Detecting Counterfeits: Specific Gravity

This is part 4 of a 6 part series

Specific gravity is a way to determine the density of an object—or in this case, a coin. The denser an object is, the heavier it feels. In plain language, the density of an object describes how many molecules are packed together in the area. Since gold is one of the densest materials, gold feels heavier than it looks.

Basic illustration of measuring for Specific Gravity.

Basic illustration of measuring for Specific Gravity.

Specific gravity is defined as a ratio of the density of a substance to the density of a standard. In most cases, that standard is purified water. Calculating the specific gravity requires weighing the water and the coin suspended in the water to get the values to complete the calculation. If you are afraid of advanced math or it seems too much work, then you may want to skip this test.

To do this test, you need a scale accurate to 1/100th gram, distilled water, a clean container to hold the water, and some way to suspend the coin in the water that does not add to its weight. One way to suspend the coin would be to create a suspension system using sewing thread to make a harness that will hold the coin parallel to the scale, and something to hold up the coin. If you use something other than thread that would add weight and displace more water, you will have to account for the harness. A wooden dowel can be used and laid across two stacks of books or bricks that are of the same height.

First, weigh the coin before doing anything else to get a reference “dry” weight. Then place the coin in the harness, suspend it over the scale, and with the empty container on the scale. Note where the coin sits in the container then remove the coin. Fill the container with distilled water so that it would be about a half-inch higher than the coin then tare the scale—set the weight so that it reads zero.

Now take the suspension system and carefully suspend the coin in the water. When the coin settles in the water, check the side facing down for air bubbles. If there are air bubbles, carefully tilt the coin using the thread to release the bubbles. One way to do this is to grab the threads of the harness with tweezers.

When the coin is still, the weight showing on the scale is weight of the water that was displaced when you suspended the coin in the water. Then you can calculate the specific gravity of the coin by dividing the dry weight by the weight of the displaced water (or dry weight/wet weight). Now you have the specific gravity of the coin.

This calculation may be deceiving because the coin may not be a solid value. An additional calculation would have to be made to account for the other metals in the coin, or you can search the Internet to find tables of the expected specific gravity for the coin you are testing.

Once you have the specific gravity, it should be within .02 percent of the reference value. If it is out of that range, the coin is likely a counterfeit. One way counterfeiters try to fool buyers is to use a lead-based core and plate the coin with the metal. Since lead is lighter than gold and heavier than silver, measuring the specific gravity will tell you if the metal used is the right one.

The following is a good video showing how you can do a basic home test for specific gravity:

Basic Reference

To help you with your tests, the following table will help you with the specific gravity of United States coins:

Coin Type Alloy Specific Gravity
American Platinum Eagle Bullion .9995 PI 21.40
All 24-karat gold coins .9999 Au 19.32
American Gold Eagle Bullion .9167 Au, .30 Ag, .533 Cu 17.45
Early Gold Eagles .9167 Au, .0833 Ag+Cu 17.45
Gold Coins .900 Au, .100 Cu 17.16
Classic Head Gold Coins .8992 Au, .1008 Au 17.14
American Silver Eagle Bullion .999 Ag 10.50
Silver Coins .900 Ag, .100 Cu 10.34
Early Silver Coins .8924 Ag, .1076 Cu 10.32
Silver Trime .75 Ag, .25 Cu 10.11
Silver Clad Halves .400 Ag, .600 Cu 9.53
War Nickels .56 Cu, .35 Ag, .09 Mn 9.25
Clad Coinage .75 Cu, .25 Ni 8.92
Early Copper Coins 1.00 Cu 8.92
Early Small Cents .88 Cu, .12 Ni 8.92
Bronze Cents .95 Cu, .05 Zn+Sn 8.84
Later Bronze Cents .95 Cu, .05 Zn 8.84
Modern Small Dollars .77 Cu, .12 Zn, .07 Mn, .04 Ni 8.78
Steel Cents Zinc-plated steel 7.80
Post 1982 Cents .975 Zn, .025 Cu 7.17

Chemical symbols used:

  • Ag:  Silver
  • Au:  Gold
  • Cu:  Copper
  • Mn:  Manganese
  • Ni:  Nickel
  • Pl:  Platinum
  • Sn:  Tin
  • Zn:  Zinc

In the next installment, we look at the visual inspection of currency.

Credits

Detecting Counterfeits: Measurements

This is part 3 of a 6 part series

Check the Coin’s Weight

German “Bergische” Coin Balance and Weights 1765 by Johann Phillip Herbertz.

German “Bergische” Coin Balance and Weights 1765 by Johann Phillip Herbertz.

Like your visual inspection, checking a coin’s weight is not a definitive answer as to weather a coin is genuine or not, but it can be an indicator. In order to check a coin’s weight, you should use a scale that measures weight in grams and is accurate to 1/100th of a gram. If you have a scale accurate to one-tenth of a gram, you can still use the scale, but be careful with the conclusions you come up with.

You will also need an authoritative reference that lists the weight of the coin you are weighing.

Weigh the coin. If you put anything on the scale other than the coin, such as a lint-free cloth to protect the coin, make sure you zero-out the scale before weighing the coin—called setting the tare. Your coin should be no more than one percent heavier than its reference weight and no lighter than 2-3 percent lighter for wear.

While the U.S. Mint has tried to be precise in making their coins, early attempts have been less than perfect. I have seen genuine circulated Large cents that have been heavier than the reference weight. Also, it is difficult to know how much of the coin is really worn. A coin that is too light may be a sign that the coin is made of a lighter metal, indicating a counterfeit.

Measure the Diameter and Thickness

Digital caliper measuring a €2 coin.

Digital caliper measuring a €2 coin.

Measuring the coin can be one test to tell if it is genuine. The best tool to use to measure a coin is a caliper rule. A caliper has hinged legs and looks a bit like the compass you might have used in high school to draw precise circles. A caliper rule slides and has a jaw on one end where to place the coin. Most of the time, both types are called just calipers however, the caliper rule is easier to read and handle for measuring coins.

Caliper rules can either be made using a mechanical dial or a digital readout with the rule marked to use a visual inspection. I prefer using a digital caliper that is accurate to at least one-tenth of a millimeter.

When you consult a reference to find the dimensions of a coin, you will find that most of the dimensions are in millimeters. It is very important that you remember this and use this scale when performing your own measurements.

To measure the diameter of the coin, hold the coin in your hand—wearing a cotton glove is optional—and make sure the claw end of the caliper fits snugly on the widest area of the coin. Once the measurement is set, you can read the measurement on the dial or digital display.

Do the same thing to measure the thickness.

A genuine coin will be within one percent of the diameter and the thickness will be 1-2 percent of the documented thickness depending on wear. However, this may not be a good test for early copper coins—Large cents and half cents. While congress and the U.S. Mint set standards for these coins, the lack of domestic suppliers forced them to have to buy the blanks from companies in England. Although specifications were provided, suppliers did not follow those standards properly. Many blanks were more like the British penny than based on the U.S. standard. You may find that some early large and half cents are larger in diameter or thicker than the information you find in some references.

Remember, wear and minting conditions can cause variations in these dimensions. It should be one part of the over all assessment.

Magnetism

If a coin is not made of an iron alloy, such as steel, then it should not be attracted to a magnet. Currently, all U.S. coins except for the 1943 Steel cents should not be attracted to a magnet. If the coin is attracted to a magnet, it might be made from a plated steel blank that was made to look like a genuine coin.

Counterfeiting technology has improved to where the counterfeiters are not using steel. Since there may be older counterfeits available on the market, this is a good test to find them.

Although the tests that are being discussed are nondestructive, for lesser coins or bullion, another test that can be used for silver coins is the magnetic slide test. The slide test can scratch your coin and is not recommended for those expensive collectibles.

The slide test uses a small slide that sits at a 45-degree angle from your surface and is made from a rare-earth magnet. Place the coin at the top of the slide and let if fall. If it is a genuine silver coin, it will slowly fall down the slide as if there was resistance. A counterfeit coin made without silver or that may be silver plated will either freely fall down the slide or slow slightly. If the coin is made of a magnetic metal, it will stick to the slide.

This happens because silver is a diamagnetic metal. A diamagnetic metal repels the magnetic field in a way that causes the field to surround the metal. The magnetic field causes a temporary charge to the silver that prevents the field from being repelled as in the case when you try to touch like-poles of a bar magnet. For the sliding coin, imagine that the magnetic field from the slide is forming an envelope around the coin as a type of electronic parachute slowing its fall.

Neodymium magnets are popular choices for all sorts of projects including those that use diamagnetic metals to show an object floating over a surface.

One problem with the slide test is that copper is also a diamagnetic metal. While copper’s diamagnetic properties are not as strong as silver’s, a silver-plated copper coin can fool the slide test. A test that shows the expected behavior but is not correct is called a false positive result.

Acoustic Ring

I remember when I was young and I learned how to rub the lip of a crystal drinking glass to make it sing. I also learned that this only worked for crystal and not the drinking glasses we used every day. It was amazing to try filling glasses with different amounts of water to make different sounds. Then I became discouraged when I saw someone play music using many crystal glasses on a variety show.

Gold and silver coins make a distinctive ring when struck. Wearing a cotton glove, balance the coin on the tip of your finger and strike it with a similar coin and listen to the ring. Wearing a glove prevents the oils on your finger from damaging the coin and prevents your skin from dulling the sound. Compare what you hear using a similar coin of the same type and similar wear. Sometimes this is called the “ping test.”

Of course conditions can change the sound, but if the sounds were drastically different, it would be a reason to question the coin’s authenticity. If this test is another failure amongst all of the others you conducted, you likely found a counterfeit coin.

In the next installment, we discuss a more complicated test called measuring for specific gravity.

Credits

Detecting Counterfeits: Visual Inspection

This is part 2 of a 6 part series:

An example of a Morgan Dollar cut in half to match a date with a mintmark to have the coin appear something it is not.

An example of a Morgan Dollar cut in half to match a date with a mintmark to have the coin appear something it is not.

Any coin may be subject to counterfeiting if it has value and the counterfeiter thinks that money can be made on the transaction. Most counterfeit coins entering the United States attempt to recreate older collectible coins.

Although laws are being proposed to help combat the problem, you should take the time to examine the coin, especially if you question its authenticity. Remember, none of these tests are fool proof and failing any one does not mean you have a counterfeit coin. You have to take all the evidence in its entirety to determine if the coin is real or not.

Before you look at the coin, you should be very familiar with the type or have a version of the coin you know to be authentic to compare with it. Although it would be easier of the coin was not in a grading service holder for visual comparison, at least you have a reasonable certainty that an encapsulated coin is authentic.

It helps to have a good magnifier to use to inspect your coin and cotton gloves to prevent the oils from your skin sticking to your prized collectibles.

Orientation

As you look at the coin, flip it over and look at both the obverse and reverse. How is the alignment of the coin? If you are looking at United States coins, you should be able turn it over and the reverse are in the opposite direction of the obverse. This is called “coin alignment.” Some countries produce coins in what is called “medal alignment” where the top of the obverse and reverse designs are in the same direction.

Just because a coin’s alignment is off does not mean the coin is a counterfeit. It is possible that the coin is genuine but was struck by misaligned dies to cause this error. Otherwise, keep the information in the back of your mind as you examine the rest of the coin.

Examining the Edge

The edge of the coin is also known as the coin’s third side and the most underestimated area to look. Check the edge for a possible seam that could be the sign of a counterfeit that was cast in a mold rather than struck by a press. Also look for filing or other marks that would suggest the seams were smoothed.

Detecting counterfeit £1 coins

Detecting counterfeit £1 coins, the genuine coin has edge lettering (left), the counterfeit does not.

What does the edge look like? Is the coin supposed to have reeds? While it may not be practical to count the reeds, you can check the formation against a similar coin. Usually, the reeds are not as sharp on a counterfeit, they appear more rounded, and the overall density of reeds may be less than on a genuine coin. While mistakes happen, the number of reeds created by the collar in the coining press during the striking process is standard for each coin. If there is something wrong or the coin does not have reeds although it is supposed to be reeded, the coin is likely to be counterfeit.

With the recent rash of counterfeit British £1 coins, we learned that an easy way to tell the fakes from the real coins is to check the edge. If the coin’s edge does not include lettering, the coin is likely a counterfeit.

Surface Examination

Another clue to look for is if there seems to be a surface added to a coin. It will appear like someone put a veneer on top of a metal core. Coins should appear to be solid disks of metal. Even bimetallic coins look and feel like solid coins, even though they are made of two different parts. If you see this veneer-like effect, it is likely that the coin is a counterfeit.

Does the coin supposed to have edge lettering? Remember, some early varieties have coins that have edge lettering, while a later variety has reeds. Make sure you know which version of the coin you are examining and if the lettering on the edge matches the style of a genuine example. Collectors of Presidential dollars know that the lack of edge lettering can be an error by the U.S. Mint and not the sign of a counterfeit.

Some foreign coins have small tooth-like extensions on the surface near the coin’s edge called denticles. While the look of denticles could be different as the die wears, denticles on genuine coins have a sharp, consistent design. Denticles on counterfeit coins may be rounder, more inconsistent, and less dense on the coin—similar to reeded edges. This is where having a good knowledge of the coin you are examining will help you tell the difference between worn denticles produced by worn dies and a counterfeit coin.

Examine the legends and other features of the coin. Do the fonts look right? Is the image proper? Are these elements in the right places? While mistakes happen, it is extremely rare, if not impossible, for many of these elements to be off because of the way all mints make the dies. If the features are consistently incorrect, then the coin is likely to be a counterfeit.

What does the surface look like? Is it dull or have a dull appearance even though the coin is supposed to be of a higher grade? Are the features sharp or do they look rounded? Does the relief of the design look right or is it too flat? If the coin is supposed to be of a higher grade, the sharpness of the detail is important. Although there are coins that were not struck very well, called weak strikes, they will have sharper details than most counterfeit coins.

Click image to read my reviews of PCGS Photograde

Click image to read my reviews of PCGS Photograde

It is also important to understand how a coin wears to know whether the appearance is dull from being circulated or counterfeit. All coins show a specific pattern of wear, and it is important to understand your coin’s wearing patterns. There are several visual reference guides that can help you in this area including PCGS Photograde which is available online and via an app for your mobile device.

On some coins you can see the evidence of the metal flow from the striking process. For some coins, it gives the coin a distinct look—like large silver dollars whose surface gives what is described as a “cartwheel effect” when examined under bright light. Be careful with this test because a lower grade coin has had its surface worn and will not show the cartwheel effect.

If the coin is a cast counterfeit, the surface may look bubbly. While there are examples of planchet (the coin blank) errors where the surface may bubble, these are usually in a small area and looks like small pimples on the coin. A bubbly surface from a cast coin may look similar to the gelatin mold you made where air became trapped inside.

Another sign of a counterfeit coin would be the showing of a different metal under a worn area. If the coin is supposed to be silver but a different color is showing through on a worn area, then it is likely that the coin was plated to give the appearance of silver but was made of a less expensive metal.

Check for Alterations

Finally, check for date and mintmark altering. On a genuine coin, the date and the mint mark looks like it is part of the coin and appears to be “growing” out of the surface. On a counterfeit coin, there are many ways to alter these elements by carving the date, called tooling, or physically cutting the elements from another coin and attaching it to a real coin. This type of alteration is common to change or add a mintmark to a coin.

Use your magnifier to look carefully at the date and mintmark. If there are too many sharp edges or looks damaged from being cut, I would be wary of the coin. Look at the mintmark and the potential grime around it. Does the placement of that grime look like it could have been accumulated over the years of circulation? Or does the pattern of grime not look natural and could be covering up a possible alteration?

Also, know the difference between altered coins and genuine coins where the date was altered in the dies or the mintmark was repunched. Before express travel and fast package shipments, there were times when a branch mint needed to alter dies from another mint or alter dates on the dies so they can continue to strike coins. Rather than filling the die and punching the new date, the coiner would use a punch with the proper number and try to strike it in a way to eliminate most of the previous date. Repunched dates, also called over dates, were more common for coins struck outside of Philadelphia, but have happened in Philadelphia. When you see a catalog listing about a coin with a repunched date, it is written as the date of the coin followed by a forward slash followed by the digits that was previously on the coin. For example, in 1942, the Philadelphia Mint accidentally pressed a 1942 hub with 1941 dies creating the 1942/1 over date that were used in Philadelphia and Denver. Finding one in the lowest grade is worth a lot of money giving counterfeiters a good reason for counterfeiters to try to make one.

If you find a coin that looks like one mintmark is on top of another, or a mintmark looks doubled or tripled, it may be because it is a repunched mintmark. In addition to branch mint sharing dies, dies were shipped from Philadelphia without mintmarks. It was the job of the chief coiner in each branch mint to punch the mintmark into the dies. Sometimes the punch moves when struck giving it a doubled or tripled look. Other times a mintmark filled on the dies and another mintmark is punched over. Re-punched mintmarks are written the same as over dates in the catalogs.

One of the more famous re-punched mintmarks is the 1900-O/CC Morgan dollar. In this case, after the Carson City Mint was closed (CC mintmark), the reverse dies were shipped to the New Orleans Mint (O mintmark). The dies were filed and filled so that the “O” mintmark could be punched on the reverse but whoever did the work did not completely remove the “CC” mintmark. Looking under magnification, you can see the shadow of the original “CC” mintmark that was on the die.

Re-punched dates and mintmarks occurred more often than the U.S. Mint would like to admit. If the coin you are examining has one of these errors, check a reference to see if the it is known. While not finding it in a reference does not mean the coin is counterfeit, it is enough evidence to question whether the coin is genuine of counterfeit.

In the next installment, we discuss what to look for in weight and measurements.

Credits

Detecting Counterfeits

Detecting Counterfeits

This is first article of a 6 part series:

Historic, genuine 1803 Draped Bust design U.S. silver dollars in Very Fine condition are currently valued at about $3,000.  This counterfeit 1803-dated dollar was recently offered in a Hong Kong flea market for less than $3.

This counterfeit 1803-dated dollar was recently offered in a Hong Kong flea market for less than $3.

Counterfeiting has been a problem since the beginning of money. It has been tried by people of all skills and even tried by nation states. The quality of the counterfeit depends on the talent of the counterfeiter, the amount of time and resources the counterfeiter has to create the counterfeit, and their access to the technology.

There has been a rise in counterfeiting of both collectible and circulating coins. The biggest source of counterfeit collectable coins has come from China. In some cases the counterfeiters had purchased the presses and other machines from the U.S. Mint and other government mints after they were replaced with more modern machines through government surplus sales, providing a supply of machines that could strike high quality coins.

To add to the problem, at one time the U.S. Mint did not fully deface used dies after its useful life. Rather, they would carve an “X” in the surface leaving large areas of the design showing. These cancelled dies made it out of the various branch mints as souvenirs and have been available on the open market. Counterfeiters have purchased these dies, mostly Morgan dollars, and use them as the basis to create their own dies that have fooled even the most experience numismatist.

Today, the U.S. Mint grinds the design completely off of all cancelled dies.

Starting in 2010, Great Britain began having problems with counterfeit £1 coins entering circulation. Even though the British law enforcement community has explained how to detect counterfeit £1 coins, they continue to fool the public. Although arrests were made in the rural areas of Great Britain in 2012, it is estimated that one in 30 £1 coins in circulation are counterfeit.

In 2017, the Royal Mint will issue a bi-metallic 12-sided £1 coin with anti-counterfeiting micro-engraving and milled edges to deter counterfeiting.

Detecting counterfeit &pound coins, the genuine coin has edge lettering (left), the counterfeit does not.

Detecting counterfeit &pound coins, the genuine coin has edge lettering (left), the counterfeit does not.

In 2017 the Royal Mint will issue a bi-metalic 12-sided coin with microprinting to combat counterfeiting.

In 2017 the Royal Mint will issue a bi-metalic 12-sided coin with microprinting.

Throughout the rest of Europe, they have been fighting against counterfeit €2 coins. Counterfeiters in Greece and Turkey had access to surplus presses and other material to strike a coin that looked very similar to standard €2 with the standard Greece reverse. News reports speculate that the coins were made with stolen material.

Counterfeit €2 coins were found in Italy.

Counterfeit €2 coins were found in Italy.

The problem with the counterfeit Greek €2 coins is that the lighter metals and presses they use cause the coins to separate. The €2 coin is a bimetallic coin with a yellow center made of nickel-brass and a silver-colored ring made of copper-nickel. If the press cannot strike the coin with enough force to fuse the inner core with the outer ring, the parts will separate. The counterfeit €2 coins will separate.

To prevent counterfeiting, the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM) has introduced laser micro-engraving to their new $1 (Loonie) and $2 (Toonie) coins. On the $1 coin, a circle above the image of the common loon on the reverse is micro-engraved with an image of a maple leaf. On the reverse of the $2 coin, there are two circular micro-engraved images of a maple leaf and a virtual image using an angled design at the top of the design. The RCM hopes these fine details added to the Loonie and Toonie will prevent them from being counterfeited.

New anti-counterfeiting features of the Canadian dollar coin.

New anti-counterfeiting features of the Canadian dollar coin.

New anti-counterfeiting features of the Canadian two-dollar coin.

New anti-counterfeiting features of the Canadian two-dollar coin.

The U.S. Mint does not have plans or the legal mandate to include anti-counterfeiting measures on coins. This may be because the dollar coin does not circulate in the United States and the cost of counterfeiting lower denominations are too expensive to be profitable. However, that does not mean that it will not be a possible to profitably counterfeit United States coins in the future.

There are ways to do your own testing to see whether the coin you are questioning is real or counterfeit. In the next installment, we discuss what to think about when visually examining your collectible coins.

Credits

  • Image of counterfeit 1803 dollar courtesy of Donn Perlman.
  • Image of counterfeit UK pound coin courtesy of BBC News
  • Image of the new £1 coin to be issued in 2017 courtesy of the Royal Mint
  • Image of counterfeit €2 coin courtesy of The Daily Mail
  • Images of the Canadian coins courtesy of the Royal Canadian Mint

Can you open the safe?

Safe CrackingThose who follow my Twitter feed (@coinsblog) will notice that I have been posting links to stories about how the current Libyan government is trying to break into the vault once controlled by Muammar Gaddafi. The vault is supposed to have gold and silver coins estimated at $184 million. Libya is desperate to access this cache that the central bank hired professional safecrackers to open the vault.

We can learn a lesson from this story. Aside from being someone that others want to terminate with extreme prejudice, what will happen with your collection and other protected collectibles should something happen to you?

Do you have a safe deposit box or a safe in your house where you keep your collection? What is your plan should something happen? You don’t have to be of the Baby Boomer generation to worry about what would happen. Even before I was eligible to be a member of AARP, I would ask what their contingency was if I was hit by the proverbial cross-town bus?

Even though the response was a nervous laugh and an exclamation that a lot of institutional knowledge would be lost if I was hit by a bus, the fact remains that even though I am healthy I cannot predict what could happen.

What would happen at home if something would happen to me? When considering both my electronic life and my collection, I had to think about how to tell my survivors what to do with everything. Electronically, I have a contingency plan that would allow my survivors to access files, websites, and other assets. For my collection, I have it documented and instructions as to what to do.

Although you would like to live on or help your survivors, the fact remains that not only do they not have your interests but will not know what to do with that album of Morgan dollars you spent years collecting.

There are so many consideration that you may want to consult one of the books on the market about selling a coin collection. While the books were written to guide those who inherit coin collections, it will give those planning for their estate what your heirs will have to deal with when the time times.

The two books you should read are:

Failure to plan is a plan to fail. Give your heirs a break and come up with a plan that they can follow to take care of your collection when you cannot.

Even more dictionary updates

DictionaryBehind the scenes I am working on a few projects including the ability for collectors to have access to my dictionary wordlist where ever they are. I will have an announcement in a few weeks but in the mean time I am collecting reference information and finding words missing from my Numismatic Dictionary. After a while, I will reformat my list and add them.

Here is today’s list of new words:

My word of the day is exergue. An exergue is the area below the main design that is separated by a line and often bears the date. An example of an exergue would be on the reverse of the Buffalo nickel or the obverse of the Standing Liberty quarter. I forgot what I was reading when I came across the word discussing the differences in the Type 1 and Type 2 Buffalo nickels.

Reverse of a 1913 Type 2 Buffalo nickel showing the "FIVE CENTS" in the exergue.

Reverse of a 1913 Type 2 Buffalo nickel showing the “FIVE CENTS” in the exergue.

Obverse of a 1917-S Type 1 Standing Liberty Quarter with the date in the exergue.

Obverse of a 1917-S Type 1 Standing Liberty Quarter with the date in the exergue.

It is always good to learn something new!

If you think there is a mistake or a word has been left out please contact me and let me know. Thank you!

Coin images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Video for all collecting kids

How Coins Are MadeSince the beginning of the year, the U.S. Mint has been issuing a lot of video content primarily videos regarding the launch of America the Beautiful Quarters coins and B-Roll video. This past week, the U.S. Mint issued a new “How Coins Are Made… For Kids!” video as part of their H.I.P. (History In your Pocket) Pocket Change educational program.

As opposed to prior videos, rather than have the entire video animated, it uses a combination of animation and the B-Roll video the U.S. Mint published last month. It is done in a way that tells a very coherent story without being cheesy. Everyone will enjoy this video, even if they are just a kid at heart.

If you have an interest in good videos that have been issued by the U.S. Mint you should subscribe to their YouTube Channel. Some of the recent videos that I recommend include an interview with Cassie McFarland, design contest winner for the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin; B-Roll showing the sculptor-engravers at the Philadelphia Mint; Episode 1 of their “My Favorite” where they interview San Francisco employees about their favorite coins; and “Maryland Quarter in Space” interview with William Krawczewicz, designer of the Maryland State Quarter after Maryland and Florida coins traveled aboard the New Horizons spacecraft.

What is B-Roll

“B-Roll” is a television term for background video that is interspersed within a story. It received its name from the days of editing video segments on film where the primary film that contained the story with the reporter talking was on the “A” or primary roll of film. During the story, there would be other elements cut in with background and other video that was on another reel called the B-Roll. The term has survived through the video and now digital era. Modern B-Roll is now called stock footage.

Pounds, shillings, pence and the power of 12

Collection of old pre-decimal coins from during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

Collection of old pre-decimal coins from during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

As a collector of Maryland colonial currency, I was reading about the differences with exchange rates and the problems the colonies faced when they started to issue paper currency. While reading the references, the amounts did not make sense until I figured out the old British monetary system. Once that was figured out, it was easier to understand the disagreements between the colonies about the values each was expecting their currencies to maintain.

A very short, simplistic, and incomplete history begins with the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror. His invasion of England from Normandy on the northern shores of what is France today in September of 1066 and coronation on December 25, 1066, marks the birth of what would become England.

During the next nearly 50 years, William I (1066-87), William II (1087-1100), and Henry I (1100-35), most of the emphasis has been to finish the conquest and consolidate the ruling under the single crown. The Treaty of Alton (1102) and the subsequent conquest of Normandy (1106) was capable of consolidating power and allowed Henry to attempt to create a sustainable government. Insurgencies from Whales, Rebellion of 1115-20 and the crisis of succession, where is his wife Matilda had not conceived a child, did not allow Henry to finish his work by his death in 1135.

£sd Symbolism

The pound symbol is a fancied “L” based on the Latin librae for weight or balance. It was intended that the 240 pence could be placed on a balance to weigh one pound sterling. The shilling, adapted from the Latin solidus, for solid, was the primary coin of commerce represented with an “s.” For the pence, it used the “d” from the Latin denarius, the smallest Roman coin. Multiple denominations are separated with a slash. For example, 1 shilling can be written as “1/-” while 2 shilling and 3 pence might be written as “2/3d.”

Henry I was succeeded by Stephen, the grandson of William I, with much contention. The problem was that Stephen’s younger brother, Henry of Blois, was embraced by Henry I and subsequently by the Normans. The subsequent civil war lead to a period called “The Anarchy” (1135-1154). During that time Stephen tried to continue with Henry’s reforms but was not able to hold on to the control of the government. Toward the end of his reign, Stephen recognized Henry as the heir to the throne.

With a peace treaty negotiated by Stephen, there was a new peace during the coronation of Henry II in 1154. During the peace, Henry II continued to consolidate power of Norman and Anjou (today this is northern France) and reconstructed the English government.

As part of his reconstruction, Henry II decided to base the currency on the troy pound. The troy pound was based on the Roman libra, which was the basis of weight that England accustomed with. In order to make the money more acceptable, it was divided into 20 units which were originally called testoons. Later, it was renamed as the shilling. As an attempt to make the testoon (shilling) the major unit of currency which corresponded to the Roman solidus. As the solidus was divided into 12 denarii, the testoon was divided further into 12 units with one called a penny and multiples called pence. This was to keep current with the current standard that a pound sterling weight 240 pennyweights.

Early on, it was clear that pence was not small enough of a denomination and was further divided into four parts, two halfpennies or four farthings (quarter pennies). This division was used because the one pennyweight coin representing a penny could not be cut further to represent smaller denominations. Farthings were further divided into smaller denominations using tokes until coins were first used in the 17th century.

To understand this system, I came up with the following table.

Denomination Years struck Equivalents Relative to a Pound Nicknames
Quarter farthing 1839-1853, 1868 1/16 d (16 = 1 penny) 1/3840 pound  
Third farthing 1827-1913 1/12 d (12 = 1 penny) 1/2880 pound  
Half farthing a 1828-1856 1/8 d (8 = 1 penny) 1/1920 pound  
Farthing 1860-1956 1/4 d (4 = 1 penny) 1/960 pound  
Halfpenny 1672-1860 1/2 d (2 = 1 penny) 1/480 pound  ha’penny
Penny 1707-1970 1d 240 pence = 1 pound  
Three halfpence 1834-43, 1860-62 11/2 d 1/160 pound  
Twopence 1797 2d 1/120 pound  
Threepence b 1547-1970 3d 1/80 pound  
Groat 1836-1855, 1888 4d 1/60 pound  joey, sixpenny bit
Sixpence 1551-1970 6d 1/40 pound  tanner
Shilling 1503-1970 1/- (12 pence) 1/20 pound  bob
Florin 1849-1970 2/- (24 pence) 1/10 pound  two bob bit
Half crown 1707-1970 2/6p (26 pence) 1/8 pound  
Double florin 1887-1890 4/- (52 pence) 1/5 pound  
Crown 1707-1965 5/- (60 pence) 1/4 pound  
Sovereign (pound) c 1817-1917, 1925, 1957- 240 pence 10 Shillings  
Half guinea 1699-1816 10/6d 1/8 ounce of gold  
Guinea d 1663-1814 21/- 1/4 ounce of gold  
Notes:

  1. Half farthing was originally made for Ceylon
  2. Three halfpence produced for circulation in the British colonies, mainly in Ceylon and the West Indies
  3. A one pound coin made of gold was called a Sovereign
  4. The guinea came into English after the Guinea region of West Africa was discovered by the British and mined its gold
  5. Not listed is “quid,” the nickname of a one-pound paper note

This was the system until Decimalization Day on February 15, 1971.

Today, British coins are divided into 100 pence to one pound. The coins struck for circulation by the Royal Mint are 1 Penny, 2 Pence, 5 Pence, 10 Pence, 20 Pence, 50 Pence or Half-Pound, £1 (pound), and £2. Paper currency is issued for denominations of £5 and greater.

United Kingdom modern decimalization redesign of 2014 resembles a shield.

United Kingdom modern decimalization redesign of 2014 resembles a shield.

Credits

  • Image of pre-decimalization coins courtesy of Coincraft
  • Image of 2014 United Kingdom shield set courtesy of the Royal Mint

More words

Dictionary_IconSince having the Numismatic Dictionary active for over a month, the reception has been more than my expectations!

According to the server statistics, there have been over 500 unique visitors to that page with more 20-percent returning for another look. Since I put a bit of work into that database, it is nice to see it is being used.

I also received feedback with corrections and requests for additions. Corrections are wonderful and encouraged. If you see something wrong, send me a note and I will make the correction.

As for the additions, I received a request for 12 additional terms. As I was researching some of the terms to ensure I entered the right information, I found a few more to add. I had to stop at adding 51 additional terms. Some of the new additions include banknote, bit, branch mint, coin orientation, crown, encased postage stamps, euro, farthing, intaglio, legal tender, manganese, medal orientation, pet crime, pound, real, shilling, small dollar, and third-party grading service.

I really appreciate all of the input and hope it helps the numismatic community!

Keys and Mints Reference

referenceRecently, I was notified that the company whose notebook-like program decided to close its virtual doors. Its concept was simple: act like a notebook that you can stuff anything into. Although other programs passed it in some features, it was still a solid way of keeping a digital notebook. Now that they are out of business, I do not want to rely on what we call “abandonware.”

As I was reviewing a few of the notebooks I created, I found now with a lot of numismatic notes. This notebook contains lists, ideas, and other items of numismatic information. Rather than keep them hidden from the public on my disk, I will start to publish what I find as part of my Collector’s Reference section.

Today begins with two additions:

  1. Key Date Coins is a list of coins that may be considered key dates for their series. Determining key date coins sometimes is a matter of opinion, especially on older series. My notes had several lists which I used a basic polling system, mintage statistics, and third-party grading company’s population reports to determine what to add. This list only does this for non-gold coins. I will try to find similar references for gold coins and add them in the future.
  2. Mints and Mintmarks documents every branch mint operated by the U.S. Mint and provides a little information paragraph about them including the branch mint in Manila while the Philippines was a colony of the United States.

I hope you find this helpful. As always, you can always send me additions or corrections. Other comments are welcome below.

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