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.


  • 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  

  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.


  • 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.

History for a half-dollar

2016 Native American Dollar celebrates the contributions of the Native American Code Talkers in World War I and World War II

2016 Native American Dollar celebrates the contributions of the Native American Code Talkers in World War I and World War II

Last year, I wrote that one of the most under appreciated coins currently being produced by the U.S. Mint are the Native American Dollars. Featuring the portrait of Sacagawea with her infant son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, was designed by Glenna Goodacre for the original Sacagawea dollar that began production in 2000. Since 2009, the reverse was changed as part of the Native American $1 Coin Act (Pub.L. 100-82). Under the law, the reverse of the one dollar coin “shall depict images celebrating the important contributions made by Indian tribes and individual Native Americans to the development of the United States and the history of the United States.”

The reverse designs has represented some of the best work by the artists working with the U.S. Mint with the 2016 design continuing the record. Celebrating the Native American Code Talkers who were instrumental in using their native language to communicate troop movements and enemy positions, the reverse of the coin celebrates their work.

As someone who has made a career in technology and information security, the concept of using something as low-tech as a language that nobody else can translate to openly communicate secret information is an elegant solution. It proves that technology is an answer but not the only answer. It makes these people heroes for their service to a country that has not treated their people fairly over the course of history.

Learning and honoring the history of Native Americans was the goal of the Native American $1 Coin Act. It is a simple yet effective way to bring history to the masses. Although the dollar coin does not circulate well, it is still a nice way for the country to teach and honor history.

I don't think JFK would mind using the reverse to honor U.S. history!

I don’t think JFK would mind using the reverse to honor U.S. history!

I was thinking about what could be done to honor other aspects of United States history. Why not use another coin to celebrate something that has shaped the country in some way. With over 200 years of history, there is a lot to choose from. I propose that beginning in 2017 the reverse of the Kennedy half-dollar be changed every year to celebrate an anniversary of something significant in U.S. history.

As I consider writing a draft version of the bill to send to my representatives in congress, I know that any good coinage program in the United States should have some guidelines. Far be it for congress to tell the U.S. Mint to do what it thinks is right. In order to satisfy something that congress would adopt and create a meaningful program, how about a Half-Dollar history program as follows:

  • The obverse will remain unchanged, the edge will continue to be reeded, and the coin will remain a half-dollar
  • Reverse design changes annually and only one design per year
  • Half-dollar can be made for circulation and the U.S. Mint can create collector versions including silver collectibles and different finishes
  • Theme for the reverse must be from 50 years prior to the year of circulation and older with anniversary dates being divisible by 25 (i.e., 50 years ago, 75, 100, 125, 150, etc.)
  • Theme will be selected by the U.S. Mint in collaboration with the CCAC and the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of American History
  • The U.S. Mint creates the design for the theme selected by either using in-house artists, AIP members, or may hold an open competition
  • The CCAC will review the designs
  • The program will have no end date

Although there was no such thing as having a minor when I went to college, I did use some of my elective credits to take some classes in history and political science. Add my masters in public policy and some people wonder why I don’t run for office (I hate the idea of begging for campaign contributions). With that background, I was able to think of a few historical events that could be honored over the next few years:

2017: The 150th anniversary since the U.S. purchased the Alaska territory from Alexander II of Russia by Secretary of State William H. Seward in 1867. This was so unpopular at the time it was called “Seward’s Folly.”
2018: World War I ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
2019: “What hath God wrought” was the message of the first telegram message. It was sent from the U.S. Capitol to the B&O Railroad depot in Baltimore 175 years ago.
2020: The 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment granting suffrage for women
2021: The 50th anniversary of the passage of the 29th Amendment that lowered the voting age to 18.
2022: Celebrating 75 years of technical innovation. In 1947, Dr. Edwin Land introduced the Polaroid Land Camera, broadcast of the first World Series game, the USS Newport became the first warship that was fully air conditioned, Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier, and Bell Labs scientists introduces the first semiconductor are just some of the innovations to celebrate.

Purposely missing from this list is the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s becoming the first African-American to appear in a Major League Baseball game in 1947. I fully expect that a commemorative coin will be issued for that event. If it is not, then congress should be ashamed of itself for not doing so.

Coin images courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

From ordering to circulation

Marriner S. Eccles Building

Marriner S. Eccles Building where the Federal Reserve Board is located

After spending time digging out from the Blizzard of 2016, I was reading email and was reminded about a conversation I had earlier this week. Someone asked when they would see 2016 coins in their change. As someone who also hunts through pocket change, I thought it would be interesting to discuss what is involved with what business would call the movement of inventory in the supply chain.

The process begins when the Federal Reserve places their annual order with the U.S. Mint for coins and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for currency. Like any organization that deals with inventory, the Federal Reserve will estimate its order based on a projection of demand.

Inventory management for the Federal Reserve requires them to know how much currency is in circulation, how much will be required based on world-wide economic factors, and what would be required to replace the current currency supply. Since the Federal Reserve ships U.S. currency world wide, especially the $100 Federal Reserve Notes, someone has to project what the world is going to demand based on economic factors that it has no participation in.

Life Expectancy of U.S. Currency
Denomination of Bill Life Expectancy (Years)
$ 1 5.9
$ 5 4.9
$10 4.2
$20 7.7
$50 3.7
$100 15

Not only does the Federal Reserve has to track the amount of money in circulation but they also have to account for the different denominations in order to replace torn and worn notes. For instance, it was once estimated that 90-percent of the order for $1 Federal Reserve Notes were delivered to replace worn notes in circulation.

Once the order is placed by the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing work to fulfill that order. The U.S. Mint strikes the coins and has they placed in one-ton ballistic bags for delivery. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing bundles the currency in packs. Multiple packs make a brick. Bricks are then piled on pallets that are used for delivery.

From Philadelphia and Denver, the coin bags are loaded onto secured trucks and transferred to the Federal Reserve for distribution. A similar transfer happens at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington and Fort Worth where the pallets are shipped to the Federal Reserve.

Although there may be a few warehouses and other distribution processes involved, the coins and currency are shipped to one of 26 “cash rooms” around the country based on need. These cash rooms are special warehouses operated by the Federal Reserve branch that store the physical currency before being distributed to the member banks.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Since the New York Federal Reserve Bank processes currency orders for overseas shipping, they order the most currency of the 12 regional banks. San Francisco provides banking services for Alaska, Hawaii, and other transactions throughout the Pacific Rim, orders the second most amount of currency.

Before currency can enter circulation, a member bank places an order with the Federal Reserve. It is then delivered to them from the closest cash room with the appropriate inventory necessary to fulfill the order.

Your personal bank is like the corner store in the ordering system. When the shelves are bare or threatening to go bare, they order the inventory of currency they need. The corner bank just do not order money from the Federal Reserve. Banking companies work on behalf of their branches to manage inventory. The big bank may have their own cash management operations that help ensure that they not only have the appropriate amount of currency available but they do not have too much in storage. Like product inventories, idle money is not good for business.

Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Baltimore Coin Storage

Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Baltimore Coin Storage

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Cash Operations

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Cash Operations

Many banks hire logistics companies to help with the flow of their currency inventory. These companies are the ones driving the armored trucks you see around town that delivers currency on order. While these logistic companies are registered currency distribution services and have permits to pick up inventory from the Federal Reserve cash rooms on behalf of the member banks, they also provide storage and delivery services.

Although your corner bank has a vault, each banking company limits the amount of currency they keep on site because of security concerns. When they need additional currency or have an excess that needs to be stored, they call the logistics company to physically move the inventory.

Four of the largest cash logistics companies

Four of the largest cash logistics companies

These logistics company do not take the currency and put it on the shelf until the bank calls back and asks for it to be returned. If a bank deposits a bag of quarters with the logistics company but another bank asks for bags of quarters, that bag could be transferred to another bank. Banks may order currency from the Federal Reserve or smaller banks from other cooperating banks, the logistics companies fulfill the orders from existing stock before accessing new stock.

Depending on how fast the currency is needed to circulate by your corner bank, existing currency can circulate through the logistics processing center long before the new inventory is placed into circulation.

During the recent downturn in the economy, the banks’ inventories of coins increased as people emptied jars, jugs, and bottles of coins for necessities. As the coins were returned to the bank the inventories rose beyond what they needed for circulation reducing the requirement for the banks to order more coins from the Federal Reserve. This is why it was not surprising that many people did not see current year coins until as early as April.

It is more difficult to gauge when currency reaches circulation unless there is a change in the series designation. The Series of a note is the date followed by a letter indicating that there is a change, usually to the autograph of the Treasurer or the Secretary of the Treasury. Although there is no rule, the Series date changes with an administration and the letter is added and changes as the autographs changes. Sometimes, the series date changes with the design of the currency. These are recent conventions and not the rule. All printing and design decisions are made by the Federal Reserve, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the U.S. Secret Service as a team.

If you want to know when the 2016 coins will reach circulation, the answer is “I don’t know.” Considering the economy is in better shape than in years past, money continues to circulate, and the U.S. Mint has produced more coins in a single year than any other in its history, if you have not seen a 2016 coin in your pocket change soon, then my best guess will be in mid-February—if the weather holds up!


  • Eccles Building image courtesy of the Federal Reserve.
  • Federal Reserve Bank of New York building courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  • Image of the Federal Reserve Bank Baltimore Coin Room courtesy of NPR.
  • Image of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank Cash Operations courtesy of
  • Armored vehicle image courtesy of Prinéa.

Numismatics have changed, but are we having fun?

Advancements in all areas of life, whether it is the cars we drive, the entertainment that we like, how we shop, and where we get our news are inevitable. Where the car I drove in college had a the classic Chrysler Slant 6 engine with nothing electronic, I now drive a Chevy pickup with a Vortec V8 with variable timing controlled by a computer that will even start with the push of a button on my key fob.

Rather than complain about these changes, I try to embrace them as progress. After all, I started programming computers by punching cards in the 1970s. Today, the smartphone in my pocket has more computing power than anyone could have imagined while feeding our cards through the reader waiting for output on green bar paper.

Because I like to be progressive with technology and feel that not only have I seen a lot but that I adjusted, I tend to look down on those who cannot. I know that it may be elitist and contemptuous on my part and I should be more understanding, especially now that I bought a car with a Slant 6 as a toy and want another car without all of the electronics.

This self examination was prompted by an article by Q. David Bowers that appeared online on the Coin World website. In the article, Bowers reflects back as to how the hobby has changed since he started writing his column in 1961 and what it is today.

Basically, you used to have to know more about numismatics. You had to know what you were looking at in order to grade coins, know where to find the prices, have the education to know what is fake and what is not, and have a trusted dealer that you can go to to help you with your collection. It was a lot like my Slant 6 in that while the dealer would help, I had to know more about the car in order to keep it running, especially as a poor college student.

Today, Bowers says it succinctly, “No knowledge is necessary!”

While this can help grow the hobby, it makes it just a bit colder. You do not need a dealer when the Internet will do. You do not need the knowledge when companies will entomb a coin in plastic, say it is genuine, and assign a grade so you know what its state of preservation is. If the plastic is not enough, you can even find someone to place a sticker on the plastic to bless that the plastic is good. Then the sticker placer will buy the plastic to churn the market that will essentially drive up the prices.

Although the grading services do provide a service that guarantees the coin’s authenticity, they have also created a fervor over plastic that caused the the despicable behavior during the launch of the Kennedy gold tribute coin.

“If you are typical, quality means nothing. The label on a holder takes care of everything,” writes Bowers. Sadly, he is right because people are no longer collecting coins. They are collecting plastic and stickers while watching online price guides the way day traders watch stock prices. If the coin does not raise in value fast enough, they will buy the next number higher on a plastic package even if the new coins does not look better than the old coin.

Just like listening to the whine of a hybrid takes the charm out of being a car enthusiast, plastic and stickers are taking the charm out of collecting.

To regain the charm Bowers suggests niche or specialty collecting. He says to, “Check out the websites of the Colonial Coin Collectors Club, Early American Coppers, the Liberty Seated Collectors Club and the Numismatic Bibliomania Society, and poke around!”

In addition to Bowers’ suggestions, you may also want to consider Token and Medals Society along with the regional chapters, The Elongated Collectors (TEC), and even the American Vecturist Association. What makes tokens, medals, and even elongated coins very interesting is that you can really personalize a collection. Think about it, how many places have you visited that had a machine where you drop in some money plus a “lowly” Lincoln cent and with a turn of a crank you have the equivalent of a numismatic post card!

A hobby should be fun. So forget the plastic and stickers and go find something and have some fun.

For a little fun, here is a sample of my “Hometown Collection.”

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