A junk box find that is not junk

A few weekends ago, I was out picking when someone offered to sell a box of lapel pins and buttons. Most of the buttons were modern political mainly from the 1988 election through the 2008 election. There was a mix of both major parties along with a number of local and state races, primarily from Virginia.

The box was nothing remarkable. It was originally for high-priced basketball shoes from a well-known company in the western United States. Alongside many of the political buttons were lapel pins and some sports pins. I also noticed some buttons with cute sayings. While being stuck in the fingers I was thinking that I could buy the box and use it as junk filler at a show. Just like coin dealers have junk boxes, those of us in other collectible areas have our versions of junk boxes. In this case, I can lay them out in felt-lined trays and let buyers pick over them for a dollar each.

Flag and ribbon pins always sell. So do buttons that say, “I usually don’t wake up grumpy, I sometimes let him sleep.” This gets the ladies to laugh and look at some of my other items.

After setting up the card table I use to work on this type of sorting, I dumped the box in the middle of the table. Expecting to have to sort through a few hundred pins and buttons when I noticed a 2×2 flip on top of the pile. It was a coin sitting that was sitting in the bottom of the box now at the top of the list of things to look at.

At first glance, I noticed it was not a U.S. coin and thought that it just could be an uncirculated copper-nickel coin until I looked closer. Shifting my glasses to get a better view there was no mistaking the reverse design as a Mexican Liberatad. The 1984 Libertad is clearly marked “1 ONZA PLATA PURA” (1-ounce pure silver) with the obverse declaring it from “ESTADOS UNIDOS MEXICANOS” (United States of Mexico).

I found a beautiful, uncirculated 1984 Mexico Libertad worth more than what I paid for the box!

Although I love large silver coins, I have never owned a Libertad. Did you know that the edge of the Libertad has edge lettering? It reads “INDEPENDENCIA Y LIBERTAD” (Independence and Freedom). The distinctive mintmark of the Mexico Mint is on the reverse and has an overall great look.

I almost did not buy the box!

270 Pounds in Pennys

Let’s have some fun rather than talk about the mundane! Covering floors, cars, or any other surface using coins is not something new, but according to Matt Giles this has not been done in the United Kingdom. On the YouTube page where the video is posted, he writes:

When thinking about what to lay in the kitchen Amy came up with a fantastic idea inspired by what she had researched online. We saw a bunch of penny floor projects in the USA, it seemed a really popular way of creating a bespoke retro floor for any part of the house, but wasnt done in the UK. Challenge accepted!

We took 27,000 1p coins and decided to give our kitchen diner a new look. Each coin was individually glued to the floor which had been self levelled before hand and left to dry. After gluing down all the coins a black grout was applied to fill the gaps followed by a high gloss epoxy resin to cover and seal.

The end result is simply awesome. The floor looks stunning and the weeks of hard work has been worth the pain.

Seems like an inexpensive idea. Take £270 in pennys (yes, that is how the Brits spell the plural of penny), glue, grout, apply a high gloss epoxy resin, and take about two weeks of work to come up with something different. For anyone curious, £270 is currently equivalent to $337.88.

Maybe his video will inspire your creativity!

Royal Canadian Mint celebrates Star Trek’s 50th

Space: the final frontier.
These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.
Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds,
to seek out new life and new civilizations,
to boldly go where no man has gone before.

I admit to being fascinated by space and space travel. This has to go back to my watching the Mercury and Apollo missions as a youngster. Even then, I would watch most television shows that were based on space or something about space including the comedies Lost in Space and My Favorite Martian.

During its first run, I was able to watch Star Trek during its last season. When it was picked up in syndication and played on the independent television stations or late at night, I would watch and become a bigger fan. In college, it was common to walk into the TV Lounge to see the television tuned to Star Trek, especially late at night.

When Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in 1979, I was able to see it during my December break from college. No, it wasn’t the best of the movies, but it was Star Trek. I was a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation and I have seen all of the movies except the most recent—which I will catch when it is available on cable!

Aside from being great stories, Star Trek has inspired generations. Look at the technology that is in use today. Cell phones were inspired by the communicators; the ship’s computer with its infinite database processing is now in supercomputers of today, like IBM’s Watson; while Majel Barrett was the voice of the first computer, we now have Siri, Cortana and Alexa on portable devices; large flat screen displays are now our television; intelligent personal assistants went from the personal digital assistant (PDA) to being integrated with our computer that can now speak to us; then there is the universal translator; tablet computers; video conferencing; even something like Transparent Aluminum (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) exists in something called aluminum oxynitride (ALON). And remember, Scotty gave the formula for transparent aluminum using a quaint keyboard on a Macintosh!

Yes, I am a hard-core fan. But I have never been to a convention! I never really wanted to go. I did meet William Shatner when I was working for NBC, but that is another story for another time.

The Royal Canadian Mint has produced a set of coins for Star Trek fans. As part of the series, the Royal Canadian Mint produced three half-ounce silver coins with enameled images of Spock, Uhura, and Scotty; one ounce coins with images of iconic scenes: Captain Kirk in “Trouble with Tribbles,” the evil Spock and Dr. McCoy in “Mirror, Mirror,” and the time machines image that was in “The City on the Edge of Forever” which featured a guest appearance by Joan Collins. They are nice coins even though they are enameled. However, I think they are too expensive. It’s probably because of the licensing fees.

Of course, I had to get something. I decided to buy the $20 for $20 silver coin, Star Trek: Enterprise. It is a 7.96-gram silver coin with a face value of $20 with the reverse showing an image of the U.S.S. Enterprise and the Star Trek 50th Anniversary logo. The obverse has the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, as required for all Canadian coins. While the RCM calls the finish “specimen,” it resembles a reverse proof. Not only is this $20 in Canadian funds, which is $15.22 in US funds as I type this, but there is also free shipping!

I also decided to buy was the stamp and coin set produced jointly with the RCM and Canada Post. The set includes a nickel-plated steel 25-cent coin with an engraved center surrounded by enamel ring with six different views of the U.S.S. Enterprise (NCC-1701). The stamp features Canadian-born actor William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk with the U.S.S. Enterprise orbiting a red-colored planet in the background. Also included is a coil stamp produced as a collectible sheet featuring the U.S.S. Enterprise and a Klingon D7-class battle cruiser from the episode Day of the Dove.

You can buy the set from the RCM for $34.95 in Canadian funds, which is $26.60 in US dollars. If you buy the stamp and coin set separately, you will pay postage. However, if you buy both coins together, the RCM picks up the postage.

Before I forget, the Royal Canadian Mint will only ship directly to addresses in Canada and the United States. Collectors in other countries will have to contact a dealer.

A Token of Brexit

A few weeks ago I wrote about the potential effects of Brexit on markets should the Brits vote to leave the European Union. When the OUT vote won by a slim margin, there was an instant worldwide reaction. In the subsequent weeks, we have seen world markets react to everything. After an initial fall in markets because of Brexit they have recovered only to be sent back into uncertainty with world events.

The London PM Gold Fix was $1,265.12 before the polls closed on June 23. The next day, the London PM Gold Fix closed at $1,315.50 (4-percent increase). On July 15, the PM Gold Fix closed at $1,327.00, 4.9-percent increase since the vote. Experts are saying gold could continue to climb at the 4-percent rate for the near future.

Silver has been on a slow and steady rise for most of the spring also saw a bump following the Brexit vote. When the London Silver Fix closed at $17.29 on June 23, this was already a $3.29 increase (23.5-percent) from the January 4 first close of 2016 price of $14.00. After the results were announced, London Silver Fix closed at $18.04, a 4.3-percent increase. With the London Silver Fix closing at $20.14 on July 15 (16.48-percent increase), some pundits are suggesting that silver will continue to outperform gold for the near future.

When I wrote about Brexit, I also mentioned the “In/Out UK EU Referendum Medallion” produced by Chard(1964), a British metals dealer. After the post, the folks at Chard saw a small bump in sales from collectors the United States from a few of my readers. I was not paid to mention the medal. I just found the information online and thought it was an interesting idea. Shortly before the vote, someone at Chard contacted me and offered to send me some medals.

After a swim across the pond, the medals arrived in my physical mail last weekend. Even though I thought Brexit was a bad idea, the medals are still very cool. Design is the same on both medals. One is copper and the other is Abyssinian Gold, a type of brass made of 90-percent copper and 10-percent zinc that has a gold-like color. Medals are 31mm in diameter and weighs 14 grams making it a nice sized coin for flipping.

Chard sent two sets of the medals. I will keep one set and donate the other to my coin club’s annual auction whose proceeds will benefit the Scouts and other numismatic-related education in our region.

It appears that these medals can still be purchased for £2.95 each ($4.33 at the current exchange rate) plus shipping (estimated at £6.00 or $8.80) directly from Chard’s website. I am not making money from this endorsement. I just think it’s a fun collectible!

Static charts courtesy of Kitco.

I wouldn’t swallow this pill

1902 Panama 2½ Centesimos on the left. On the right is a national brand coated aspirin.

1902 Panama 2½ Centesimos on the left. On the right is a national brand coated aspirin.

Johnny: Making a Mint for $200
Alex: It’s the smallest coin struck by the U.S. Mint.
Johnny: What is the dime?
Alex: No, I’m sorry.
Alice: What is the penny?
Alex: Sorry, that’s not it either. Pat, do you want to guess?
Pat: What is the gold dollar coin?
Alex: No. The correct answer is “What is the 1904 Panama 2½ Centesimos coin?”

Weighing in at 1.25 grams, containing .900 silver (1.125 grams of silver), and measuring 10 millimeters in diameter, the coin nicknamed the Panama Pill is smaller than the silver three-cent piece, which was 14 millimeters in diameter, and the small gold dollar (Type 1) that was produced from 1849 through 1886. The gold dollar weighed 1.67 grams and was 15 millimeters in diameter.

Although there are smaller coins, such as the 9.09 millimeter Maximillian coin struck by the Mexico City Mint, this is the smallest ever produced by the U.S. Mint.

After Panama gained its independence in 1904, the new government made the decision to convert its monetary systems from the Columbian peso the balboa. Named in honor of the Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the balboa would be subdivided into 100 centesimos to use for commerce. But Panama faced a similar problem that the United States faced over 100 years earlier. Since commerce was based on the Spanish Milled Dollar, which was 8 Reales, it was common for the coinage to be divided by 8 rather than 10. Simply, if something cost 1 Reale, referred to as 1 bit for when the milled dollar was physically cut for smaller denominations, a direct conversion would mean that an equivalent to the bit would be 12½ centesimos.

The United States solved this problem by striking the half-cent coin. Panama opted to strike a 2½ centesimos coin that would be paired with the 5, 10, 25, and 50 centesimos coins, all produced by the U.S. Mint. Rather than continually produce these coins until the bureaucracy caught up with commerce as was the case in the United States, Panama ordered 400,000 of these coins. The Panamanian people adapted to the new currency system, making this a one-year type coin.

During our monthly coin club meeting some members bring coins and boxes of foreign coins for other members to pick though. I went to the table where a member brought a box of loose foreign coins and someone found the Panama Pill in the box. Having never seen one before, when the searcher passed on the coin, I took the opportunity to purchase it.

Panama Pill next to a 1963 Sweden 10 Øre coin

Panama Pill next to a 1963 Sweden 10 Øre coin

Just for fun, I searched for the next smallest coin in the box. This found a 1963 Sweden 10 ore coin. It is 50-percent larger than the Panama Pill at 15 millimeters but is only slightly heavier at 1.4 grams. The difference is that the Pill was made of silver and the 10 ore is copper-nickel.

Having time to search a box of foreign coins can be a lot of fun. Things you read about in history books, read in the newspapers years ago, and nice designs can be found on many foreign coins. Even though the Eurozone uses a common currency with a country specific reverse, there is nothing like some of the coins that the individual countries produced before creating a common currency.

In that light, our top story of the night, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

1957 Spain 50 Ptas

1957 Spain 50 Ptas

Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.

Will Greece create new numismatic collectibles?

Greece 1€ coin

Greece 1€ coin depicts an owl, copied from an ancient Athenian 4 drachma coin (ca. 5th century BCE)

The debt crisis in Greece and their threat to drop the Euro as the unit of currency reminded me that this would present an interesting collectible opportunity.

Collecting numismatic items from distressed times can present an interesting challenge. While we have heard about Hard Times Tokens being a popular collectible, sales tax tokens produced during the Great Depression so that people could pay the exact fractions of a tax on low-value purchases.

Two of the more recent examples of numismatics based on distressed economic conditions are the Zimbabwe hyperinflation currency and the State of California’s Registered Warrants (IOUs). Although both have different origins from the Greek crisis, both show different ways of handling the situation.

When a country controls its own currency, it can manage that currency to maintain its value. In the United States, that is done by the Federal Reserve. It uses many programs from buying debt from its member banks to setting what it calls the Discount Rate, the rate that its member banks can borrow overnight to meet its liquidity requirements. In Zimbabwe, the central bank did not have the business and circulation in order to make this type of policy work because of the strife caused by wars and other ugliness. Their only choice was the print more money. The more money printed, the less it is worth. The less the money is worth the more it takes to buy daily goods and services. This result is that the more money that is added to the economy the higher inflation goes.

Zimbabwe’s 2009 $100 trillion hyperinflation note

Zimbabwe’s 2009 $100 trillion hyperinflation note

Zimbabwe gave us the hyper-inflated currency ranging from Z$10 to Z$100 trillion. It has become fun to own a note that makes you a billionaire or a trillionaire even though the actual value of the currency is worth less than the paper which it is printer. Since Zimbabwe has converted their system to the U.S. dollar, Zimbabweans will be converting the old inflation currency at the rate of Z$175 quadrillion (175,000,000,000,000,000) for US$5. An enterprising Zimbabwean could buy them for double and make more money selling the notes as souvenirs than converting them to U.S. dollars.

California was a different story. It was a self-made crisis of politics in 2009 between the Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic-controlled legislature. Since neither side could agree on a budget, Schwarzenegger declared a fiscal emergency and ordered the printing of IOUs to pay for state debts.

California Registered Warrant

California Registered Warrant

Officially called Registered Warrants, the first of these IOUs were issued to pay personal tax refunds. They carried a 3.75-percent interest rate and were redeemable when the budget was passed or in early October, which ever came first. The crisis was averted when Schwarzenegger signed the budget on September 3 and redemption began on September 4. California State Comptroller’s Office stopped redeeming warrants as of November 10, 2010.

A friend who was living in California at the time was issued an IOU for a small personal tax refund. Rather than be burdened with the rigors of cashing the warrant, the paper is now part of his collection. However, since the warrants were addressed to specific people, it is not likely that these items will be immediately collectible. Many years from now it is probable that these warrants will be a curious collectible like the old Series E or War Bonds.

Greece does not control its own currency nor does it have any potential backing to issue warrants. Since Greece has not been seen as creditworthy, it cannot issue bonds at any interest rate because the markets are not interesting in buying Greek debt. Unless a deal can be struck with the rest of the European Union, Greece may not have a choice but exit the pact that uses the Euro as the common currency.

Exiting the Euro will bring back the Greek drachma.

2000 Greece 20 Drachma coin

2000 Greece 20 Drachma coin features Dionysios Solomos, a poet and author of the Greek national anthem.

The return of the drachma would create three numismatic collectibles. One would be the Euro coins with the Greece-specific reverse, whatever the Greek government issues in the interim, and then the new drachma. This would not apply to euro currency since each denomination uses the same design throughout of the Eurozone.

Before you search your ten pound bag of foreign coins looking for pre-Euro drachma, it is likely that Greece will keep those coins demonetized and not recognize them as official currency. If Greece wants to be able to control the amount of currency in circulation, then they will have to issue new coins and notes.

If Greece goes this route, experts are saying that the Greek government will allow the Euro to circulate alongside whatever is added to the market. Some people think it may take over a year to strike enough coins and print enough notes to be able to remove the Euro from circulation.

What will Greece do in the interim? Does the Greece Central Bank issue warrants like California did? If so, will the warrants become something that would become a collectible?

Greece 10,000 drachma note issued in 1995

10,000 drachma note issued by the Bank of Greece in 1995 features the image of Dr. George Papanicolaou, inventor of the Pap smear

Image Credits

  • Greek 1€ coin courtesy of EuroCoins.co.uk.
  • California Warrant courtesy of MyMoneyBlog.com
  • Zimbabwe $100 trillion note courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
  • 20 drachma coin courtesy of Numista.
  • 10,000 drachma note courtesy of the Bank of Greece.

One picture leads to an interesting look at a Mint’s history

Have you ever started looking for something only to find other items that are more interesting that what you were looking for?

Today’s find in the “To Do” pile is a picture of front of the Saint Petersburg Mint (translated here) taken by my father during his trip to Russia last year. The sign on front facade “моне́тный двор” translates to “Mint.”

Facade of the Saint Petersburg Mint

Facade of the Saint Petersburg Mint (2014)

The Saint Petersburg Mint is the oldest mint in Russia. Founded by Peter the Great in 1724, it was the primary producer of coins and currency up until the formation of the Russian Federation and adoption of their current constitution in 1993. The main mint facility is now located in Moscow.

Peter the Great founded Saint Petersburg in 1703 and made it the imperial capital of the Russian empire. Wanting it the to be the most modern city in the world, Peter was proactive in making sure that innovations in infrastructure and cultural life would be available for everyone in the capital. His efforts were fought by the nobility who thought they would lose their power if the government gave more to the people. Peter died in February 1725 from a massive internal infection without realizing many of his dreams for the city.

Following Peter I’s death, Peter’s second wife Catherine I and grandson Peter II, were crowed as tsar of the Russian empire. In 1738, following Catherine’s death in 1737, Peter moved the capital to Moscow but leaving many of the infrastructure behind. Peter II died in 1730 and was succeed by Anna, who was the daughter of Ivan V and niece of Peter I. Anna had been raised with full royal flourishes and chose to move the capital back to Saint Petersburg in 1732 and continue Peter’s westernization efforts for her own pleasure.

The era following Peter I saw the decline of the Russian empire including the degradation of Saint Petersburg as one of the world’s most cosmopolitan city. It wasn’t until the age of Russian Enlightenment under Catherine the Great when there would be improvements in Russian society and the great Mint.

The Russian Enlightenment was the inspiration for Charles Gascoigne to abandon his career as a lead engineer in the steel mills of Edinburg, Scotland and move to Saint Petersburg in 1786. In Saint Petersburg, Gascoigne de a name for himself as an engineer, inventor, and successful businessman. One of his specialties was to take failing businesses and use his engineering skills to modernize their production. One of the businesses Gascoigne turned around was a button foundry whose owner submitted medals made by the machinery to Catherine in order to win a contract to produce more.

Catherine died in 1796 and her son, Paul I was coronated as emperor. Paul was impressed with the details created by the machinery that he was more interested in hiring Gascoigne to update the old minting equipment. Gascoigne first sent engineers to perform the tasks but later took over the projects himself when it was discovered that the machinery being used was in severe disrepair. In 1798 he was assigned the task of determining what it will take to rehabilitate the old Mont.

When Gascoigne did his assessment, he found the entire facility in such disrepair that he proposed a full refurbishing of the facility including buying new machines to coin money. Gascoigne’s plan was to clear everything out of the building and rebuild the floors and walls leaving the outside alone. This included purchasing new equipment and creating new facilities to store and process metals. His plan also included ways to refortify the building that had be subject to thefts. In 1799, Paul issued an imperial degree to allow Gascoigne to execute his plan.

Unfortunately, Gascoigne was caught over charging the Russian bank for materials and was briefly arrested in late 1799. Claiming it was a misunderstanding, a Russian court fined him the amount allegedly overcharged and was allowed to return to the Mint to finish the work.

Gascoigne handed over the management of the mint to the Banking Yard Mint Office Department so that he could concentrate on finishing the reconstruction. Work was finally completed in October 1805 and was handed over the Assignation Bank, who occupied the Mint building. Founded by Catherine the Great, the Assignation Bank was the manager of the money supply in imperial Russia.

The Saint Petersburg Mint survived changes in bank rules in 1843 when the Assignation Bank was dissolved as part of financial reform and the Assignation ruble was recalled and replaced with state credit notes issued by the newly created State Bank. It continued to be the primary producer of coins following the Russian Revolution of 1917 when all of the paper note production was moved out of Saint Petersburg (renamed Leningrad) primarily to Moscow.

Starting in 1961, the Leningrad Mint began to strike commemorative and bullion coins for public sale, primarily to foreign collectors and investors. Although it was the primary mint for creating medals during the existence of the Soviet Union, much of the circulating production was being moved to other facilities within the country. As part of the economic reforms that ended communist rule and formed the Russian Federation, all production of circulating coins were moved to other facilities leaving the Leningrad Mint the country’s producer of medals and collector coins.

As part of the reformation, government offices were consolidated in the capital city of Moscow removing the Mint’s standing as the country’s primary facility. The Leningrad Mint, became a subsidiary facility as part of this reorganization. And with the vote by city residents to rename the city in 1991, it was renamed the Saint Petersburg Mint.

Kick start a challenge

Proposed design of the Yorkshire (UK) Challenge Coin.

Proposed design of the Yorkshire (UK) Challenge Coin.

Did you ever want to be part of creating and issuing a coin?

Think about how you would feel to help a community create a challenge coin for itself. In the process of helping the community, you can collect one of these challenge coins for yourself. If you provide enough assistance, then you can own one of the lowest numbered challenge coin.

Buried in my inbox was a note about a KickStarter project to create a challenge coin for Yorkshire, U.K. For as little as £6, (currently $9.94) you can own a coin numbered between 100 and 999. If you can afford £20 ($33.14), you can own a coin numbered between 10 and 20. Sorry, but the lower numbers have been purchased. All you have to do is go to KickStarter and fund the project.

For those not familiar with KickStarter, it is a website used to allow interested people to fund projects of their choosing. Kickstarter projects are mostly creative endeavors or involve some creativity in art, music, and technology where you receive awards for your level of funding. The financing model is called “crowd sourcing” and has been used effectively to launch films for the Sundance Film Festival, a skate park in Philadelphia, a photo exhibit on the site of the Berlin Wall, and the Fitbit smart watch.

KickStarter uses and all or nothing model meaning that if the project only receives the money if it is fully funded. If it does not, your credit card will not be charged and you will not receive your premium, of course. For the Yorkshire challenge coin, they are asking for £3,000 ($4,970.52). Currently, there is £220 pledged ($364.50) with 3 days to go. The funding drive ends on Saturday, August 30 at 1:36 AM EDT.

What the heck… it seems like a very cool idea. Let’s see if we can help put the project over the top and get it funded. Even if you do not want the coin, you can spare £3 (about $5) to help!

Note that there are extra postage requirements for shipping outside of the United Kingdom.

D-Day + 70 years

Operation Overlord was the largest amphibious invasion in history.

Originally scheduled on May 1, it was rescheduled to June 5 and then June 6 because of weather.

Commanded by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the invading force consisted of 156,000 Allied troops using 5,000 ships and landing craft bringing on shore 50,000 vehicles with overhead support from 11,000 planes and 13,000 paratroopers.

Across 50 miles of Normandy coast line, the United States forces were assigned Utah and Omaha beaches, the British Army was assigned to Gold and Sword beaches, and the Canadian Army invaded Juno beach.

Operation Bodyguard created six decoy invasions as a distraction to the Germans so as to divert their attention from the intended invasion at Normandy. Gen. George S. Patton, considered the most skillful tank commander in U.S. military history, commanded a fake mission to invade Pas-De-Calais.

Omaha Beach was the focus of the attack because it was the most heavily defended beach.

On the first day, 4,414 Allied soldiers were confirmed dead.

Victory was declared on July 21, 1944 when the Allied forces captured Caen, one of the major objectives of the invasion.

The Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-Sur-Mer is the final resting place for 9,387 Americans. Across its 172.5 acres sits 9,238 crosses and 149 Stars of David where 41 sets of brothers and 3 Medal of Honor recipients rest. The Walls of the Missing is engraved with the names of 1,557 soldiers missing in action.

On this, the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, the day Operation Overlord began, there is one more statistic that should not exist:

The number of commemorative coins issued by the United States to honor those that served and gave their lives to help begin the liberation of Europe from the worst criminal of all time: ZERO!

Although the U.S. Mint did issue a World War II 50th Anniversary commemorative coin in 1995, this country should honor those who participated in the largest amphibious invasion in history and set the world on a safer course.

With the number of veterans of that day dwindling as they are all nonagenarians, I would like to thank them for their service and the families of the fallen for their service. I only wish that congress would realize that their bickering over nonsense with flags on their lapels pales in comparison to the sacrifices made on that day in France. They just do not get it.

Canadian $10 Commemorative of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day featuring the obverse portrait of King George VI, the reigning monarch at the time of the invasion.

Canadian $10 Commemorative of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day featuring the obverse portrait of King George VI, the reigning monarch at the time of the invasion.

70th Anniversary of D-Day 2014 Alderney £5 BU Coin from the Royal Mint.

70th Anniversary of D-Day 2014 Alderney £5 BU Coin from the Royal Mint.

Bimetallic 2 € commemorative issue from the Monnaie de Paris (Paris  Mint)

Bimetallic 2 € commemorative issue from the Monnaie de Paris (Paris Mint)

Reference: D-Day by the Numbers from the History Channel
Coin images courtesy of the Royal Canadian Mint, Royal Mint, and Monnaie de Paris.

Staid collectors need to expand their horizons

Harry Potter Souvenir 20 Stamp BookA story appeared in the November 18, 2013 edition of The Washington Post that the hard-core stamp collectors, the ones that will buy the products released by the United States Postal Service, are apoplectic about selection of Harry Potter as a subject for a series of stamps.

The objections are two-fold. First, Harry Potter is not American and neither is the author of the series J.K. Rowling. The other reason is that the Postal Service bypassed the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) to make the deal with the various commercial concerns to issue the 20-stamp tribute to the boy wizard.

Unlike the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, the CSAC is not mandated by law. It was established in 1957 “to select subjects of broad national interest for recommendation to the Postmaster General that is both interesting and educational.” Apparently, there has been tension between the Postal Service and the CSAC.

Like coin collecting, stamp collecting has been in decline as the awareness and usage of their product declines. Coin collectors can point to the decline in coin collecting following the big start of the 50 State Quarters® program, stamp collectors can point to the growth of email, e-publishing, and electronic stamp capabilities as part of the decline of the postal service. The Postal Service feels it has to do something in order to bring new collectors to buy its goods.

The US Postal Service pays tribute to their own famous error, the Inverted Jenny

The US Postal Service pays tribute to their own famous error, the Inverted Jenny

Unlike the U.S. Mint, whose products are very heavily regulated, the only regulation the Postal Service must meet is the price of postage. Once the postage rates are set, there are no laws or rules that govern how postage is demonstrated on the piece of mail. In fact, the Postal Service can print any stamp they want to honor any person, animal, object, historical incident, and even their own mistakes as they have by producing a tribute to the Inverted Jenny postage stamp, stamp collecting’s most famous error.

The Postal Service has been an independent agency of the federal government since 1971. Their operating expenses largely come from the sale of postage and the collection of duties for cross-border movement of the mail. Other revenues are generated from the sales of collectibles including special sets, first-day covers, and other collectibles. Interesting items sell well including the Elvis Presley stamps which were the Postal Service’s bestseller.

One area of regulation that has hurt the Postal Service was a law passed in 2005 that forced the agency to pre-pay retirement benefits for the next 75-years in a series of very large lump-sum payments. Their inability to meet the obligation and maintain the 75-year cushion has been widely reported causing the agency to lose significant revenues while trying to adhere to this ridiculous statutory requirement. No other agency or company is required to pre-pay 75-years of retirement benefits.

Knowing that they have to generate new revenues, Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe was quoted as saying that the Postal Service “needs to change its focus toward stamps that are more commercial.”

In other words, Donahoe recognizes that the organization he leads has to think differently in order to attract new customers.

The reaction from the philately community is almost the same as I would expect from the numismatic community if this was done by the United States Mint.

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?

This is not the case everywhere. Although there have been complaints about the Royal Canadian Mint’s expanded catalog, their products are selling and winning awards. Others complain about the blatant commercialism at the New Zealand Mint for partnering with commercial vendors to issue non-circulating legal tender coins with themes from Star Wars, Monopoly, and Dr. Who? Other than being expensive, is there really anything wrong with these offerings?

Next year, the U.S. Mint will issue a curved coin to honor the National Baseball Hall of Fame. While it will be a round coin, the coin will be concave when looking at its obverse. While the closest thing to “different” the U.S. Mint has produced was the 2009 Ultra High Relief Gold Coin, the sales of the Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative coins may do well because of the theme and they are different.

2007 Somalia Motorcycle Non-circulating Legal Tender Coins

2007 Somalia Motorcycle Non-circulating Legal Tender Coins

If the Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative coins do sell well, will congress authorize other commemoratives that are not round and flat? Will congress allow the U.S. Mint to produce motorcycle or car-shaped coins? What about coins with commercial themes?

“Harry Potter is not American. It’s foreign, and it’s so blatantly commercial it’s off the charts,” said John Hotchner who was once president of the American Philatelic Society and served on the CSAC for 12 years. Hotchner should be asked about the stamps to commemorate Pixar animation, Disney, and muscle cars. Even though I am a coin collector, I have bought the muscle car commemorative panel along with sheets of motorcycle stamps and a collector book with the stamp of Edgar Allen Poe because I was interested in the theme.

Louis Braille was not American nor did he do his work in America, but congress authorized a commemorative issued in 2009

Louis Braille was not American nor did he do his work in America, but congress authorized a commemorative issued in 2009

Both the U.S. Mint and the United States Postal Service rely on generating collector interest to expand their revenue base. Unlike the U.S. Mint, the Postal Service does not have the benefit of bullion to increase its revenues. If both organizations have to be innovative in order to increase revenues, then it should not be a problem. It is a hobby—collect what you like and like what you collect. If you do not like the collectible, do not add it to your collection.

Coin and stamp collectors have to take their heads out of the past. Stamps are losing to email and coins are losing to credit cards. Neither are going away anytime soon, but if there is to be a future both the U.S. Mint and U.S. Postal Service has to be innovative in order to attract new collectors. While the U.S. Mint is handcuffed by the whims of a dysfunctional congress, the Postal Service can capitalize on one of the most popular books and stories of this generation. If it helps promote stamp collecting and allows them to sell more products, then the Postmaster General should be congratulated for a job well done.

Maybe there is something that can be done to add to the catalog of the U.S. Mint in order to generate more interest. Until then, this muggle will be ordering something from the Harry Potter collectibles offered by the Postal Service for his wife who is a Harry Potter fanatic!

What do you think? Weigh in on the discussion in the comments (below).


  • All stamp images courtesy of the United States Postal Service.
  • Monopoly coin image courtesy of the New Zealand Mint.
  • Louis Braille Commemorative image courtesy of the U.S. Mint.
  • Somalia motorcycle coin images are courtesy of the author.

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