used to describe a planchet that may have been cut incorrectly from the metal sheet. The clipped area may be curved if cut into the area where another planchet was cut out or straight if cut beyond the edge of the metal strip.
delamination: A form of planchet flaw caused by imperfections in the metal whereby a thin strip of the metal separates itself from the coin.
lamination or planchet flaw: Lamination is a type of error in the planchet that occurs when a thin layer of the metal splits or peals away from the surface of the coin.
off metal or wrong planchet: A type of error that occurs when a coin is struck on a planchet that it is not normally struck, such as striking of a quarter on a planchet that was supposed to be for a nickel.

Die Errors

A Die Error describes a defect caused by a flaw in the dies used to strike the coin. Types of Die Errors include:

cud: The area of a coin struck by a die that has a broken area across part of its surface. The result appears as a blob of metal on the surface of the coin.
die break or die crack: Fine raised lines can appear across the coin when something causes the die to break or crack. A cracked die opens a fine line in the design allowing the flow of metal to fill in the space when struck.
filled die: A type of error that appears on a coin when a foreign substance, such as grease, fills the elements of a die used to strike coins. A filled die error can also occur when the dies are polished to remove debris during the striking process. Modern minting processes have eliminated the polishing of dies but the problems with filled dies continue.
hub doubling: Refers to the doubling of the elements on a coin that was caused by the hub being pressed more than once into a die in different angles. Hub doubling occurs prior to the striking process when the dies are created. Master hubs are pressed into the dies to create working dies for the coining process. Mistakes in this process can result in the production of many coins with the error struck into them.
mule: A mule is a type of mint error that occurs when a coin is struck with two dies that were not intended to be used together.

1955 DDO Lincoln Cent

1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo Nickel

Two of the most famous dies errors are the 1955 Double Die Obverse (DDO) Lincoln cent and the 1937-D Three-Legged Buffalo nickel. The 1955 DDO Lincoln cent and is known as the King of Errors. It is the result of hub doubling that created the double-looking lettering on the coin. It is the coin that really started the error collecting segment of the hobby.

The 1937-D Three-Legged Buffalo nickel occurred when a mint worker polished the reverse die of the Buffalo nickel too aggressively without checking his work. The result was the front-right leg of the buffalo being eliminated from the die. A few thousand were created before the Mint officials figured out they had a problem.

Strike Errors

Off-center 50 States quarter struck in Denver

The strike occurs when the top die, usually the obverse, is pushed with such forced on a planchet sitting in a position on the anvil dies, usually the reverse, that will make the impression on the coin. Strike errors are the result of a mechanical problem that occurs during this process.

broad strike: A coin that is struck in a way that expands beyond the boundaries of the collar. A broad strike can give the coin n flat or elongated look.
brockage: A type of striking error when the coin is not ejected properly from the press and causes the mirror image of the exposed design to be struck on the next coin.
capped die: An error in which a coin gets stuck on a die and remains stuck for successive strikes. Eventually, the coin forms a “cap” on the die and imparts its image on coins it strikes. When the cap falls off, it usually resembles a small bowl.
clashed die: One of the more interesting errors occurs when during the striking process, a malfunction prevents a planchet from being in place when the dies are forced together causing them to crash into each other. This leaves the design from either side on the other. Subsequent coins are then struck with the latent image of the other side pressed into the coin.
cracked die: An error that occurs when during the stress of striking coins, the die cracks across its face. When a cracked die strikes a coin, the metal flows into the crack that impresses a raised area in the coin that is not part of the design.
filled die: A type of error that appears on a coin when a foreign substance, such as grease, fills the elements of a die used to strike coins.
incomplete strike: A coin that is missing design detail because of a problem during the striking process.
misaligned dies: A striking error caused by one or both dies not set properly in the coining machine or worked loose during striking.
multiple-struck: A type of mint error when the coin was struck more than once. A multiple-struck coin can show the design as it is struck in multiple places.
off-center strike: During the striking process, the coin is not seated in the right place in the area over the anvil (lower) die causing the coin’s design to not be properly centered on the coin.
overstrike: A type of minting error when a coin, token or medal is struck on a previously struck coin, token or medal.
partial collar strike: A type of striking error where a planchet does not enter completely into coining position and is struck partly within the collar and partly outside.
rotated dies: A type of mint error caused by the dies not being aligned when striking the coin, token or medal.

1999-P Georgia state quarter double struck and off center.

strike doubling or doubled strike: A coin that is struck more than once while in the coining machine resulting in doubling of design elements. Double strikes are different from hub doubling in that this type of error is a mechanical failure within the coining machine whereas hub doubling happens before striking. Double strike errors are rarer than hub doubling.
weak strike: refers to a coin that does not show its intended detail because of low striking pressure or improperly aligned dies.

When going to coin shows you can see some of the most fantastic errors. Some boggle the mind how they were done and how they escaped the U.S. Mint. Dealers whose concentration are errors do not reveal their secrets but I have been told that some have contacts with some of the security companies that haul money on behalf of the banks.

This topic is not complete until we talk about varieties. That will be the next post.

Credits

Using coins to spread protest messages

As I am working on a manuscript about counterfeiting coins and currency, I started to search the internet for the location of some information when I stumbled on The British Museum’s website. Rather than find something about counterfeiting, searching the term “defacing coins” lead me to the most recent Curator’s Corner blog entry by Thomas Hockenhull, the curator of Modern Money for The British Museum.

For this entry, Hockenhull found a 1903 large penny with the words “VOTES FOR WOMEN” engraved over the head of King Edward III. It was done as part of the suffragist protests in England prior to World War I. Although not much of a presenter, The British Museum recorded a video featuring Hockenhull describing the coin and his research into how it might have come into existence. Rather than rehash what he said, you can watch the video here:

I have not to been to London for many years, but I remember spending a day at The British Museum was a highlight of the trip. It is one of the great museums of the world and worth setting at least one day touring the museum. There is so much to see that if you love to see the living embodiment of history, consider spending more than a day.

How many foreign coins at the U.S. Mint

1968 Canada 10-cents coin struck by the U.S. Mint

Continuing my self-education into the subject of foreign coin production at the U.S. Mint, the data was normalized to the point where it can be determined the number of coins that were struck for foreign countries. Although the publication I am using as a primary reference, Domestic and Foreign Coins Manufactured by the Mints of the United States, has a table, it is not complete.

After adding the coins struck for Iceland as part of the 2000 Leif Ericsson commemorative program and the coins struck at the Manila Mint, it appears that the Mints of the United States have produced over 10.75 billion coins and sold nearly 650 million planchets to foreign countries. That is over 11.4 billion pieces produced by the U.S. Mint from 1875 through 2000 that were not intended to circulate in the United States.

The following table shows the number of coins produced for each country:

Country Number of pieces produced Country Number of pieces produced
Argentina (Blanks)1 64,058,334 Hawaii2 1,950,000
Australia 168,000,000 Honduras 115,929,500
Belgian Congo 25,000,000 Iceland 143,324
Belgium 25,000,000 Indo-China 135,270,000
Bolivia 30,000,000 Israel 91,000
Brazil (Blanks)1 406,249,266 Korea 295,000,000
Canada 85,170,000 Liberia 56,744,679
China 39,720,096 Mexico 91,076,840
China, Republic Of (Taiwan) 428,172,000 Mexico (Blanks)1 175,714,411
Colombia 133,461,872 Nepal 195,608
Costa Rica 131,798,820 Netherlands 562,500,000
Cuba 496,559,888 Netherlands East Indies 1,716,368,000
Curacao 12,000,000 Nicaragua 26,080,000
Dominican Republic 76,954,297 Panama (Republic) 193,838,428
Ecuador 214,451,060 Peru 761,067,479
El Salvador 226,695,351 Philippines3 3,690,543,252
Ethiopia 375,433,730 Poland 6,000,000
Fiji 4,800,000 Saudi Arabia 124,712,574
France 50,000,000 Siam (Thailand) 20,000,000
Greenland 100,000 Surianam (Netherlands Guiana) 21,195,000
Guatemala 7,835,000 Syria 7,350,000
Haiti 90,324,000 Venezuela 306,762,944
Blanks (planchets)
Coins
TOTAL
646,022,011
10,754,294,742
11,400,316,753
Notes
1 Listings marked “(Blanks)” were those countries who purchased blanks and not struck coins.
2 Coins produced prior to Hawaii becoming a state.
3 Includes coins struck at Manila Mint.

I expected to see the number of coins struck for the Philippines to be very high. What surprised me were the volume of coins struck for the Dutch East Indies. Combine that number with the total for the Netherlands, the U.S. Mint has struck over 2 billion coins for them.

Some of the countries on the list are interesting like striking coins for Cuba until 1960, two years into Fidel Castro’s reign. France was also a surprise until I looked at the data and noticed that the coins were struck in 1944, post World War II. In 1968 and 1969, the Philadelphia Mint struck over 85 million 10 cent coins for Canada. This must have been a capacity issue by the Royal Canadian Mint which I will investigate at another time.

NOTE: For the non-technical among the readers, data normalization the process of organizing the data and making it consistent for use in a database. It makes programming easier when all of the data is consistent. Unfortunately, the data on foreign coin production from the U.S. Mint is formatted so that it can easily be printed. I am trying to fix that.
Credits

  • Image of the U.S. Mint struck Canadian 10-cent coins courtesy of Canadian Numismatist Daniel W. Gosling. See this page for more information on the 1968-69 Canadian 10-cent coins.

Foreign coins at the U.S. Mint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2000 Leif Ericson Icelandic Krónur Commemorative Silver Proof (Obverse)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credits

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

It’s lucky

2016 Canada Lucky Four-Leaf Clover 1 oz Silver Coin

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

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

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

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

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

A silver sixpence in her shoe

1962 British Sixpence

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

Feng Shui

Feng Shui Coins

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

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

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

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

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

Numerology and currency

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

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

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

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

$1 Lucky 777 Note

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

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

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

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

Credits

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

How money was made in Ottawa in 1920

1920 Image of the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa

I am a firm believer that in order to understand how things evolved to the way they are today, we have to study the past. History teaches us lessons that we should learn from in order to not make the same mistakes and understand how to continue the evolution. This is why when I find old video showing how things were previously done, I watch it several times to see what I can learn about the past.

Take the video below, for example. It is titled “How money is Made” and appears to have been made for the Royal Canadian Mint by a company called Mogull Brothers Film Library in New York.

A quick bit of Internet research shows the company was founded and run by Charles Mogull (1898-1986) in Brooklyn, New York. Mogull Brothers were one of the early content creation pioneers. They would shoot a film on various subjects, edit them into smaller features, and sell the features to companies that would use them in larger compilations. Their content would be everything from features like the one they created for the Royal Canadian Mint, news events, interviews, show promotions, etc. and footage they would buy from photographers. The little information I could find on Mogull suggests that the company ceased operation in the late 1950s.

As for the film, the architecture of the original Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa looks like a castle. I believe I read somewhere that the Royal Canadian Mint still uses the building as storage. To see this marvelous looking structure and to visit the Mint appears to be a good excuse to visit the Canadian capital.

It is a silent film that the person who posted it to YouTube added music. Even with the music, you can see how film technology has changed. Rather than being able to overlay the wording over the image, a process called keying, printed cards are used to describe the content and spliced into the film.

At the moment the film shows the making of the dies, they show the dies of a 1920 Canadian one cent coin with the image of George V. It was under George V, shortly after his ascension to the throne, that the Parliament Act 1911 transferred a lot of governing power to the House of Commons and started the erosion of monarch’s power.

Although we are well into the industrial revolution, the mix of automation and human interaction is fascinating. For example, starting around the 8-minute mark, there is a man bouncing the coins listening for its distinctive ring that silver coins make when bounced on a hard surface. Nowadays, machines with sensors and computers check the coins for quality. Even circulating coins are rarely touched by human hands.

Finally, as a little comic relief, when the film shows the title cards, look in the lower right corner at the graphics they chose to use. The filmmaker tried to use the graphics to emphasize something about what you will see next.

Now enjoy the show:

Is numismatics really dying as a hobby?

Coin CollectionAlthough I owe you my impressions of the U.S. Mint’s Numismatic Forum, giving it the proper treatment I think it deserves has taken longer than expected. Rather, let me jump ahead to a recurring theme that takes over the conversation on the state of the hobby: Numismatics is a dying hobby of the old.

MYTH: Electronic transactions have taken over and hard currency is being used less.

FACT: Electronic transactions make up only 13-percent of retail purchases in the United States and 7.1-percent worldwide. Although the pundits like to point out that trillions of dollars change hands electronically, this includes non-consumer-related transactions such as bank transfers from one account to the other using the Automated Clearing House (ACH). If your paycheck is deposited directly into your account, it is transferred using the ACH system.

In real money, the International Monetary Fund estimates that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the total costs for all goods and services, to be $18,561,934,000,000 ($18.561 trillion). If 13-percent of that is electronic retail purchases, that means that $2,413,051,420,000 ($2.413 trillion) is made not using cash. What about the other $16.1 trillion dollars?

WMATA Smartrip CardDepending on which report you read, electronic transactions should grow at a rate of 8-10 percent annually. Even if the U.S. GDP is on a pace to grow by only 1.4-percent, adding about $250 billion in electronic transactions will not make a significant dent in the rate of electronic transactions.

Of course, the U.S. are not spending $16 trillion in cash transactions, but both the U.S. Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing are on course for record production years. Year-to-date, the U.S. Mint has produced $870,133,500 in circulating coins (not including half-dollar, dollar, and commemorative coins). For Fiscal Year 2015 (October 2014-September 2015) the BEP produced $166,302,000,000 ($166.302 trillion) in currency (not including $2 notes). Although some of the currency does replace worn notes (the BEP reports that 90-percent of $1 notes replace damaged notes) and a significant portion of the $100 notes are shipped to banks overseas, which represents quite a number of transactions.

Although electronic payment options make up 13-percent of all cashless transactions you have to remember that this market barely existed a few years ago. Even as banks and large retailers push to increase the number cashless transaction, there are problems that society faces when moving to a cashless retail system. The biggest problem is one of scale. The United States makes more money, spends more money, trades more money, and has more economic impact than any other country in the world. It is the world’s single largest economy with a strong capitalistic culture where most of the commerce is done with small businesses. Amongst all business, 55-percent of retail merchants are cash-only enterprises. They are too small to consider paying the 3-to-5 percent fees for using a credit card, known as the “swipe fee.” Of those that do take credit cards, at least 36-percent require a minimum purchase.

MYTH: The sharing economy is turning the economic world upside down changing the way we will pay for goods and services.

Sharing EconomyFACT: Human beings have been sharing and trading goods and services from the dawn of time. You killed an ox and have the hide left over. I have a lot of fruit I picked that I cannot eat. I will give you an amount of fruit and you give me the hide. Money was created as a medium of exchange when I did not want your fruit but wanted some of the goods someone else had. It was the pre-historic version of the three-way trade.

Some of us grew up trading. I remember trading a Mickey Mantle baseball card for a Jerry Koosman and two Donn Clendenon cards —one from Houston and the other from Montreal, just after the Mets traded for Clendenon. I thought I gave the kid a deal because 1969 turned out to be Mantle ’s last year.

What has changed since I made the trade? There has been a tremendous change in technology. While we set the price for the baseball cards we traded, now there are price guides, electronic markets, auctions, and online trading sites. Even in other categories, you might place a classified ad in a newspaper or an advertising rag like PennySaver or something like Uncle Henry’s in Maine. Now there are sites like Craigslist, AirBnB, Uber and Lyft that expands the market.

Pundits like to point to the sharing economy’s growth. The problem with the reports is that this version of the sharing economy has gone from nothing to something with a lot of press coverage. Anytime there is something shiny and new it grabs the attention of the public before they move on to the next distraction.

We share numismatics all of the time. We go to shows and display our collections for competitions. We enter registry sets to try to create a nice collection or even worst collection with the advent of “low ball” sets of coins of very low grades. We blog and read about other’s collections. We post finds to public forums and sometimes bring our collections to show off at club meetings.

Sometimes we even trade. Have you traded a few Barber dimes for a Barber half because you needed the half for your collection? How about three Morgan dollars for an elusive 1921-S Walking Liberty half-dollar?

The only difference between this and the new sharing economy is the lack of computer interface. Sometimes that human interaction is more fun than hiding behind a screen.

MYTH: People, especially millennials are not interested in collecting anything.

New Zealand Mint produces Monopoly coins for the Island nation of Niue. Did you pass Go?

New Zealand Mint produces Monopoly coins for the Island nation of Niue. Did you pass Go?

FACT: The Hobby and Toy industry is estimated to be a $20 billion business with an estimated growth of 1.6-percent over 2015. Not all of the emphasis is on electronic games and gadgets. One study found that more money is pledged for projects on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter than any other category.

One of the fastest growing sectors of this market is board games. While some games do incorporate electronics into their play, this new generation of gamers is finding that social gaming can be as much fun as their online endeavors.

Numismatics has never been a welcoming hobby for the mid-to-lower level collector. Dealers who are older may have a difficult time relating to younger and, frankly, a non-white demographic (see my post about one such incident here). It has created a culture of cranky older Caucasian collectors who think that their way is the only way to collect.

It is not just the dealers. Mainstream publishers put a lot of effort into creating references and collecting supplies that satisfy the market as being pushed by the dealers. Even worse, while the American Numismatic Association does recognize other aspects of numismatics, the fact that most of the Board of Governors are in the coin business with years of experiences in the coin business, that becomes the focus of the ANA.

It is time for the industry and its representative organization, the ANA, to remember that numismatics is more than coins. Currency, exonumia, scripophily, and even military medals are all part of numismatics. Concentrating on coins, especially coverage of high-value sales scares off many novices who may be willing to look at coins as a hobby. When I go out to schools in the Washington, D.C. metro area, I will bring enough Metro (the local transit system) tokens for everyone in the class. After buying a bulk bag of tokens, I have plenty to give away along with the story of how they were once used. But it allows me to show the students that numismatics is more than coins. I explain how I sit at junk boxes and at the tables of token dealers to find items from my hometown of New York. When I show them four pages of 2x2s with tokens and medals from New York and say that in three years I may have spent as much as $200, they seem to understand that you can have fun without spending a lot of money.

MYTH: We lost those who collected the state quarters forever.

State QuartersFACT: We also retained a lot of those collectors. Unfortunately, we damaged many others.

What made the state quarter program popular was that the way it was administered made everyone a stakeholder. Rather than dictating the design, states were encouraged to allow public participation to help decide on their quarter’s design. Contests and state pride went into the quarters that allowed each state to celebrate their home state. Ordinary people were brought into the process and ceremonies held in each state announcing the designs and on the release of the quarters.

Of course, the state quarters were also the hobby’s demise as television hucksters sold overpriced junk surrounding the sets. Colored coins and “special” sets were sold at high prices with the hint that they would only increase in value. When these people tried to cash in on their “investment” they found they overpaid, became angry, and may not come back. During this time, the ANA was nearly non-existent in the education process as it was undergoing its own internal political battles. Without someone to help stand up for the hobby to help educate the public, the industry suffered.

Although the ANA has improved in many areas, it continues to be about coins with a slant toward classic (pre-1965) and rare coins. The only modern coins that seem to get any amount of respect from the community are commemoratives, bullion, and errors. With the so-called modern era being 52 years old, it is time for the old and crusty of the numismatics industry to either get on board with that it is new to the new collectors or maybe it is time to consider retirement.

The lesson I have learned in numismatics as well in my business of buying and selling collectibles is that in order to expand any hobby it has to be made into something personal. Sports collectibles sell memories of your heroes. Space collectibles sell the mystique of outer space. Automobilia seems to have a fascination for a lot of people even as what was considered modern nameplates like Plymouth and Pontiac have gone the way of DeSoto and American Motors.

Hobbies have to also be interesting. Is it really interesting to collect a series of all of the same coins where the only difference is the date or mintmark? Again, why does a collection have to be biased for coins? Can someone have fun collecting So-called dollars, transportation tokens, or even unusual coins? I think about how much fun Charmy Harker might have had to put together her award-winning exhibit Penny Potpourri with things made out of pennies. If you have not seen her exhibit, you can find images here. It has to be one of the best exhibits I have ever seen because it is unusual. I like things that are different.

In order to get people interested in the hobby, you cannot introduce it to them by showing a 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent or a 1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo nickel as an example. Not only are these coins difficult to find and less affordable, but not everyone may be interested. I like to use my two-pages of 2×2 holders with a set of transportation tokens with every letter of the alphabet cut out of the center, except “Q” and “Z,” along with some that have shapes. When I tell someone I paid around $50 for the initial investment and can buy most tokens for less than $5 each, they want to know how they could get started.

Here are some ideas to help you start a new collection. You can only use these if you do so by recruiting a friend or relative who is not currently part of the hobby:

  • If you want to start with coins, go find a folder of currently circulating coins and see who can fill their folder first only from pocket change. I recommend either Lincoln Memorial cents, which can be interesting finding S-mint circulating cents on the east coast, or Jefferson nickels (for fun, use Whitman Jefferson Nickel folder #2).
  • Another idea for collecting coins is to make a collection based on a theme. Ideas for themes can be the year you were born, coins with an animal like buffalos, or create a type set that represents some of the subtle changes in a long series like Lincoln cents.
  • There are more to exonumia than transportation tokens. If your state issued tax tokens in the early part of the 20th century then how about finding examples for a collection. Tokens are still being created for gaming, casino chips, parking tokens, or store tokens the pre-cursor to paper coupons. Advertising tokens can be a fun way to collect your hometown. Tokens with themes, shapes, and cutouts can be a lot of fun.
  • Go beyond tokens to encased coins. Encased coins have been used as a private commemorative, advertising, and I even found one for an electric supply company that promised money off if you returned it to their store.
  • You can collect elongated cents, also called squished pennies, from almost anywhere. Recently, I found a machine in the Philadelphia Mint’s gift shop. For 51-cents, each I was able to buy two souvenirs. Collecting elongateds also helps you keep the record of where you have been.

And I didn’t mention currency or scripophily. One cool idea would be to collect stock certificates representing what you might find on a Monopoly game board.

If you have other suggestions, send it as a comment!

Now go out and start a collection. Recruit a friend and do it together.

Selection of my New York collection

Credits

BNote sings new praises for Baltimore

Last April, the Baltimore Green Currency Association, sponsor of the BNote, initiated an Indiegogo campaign to fund their next issue that would feature significant women in Baltimore history. Although the campaign fell a little short, an anonymous donor funded more than $10,000 of the balance to print the currency.

Notes are a local currency that can be used at participating businesses in and around Baltimore. Currently, there are over 230 businesses accepting the BNote for goods and services. Consumers can receive BNotes as change for a transaction or may visit one of the official cambios (money exchange locations) to exchange dollars for BNotes. For every $10 that is exchanged for BNotes, you will receive a 10-percent bonus, which means if you exchange $10 you will receive BN11. You can also exchange BNotes for dollars at a reverse rate (receive $10 for every BN11 in BNotes).

The first BNotes were issued in April 2011 featuring the designs of Fredrick Douglas on the BN1 note and Edgar Allan Poe on the BN5 note. The reverse of the notes features a Baltimore oriole (the bird, not a ball player) on the $1 BNote and a raven on the reverse of the $5 BNote. For this new issue, Douglass and Poe remain on the note but the design changed to incorporate the vertical bars of the Calvert coat of arms that is incorporated in the Maryland flag.

The new BN10 and BN20 notes are similar in design with new colors on the background. Bea Gaddy is featured on the front of the BN10 and the Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly, the official Maryland State Insect, on the reverse. Lillie May Carroll Jackson appears on the front of the BN20 note and a Blue Crab, the official Maryland State Crustacean, on the reverse.

Bea Gaddy was known as the Mother Teresa of Baltimore. A single mother of five who ended up in baltimore in 1964, she was discovered by a Baltimore attorney who encouraged her to go to college. Gaddy earned her bachelor’s degree in human services from Antioch University in 1977.

Gaddy saw the need to help others and joined the East Baltimore Children’s fund where she used her own home as a distribution point for clothing and food for the poor. She founded a homeless shelter which eventually became the Bea Gaddy Family Center, which is still in operation today.

In 1981, using the $290 she won on a 50-cents lottery ticket, she bought enough food to feed 39 neighbors and eventually opened a community kitchen for the needy. From Thanksgiving dinners to opening furniture bank refurbishing used furniture and rehabbing abandoned row houses, Gaddy was a catalyst to help the poor in Baltimore. Eventually, she became an ordained minister to perform marriages and hold funerals at no cost to the families.

Gaddy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998. With the cancer in remission, Gaddy ran for Baltimore City Council in 1999 and won. Unfortunately, the cancer returned and she died in October 2001 at the age of 68. Even though Bea Gaddy is gone, her family and friends continue to help the poor in Baltimore using the same love and compassion Bea showed throughout her life.

Dr. Lillie May Carroll Jackson was born in Baltimore in 1889 and is consider the mother of the civil rights movement. From 1935 through 1970, Jackson was the president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP and at the forefront of nearly every fight to end Maryland’s Jim Crow laws. Through her leadership, the Baltimore NAACP sued to remove the color barrier from admissions to the University of Maryland Law School, won cases to force Baltimore public schools to grant equal pay to white and black teachers, and was fundamental to having Baltimore to be the first school system south of the Mason-Dixon line to integrate their schools following the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Jackson fought for equal pay and fair employment practices even though Maryland Governor Theodore McKeldin (R) was once quoted as saying, “I’d rather have the devil after me than Mrs. Jackson. Give her what she wants.” In the end, Jackson won most of the fights.

She is also credited with playing critical roles in the passage of federal civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

Jackson died from a heard attack in 1975. After she died, her will called for her Baltimore home to be turned into a civil rights museum. The museum opened in 1978 with memorabilia from Jackson’s life and documents chronicling her life’s work. It was the only museum named after a woman and the only civil rights museum in Maryland. The museum closed in the 1990s because it was too difficult to maintain as a private facility. The museum was transferred to Morgan University who refurbished the building and reopened it on June 11, 2016.

As part of the Indigogo campaign, I selected the option to receive the a full set of the second series BNotes with matching serial numbers. The notes I received, which feels like they were printed on heavy stock paper, a type of paper my wife said was “resumé” paper. All four notes feature serial number BN00055. For all you liar’s poker players, I call a full house.

What do you mean I can’t call a full house?!

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