Is the 1964 Morgan a fish story?

A Guide Book Morgan Silver Dollars 5th Ed.That explosion you might have heard was the collective minds of the numismatic community when it was revealed that a 1964 Morgan Dollar exists, or at least once existed.

The press release issued by Whitman Publishing for the new fifth edition of A Guide Book of Morgan Silver Dollars, by Q. David Bowers, that included the following paragraph:

The pricing, text, and certified population data in the fifth edition have been edited and updated. New research covers counterfeit error coins and other topics, including a numismatic bombshell: recent discoveries and photographs revealing the previously unknown 1964 Morgan silver dollar. (emphasis added)

Whitman included an image of the cover as part of its promotion of the book and features this coin. Its grey matte appearance with some flatness on Liberty’s face gives the appearance of a circulated coin.

No other information has been provided.

Close-up of the alleged 1964 Morgan Dollar

Close-up of the alleged 1964 Morgan Dollar from the cover of A Guide Book to Morgan Silver Dollars 5th Ed. by Q. David Bowers

Without seeing the evidence that is published in the book, the condition of the coin can lead one to question its authenticity. If the coin was a trial or experimental strike that coincides with the striking of the 1964 Peace Dollar, then should the coin appear uncirculated?

What if this coin was part of a rogue like the 1974-D Lincoln cent struck on an aluminum planchet? Did it really exist as a legitimate coin?

We will find out on September 27, 2017 when the book is scheduled to be released to retail outlets (or preorder on Whitman’s website). Until then, we are left to wonder if this is legitimate or a great fish story to sell books?

Cover photo courtesy of Whitman Publishing.

Counting Down the Top 10: #7 Dollars and What Sense

Two discussions that transcended numismatics is what to do about the one dollar coin and common one-cent coin. Both coins cause different problems depending on who is doing the arguing. I find it amazing that the logic that is used to support the argument is not used consistently.

Dollar coins have been around since the beginning of the republic. In fact, the coin that currently holds the record for being the most expensive coin sold at auction is a 1794 Flowing Hair dollar. The coin is reported to be amongst the first dollar coins minted at the newly created Mint was bought by Legend Numismatics for more than $10 million. Laura Sperber, one of the principals of Legend Numismatics, was quoted as saying that she was prepared to bid higher for the coin.

If that is not enough to show how important the dollar coin has been in our history, there is always the 1804 Bust dollar, also known as “The King of Coins.” The U.S. Mint ceased to strike dollar coins in 1804 because of hoarding when the price of silver rose. The dollars that were struck in 1804 were struck using dies dated 1803 and are indistinguishable from the coins struck in 1803. The U.S. Mint continued to strike “minor coinage” to encourage circulation.

In 1834, eight dollar coins were struck with the 1804 date to include in a special set created as a gift for the King of Siam (the area known today as Thailand). One coin was included in the set, one was retained by the U.S. Mint for its collection that is now part of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and the six others were kept as souvenirs by Mint officials and eventually landed in private collections. Between 1858 and 1860 seven more specimens were surreptitiously by U.S. Mint employee Theodore Eckfelt. It is alleged that Eckfelt created 15 coins. Six are in private collection, one is now part of the National Numismatic Collection and the others were reported to be destroyed when seized by the government.

The Coinage Act of 1873, known as “The Crime of ’73,” ended the free coining of silver and put the United States strictly on the gold standard until the western states where silver was being mined became upset. Two weeks later, congress passed the Bland-Allison Act to required the Department of the Treasury to buy the excess silver and use it to strike the Morgan Dollar. Morgan dollars, especially those struck at the branch mint in Carson City, Nevada are popular with collectors because of their ties to the days of the old west. Collectors can find quite a few nice examples of Morgan and the Peace dollars that were struck from 1921 through 1938 because many did not circulate. These coins were held as backing to silver certificates in circulation and did not get released to the general public until the GSA Hoard sales that begin in the 1960s.

Such a colorful history also has a downside that is used as fodder against the dollar. After ending the production of the Peace dollar in 1938, no dollars were struck until 1964 when the U.S. Mint struck 316,076 1964-D Peace dollars in May 1965. The coins were never put into circulation and the entire population of 1964-D Peace dollar were allegedly destroyed. There have been reports that some Peace dollars were struck using base metals (copper-nickel clad) as experimental pieces in 1970 in anticipation of the approval of the Eisenhower dollar. The same reports also presume these coins have been destroyed.

The Eisenhower dollar was not well received because of its size. The 38mm coin was seen as too big for modern commerce and with the exception of dollars struck with the special bicentennial reverse in 1975 and 1976, most coins did not circulate.

The Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was introduced in 1979 with much fanfare for being the first coin to honor a woman. The coin was a failure because it was confused with a quarter

The Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was introduced in 1979 with much fanfare for being the first coin to honor a woman. The coin was a failure because it was confused with a quarter

To try to improve circulation someone came up with the idea of the small dollar as part of an attempt to honor suffragette Susan B. Anthony. The copper-nickel coin was very close in size to the Washington quarter, had reeded edges like the Washington quarter, and on a simple glance was consistently confused with the Washington quarter. I even have heard coin collectors use the fiasco of the Susie B.’s as a reason not to pursue the dollar coin.

Since the introduction of the Sacagawea dollar in 2000, the dollar coin’s size has remained the same but with the addition of manganese has a golden color to be visually different from other coins. For the visually impaired, the reeding was removed from the edges. Today, the Presidential $1 coins and the Native American $1 Coins have edge lettering that keeps it tactically different from the quarter dollar. However, people continue to bring up the Susan B. Anthony dollar as a reason not to use dollar coins.

Historically, dollar coins has been more popular in the western regions of the United States where the east prefers paper. Financial centers and big city government prefers paper for its alleged ease of handling. When circulated side-by-side, the public tends to choose paper over coin.

When we look around the world for examples of how to handle this situation, we find that the United States is the only country where the unit currency is available in both paper and coin. Other countries did not give people a choice. Rather, their governments made a decision based on overall economic benefits of using a coin with a predicted 30-year lifespan over paper currency that can last 18-24 months in circulation. Instead of the argument being of practical economics where every other country and the European Union have put on their proverbial long pants and made a decision that is in their best economic interest, factions in the United States comes up with mind boggling arguments of alleging that taking the paper dollar away is akin to taking away our freedom.

Obverse of the 2013-S Lincoln proof cent. Lincoln's portrait, designed by Victor D. Brenner in 1909,  is the longest running design of any United States coin.

Obverse of the 2013-S Lincoln proof cent. Lincoln’s portrait, designed by Victor D. Brenner in 1909, is the longest running design of any United States coin.

Then why is that not an argument that can be used to figure out what the do about the one cent coin? Are we not giving up the same freedoms by forcing those who pay for good and services using cash to sacrifice their ability to pay what is due and not over pay?

The United States has a history of using its currency to boost the economic status of its citizens, aside from the various silver laws and the laws that eventually took the United States off the gold and silver standards, the creation of the half-cent was made because of the economic status of its citizens. Following Alexander Hamilton’s Treasury Secretrary’s report to congress “On the Establishment of a Mint,” Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson had another idea. Jefferson thought it would be better to tie subsidiary coins tied to the actual usage of the 8 reales coin. At the time, rather than worry about subsidiary coinage, people would cut the coin into pieces. A milled dollar cut in half was a half-dollar. That half-dollar cut in half was a quarter-dollar and the quarter-dollar cut in half was called a bit.

The bit was the basic unit of commerce since prices were based on the bit. Of course this was not a perfect solution. It was difficult to cut the quarter-dollars in half with great consistency which created problems when the bit was too small, called a short bit. Sometimes, short bits were supplemented with English pennies that were allowed to circulate in the colonies.

As an aside, this is where the nickname “two bits” for a quarter came from.

Jefferson felt that in order to convert the people from bit economy to a decimal economy, the half-cent was necessary to have 12½ cents be used instead of a bit without causing problems during conversion from allowing foreign currency to circulate as legal tender until the new Mint can produce enough coinage for commerce.

The half-cent would come into focus in the 1850s when the cost to produce the United State’s copper coins was nearly double their face value. In 1856, the Mint produced the first of the small cents, the Flying Eagle small cent, and produced 700 samples to convince congress to change to the small cent. As part of the discussion was the elimination of foreign currency from circulation making the U.S. Mint the sole supplier of coins.

There is no record of outcry from the public on the elimination of the half-cent. Its elimination came four years after the Coinage Act of 1853 that created the one-dollar and double eagle gold coins in response to the discovery of gold in North Carolina, Georgia, and California. The gold rush caused a prosperity and inflation that not only made the half-cent irrelevant but not something on the public’s mint. In that light, the Mint and congress felt that it just outlived its usefulness and would not be necessary with the elimination of foreign currency from circulation.

More controversy was generated in 1857 over the demonetizing foreign coins in the United States than the elimination of the half-cent. While the half-cent continued to circulate, it was estimated that one-third of the coins being circulated were foreign, primarily reales from Mexico. Redemption programs did not go smoothly, but in the end foreign coins were taken out of the market and the American people adapted and it could be said we prospered as a nation.

Like the 1850s, the last seven years have found that the cost of the copper used to make the one-cent coin has increased to more than the coin’s value. Combined with the labor and manufacturing costs, it costs the U.S. Mint between 1.6 and 1.8 cents for each copper-coated zinc cent struck. Although people argue that the cent is not needed and is barely useful, the U.S. Mint reports that 65-percent of its production are for one-cent coins that are ordered by the Federal Reserve to be circulated in commerce.

Eliminating the cent has caused controversy from those concerned with the economic welfare of the less fortunate. Many are using the same arguments that Jefferson made in 1791 to create the half-cent in order to keep the one-cent coin in circulation while others point to what other countries are doing. Canada is currently the country with the largest economy to eliminate its lowest denomination coin. Proponents of eliminating the cent point to Canada’s rocky success (withdrawal of the cent had been delayed twice) as an example of how the United States can handle the situation.

Canadian 1-dollar and 2-dollar coins. The 1-dollar coin is called a Loonie because its reverse depicts a common loon. “Toonie” is a play on the Loonie nickname.

Canadian 1-dollar and 2-dollar coins. The 1-dollar coin is called a Loonie because its reverse depicts a common loon. “Toonie” is a play on the Loonie nickname.

Canada also does not circulate paper currency smaller than their 5-dollar banknote. Rather than paper (or polymer as they are converting away from rag-bond paper), Canada circulates a one-dollar (Loonie) and two-dollar (Toonie) that is regularly used in commerce. The Bank of Canada is also considering eliminating their 5-dollar note in favor of a 5-dollar coin that would be produced by the Royal Canadian Mint for circulation.

Suggesting that if the United States follows Canada’s lead in the elimination of the cent, should the United States follow Canada’s lead and eliminate the one- and two-dollar Federal Reserve Notes in favor of one- and two-dollar coins?

This debate will continue until someone decides to act like an adult and make a definitive policy decision—especially when the Fed publishes a “working paper” that cherry picks facts to support a specific viewpoint.

Image of the Susan B. Anthony dollar and Lincoln cent courtesy of the U.S. Mint.
Image of the Canadian Loonie and Toonie courtesy of Noticias Montreal.

Confusion With Investing in Coins

There have been reports of the coin market continues to grow as the economy is falling. One measure is the PCGS3000 index that is based on a sample of 3,000 coins. Looking at the graph (see the right side of the page), the trend (blue) line continues upward. In fact, there is no downward place on the line. A trend graph would give an indication that the market is very hot and trending upward. But is that the case for the entire market?

The PCGS3000 is supposed to be a representative sample of the coin market. But like the Dow Jones Industrial Average, it is not a complete view of the market since there are other segments that have reacted differently. One area that is more sensitive to the movement of the market is the Generic Gold Index (right). This index looks at what many consider common date gold and gold bullion coins where the coins are worth their metal value plus a nominal numismatic premium. The graph shows a volatility that can be traced to the market value of gold.

Gold is a volatile market. When I thought that rare and proof gold would be a better choice, I found that the Mint State Rare Gold and Proof Gold indices seem to be affected by the price of gold. While there may be individual coins that perform better than others, the market itself seems to belie the trend of the PCGS3000 index.

The idea from this article came when a friend asked me they should buy if they wanted to invest using coins. My friend heard that the US Mint was having problems producing gold coins and wanted to know what to do. Since I am a collector and not an investor, I had to do some research.

Researching market trends is not easy. Online price guides do not provide the historical data to make an analysis. Gold dealers are quick to tout the investment in gold and how great of an investment option it is. But I was suspicious. After all, if even rare coins are affected by the gold market, maybe gold is not the best of investments.

I started to click on the links for the other graphs at the PCGS site and stumbled upon the Morgan and Peace Dollar Index (right). I have heard some dealers say that this market was moving, but I thought that was wishful thinking. But the graph shows that in the last year, the trend is upward. This was very interesting until I looked at the 10 year graph for Morgan and Peace Dollars.

My first impression was that the graph would overlay the trends in the economy with the exception of the downward trend during the technology bubble.

I was not sure what to tell my friend. I mentioned the Morgan and Peace Dollar market as a potential investment area. I also told the story of the GSA Morgan Dollars and their worth to collectors. I suggested high grade Morgan Dollars and later date, high grade Peace Dollars. I even discussed finding various die varieties that gets some collectors excited.

Although I was having fun clicking through vamworld.com, my friend was looking for something to invest in to either preserve a investment or to make money. I finally relented and suggested reading Profitable Coin Collecting by David Ganz. It seems to be the type of book that investors may find interesting.

While it is nice to see my collection is worth more than I purchased it, I am not collecting Morgan or Peace dollars because they are or will be worth more than when I purchased them.

Graphs courtesy of PCGS.

Watch Out for Counterfeits

One of the biggest problem with some online auction sites are the number of counterfeit coins being sold as genuine. Many of these coins look genuine. They may have been made of cast models of genuine coins with engraved enhancing to make them look better. Others are very badly made where designs have dates of coins that does not exist. Two coins commonly faked are Trade Dollars and Morgan Dollars.

Susan Headly of about.com posted an excellent and scary report that counterfeiting foreign coins, or any non-Chniese product, is legal in China as long as the seller pays the appropriate government taxes. Even with complaints from numerous copyright owners about piracy and the many recalled products from China, the United States government appears to be unable to prevent these products from entering the country. It is especially distrubing when Nancy Nord, acting chairperson of the Consumer Product Safety Commission turns down additional appropriations to help her agency to do their job better showing the government will not help.

Even if you are buying graded coins that are encapsulated in a reputable third party grading service’s holder, you have to be careful with some coins because the slabs are now being counterfeited. The picture on the left was posted on the Collectors’ Universe Forums by user pcgs69 showing a genuine coin in a PCGS slab next to a counterfeit slab complete with valid serial number. In this case, pcgs69 knew the real coin was sold by Heritage Auction Galleries a few years earlier.

I was prompted to write about this from a friend who purposely bought a counterfeit Trade Dollar on a very well know online auction site. He knew it was counterfeit because it was dated 1886 (Trade Dollars were struck 1873-1885) but was curious as to what he would receive. The coin was sent from an address in China and arrived in ten days. The first thing he noticed was that the coin was made from a casting with softer details than a struck coins. My friend consulted a metallurgist who estimated the coin was made from a mixture of metals containing 40-percent silver. A real Trade Dollar is struck on a 90-percent silver planchet.

As my friend was telling me about the coin he asked if we will be seeing more of these coins this fall? With the Summer Olympics starting on 8/8/08 in Beijing, how many unsuspecting tourists will be sold counterfeits as “rare coins” and will try to post them on a popular online auction site hoping to make quick money?

Please be careful as you look to purchase items marked as “rare coins” from unfamiliar sources.

Learning About A Morgan Sketched Pattern

I came across a thread on the Collectors Society message boards about a slabbed medal whose design was based on a sketch by US Mint engraver and artist George T. Morgan. The sketch was found by researchers in 2002 at the Smithsonian Institute. It was buried in the pages of a sketchbook Morgan used to draw design ideas. This sketch was an 1876 idea for the grandest of all coins, a coin with such a high denomination that the design had to be the most beautiful ever proposed. It was the design for a $100 Union gold coin.

There appears to be very little written about the coin or why Morgan sketched the design. In 2005, the Smithsonian entered into a deal with the New York Mint to strike private issue gold and silver proof medals based on the design. The New York Mint struck 999 one-ounce gold proof medals, had them certified by NGC, and housed them in a cherry-wood box whose cover has a replica the original Morgan sketch. These medals are sold out. The New York Mint continues to sell a 1½-ounce silver proof coin also certified by NGC issued in a velvet pouch.

Morgan’s design features Miss Liberty, sitting on what appears to be bales of cotton, next to stalks of wheat, on the banks of a river with the mountains in the background. She is holding an olive branch in her left hand and a caduceus on a long staff in her right. Although we think of the caduceus as a medical symbol, it has a history dating back to ancient Greece as an astrological symbol of commerce and attributed to Hermes. It was a symbol to show the Greek authority over trading (the long staff) with the strength to enforce its authority (the wings), with the wisdom to not abuse its power (the snakes). The symbolism is interesting given the history of its use.

Snakes, or serpents, have a long history of being symbols for deceit or other negative symbols. But in ancient Greece, the serpents were a symbol of wisdom and even strength that would inspire the thinkers of the time. Since wisdom can have differing views, two snakes were used to symbolize the balance achieved by considering opposing forces. Interestingly, the Rod of Asclepius was the symbol of healing used by Asclepius, the son of Apollo, and uses one snake to symbolize rebirth—as the snake sheds and re-grows its skin—and fertility.

In later years, the Pagans were known to be fascinated by the mysticism of snakes. Pagan leaders liked to control the masses and adopted the snakes as a sinister representation of wisdom. The practice lead to snakes becoming a representation of the mystics whose faux wisdom was used to empower the animal’s handlers. The handlers would train the snakes to attack on command, which were used as threats to those who would not believe. When the crusades were fought against the Pagans, snake handlers would use their skills to attack Christian soldiers. As the Pagans were defeated and converted to Catholicism, papal edicts banned the use of snakes in all religious ceremonies and symbols. Even though the church had compromised with Pagans and many others to facilitate conversion, the church was adamant about not allowing snakes as part of any religious ceremonies.

When Morgan arrived in the United States from his native Great Britain in 1876, the dominant design on US coinage was seen on the Seated Liberty coins and the Trade Dollar. The Seated Liberty design appears to be based on Britannia with American symbols. Britannia is an allegorical symbol of Great Britain who holds a trident proclaiming her superiority of the sea and a shield emblazoned with the Union Jack saying she is ready to defend her homeland. Britannia is usually depicted wearing a helmet and near the sea. For the Seated Liberty design, the allegorical symbol for Liberty replaces Britannia, a version of the US flag is shaped as a shield showing defense of the new nation, and the trident replaced by the phrygian cap (sometimes called the Liberty Cap) on a pole that is considered a protest symbol as being pro liberty.

It can be speculated that a grand coin, such as a $100 issue, would require a design worthy of the country’s first one hundred years and the growth being seen in recent memory. Morgan may have looked at the phrygian cap and thought that the protest should be over, especially since the United States and Great Britain had normalized relations. Morgan may have thought that the caduceus would represent the new strength of the nation: commerce, after the Transcontinental Express traveled from New York to San Francisco in just over 83 hours. Morgan borrowed the bales of hay and stalks of wheat from the Trade Dollar and placed Miss Liberty on the banks of a river to represent the trading routes offered through the country.

Using the caduceus was an interesting symbolic choice. It has both noble and ignoble meanings throughout history. On one hand, it is a positive symbol of commerce. On the other hand, it is a symbol of deceit in a time when the election of Rutherford B. Hayes as the 19th President and the corruption represented by the political machine of Tammany Hall dominated the headlines. Although the concept for the coin never made it beyond Morgan’s sketch, it can be speculated that the Christians of the time may have objected to its use.

We may never know why George Morgan sketched this pattern or the symbolism he was trying to capture. But given what we know about the symbols, it shows Morgan’s talent for classic design. One can only wonder what our coin designs might have been had his presence was not resented by William and Charles Barber.

Image courtesy of user bsshog40 from the Collectors Society message boards.

My First CC Morgan

There is something magical about the Morgan Dollar. It is the only coin that seems to remind us of the Manifest Destiny as the country expanded across the Great Plains to the Pacific Ocean. It brings up images of the Old West where people moved to make a better life looking for gold and silver or making money from those who have struck it rich. Sure this is a romantic view and does not take into consideration the plight of the Native American nations, but it ties into the fascination there has been with the west of the 19th Century.

The Comstock Lode was the greatest discovery of silver. So much silver was discovered that it was causing the price of silver was declining. To protect the financial interests of the mine owners and allegedly the nation’s economy, congress passed the Bland-Allison Act of 1879 to order the US Mint to buy the silver evacuated from the mines. The law required the Mint to produce 90-percent silver coins for circulation using that silver. The result was an over production of silver that would have repercussions for years to come.

Virginia City was the hub of the region, many deals and other favors lead to the building of an assay office then a full branch mint in nearby Carson City. Its history is an example of how things worked in the 19th century. The cornerstone for this branch mint was laid in September 1865 and was opened to strike coins in 1870. When the Morgan Dollar began its run in 1878, this branch mint would strike far more coins than necessary.

As the Mint purchased the required amount of silver and struck coins, the extra Morgan Dollars were bagged and placed into storage. These bags were transported to different government buildings including the Department of the Treasury in downtown Washington, DC. These coins were discovered in the 1960s by the General Services Administration (GSA) when they were cleaning out old government buildings in Carson City for sale and the Treasury building for refurbishing. The GSA sale of these Carson City dollars in special holders caught the imagination of the public.

The stories of the CC Mint is legendary. Like a lot of people, when I started to collect Morgan Dollars, I thought the cost of purchasing examples of these CC minted dollars was a bit out of my price range. Over the last few years, I have been looking for an affordable (under $100) nice looking coin. It would have to be at least in Very Fine condition with some mint luster, but at least worth the grade.

I finally found one! The 1890-CC Morgan Dollar is not worth a lot in comparison to other CC mint Morgan Dollars. But it is still a nice coin. But when I was able to find a Very Fine 1890-CC Morgan Dollar for under $100, I had to make this purchase. It is a nice coin with a little shine that suggests it was dipped a long time ago. But the elements are nice and the CC mint mark on the reverse is very clear.

While uncirculated coins are very beautiful, circulated coins have a history. What events did this coin see? Whose hands has this coin passed through? Was this coin used in Deadwood, South Dakota? Was it once handled by Buffalo Bill Cody? Or Teddy Roosevelt? I may not know this coin’s history, but it is fun to imagine while admiring its beauty.

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