During the busy week, I will empty my pocket of change and place it on my dresser. When it gets too piled up I will see if there is anything worth a further look before dumping them into a nearby container. After a year, the container is emptied and the proceeds go to charity. But that is after I search for anything interesting.
When I pay by cash, I pay using currency and pocket all of the change so that I can see what I find. Most of the time I am able to pick out items that require further examination when the change is handed to me. Those coins are put in another pocket for later. This week there was little time. Projects have to be completed and it is almost time for football season. No time to waste.
After four days, I did not think there would be much until the single layer started to grow higher. It was time to scoop them into my jar when I started to nice that a nickel did not look right on first glance. It looked worn but it was a nickel. After looking closer the date said 1902. It is a fairly beaten up 1902 Liberty Head “V” Nickel with scratches and what looks like was once graffiti scratched into the reverse. This coin is so bad off that I do not think the third-party grading services would encapsulate it even for a low-grade registry set!
1902 Liberty Head V Nickel from a pocket change find
1902 Liberty Head V Nickel (reverse) from a pocket change find
This nickel might be the oldest coin I have found in circulation that wasn’t copper.
My next find was interesting because I figured it out before looking closely. Of all the Jefferson nickels, the easiest ones to pick out are the wartime silver nickels. Wartime nickels have a different colored toning than the regular copper-nickel alloy. These coins do not contain any nickel. They are made of .350 silver, .560 copper, and .090 manganese. Without the nickel to keep some semblance of shine the wartime nickels will tone to a distinctive dark silvery gray. If graded G-4 the coin is worth about $1.20 which is not bad considering its silver value is $1.04!
A 1942-P Jefferson Wartime Nickel from a pocket change find
Reverse of 1942-P Jefferson Wartime Nickel from a pocket change find
The final find was also easy to identify even before a more careful look. Peaking out from under another coin was the clear sign of an acid date Buffalo nickel. An acid date Buffalo nickel is a coin that had its date restored using a chemical acid, although in this case it looks like the date was worn down after the acid treatment. The distinctive mark left by the chemical can be seen even though the date has worn away again.
A dateless Buffalo Nickel with acid stain from a pocket change find
Reverse of dateless Buffalo Nickel from a pocket change find
Other than the nickels I continue to find wheat-back cents. I seem to average one per week. This past week I found four with the oldest being a fairly common 1919 cent that looks like it has been well used and cleaned.
A 1919 Lincoln Cent from a pocket change find
A 1919 Lincoln Cent (reverse) from a pocket change find
After reporting about the petition to return the Buffalo nickel to circulation, I thought I would ask my readers. Since I have not updated the polls for a while, I thought this was a good topic to begin this week.
While I love the design by James Earle Fraser and have starting hoarding Buffalo nickels during my estate finds, I am not sure that this is a design that would work on today’s nickel. Collectors of Buffalo nickels can tell you that while a great design the elements do not wear well especially on critical high points, such as the buffalo’s horn.
Possibly a better idea is to bring back the design of the 2005 Westward Journey American Bison nickel. Aside from having a better portrait of President Thomas Jefferson than the one currently in use, the bison on the reverse appears to work better on modern coins. Maybe the bison can be given a new look, but it would be a better version for today’s market.
2005 Westward Journey Nickel Reverse
What do you think?
Westward Journey nickel imaged courtesy of the U.S. Mint.
If you missed the news, a few days ago President Barak Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act (Pub. L. 114-152) that names the “North American Bison” the national mammal. The bison does not replace the Bald Eagle as the national animal or the national emblem.
The bison is an iconic animal unique to North America. Discovered by the European settlers as the country expanded west, the bison was significant to the economic and spiritual lives of the native tribes throughout the Great Plains areas.
Photo from the 1870s of a pile of American bison skulls waiting to be ground for fertilizer.
Bison is important to the ecology of the landscapes where they are located. Bison eat a certain type of grasses that are said to be difficult to control. The bison act as a natural “ predator” and not only consumes these grasses but also helps maintain control over the vegetation through consumption and feeding what is left through their waste.
Although conservation efforts began in the late 19th century, a bison population that used to number in the millions the 2012 Department of Agriculture census said that there were 162,110 heads. Up until the last 50 years, we have done a bad job of taking care of this national resource, now national treasure.
When numismatist thinks of the American Bison, the thought turns to the Indian Head “ Buffalo” Nickel designed by James Earle Fraser. Fraser, a student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, continued the path of Theodore Roosevelt’s “pet crime” to design a coin that screams America.
The reverse of the coin is an American Bison that we erroneous call a buffalo. According to legend, Black Diamond was Fraser’s model for the reverse of the Buffalo nickel. Black Diamond was a North American bison that was living in the Central Park Zoo. He was donated to the zoo by Barnum and Bailey and lived his life there until he was auctioned in 1915 to a game and poultry dealer who was later sold as steaks for $2 a pound.
2013-W American Buffalo gold reverse proof obverse
1913 Buffalo Nickel Type 1 Reverse
When asked about the model for the coin, Fraser said it was Black Diamond and found him in the Bronx Zoo. At one time Fraser was not sure of the name of the animal but insisted his influence was at the Bronx Zoo. Black Diamond was never at the Bronx Zoo. But like the story of who was the model for the Indian on the obverse, why should facts spoil a good story!
With the signing of the National Bison Legacy Act there are groups that wants to bring back the Buffalo nickel. Someone started a petition at the online petition website Change.org to convince the U.S. Mint to return to bring back the buffalo nickel.
Even though the U.S. Mint is the wrong agency to address this petition to since it would require an act of congress, the Fraser Buffalo design is still used on the 24-karat gold bullion coin. In fact, not counting varieties, mintmarks and strike types, the bison has appeared on eight different coins and one Legal Tender Note. If you want to put together a nice type set, it would require 22 different coins and the 1901 $10 Legal Tender Note (see “Collecting a Herd of Buffaloes” for this discussion).
I do not know if returning the Buffalo nickel is a good idea. While it was an iconic design, it was one that saw considerable wearing while in circulation. If someone wants to bring the buffalo back to United States coins, maybe we could consider the 2005 Westward Journey nickel with the American Bison reverse. It also has a better portrait of Thomas Jefferson than is currently used.
If you would like to virtually sign the partition, visit Change.org and register your vote.
The Washington Post produced an interesting video with facts about the bison. If you want to see the video without visiting the Post’s website, you can watch it here:
Bison images and the Type 1 Buffalo nickel reverse courtesy of Wikipedia.
Every evening I empty my pockets and look at the change that I accumulate during the day. Since I almost exclusively use cash (it is safer than credit cards), I end up with at least a dollar in change. Last week, I pulled out my change and took a glance and saw a nickel that was a bit darker than the others.
Moving it aside so I can look in a better light, I was able to separate a bicentennial quarter and wheat back cent from the other coins before dumping the rest into a pitcher I keep on my dresser. After dropping the quarter and wheatie into a bank where I save these coins, I picked up the dark nickel and went to find a better light.
To make things easier I looked at the reverse to see if it was I suspected and found a large “P” over Monticello confirming that I found a war nickel. For the date, I needed to find my loupe to help my aging eyes focus to tell me that I found a 1942-P war nickel.
1942-P Jefferson “War” Nickel obverse
1942-P Jefferson “War” Nickel reverse
War nickels were struck by the U.S. Mint from mid-1942 through 1945 of an alloy that contained 56-percent copper, 35-percent silver, and 9-percent manganese. Removing the nickel and reducing the amount of copper used in these coins helped save these metals so that they can be used to produce military supplies. One specific need was the copper that went into the brass alloy used to produce bullets.
Looking at the coin and various grading images, if I sent it to a third-party grading service to be graded, it would probably be returned as a VG-8 since it has a little more definition than a flatter G-4. It could be argued that since the rims are more defined that it could be closer to a VG-10, but I would not represent this coin at that grade—besides, it is not for sale! Given that, what kind of profit did I made over the 5-cents face value.
According to the NumisMedia Price Guide, the current value of a 1942-P war nickel in VG-8 condition is $1.01. That is a 96-cent profit!
But what about the silver value? As I type this, Coinflation reports that the metal value of the coin (at the time writing this) is 85-cents with the silver value of 84-cents. That price is based on 0.0563 troy ounces of silver with the current price of silver at $14.88 per troy ounce.
Either way, I made a small profit on the coin and will add it to my hoard of interesting pocket change finds.
U.S. cents have been made of copper, steel, and copper plated zinc. What’s next?
As part of its ongoing study of alternative medals to be used for coinage mandated by the Coin Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010, (Public Law 111-302 [PDF]), the U.S. Mint is seeking comment from “ stakeholders” as to the impact expected if congress was to approve a change in coinage metals. The Request for Comment (RFC) was published in the Federal Register (79 F.R. 19971 [PDF]) asking for stakeholders to provide more input to its ongoing research effort.
Although the U.S. Mint does not define who they consider stakeholders but does mention the “coin industry” in one paragraph, the guideline questions are clearly targeted to the coin-operated machine industry. Coin-op machines are more than the soda and candy machines that may be in the break room where you work. These machines include toll booth machines, machines that produce bus and/or train fare cards, parking meters, game machines, and even the few pay telephones that are still in use. Everything that accepts coins will have to be replaced, repaired, adjusted, or scrapped should there be a change in coinage metals.
The new technology used by the Royal Canadian Mint to protect the Toonie (C$2)
The trouble that the United States is in for can be seen just across the border in Canada. Although the Royal Canadian Mint produced test tokens that anyone could have used to verify and adjust their systems two years prior to the introduction of the new Loonie (C$1) and Toonie (C$2) coins, Canadian news followed the trials and tribulations of many communities whose parking meters and other parking-related systems would not accept the new coins.
In the United Kingdom, the Bank of England and law enforcement is engaged in a difficult fight against counterfeit £1 coins. Sources estimate that between 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. In an attempt to stem the problem, the Royal Mint has designed a new £1 coin to be circulated by 2017 in hopes to cut the counterfeiting rate.
New edge view of the coin the Royal Mint hopes will be able to thwart counterfeiters.
Changes in the Loonie and Toonie were subtle as compared to the changes in the £1 coin. While the size of the coin will remain about the same, it will go from being round to have 12 sides. Rather than it being make of one metal, the new coin will be bi-metallic with a yellow metal on the outer ring and a silver-colored inner core. Rather than the edge being milled with a single incuse inscription, the edge will have alternating milling and the year in Roman numerals on each of the sides.
The coin-operated businesses in Britain are beginning to complain about the changes even though they are being given nearly three years to adjust. For their systems, the new coins will have a different weight, specific gravity, and the electromagnetic signature will differ from the current coin. Every system from the Underground to parking systems to food and beverage vending machines will have to be upgraded to accept the new coins. One report estimates that it will cost up to £50 million (approximately $82.3 million) just to update parking systems.
The Automatic Vending Association, the U.K.’s vending industry trade group, estimates that the new coin will costs its members over £100 million ($168.5 million) to convert their machines.
Expect the costs in the United States to be much higher mainly because of scale. The National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), the $45 billion per year vending industry trade association in the United States, has already issued a report saying that it will cost from $100 to $500 per machine to convert them to accept new coinage.
The American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA) has come out against any change in U.S. coinage. It was reported that AAMA president John Schultz said to leave the coinage alone “because it works, rather than risk the costly consequences.” AAMA has not provided an estimate for those costly consequences.
The last significant change in coinage composition was in 2000 on the introduction of the Sacagawea “Golden” dollar coin. Following the debacle of the Susan B. Anthony small dollar coin that was mistaken for a quarter, the coin was redesigned without a reeded edge and given a golden color by adding manganese to the metals mix. Although this change primarily impacted the gaming industry that relied on the dollar coin, the vending machine industry did respond by converting old machines and manufacturing new ones that accepted the new coin.
The change to copper-coated zinc cents created a seven coin set for 1982
Previously, the one cent coin went from being made of 95-percent copper and the rest zinc to being made of 98.5-percent zinc with a copper coating. Not only did this change occur in the middle of 1982, but it created seven collectible varieties of coins that are not that expensive to own. Although this change did not affect many industries, new automated cash registers being used primarily at grocery and home improvement stores can accept both the copper and zinc coins without problems.
Any discussion of coin composition changes has to include the change from silver to clad coinage. When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Coinage Act of 1965 (Pub. L. 89-81) into law on July 23, 1965, the composition of the dime and quarter dollar was change from 90-percent silver and 10-copper to 75-percent copper and 25-percent nickel bonded to a core of pure copper. This mix of metals was selected so that the coins would have an electromagnetic signature that was very similar to their silver counterparts. The half-dollar was reduced to 40-percent silver surrounding a pure copper core.
This change in coinage was done for the same reason that congress has asked the U.S. Mint to study alternative metals: the cost of materials and labor to make the coins is higher than the face value of the coin. As of the Fiscal Year 2013 (October 2012-September 2013) Annual Report, it costs the U.S. Mint 1.83 cents in labor and materials to manufacture the one cent coin and 9.41 cents for the five cents coin.
As a comparison, the cost for the dime including labor and materials is 4.56 cents per coin while the quarter dollar costs 10.5 cents to make.
1853 Braided Hair Half Cent Obverse – The last lowest denomination coin eliminated by the congress.
Deciding what to do about U.S. coinage goes beyond the accounting details. A change by the federal government will impact everyone domestically and those overseas that use the dollar as their currency. There will be quite a few collateral issues including economic, political, and philosophical considerations. From a policy perspective, congress will have to think about the following before making any changes to our change:
Does the U.S. eliminate the one cent coin?
Does the U.S. eliminate the one dollar note in favor of a coin?
If a transition to new metals is approved, does the government provide economic assistance to small businesses and sectors that will feel a bigger impact from this change?
Will the federal government provide assistance to communities to help convert municipal services to be able to take the new coins?
Should the U.S. Mint, a government agency, be allowed and/or required to earn a profit from its operations?
How will the people be educated on the new coinage?
Since the U.S. Mint did not define who their stakeholders are, it is fair to say that the stakeholders are all citizens of the United States. If you would like to comment, the U.S. Mint is looking for input on the following factors:
Costs to convert to circulating coins composed of alternative metals given the following possible changes to coins:
Visual changes, such as color and relief
Transition time needed to introduce a circulating coin composed of an alternative metal.
Comments on how best to inform and educate both affected industries and the public on changes to circulating coins.
Environmental impact from the use of circulating coins composed of alternative metals.
Other issues of importance not identified above.
When commenting, note that the U.S. Mint said it is not considering aluminum alloy metals.
Responses are due to the U.S. Mint 60-days following its printing in the Federal Register (April 10, 2014 making the due date June 9, 2014). Electronic comments can be sent to Coin.StakeholdersResponse@usmint.treas.gov. If you prefer to send your comments the traditional way, mail them to Coin Stakeholders Response, Office of Coin Studies, United States Mint, 801 9th Street NW., Washington, DC 20220.
If you do comment and would like to share what you said with the rest of the community, either send it to me via email or post it as a comment below.
Photo credits: All photographs are the author’s except the image of the Toonie from the Royal Canadian Mint and the One-pound coin prototype from the Royal Mint.
The production and circulation of currency in the United States have been largely unchanged for decades, despite the growth in electronic financial transactions. Treasury is undertaking a comprehensive review of U.S. currency, including a review of both the production and use of coins, in order to efficiently promote commerce in the 21st Century. These studies will analyze alternative metals, the United States Mint facilities, and consumer behavior and preferences, and will result in the development of alternative options for the penny and the nickel.
Some of this has been ongoing for the last few years. As part of the Coin Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010, (Public Law 111-302 [PDF]), the U.S. Mint performed and Alternatives Metals study that was completed in August 2012 and then reported to Congress in December 2012.
The problem with the study is the politics written into the law which the report addresses in the executive summary. Key to the problem is the provision written into the law that gives too much consideration to the vending and coin-operated industry. Rather than find the best metals possible while considering the factors that would have to be changed to make new coins work in devices like vending machines, parking meters, and other machines that take coins for payment, the law is written as if the vending industry has veto power over the choices.
Reading the alternative metals report is like taking a college course in metallurgy. When reading the report, it is apparent that there is no perfect solution. Either the coin sizes and weights will have to change in order to meet electromagnetic signature (EMS) requirements to make new coins similar enough to provoke fewer changes to existing equipment or the EMS of the coins will have to change and the machines reprogrammed. In either case, something will have to change.
In short, the EMS is the waveforms that are sensed when a coin is exposed to low frequency radiation (harmless to humans). The waveforms are read by sensors and compared with a programmed baseline to verify that you dropped a real coin into the machine and not a slug.
As part of the alternative metal study, the U.S. Mint is holding a stakeholders meeting. Interested members of businesses, industries, and agencies will meet with the U.S. Mint study group to share their perspectives on the impacts of alternative metal compositions on circulating coins. This meeting will be held Thursday, March 13, 2014, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (EDT) at the U.S. Mint Headquarters located at 801 Ninth Street NW, Washington, D.C., 2nd floor. Attendance is by invitation only. Anyone interested in attending can contact Leslie Schwager, Office of Coin Studies at OfficeofCoinStudies@usmint.treas.gov, or by calling 202–354–6600 no later than Monday, March 10, 2014 to request an invitation and obtain additional meeting information.
You can read the full announcement about this meeting in the Federal Register 79 F.R. 6672. [PDF]
Because of the recent storms and closing of the federal government, my work requirements have shifted making it difficult for me to attend. Anyone who will attend this meeting is invited to contact me. I would be interested in hearing all perspectives about the meeting.
Given the political nature of both the budget process and the law behind the alternative metals study, it is reasonable to believe that nothing will be accomplished by the president’s budget recommendation or the meeting at the U.S. Mint. In fact, since congress has to approve any changes to U.S. coinage and that this congress has been the least productive in history, do not expect change in your pocket change any time soon.
President’s Day is supposed to be the day that we celebrate the lives of the Presidents of the United States (POTUS). It became a holiday in 1968 when congress passed the Unified Monday Holiday Act (Public Law 90-363, S.cornell.edu/uscode/text/5/6103″ title=”5 U.S.C. 6103(a)” target=”_blank”>5 U.S.C. § 6103(a)) to standardize holidays on Mondays. Prior, most of the country celebrated February 22, George Washington’s birthday, as a holiday while some but not all states celebrated Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12. The law made the third Monday in February the holiday.
There are few traditions for the holiday except for sales by various retailers. Prior to the 1980s, many stores closed on George Washington’s Birthday. But amongst the first retailers to introduce George Washington’s Birthday sales were the automobile dealers. This was a time that the automobile manufacturers were going through a transition to more fuel efficient cars. Style was an issue since many began to look “boxy.” Seeing the success of increased sales, other stores followed and it has become rare to see a store closed on Presidents’ Day.
Even with the Winter Olympic Games in progress, just going out for usual errands required patience as many people chose to partake in the usual weekend sport of shopping. Rather than get worked up, I decided that I would see what I could find in my change by paying using cash.
I set out on Saturday and Sunday emptying my pocket of change along with my plans for the day. A stop at the gas station, where I admit to paying with a credit card, a proper beverage for the day (tall, 3-shot, extra hot, skim latte), and a stop at the bank for cash, I went on my way.
After two days of paying in cash, I counted my change. While collecting almost $18 in coins, I was surprised to find nothing remarkable. There were a few copper (pre-1982) Lincoln Memorial cents, but nothing that would give this post an interesting climax.
However, there was on interesting omission: no 2014 coins. In the half-dozen shiny, very red cents I found, all were 2013 cents except for one dated 2012. Those very shiny nickels were almost all dated 2013-D and there were no dimes newer than 2011. Similarly, the only of the National Parks quarters I found was a 2013 Fort McHenry quarter.
I also found three very shiny 2009-D Guam quarters and a mix of other circulated state quarters along with two pre-1999 quarters with the eagle reverse.
Under the guise of “A penny saved is a penny earned,” the entire lot was put into a container that sits on top of my dresser. When the container is full or in December, whichever comes first, I will bring the coins to a bank’s coin counter and donate the money to a worthy cause making the weekend’s activity worth something.
Not to take anything away from the U.S. Mint’s sculptor and engravers, the infusion of outside talent does help with design as long as the law authorizing the coin does not handcuff the design process by specifying the design or elements of the design. Left to their own creative abilities, the U.S. Mint and AIP artists have produced some very good designs.
Are you an artist? Do you have what it takes to design coins and medals? Remember, this is paid gig with artists receiving $2000-3000 per submission, depending on years active in the AIP program. Those whose designs are selected to be used on a coin or medal will receive an additional $5000. This is money on top of your other work, so you do not have to quit your day job!
Aside from being paid, your initials will appear on all of the coins produced from your designs and your name will be recorded in numismatic history. In years to come, new collectors will open their reference guides and see the name of the artist who designed their coins. While some artists work are sometimes lost to history, this is one way to make your mark on the world by designing a United States coin.
The other day I was talking with a someone who was not a coin collector to explain why I liked collecting coins. One of the reasons I mentioned was the thrill of the hunt. To be able to find that one coin to add to a collection or even reaching into my pocket and finding something interesting, even if it was not valuable.
To demonstrate what could happen, I reached into my pocket and happen to pull out what could be considered a type set of Jefferson nickels. I first found the 2012-P nickel that seems to now be in common circulation. Next was a 1982-D nickel with what looks like a filled “D” mintmark. For the time period, the blob for the mintmark was common and not worth anything more than a curiosity.
As I slid the 1982-D aside, I found the reverse the the Keelboat type 2004-P nickel. The person I was talking with was not aware of the Westward Journey nickel program commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition to the west. I mentioned that the 2005 American Bison design was my favorite. Not only does it have the the American Bison on the reverse, the animal that most represents the country’s westward expansion, but the front has that wonderful bust of Jefferson designed by Joe Fitzgerald.
When I started to look at the last nickel, I said, “oh… this is older.” When asked how I knew before looking at the date, I explained how the relief had changed over the years. Using the four coins in hand, I could demonstrate how the relief and designs have been altered over the years to accommodate striking requirements. Even though the composition of the United States 5-cent coin has not changed since 1883 except for the silver-copper-manganese composition during World War II (1942-45), the U.S. Mint has lowered the relief of the coins in order to make the dies last longer and reduce production costs. According to the U.S. Mint’s 2012 Annual Report (PDF) it costs 10.9 cents to make one nickel. It could be more if the U.S. Mint had to use more dies to strike coinage for circulation.
I adjusted my glasses to see that the coin had the year 1956 then I flipped it over to see if there is a mintmark. When asked why I was looking for the mintmark on the back when it appeared on the front of the other coins, I said that up until 1964 the mintmark on the Jefferson nickel was to the right of Monticello and only if the coin was struck in Denver or San Francisco. Only the War Nickels had a mintmark prior to 1964. Luckily, I was able to demonstrate when a “D” mintmark appeared on the coin.
A small type set of Jefferson nickels found in pocket change. Top row: 1956-D and 1982-P. Bottom row: 2004-P Keelboat design and 2012-P.
The next question was “How much is it worth?” Since the coin could be graded Good-4 at best, I said it would probably be worth 5-cents, face value. I decided to look up the price and saw that it was worth 6-cents! It is hardly worth the effort to sell. But the person that I was showing the coins found my little pocket-change type set was interesting.
Now that I have written about them, all four coins will go back into circulation for someone else to find. Who knows, maybe a young numismatist will find the 1956-D, think it is cool and add it to their collection. If you are in the Washington, D.C. metro area, you can be on the lookout for the 1956-D and other nickels I just wrote about. Happy change hunting!
Welcome to National Coin Week. This year, from April 21 through April 27, the National Coin Week theme is “Black Diamond Strikes Again” to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the introduction of James Earle Fraser’s Buffalo nickel.
According to legend, Black Diamond was Fraser’s model for the reverse of the Buffalo nickel. Black Diamond was a North American bison that was living in the Central Park Zoo. He was donated to the zoo by Barnum and Bailey and lived his life there until he was auctioned in 1915 to a game and poultry dealer who was later sold as steaks for $2 a pound.
James Earle Fraser, ca. 1920
When asked about the model for the coin, Fraser said it was Black Diamond and found him in the Bronx Zoo. At one time Fraser was not sure of the name of the animal but insisted his influence was at the Bronx Zoo. Black Diamond was never at the Bronx Zoo.
But like the story of who was the model for the Indian on the obverse, why should facts spoil a good story!