Why collect NCLT coins?

A while ago, I received the following question from a reader:

Why do coins that were made NOT for circulation, like Silver Eagles, Commemoratives Productions, etc have any value other than their face value? I do not see the value of collecting something that was never meant for circulation.

2013 American Eagle West Point Two-Coin Silver Set with reverse proof and enhanced uncirculated coins.

Starting with the first question, the face value of any coin is assigned by the legal authority that produces the coin. In the United States, the face value of any coin is determined by Congress. In other countries, the central bank or the treasury ministry makes the determination.

The American Silver Eagle Program was the result of the Reagan Administration wanting to sell the silver that was part of the Defense National Stockpile to balance the budget. Originally, the plan was to auction the bullion. After intense lobbying by the mining industry warning that such an auction would damage their industry, the concept was changed to selling the silver as coinage.

Changing the sales to coinage allowed for market diversification. Rather than a few people attempting to corner the market at an auction, selling coins on the open market allows more people to have access to the silver as an investment vehicle.

As codified in Title II of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Commemorative Coin Act (Public Law 99-61, 99 Stat. 113), the “Liberty Coin Act” defines the program as we know it today including the phrase “The coins issued under this title shall be legal tender as provided in section 5103 of title 31, United States Code.”

As a legal tender item, the coin’s basic value has the backing of the full faith and credit of the United States government. Regardless of what happens in politics and world events, the coin will be worth at least its face value. Being minted by the U.S. Mint is a guarantee of quality that is recognized around the world making worth its weight in silver plus a numismatic premium.

Coins are perceived by the market as being more desirable than medals. Medals have no monetary value except as an art object. When it comes to investments, they do not hold a value similar to that of a legal tender coin. This is because medals are not guaranteed by the United States government, a key factor in determining its aftermarket value.

Once the coin has been sold by the U.S. Mint, its value is determined by various market forces. For more on how coins are priced, see my two-part explanation: Part I and Part II.

Why do American Silver Eagles have a One Dollar face value? Because the law (31 U.S.C. Sect. 5112(e)(4)) sets this as a requirement.

Why are the coins worth more than their face value? Because the law (31 U.S.C. Sect. 5112(f)(1)) says that “The Secretary shall sell the coins minted under subsection (e) to the public at a price equal to the market value of the bullion at the time of sale, plus the cost of minting, marketing, and distributing such coins (including labor, materials, dies, use of machinery, and promotional and overhead expenses).”

Can you spend the American Silver Eagle as any other legal tender coin? In the United States, you can use any legal tender coin in commerce at its face value. This means that if you can find someone to accept an American Silver Eagle, it is worth one dollar in commerce. However, it would be foolish to trade one-ounce of silver for one dollar of goods and services.

Commemorative Coins

Commemorative programs are different in that the authorizing laws add a surcharge to the price of the coin to raise money for some organization. Using the 2017 Boys Town Centennial Commemorative Coin Program (Public Law 114-30) as an example, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) introduced a bill (H.R. 893 in the 114th Congress) to celebrate the centennial anniversary of Boys Town. As with all other commemorative bills, the bill specified the number, type, composition, and denomination of each coin.

The Boys Town Centennial Commemorative coin features Fr. Edward Flanagan, founder of Boys Town

For example, the law says that the U.S. Mint will issue no more than 50,000 $5 gold coins that weighs 8.359 grams, have a diameter of 0.850 inches, and contains 90-percent gold. The law also has design requirements including being “emblematic of the 100 years of Boys Town.” The sale price of the coin will have “a price equal to the sum of” “the face value of the coins; and, the cost of designing and issuing the coins (including labor, materials, dies, use of machinery, overhead expenses, marketing, and shipping).”

As with other commemorative, the coins will include a surcharge. Each gold coin will include a $35 surcharge, $10 for a silver dollar, and $5 for each clad half-dollar coin. When the program is over, the surcharges “shall be paid to Boys Town to carry out Boys Town’s cause of caring for and assisting children and families in underserved communities across America.”

The 2017 Boys Town Centennial Uncirculated $5 Gold Commemorative Coin is selling for $400.45 and the proof coin is selling for $405.45 suggesting that the process of producing a proof coin costs the U.S. Mint $5 more than the uncirculated coin.

What goes into the price of the coin? After the face value of $5, there is a $35 surcharge added that will be paid to Boys Town, there is the cost of the metals used. Here is a workup of the cost of the gold planchet using current melt values:

Metal Percentage Weight (g) Metals Base Rate Price (g) Metal Value
Gold 90% 7.523 1259.00/toz 40.48 $ 304.52
Silver 6% 5.015 16.57/toz 0.53 0.27
Copper 4% 3.344 2.83/pound 0.006 0.00
Total metal value $ 304.79

Even though the melt value of the coin is $304.79, there is a service charge the U.S. Mint has to pay the company that creates the planchets. Thus, before the labor, dies, use of machinery, overhead expenses, and marketing is calculated into the price, the coin will cost $344.79 even though the legal tender face value of the coin is $5.

Taking it a step further, the average profit the U.S. Mint makes from gold commemorative coins is 8-percent (based on the 2015 Annual Report). If they are charging $400.45 for the uncirculated gold coin, the coin costs $368.41 to manufacture, $373.41 for the proof version.

Why collect these coins?

Why not?!

American Silver Eagle bullion coins were created for the investment market even though the authorizing law saw the benefit of allowing the U.S. Mint to sell a collector version. All of the Eagle coins are sold for investment or because people want to collect them for their own reasons. Some collect the collector version as an investment.

Commemorative coins are collected for their design or the buyer’s affinity for the subject and to support the cause which is being sponsored by the sale of the coin. Some collect commemorative coins like others collect series of coins.

Even though modern commemorative coins are sold for more than their face value, that does not mean they are not worth collecting. After all, can you buy a Morgan Dollar, Peace Dollar, Walking Liberty Half-Dollar, or a Buffalo Nickel for its face value?

Collecting bullion, commemorative, and other non-circulating legal tender (NCLT) coins is a matter of choice. If you choose to collect these coins, know that they will be worth more than their face value. And while they are legal tender coins, they are not meant for circulation. They are collectibles.

If you like these collectibles, enjoy your collection. Along with coins produced for circulation, I own American Silver Eagle coins, commemoratives, and other NCLT because I like them.

Some of the NCLT coins in my collection
Boys Town commemorative coin image courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

SCOTUS Cops Out

The ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles confiscated by the government from Joan Lanbord, daughter of Israel Switt.

Without a lot of fanfare, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of the ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle coins found by Joan Langbord, daughter of Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt.

Shortly after the sale of the Farouk-Fenton 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle coin, currently the example that is legal to own, in 2002 for $7.59 million at auction ($10.23 million accounting for inflation), Joan Langbord, daughter of Israel Switt, was searching through her late father’s boxes and found ten of these coins. Langbord then sent the coins to the U.S. Mint to authenticate. After a period of time, the Langbords inquired about the coins. They were told the coins were genuine and would not return them, calling them stolen items.

Langbord and her son Roy Langbord hired Barry Berke to help retrieve the coins. Berke was the attorney for British coin dealer Stephen Fenton who was arrested by the U.S. Secret Service when trying to buy the coin at the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York in 1996. Berke negotiated Fenton’s release from prison and the subsequent sale at the July 2002 auction.

After the U.S. Mint refused to return the coins, the Langbords sued the government in 2006. The case went to trial in 2011 with a jury verdict against the Langbords. After the ruling, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero, the government’s lead attorney in the case, came out with a courthouse statement, “People of the United States of America have been vindicated.” Do you feel vindicated?

The case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia.

In a hearing in 2015, Judge Marjorie O. Rendell ruled that the government was too aggressive in its actions and that the lower court judge erred in evidence handling. A subsequent three-judge panel upheld Judge Rendell’s ruling and ordered the government to return the coins.

The government appealed the ruling and asked for a full-circuit hearing. Called a ruling en banc, in 2016, a full panel of 12 judges ruled 9-3 that they agreed the lower court made mistakes in the presentation of evidence but they did not feel that there was not enough evidence that could overturn the ruling. The Appellate Court overturned the appeals and reinstated the original verdict.

Berke, on behalf of the Langbords, asked the Supreme Court to review the ruling of the Third Circuit. Officially, it is called a petition for a writ of certiorari. The petition was filed on October 28, 2016.

On April 17, the petition was denied. Justice Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the decision since he was not on the bench at the time the petition was filed.

Attempts to contact Burke have not been successful.

The inconsistency of how the government has handled the many different cases of coins that were not supposed to be in public hands is infuriating. Although the government has a history of confiscating the 1933 Double Eagles, the 1913 Liberty Head Nickels remain out of government control while the 1974-D Aluminum Cent was confiscated, while the 1974 Aluminum Cent pattern that was allegedly given to janitor by a member of congress was allowed to be sold at auction.

Patterns were never supposed to leave the U.S. Mint yet after the William Woodin served as Franklin Roosevelt’s first Secretary of the Treasury, the government has not tried to confiscate patterns. Woodin was a collector of patterns and trial coins who also had Roosevelt exempt “rare and unusual coin types” when writing the order to withdraw gold from private hands.

Even if the Third Circuit agreed that the evidence was not handled properly by the lower-court judge under the terms of the law, how can they tell whether a retrial would yield a different outcome? Why not return the case and retry the case?

While I love reading a good conspiracy theory, I find many difficult to understand how all of the moving parts can work in unison for or against anything. However, there are aspects of this story where a good conspiracy theorist could spin quite a tale.

Saying, “there ought to be a law” is usually not the real answer to many problems. However, maybe it is time to reconsider that feeling to force the government to act consistently. Considering how congress has turned dysfunction into fine art, I do not see this ever happening.

Do you still feel vindicated?

FTC Update Hobby Protection Act and Fails

Federal Trade CommissionThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published the “Final Rule of its Rules and Guidelines” for enforcing the Hobby Protection Act (16 CFR Part 304) to include the provisions of the Collectible Coin Protection Act (Pub. L. 113-288) that was signed into law by President Obama on December 19, 2014.

It is the job of the FTC to provide support to enforce the Hobby Protection Act. When updates are made to the law, such as the Collectible Coin Protection Act, the FTC is required to figure out how they will implement the law. Executive agencies, like the FTC, is required to write regulations that conform with the law and legal precedent, announce them to the public, allow for public comment, and then publish the file rule.

On October 14, 2016, the final rules that the FTC will use to enforce the Hobby Protection Act was published in the Federal Register (81 FR 70935). Since this is the final rule, the section begins with explanations and commentary about the information received from the public comments.

What appears to be troubling is that the FTC rejected comments from noted numismatists that there should be a rule to cover the manufacturing of fantasy coins. Fantasy coins are those that were not manufactured by the U.S. Mint. An example cited was the manufacturing of a 1964-D Peace Dollar “FANTASY” since the coins were never officially manufactured. Although the coins were struck, they were considered trial strikes and subsequently destroyed.

Daniel Carr is a mechanical engineer who also studied computer graphics and later turned it into an art career. He had entered U.S. Mint sponsored competitions for coin designs that have been used on commemorative coins. Carr is the designer of the New York and Rhode Island state quarters and his design was used as the basis of the Maine state quarter.

Carr had bought surplus coining machines from the Denver Mint, repaired them, and had been using them to strike fantasy coins. One of his fantasy coins was the 1964-D Peace Dollar. Over 300,000 coins were struck in 1965 at the Denver Mint anticipating its circulation only to be destroyed after congress disapproved of the way the Mint was allegedly handing the program. Some believe that some coins have survived, much like the 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle. But like that famed double eagle, it would spark a legal battle if a coin would surface.

Capitalizing on the story, Carr struck his own versions with varieties, errors, and finishes. He sold them as fantasy coins but were not marked in any way. Advertising and writings from Carr explicitly call them fantasy coins, but what about future sellers?

FTC claims it is not necessary to amend the rules “because it can address specific items as the need arises” The FTC further states they have “addressed whether coins resembling government-issued coins with date variations are subject to the Rules.” Using past precedent, the FTC concludes “such coins should be marked as a ‘COPY’ because otherwise they could be mistaken for an original numismatic item.”

Many numismatic industry experts who have seen how Chinese counterfeits have damaged the hobby, wanted the FTC the rule codified so that it would force someone like Daniel Carr to mark his fantasy pieces appropriately. Carr continues to manufacture fantasy pieces based on designs of actual coins changing the date. Recently, Carr has produced Clark Gruber fantasy products with modern dates without the word “COPY” imprinted on the coin.

While Clark Gruber gold pieces were never legal tender, there were allegedly pattern pieces of Presidential dollars that included the required inscriptions and included a denomination. There was no indication on the coins that they were not legal tender even though Carr marketed them as medallions.

The purpose of the CCPA was to prevent counterfeit coins from misleading the public. Carr has allegedly jumped over that line joining the Chinese counterfeiters in an effort that will mislead the public with the apparent blessing of the FTC.

Sources I contacted were not encouraged by the FTC action. It was noted that when Carr’s 1964-D Peace fantasy dollars were reported, the FTC did not take action.

The new rules go into effect on November 16, 2016.

NOTE: Normally, I will include links and other details to the items I write about so you can read more. However, because it is my opinion that what Carr has done violates every spirit that the Hobby Protection Act stands for, I will not provide links to dignify his efforts. I wholeheartedly believe that if similar coins were brought into the United States from abroad, especially from China, the FTC would act to protect our rights under the Hobby Protection Act. However, since Carr previously provided art to the U.S. Mint, it is likely the government may be trying to spare its own embarrassment.

Collectors of ancient coins need your help!

ACCGHere we go again… the government want to take your ancient coins away from you.

This is different from other conspiracy theories because since there is no mechanism for them. Here, foreign governments are working in collusion with the United States Department of State Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC). The problem with CPAC is that it is not a real committee. They are largely a rubber-stamp part of the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs kowtowing to any foreign government who feels that items found in their country have been stolen from regardless of the evidence. This includes common ancient coins or coins that were removed from circulation long before the existence of the 1970 UNESCO Convention that created this situation.

If you want to read a more extensive discussion on the problems facing collectors of ancient coins, read my post “An ancient dilemma” from 2014.

The information comes from the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG). Even if you are not a collector of ancient coins you should appreciate that the problems with governments wanting to stop your hobby. If they go after the ancients, what is to prevent these countries from trying to recall obsolete money? We need to support the ACCG and the community to prevent overreach by foreign governments and a committee who does not care what the coin collectors think.

Here’s the current issue as outlined by ACCG Executive Director Peter Tompa

Dear Fellow ACCG Member:
 
The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center have announced a comment period for a proposed extension of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Cyprus.  See https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/08/10/2016-19018/notice-of-meeting-of-the-cultural-property-advisory-committee
 
The U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee will review these comments and make recommendations based upon them with regard to any extension of the current agreement with Cyprus. 
 
According to U.S. Customs’ interpretation of the governing statute, import restrictions authorized by this MOU currently bar entry into the United States of the following coin types unless they are accompanied with documentation establishing that they were out of Cyprus as of the date of the restrictions, July 16, 2007:
 
1. Issues of the ancient kingdoms of Amathus, Kition, Kourion, Idalion, Lapethos, Marion, Paphos, Soli, and Salamis dating from the end of the 6th century B.C. to 332 B.C.
 
2. Issues of the Hellenistic period, such as those of Paphos, Salamis, and Kition from 332 B.C. to c. 30 B.C. (including coins of Alexander the Great, Ptolemy, and his Dynasty)
 
3. Provincial and local issues of the Roman period from c. 30 B.C. to 235 A.D.
 
You may ask, why bother to comment—when Jay Kislak, CPAC’s Chairman at the time, has stated that the State Department rejected CPAC’s recommendations against import restrictions on Cypriot coins back in 2007 and then misled both Congress and the public about its actions?   And isn’t it also true that although the vast majority of public comments recorded have been squarely against import restrictions, the State Department and U.S. Customs have imposed import restrictions on coins anyway, most recently on ancient coins from Bulgaria?
 
Simply because, our silence allows the State Department bureaucrats and their allies in the archaeological establishment to claim that collectors have acquiesced to broad restrictions on their ability to import common ancient coins that are widely available worldwide.   And, of course, acquiescence is all that may be needed to justify going back and imposing import restrictions on more recent coins that are still exempt from these regulations.
 
Under the circumstances, please take 5 minutes and tell CPAC, the State Department bureaucrats and the archaeologists what you think. 

How do I comment?  Go to  https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/08/10/2016-19018/notice-of-meeting-of-the-cultural-property-advisory-committee  to submit short comment just click on the green box on the upper right hand side of the above notice that says “submit a formal comment” and follow their directions.
If you are having trouble, go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal (http://www.regulations.gov), and enter Docket No. DOS-2016-0054 for Cyprus, and follow the prompts to submit comments. What should I say?  The State Department bureaucracy has dictated that any public comments should relate solely to the following statutory criteria: 

  1. Whether the cultural patrimony of Cyprus is in jeopardy from looting of its archaeological materials;
  2. Whether Cyprus has taken measures consistent with the 1970 UNESCO Convention to protect its cultural patrimony;
  3. Whether application of U.S. import restrictions, if applied in concert with similar restrictions by other art importing countries, would be of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage and that less drastic remedies are not available;and,
  4. Whether the application of import restrictions is consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.

(See 19 U.S.C. § 2602 (a).)   Yet, collectors can really only speak to what they know.  So, tell them what you think within this broad framework.  For instance, over time, import restrictions will certainly impact the American public’s ability to study and preserve historical coins and maintain people to people contacts with collectors abroad.  (These particular restrictions have hurt the ability of Cypriot Americans to collect ancient coins of their own culture.)  Yet, foreign collectors—including collectors in Cyprus—will be able to import coins as before.  And, one can also remind CPAC that less drastic remedies, like regulating metal detectors or instituting reporting programs akin to the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme, must be tried first.   Finally, Cyprus is a member of the European Union, so why not allow legal exports of Cypriot coins from other EU countries?
 
Be forceful, but polite.  We can and should disagree with what the State Department bureaucrats and their allies in the archaeological establishment are doing to our hobby, but we should endeavor to do so in an upstanding manner. Please submit comment just once, before the deadline on September 30, 2016.
 
Thank you for your help,

 
Peter,

 
Peter K. Tompa, 
Executive Director
Ancient Coin Collectors Guild

Next stop for the famed Double Eagles: SCOTUS

One of the ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 Double Eagle gold coins from the Longbord Hoard confiscated by the U.S. Mint

One of the ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 Double Eagle gold coins from the Longbord Hoard confiscated by the U.S. Mint

Earlier this months the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on the procedural appeal that the ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle gold coins did not have to be returned to the Langbord family.

This is a case that has been ongoing for ten years following the “discovery” of ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 gold Double Eagle coins by Joan Langbord, the daughter of Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt. Following the auction in 2002 of the only legal Double Eagle for a single coin record of $7,590,020 (since broken), Langbord claims that she found ten 1933 Double Eagles in a safe deposit box where Switt stored the coins.

Langbord reported the find to the Mint to “attempt to reach an amicable resolution of any issues that might be raised.” When Langbord gave the coins to the Mint to be authenticated, the Mint confiscated the coins. Langbord retained Barry H. Berke, the attorney who represented the plaintiffs in the case that resulted in the sale of the King Farouk coin.

After adding her sons Roy and David as plaintiffs to protect the property since Joan is elderly, the case is finally heard in July 2011. The court handed down an unanimous decision against the Langbords. The coins are moved to the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Langbords appeal the trail to the Third Circuit where a three-judge panel vacated the forfeiture and order the government to return the coins.

The government appeals and asks that the return order be vacated in order to appeal the decision. Rather, the Chief Judge of the Third Circuit will stay the order and ruled that the appeal will be en banc, meaning that the appeal will be heard before the entire bench of judges.

In this round the government did not file in the proper time-frame and the Longboards appealed all rulings. The Third Circuit order the return of the coins but the government appealed the ruling again.

On August 1, 2016, in a 9-3 vote, a full Third Circuit panel of judges ruled that they agreed with the government who argued that forfeiture laws were not applicable because the coins were already U.S. property and could only be surrendered. The majority also ruled against granting a new trial noting that the errors of the 2011 trial were harmless even though a previous three-judge panel ruled differently.

In writing the dissenting opinion, Judge Majorie Rendell said that the majority based its opinion “mainly on its buy-in to the Government’s audacity—the Government’s say—so that it owned the 1933 Double Eagles and had no intention of forfeiting them.” She noted that the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act was designed to prevent the government from forcefully seizing civilian property and that the ruling sets an “incorrect and dangerous precedent.”

A part of the government’s argument that is disturbing is that the they claim the Langbords are “the family of a thief” and should not benefit. Switt was never charged or convicted of a crime. While there is significant circumstantial evidence that Switt was the private seller of the coins and probably worked with the Mint’s cashier, his role has not been legally proven in any of the cases regarding any of the Double Eagle coins. Although this sounds like a legal arm-twist, it is important not only for this case but for any possible case the government can levy against any citizen. It is not right, fair, or legal and a violation of rights.

Berk told Reuters, “The Langbord family fully intends to seek review by the Supreme Court of the important issue of the unbridled power of the government to take and keep a citizen’s property.”

It is likely that the case will be filed to the U.S. Supreme Court for hearing in its next session beginning in October. Hopefully by then a ninth justice will be seated before hearing this case.

Image courtesy of U.S. Mint

Coin jewelry is not legal everywhere

If you have not visited Etsy, you will find a shopping site where you can find unique items that are not available elsewhere. Most of the sellers on Etsy sell handmade designs, vintage items, repurposed vintage items, supplies, and unique low volume goods. It would not be farfetched to call Etsy an Internet craft fair and a neat place to go shopping.

One of the more interesting items on Etsy are coin jewelry. Coin designs are themselves a form of art but can become ordinary when repeated over millions of coins. Take a meaningful design and add it to a bezel, attach it to a pendant, or hammer it into a ring and these artists take the coins to the next level.

Many of these artists will take requests for the type of coin for their creations. Some will even let you send a special coin or a coin they cannot obtain to create your design.

A quick search on Etsy for coin jewelry found over 100,000 different jewelry items including bracelets, rings, earrings, bracelets and more. Aside from the different types of jewelry the artists will also use coins from all around the world including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Norway, and more.

Resin ear rings made by InspiringFlowers using Roosevelt dimes

Resin ear rings made by InspiringFlowers using Roosevelt dimes

1996 Half Dollar Ring by LuckyLiberty

1996 Half Dollar Ring by LuckyLiberty

Hummingbird cut from a Trinidad and Tobago penny by SawArtist

Hummingbird cut from a Trinidad and Tobago penny by SawArtist

Click on the image to visit artist’s store

Coin jewelry hunters may be unknowingly accessories to a crime. According to an article in The Straits Times, it is illegal to make jewelry using coins from Singapore.

Like many other nations, Singapore takes pride in the art on their coinage. Aside from being their means to promote commerce, they are used to represent their culture and society. However, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the Singapore equivalent of the U.S. Treasury Department, has said that under Singapore’s Currency Act, it is illegal to “mutilate, destroy or deface” their money. Offenders can be fined up to $2,000.

If you search for “Singapore coin jewellery” (the British spelling of “jewelry”) on Etsy, you will find around 200 different jewelry items returned as part of the search. It is common to see Singapore flower series coin or older coins that featured seahorses.

Painted Singapore Dollar coin ring by Monedus

Painted Singapore Dollar coin ring by Monedus

1990 Singapore Horse bullion coin 1/20 oz. in a ring by BritanniaJewelry

1990 Singapore Horse bullion coin 1/20 oz. in a ring by BritanniaJewelry

Pendant made using a cutout 1979 Singapore coin

Pendant made using a cutout 1979 Singapore coin

Click on the image to visit artist’s store
None of these artists are based on Singapore

While United States law allows for people to use coins for jewelry or other purposes as long as there is no attempt to use them as legal tender currency (18 U.S.C. § 331), this might not be the same for other countries. Although European laws are similar to those in the United States, there is some question as to whether the laws of Canada and Australia can be interpreted to have the same restrictions as Singapore.

When I asked an attorney, he questioned whether an international buyer would convicted of a crime. We both agreed that if you buy jewelry with an international coin, leave it home if you plan to visit that country.

Etsy was asked for a comment but attempts to contact them via email has not been answered.

All images are courtesy of their respective artists on Etsy.

Government gets aluminum cent to keep the integrity of the hobby

1974-D Experimental Lincoln cent pattern made using an aluminum planchet (J2151)

1974-D Experimental Lincoln cent pattern made using an aluminum planchet (J2151)

Once again the U.S. Mint is saving us coin collectors from ourselves and preventing a legally obtained collectible from being owned by the collecting public. In a canned statement that had to have been copied from previous canned statements, U.S. Mint Principal Deputy Director Rhett Jeppson said that the agreement to return the only known version of a 1974-D Aluminum Lincoln cent pattern “is not only good for the integrity of the coin collecting hobby but for the integrity of the government property and rule of law.”

In 1974, as part of the effort to find a composition that would replace the 95-percent copper planchet for the one-cent coin that was used at the time, the U.S. Mint struck 1.4 million as patterns with the intent on destroying all of the coins struck when completed.

Congress did not like the concept fearing that their silver color would confuse them with other coins. Additionally, the aluminum composition could not be detected in vending machines nor would show up on an x-ray if swallowed. The coins were melted down.

Patterns that were struck for this test were made entirely in Philadelphia.

Which brings us to the story of the 1974-D cent pattern in this story.

Harry Lawrence who retired as deputy superintendent of the Denver Mint in 1979 owned this coin. Lawrence died in 1980. Harry’s son, Randall, discovered the coin in 2013 after moving to La Jolla from Denver and selling a bag of his father’s old coins to Michael McConnell at the La Jolla Coin Shop.

McConnell had the coin graded by Professional Coin Grading Service as MS-63 and determined it to be a genuine pattern. They were going to offer the coin for auction when the government stepped in to stop the sale and demanded its return.

Michael McConnell (left) and Randy Lawrence (right) returned the rare 1974-D penny made from aluminum back to the U.S. Treasury Department Thursday afternoon. — Nelvin C. Cepeda

Michael McConnell (left) and Randy Lawrence (right) returned the rare 1974-D penny made from aluminum back to the U.S. Treasury Department Thursday afternoon. — Nelvin C. Cepeda

There is one caveat to this story: there is no record of Denver ever striking such a coin. According to Randy Lawrence, the coin was given to his father when he retired from the Denver mint.

When Lawrence and McConnell sued the government to end the demand order, it is reported that Alan Goldman, former interim Mint director who headed the aluminum cent project, speculated in his deposition that the coin might have been made as part of a practical joke. Goldman allegedly named a suspect whose name was not released but is reported to be deceased.

The ensuing lawsuit lasted about two years and was settled today with McConnell returning the coin to the U.S. Mint on March 17, 2016.

The precedence this ruling is more dangerous for the hobby than people think. The most important issue is that it puts into jeopardy the status of the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels. Created under allegedly similar circumstances, the U.S. Mint has no record that these coins were ever produced. Although the government has tacitly agreed not to pursue that coin, there may be a time when someone with a more parochial view might use this situation to recover alleged chattel as property of the state.

Rulings like this will likely keep any surviving 1964-D Peace dollars hidden from the public. This will partially bury the history of turmoil in the coinage markets of the early 1960s. Hiding history is never good for anyone.

Credits

Langbords win their Double Eagles… for now!

The ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles confiscated by the government from Joan Lanbord, daughter of Israel Switt.

The ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles confiscated by the government from Joan Lanbord, daughter of Israel Switt.

News out of Philadelphia that an three-judge appeals panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has overturned a lower court’s ruling and order the U.S. Government to return the ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle gold coins originally seized by the government after being certified as genuine by the U.S. Mint.

The original suit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia by Barry H. Berke on behalf of Joan Langbord, the surviving daughter of jeweler Israel Switt, and her sons Roy and David. Berke is no stranger to these types of law suits. He represented the plaintiffs in the case that resulted in the sale of the Farouk coin in 2002. In July 2011, the jury returned a verdict declaring the coins to be government property.

1974-D Aluminum Cent (J2151)

1974-D Aluminum Cent (J2151)

The verdict left a lot of question about the legality of pattern coins. One example cited was the 1974-D Aluminum cent. However, on April 6, a federal judge in California ruled that the coin could have legally left the Denver Mint. This does not end the battle for the cent. All it does is dismisses the government’s claim for summary judgement against the plaintiffs Randall Lawrence and Michael McConnell.

This case is different since it is further along and about what was to be a circulating coin.

The ruling, written by Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, centers around the government’s use of Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA). CAFRA was passed as a “eact[ion] to public outcry over the government’s too-zealous pursuit of civil and criminal forfeiture” and as an “effort to deter government overreaching.” The government said that the Langbords did not file their suit within the 90-day time period. However, the ruling says that it does not imply because “Congress has specifically enumerated theft or embezzlement of government property as one of the crimes to which CAFRA applies.” Since the government called the assets stolen and then ignored the Langbords’ claim for the government to return the coins, they did not prove that the assets were embezzled and CAFRA does not apply.

In the areas where CAFRA did apply, the government did not respond to the Langbords’ request for return of the assets within the 90-days required by law. “The Langbords are correct in urging that we reject these arguments. The Government was required either to return their property or to institute a judicial civil forfeiture proceeding within 90 days of the Langbords’ submission of a seized asset claim.”

The three judge panel concluded “he Langbords are entitled to the return of the Double Eagles.” The appeal overturns the lower court’s ruling and the Appeals Court “will remand for the District Court to order the Government to return the Double Eagles to the Langbords.”

This may not be the end of the story. The government can ask for a temporary stay of the order in order to file an appeal. At that point the government attorneys can either appeal the ruling by the three-judge panel to the full Appellate Court (a full 9 judge panel) or directly to the Supreme Court.

My opinion: considering how the government has behaved throughout the saga of these coins, I think they will try to appeal this ruling to the full Third Circuit. It drags the case out longer and allows the government to put its considerable heft against the the Langbords. I do not think the government will settle this suit in a similar manner that the King Farouk coin was settled. However, if I understand the procedures correctly, the Langbords can claim that the case has significant public interest and ask for it to be heard by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court then will decide to hear the case or let it be heard by the Third Circuit first. Regardless, I think the next stop is the Supreme Court where the most fascinating story in U.S. numismatics will be settled.

Or will it?

† Judge Rendell was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997. She was also the First Lady of Pennsylvania during the term of her then husband Ed Rendell (2003-2011). The Rendells have since “amicably separated.”
Image of the 10 Double Eagles courtesy of the U.S. Mint.
Image of the Aluminum cent originally from the Smithsonian Institute.

Beware of fake gold

Fortuna Gold Rectangular Ingot-2.5g

PAMP Gold Ingot

The Numismatic Crime Information Center is reporting that two suspects have been arrested for selling fake Suisse PAMP gold bars. The NCIC report is as follows:

Traveling Suspects Arrested

Two suspects have been arrested for selling fake Suisse Pamp carded gold bars (2.5gm, 5gm,10gm and 1 ounce) at a coin shop in Greenwood, Indiana. Search of the suspects vehicle revealed multiple identification cards, business and pamphlets from different coin shops and an additional 250 fake gold bars and coins. Based upon receipts located in the vehicle the suspects had been selling the fake gold to shops in Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana since September, 2014.
 
The suspects were driving a silver Ford Focus with Missouri license plates. The suspects are being held for Theft by Deception.

Aaron TaylorWestern Union, IL

Aaron Taylor
Western Union, IL


 
Second suspect was identified as Nelson Hernandez (No photo available) alias Benjamin Wade.
 
Anyone having been in contact with either of these subjects should contact:
 
Doug Davis, 817-723-7231, Doug@numismaticcrimes.org

If you have information, please contact Doug Davis. Let’s keep the hobby for both collectors and investors safe!

Credits

Here we go again: U.S. Mint fights collectors

Experimental 1974-D Lincoln cent made struck on an aluminum planchet

Experimental 1974-D Lincoln cent made struck on an aluminum planchet

After all the U.S. Mint has tried to do to make itself more appealing to the collecting community, they are now reverting to their old form and attacking a collectors for owning a coin they claim is “contraband.”

The argument is over a 1974-D Lincoln cent made of aluminum that was to be auctions by Heritage Auctions during the April 2014 Central States Numismatic Society auction. Rather than being auctioned, the U.S. Mint requested its return as government property even though it was reported that no records of the coin’s production exist.

According to an updated report appearing in Coin World, the coin was given to Harry Lawrence, a former Denver mint assistant superintendent, as part of a retirement gift in 1979. Upon his death, his possession were willed to his son Randall Lawrence.

Randall Lawrence and Michael McConnell, a San Deigo-area dealer working with Lawrence, consigned the coin to Heritage in hopes to be able to donate at least $100,000 from the sale to charities helping the homeless in San Deigo. Heritage had estimated the coin to be worth $250,000. Lawrence and McConnell are asking the federal court to determine the coin’s ownership.

U.S. Mint does not have records of the aluminum cent being struck in Denver. There are records of 1 million coins struck in Philadelphia. Nearly all were destroy.

The U.S. Mint’s mishandling of their own records are legendary. Some of the more famous coins that have escaped official record include the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle and the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels. Numismatic researcher Roger Burdette has documented significant gaps in the way the U.S. Mint has historically mishandled their own documents. Even in recent years, the U.S. Mint has played fast-and-loose even with required documentation during previous director’s term because the narrative of the annual report would make the U.S. Mint’s performance look less than stellar.

Unfortunately for the U.S. Mint, Coin World reporter Paul Gilkes was able to interview former Denver Mint employee Benito Martinez “who said he personally struck fewer than a dozen of these coins as a die setter on aluminum planchets provided by the Philadelphia Mint.” Martinez said that these coins eventually made its way to the U.S. Mint headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Aside from the bad precedent this would create for all pattern coins and trial strikes, this has the potential to undo whatever good will the U.S. Mint has built with the collecting public in the last few years. Problems with the Kennedy gold coin not withstanding, the work that the U.S. Mint has done after the departure of Director Edmund Moy to build a more collector-friendly can be undone by continuing this fight.

Maybe it is time that the lawyers at the U.S. Mint and the Department of the Treasury stop trying to flex its muscles and realize the goodwill that would be created by changing policies and attitudes. After all, like all lawyers it is possible to interpret the law in a manner that would be more helpful while protecting the U.S. Mint and the U.S. government.

Image courtesy of Coin World.

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