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?

Red Books are here!

Whitman Publishing debuted the 71st edition of A Guide Book of United States Coins at the Whitman Expo on March 31, 2017. Early orders have been taken and some retailers are still waiting for their orders to arrive. For the hobby, waiting for the new Red Books is an annual rite of passage, even though some do not buy the book.

Over the years, the Red Book has been updated to include more color, better images, and more information. With the work of Q. David Bowers and the Whitman staff filling out the library of books about every coin type, mint and proof sets, and even a Red Book for the Red Book, there is an incentive to increase the purchase pattern.

Then there’s MEGA RED, the phonebook-sized version that includes more information, in-depth analysis of some coins, and more items including significant tokens and major errors. For those not old enough to remember the phonebook, a relic caused by the Internet, if you lived in a densely-populated area, the 1500-page MEGA RED book is about as thick as the telephone book used to be in those areas.

Contributors page from the 71st Edition of the Red Book

There is something a little different in this version of the Red Book. If you open to the Contributors page you will see the name of your favorite numismatic blogger. Last year, I responded to a call for pricing contributors to the Red Book. We provided an area of expertise and were assigned to submit the prices for our area. I volunteered to work on modern coin prices.

Modern coins are those classified as being struck after 1964 when silver was removed from most U.S. coins. These are the coins that some dealers do not show a lot of love for because they are not perceived as worth the effort to sell. Although some of that has changed since the State Quarters were first introduced in 1999, the hobby should show more respect to these coins especially since we are 53 years into the modern era.

Although many feel that the Red Book pricing is obsolete when it comes out, it is still a good guide to understanding the foundation of pricing even if there is are market fluctuations. Thus, it would not hurt to get these prices closer to being correct, especially for the upcoming collectors. After all, this is a “guide,” not a price list.

Lapel pin given to Red Book contributors

For my part, I would attend shows with a worksheet I created of modern prices. The worksheet is stored on my iDevices and was editable as I attended shows and looked at coins online. When I noticed a glaring difference between what was once printed in the Red Book versus what I was seeing on the bourse floor, I would note the changes in my worksheet. Using this information, I would take the average of the prices and use that to recommend updates.

Using modern terms, the coin prices reported by the Red Book is the result of crowdsourcing. Volunteers enter prices and the editors make the final determination from the input provides. It is not a perfect system but it works in an area where coin pricing is more of an art and not a science. Although I did not check to see how my recommended updates affected the prices in this edition of the Red Book. I just hope it helps.

225

On April 2, 1792, President George Washington signed the Coinage Act of 1792 into law, giving birth to the United States Mint. David Rittenhouse was appointed as the first director of the Mint whose first job was to build or purchase the first government owned building. It would take four months to be able to have any type of operations in the new government building. The first coins were struck on July 30, 1792, allegedly using silverware provided by First Lady Martha Washington.

The Coinage Act of 1792 set the basis of U.S. coins to be the dollar that would be on par with the Spanish Milled Dollar (8 Reales). It established gold coins for the Eagle ($10), Half Eagles ($5), and Quarter Eagles ($2.50). The half dollar, quarter dollar, dismes, and half dismes were to be struck in silver while the cent and half-cent would be struck in copper.

The law outlines how the Mint operates in order to preserve its integrity and sets the basis for making debasement (such as shaving the metals from the edge) and counterfeiting illegal acts. Over the years, we learned that the laws required for self-oversight that was akin to the foxes guarding the hen house (see the stories of the 1913 Liberty Nickles and 1933 Double Eagles).

From good economic times to bad politics, the US Mint has been working for 225 years to meet the demands for circulating coinage while creating objects that drive the passion of numismatists.

Let’s raise a cheer and wish the US Mint a Happy Birthday!

The Coinage Act of 1792

coinage_act_1792

COINS Act is Deja Vu all over again

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) once again introduced the Currency Optimization, Innovation, and National Savings Act of 2017 (COINS Act). Similar to the same bill he introduced in the last congress, the COINS Act (S. 759) proposed to end the production of the $1 Federal Reserve Note, reduce the production cost of the five cent coin by changing its composition, and eliminating the one cent coin. Mike Enzi (R-WY) is a co-sponsor.

“With our country facing $20 trillion in debt, Congress must act to protect the American taxpayer,” in a statement issued by McCain’s staff. “By reforming and modernizing America’s outdated currency system, this commonsense bill would bring about billions in savings without raising taxes.”

Of course “common sense” has a very different definition in Washington than the rest of the country. The first attempt to introduce a bill to end the production of the $1 note started in 1991 by then Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) and died at the end of the 102nd Congress. Kolbe introduced the legislation every session until his retirement in 2007 following the adjournment of the 109th congress. McCain has introduced the bill in the last three sessions of congress.

“Change can be hard sometimes, but switching to a dollar coin could save our country $150 million a year,” Enzi said. “Our country is in a difficult financial position because we didn’t value the cost of the dollars we spent. We can’t afford to keep that up, and these innovative opportunities are a way to save taxpayer money that is really just being wasted with each new dollar we print and penny we mint.”

I am sure that the usual arguments about eliminating the paper dollar will come up again. Even though a GAO report has shown that eliminating the paper dollar could save the government about $4.4 billion in production and handling costs, economic surveys have claimed a potential $16-18 billion benefit for the government.

When the public is asked about eliminating the paper dollar, the arguments usually line up along generational lines. Surveys have shown that Baby Boomers (those born before 1964) and those older are overwhelmingly not in favor of eliminating the the paper note. The GenXers, those born 1965-1980, are almost evenly divided while the Millenials, those born since 1980, do not care because they are mostly tied to their credit and debit cards.

The Baby Boomer that writes this blog is in favor of eliminating the paper dollar. In the past, he was in favor of eliminating the one cent coin but is beginning to have second thoughts.

For the longest time, the Massachusetts delegation have held these types of bills back. This is because the Dalton, Massachusetts based Crane & Co., the maker of currency paper, has been the exclusive currency paper supplier to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing since 1879. Although Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has become a more powerful figure in the Senate, she is not a favorite amongst the majority and is tolerated by the more centrist members of her own party. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) does not have the gravitas either of his predecessors, the late Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, to yield influence. The only power the Senators have would be to filibuster any measure that would eliminate the $1 note. Sen. Warren has railed against military-related spending for non-essential equipment so that members of congress could keep these jobs in their districts. Would she be willing to follow her lead that could reduce the revenue of a company in her home state?

In for a pound

The old Round Pound and the new 12-sided £1 coin

By the time the sun rises on the east coast of the United States, the Royal Mint, on behalf of HM Treasury, will have released the new 12-sided £1 coin. Billed as the most secure coin in the world, the Royal Mint touts the following security features:

  • 12–sided — its distinctive shape makes it instantly recognisable, even by touch.
  • Bimetallic — it is made of two metals. The outer ring is gold coloured (nickel-brass) and the inner ring is silver coloured (nickel-plated alloy).
  • Latent image — it has an image like a hologram that changes from a £ symbol to the number ‘1’ when the coin is seen from different angles.
  • Micro-lettering — it has very small lettering on the lower inside rim on both sides of the coin. One pound on the obverse heads side and the year of production on the reverse “tails” side, for example 2016 or 2017.
  • Milled edges — it has grooves on alternate sides.
  • Hidden High Security Feature — with a patented High Security Feature to protect it from counterfeiting into the future.

Of course, the Royal Mint is offering collectibles for the new pound that includes a “farewell” to the one being replaced nicknamed the “Round Pound.”

Design and production of the new pound coin have been nearly three years in the making following the discovery of a large number of counterfeit £1 coins. Sources estimated that about 3-percent of the £1 coins in circulation are fake amounting to more than 45 million counterfeit coins. These fakes are so convincing and very well constructed that they can be successfully used in vending machines for payment including in London’s Underground.

The coin-operated businesses in Britain began complaining three years about the changes with reports that only a small fraction of all vending machines will be able to accept the new coin. Each coin-operated machine will have to be reprogramed and recalibrated to detect a coin that will have a different weight, specific gravity, and the electromagnetic signature.

Amongst those systems not ready include the London Underground and several major supermarkets.

While watching the news, I found that British supermarkets charge for people to use their trollies, which are called shopping carts on this side of the pond. I do not know if it is a deposit similar to the carts available at the airports, but could you imagine having to pay to use a shopping cart at your local supermarket? I do not think that would go over well in the United States!

Back in October 2016, the Royal Mint published education material and test coins that the coin-operating machine companies could use to test their equipment. Some of these test coins have appeared for sale on websites like eBay. Since then, there have been weekly stories about the new coin and stories have appeared daily in the British media.

Now that the new £1 coin has been released, it will co-circulate with the round pound through October 15, 2017. Banks will only distribute the new £1 coins while stores and other businesses will be allowed to accept either. During that time, it is expected for coin-operated equipment to be converted as soon as possible.

On October 16, 2017, the round pound will be demonetized and lose all legal tender status. Once the round pound loses legal tender status, they may be exchanged at some banks and the Post Office. The plan is to end the exchange of the round pound by March 27, 2018.

For collectors, this is an opportunity to collect something that was once a real circulating coin. The current round pound came into existence in 1971 when the UK transition from the pounds, shillings, and pence (£sd) system based on the power of 12 to a decimal system, called decimalization. Of course, when this happened in 1971 the web did not exist and real paper newspapers were the primary means of spreading the information about the new currency. Based on reports, there were some issues during the one-year transition but there were no stories of tragedies once the new money was issued.

Somewhat like the end of the Canadian cent, this is the end for a significant circulating coin. Except the Canadians did not replace the cent while the British are exchanging coins.

The Trade Dollar

Before you write to me to explain about the Trade Dollar, I know it was demonetized in 1876. However, it gained legal tender status again as part of the Coinage Act of 1965.

For those concerned over proposals that the United States change composition of various coins, including the one-cent coin that costs 1.5-cents to produce, watching how the UK handles the change will provide an insight as to how it might be handled here. Except for one problem: The United States does not demonetize coins (see the note in the box to the right). Every coin produced by the U.S. Mint can be used as legal tender at their face value, although it would be foolish to spend a Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle for its $20 face value since its gold content would be worth more!

It will be interesting to see how stiff those proverbial stiff upper lips hold up during this transition.

All images, videos, and British-style English text courtesy of the Royal Mint.

And now, the news

Astute observers might have noticed minor changes to the blog. While the look has been the same, I add a News menu item and a Recent News feature to the sidebar. These were added along with the soft launch of the Coin Collectors News.

Following a number of years writing the blog, I have been added to many mailing lists that send press releases and announcements from around the numismatic industry. Usually, I only publish these releases on the blog when I have something to add. When I do not, they end up being deleted. Since most have good information for the community, I decided to publish them.

Rather than add the press releases to the blog, I created a microsite called Coin Collectors News at news.coinsblog.ws. Although the microsite has the same look and feel of the blog (it’s now my brand), it is separate from the blog. Since it is separate, there is a different RSS feed for the site. If you use an RSS reader, you can find the feed here. For those who want to receive updates via email, you can sign up at here. Later on, if you decided you want to subscribe to the feeds, see the signup fields on the top and bottom right of any page.

When news items are published, an alert will be posted to the @coinsblog Twitter feed, the same account as the blog.

The items posted on Coin Collectors News will be press announcements only. No comments or commentary will be allowed, including by me.

Subscribers of the Numismatic World News Newsletter were the first to know about this service. It was announced to them about two weeks ago as a perk for subscribing. Last week, I added the links to the microsite to the blog and now I am ready to let everyone else on the new resource.

Behind the scenes, I am working on a numismatic bill tracker. Currently, I manually keep a list that I update monthly. After doing this a while I decided to put my technical background to good use and write programs to search for new bills, maintain their status, and produce a formatted report. With that work done, the next step is to create a microsite to share this with everyone. When it is ready for the soft launch, the subscribers to the Numismatic World Newsletter will be the first to know.
 

Real life overtakes other news

There are times that while we are having fun collecting coins, currency, exonumia, and the like, there is a real world out there with real issues. For some, this hobby can be an escape from that reality.

On Wednesday, the Bank of England announced that they were looking into the issue where their new polymer notes contain traces of tallow. According to the supplier of the pellets that are used to make the polymer substrate, tallow is used in the resin it sources from a supplier to make those polymer pellets. It was a low-key response to an issue that was made bigger by the British vegan community.

While writing a snarky response, my Twitter feed blew up with the news of the attack on the Westminster Bridge and near Parliament Square in London. I stopped writing and turned on the news. Having once walked on that bridge there was a sinking feeling I could not shake.

We know that five people have died, including a police officer and the attacker. One was a man from Utah on the last leg of a 25th Anniversary trip with his wife. She was amongst the reported 50 people injured and one of the 31 requiring hospital treatment. One woman was so scared she jumped off the bridge and into the Thames River

MI5, the United Kingdom’s internal security force, arrested seven men and four women on terrorism charges. One of the women posted bail, the other 10 are still in custody. They have collected over 2,700 pieces of evidence that they will be studying.

Although I am not a “run-and-hide” type, I find it difficult to be snarky given the recent events, even if the story deserves that type of treatment. I am sure that the heartbreak of tallow will return to the news and will give me a chance to have fun at their expense. But for now, let’s wish the best for the people who were injured and the families of those who are mourning.

Image courtesy of the Government of London.

About running for the ANA Board of Governors

In January, I reacted to the intent of one of the candidates announced to run for President of the American Numismatic Association. Since then, I learned there will be competition for that position. Last week, it was reported that Don Kagin will run for Vice President and the various numismatic outlets have been reporting on others interested in making a run for the ANA Board of Governors.

While reading the stories of the people who announced their intention of running for the Board of Governors, I have to admit that I do not recognize any of them. But that is great. It means that there are people who are working more on a local level to apply their knowledge nationally. It also means that there are new people to give the Board new life. I applaud those who have stepped up to run.

Since my missives about the ANA Board of Governors, I have heard from several members urging me to run. It is both humbling and an honor to hear from these members offering their support. Following a few conversations with past Board members and my family, I have decided not to run for the Board of Governors.

Although I remain committed to the mission of the ANA and would like to see the ANA expand to be more inclusive to every demographic other that old, white men, my decision is based simply on timing. I was presented with a business opportunity that will take a significant amount of my personal effort to launch, especially since the opportunity is based on my vision. It would not be possible start a business venture and appropriately serve the ANA at the same time.

Because of conflicts with my business venture, I will not be able to attend the National Money Show in March. This is too bad because I had a plan to use Mickey Mouse ears get attention and talk about the Board of Governors on the bourse floor!

For now, I will continue to serve on the Technical Committee as long as the President, Board, and the committee will allow me. I will also continue to write this blog and include any information and criticism necessary to further the mission of the ANA.

Whitman wants your imperfect coins

A dateless Buffalo Nickel with acid stain from a pocket change find

As a longtime numismatic blogger, I am on many mailing lists and receive many press releases and announcements. Since there are many other good numismatic news-related outlets that will publish these stories, I will leave it up to them to bring you that news. Sometimes, the announcement is interesting and worthy of a spotlight.

Whitman publishing, the people who give us the Red Book and the famous blue folders and albums, is looking for pictures of your problem coins. Here, let Dennis Tucker, Publisher at Whitman, explain:

Whitman Publishing Wants Your Imperfect Coins

(Atlanta, Georgia) — Whitman Publishing is looking for sharp, high-resolution photographs or scans of “ problem” coins to illustrate in upcoming books. Hobbyists who share their images will be credited in the books’ acknowledgments.

“Most of the time we show Mint State pieces with strong details, to give our readers a good understanding of each coin type or die variety,” said Whitman publisher Dennis Tucker. “But coins with problems can be educational, too.”

The publishing firm is looking for coins with: PVC damage; bag marks; scratches; edge bumps, nicks, or dents; holes; or extreme wear.

Image files should be at least 300 dpi at two times actual size. Scans and cell-phone photographs are acceptable as long as the image is high-resolution and clearly illustrates the coin’s problem.

Collectors with images to share can contact Dennis Tucker at dennis.tucker@whitman.com.

I do not know what you will get for contributing, probably an image credit, but it could be fun to contribute!
 

Update on U.S. Mint Leadership

On the first official working day of the new administration, I received the following from the U.S. Mint Office of Corporate Communications:

Dave Motl will serve as Acting Principal Deputy Director until the new Administration selects the individual(s) who will lead the Mint going forward. (Mr. Motl previously was serving as Chief Administrative Officer. )

The U.S. Mint has not updated their website at the time this is written. When they do, we will learn more about Mr. Motl.

Until then, stay tuned. We will keep an eye on the country’s only manufacturer of legal tender coins.

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