NGC Introduces new Numismentos

Exonumia are numismatic items that are items that represent money or something of value that is not considered legal tender coin or currency. When originally coined in 1960 by the founder of the Token and Medals Society (TAMS) Russell Rulau, the intent was to describe tokens, medals, and scrip. Over the course of time, other items have been added to exonumia category including some award medals and empherma like cancelled checks.

NGC John Mercanti Signature Label

NGC John Mercanti Signature Label sample

Over the last few years one aspect of the industry has create a new collectible: labels.

Earlier this week, Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) announced that John Mercanti, the former 12th Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, has agreed to individually hand sign certification labels exclusively for NGC. Mercanti will autograph labels for coins bearing his design.

Last week, NGC announced that they struck a deal with Edmund C. Moy, the 38th Director of the U.S. Mint and currently the last full-time director, to autograph labels.

1982-S Washington Commemorative Half with Elizabeth Jones Signature

1982-S Washington Half with Elizabeth Jones Signature

Mercanti and Moy join Elizabeth Jones, who was the 11th Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, with a signature series label. Similar to Mercanti, modern coins were eligible for a Jones signature label as well as silver and gold American Eagle coins, which she supervised. Also eligible were commemoratives she designed. Since these are limited edition labels, NGC reports that the Elizabeth Jones Signature Label has sold out.

In addition to signature labels, NGC has a primary brown label and lables for First Releases, Early Releases, Detailed Grade, 100 Greatest Modern Coins, Top 50 Most Popular Coins, and many others. Not to be outdone, the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) has its own labels for First Strike, U.S. Marshals Service commemorative and 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half Dollar.

Even Independent Coin Graders (ICG) has been in the label business. Aside from their various label options, they also issued an autographed series as part of the 50 States Quarters program including the New York quarter designed by artist Daniel Carr that is part of my New York Hometown collection.

2001-P New York quarter with Daniel Carr’s autograph on ICG label

2001-P New York quarter with Daniel Carr’s autograph on ICG label

2001-D New York quarter with Daniel Carr’s autograph on ICG label

2001-D New York quarter with Daniel Carr’s autograph on ICG label

Autographs are not just limited to labels. Since becoming Treasurer of the United States, Rosie Rios has been a fixture at many numismatic events autographing Federal Reserve Notes that has her printed signature. Since Rios is a prolific signer, Rosie Dollars, as she as called them, are so common that her signed notes are not worth much more than face value.

Series 2009 Federal Reserve Note autographed by Treasurer of the U.S. Rosa Gumataotao Rios

Series 2009 Federal Reserve Note autographed by Treasurer of the U.S. Rosa Gumataotao Rios

Collecting numismatic-related souvenirs are not just limited to autographs, which also appear in books. Collectibles include show programs, badges, buttons, ribbons, tags, and other souvenirs related to shows, clubs, and other collecting endeavors.

Autographed slabs, money, books, programs, and other items that are collected because they are numismatic-related but not real numismatic items can be fun collectibles. As an effort to me more inclusive with all aspects of collecting items related to numismatics, it needs a name. Marketing folks will tell you that a good name helps promote your product.

I have an idea. We can call these collectibles numismentos. Numismento is a portmanteau of numismatic+memento.

For example, let’s say you have a collection of programs from the World’s Fair of Money shows you have attended? That would be a numismento. Are you a collector of the labels from the third-party grading services or their sample slabs? You are collecting numismentos. Collecting nametags, buttons, or other items from shows? These are also numismentos!
Numismentos. Numismentos are collectibles that demonstrate the culture of numismatics but are not numismatic items.

Happy numismentos collecting!

NGC Signature Series Holder images courtesy of NGC.
Other images are the property of the author.

Catching up by starting a new collection

It has been a very interesting few weeks since my last post. During that time there was a lot of business activity that I hope will allow be to have more time to do some of the things I would rather be doing, like write. Aside from the blog, I have 95-percent of a collecting-related ebook completed and 80-percent of a different sort of book completed. In between business meetings, I was able to start a book I am tentatively calling “Why did the Mint do that?” which may include information about why the Bureau of Engraving and Printing does what it does including a section on the history of counterfeit detection in the United States.

In the mean time, I have started several posts in the same style that I have been writing for the last few years. Until I can make more time, some long-form tomes will have to wait. Instead of taking the time to write longer items, I will look to write shorter posts including in multiple parts, depending on the topic. This way, I can clear the list of ideas I have been saving.

One more bit of housekeeping before I talk about my new collection: you might see a page that says that I am working on an update. I decided that the blog needs a new look and that periodically, I will work on a theme change. Hopefully, I can finish by the end of the month, but you never know!

That being said, I also had taken the time to start a new collection. While I wanted to start something new for a while and had an idea for a direction, I did not have the opportunity until now.

Earlier this month I attended a local coin show in Westminster, Maryland. Westminster could be considered a distant suburb of Baltimore with a big firehall that housed this show. Although I was there to man the front table representing the Maryland State Numismatic Association as its president greeting people, I was able to slip inside to look around. One of the tables had binders with foreign coins and I started to look.

Grabbing the one for Canada, I remembered that the first official coinage of the Province of Canada. In 1840, the British Parliament passed the Act of Union that merged the upper and lower colonies of Canada into the single Province of Canada. As a province, Canada was able to form a more independent government, even though it was answerable to the Crown. Answering to political dissension that was building in the province, Queen Victoria named Ottawa as the province’s capital. Although the province government met in Ottawa anyway, this was a symbolic move.

One of the problems was the lack of circulating currency. Even though the monarchs loosened the rules on circulating coinage in Canada, there was a need for a larger supply. Even though the Province of Canada’s parliament passed legislation to adopt a decimal coinage, Queen Victoria finally recognized the request. As part of trying to maintain order in the province, Victoria ordered the Royal Mint to produce coinage for Canada starting in 1858.

Canadian large cents with the effigy of Queen Victoria are affectionately called Vickie Cents. With the recent elimination of the one cent coin, looking back at the Canadian cent through its history has become popular with Canadian coin collectors. The key date for Vickie Cents is the first year, 1858 coin.

At mid-grade the 1858 Vickie cent is not that expensive. Although they are harder to find, the demand keeps the price reasonable for the average collector. Although I have been thinking about starting a Vickie cent collection for a while but when I found one in this dealer’s binder, I could not resist!Based on the description in the Charlton Standard Catalog of Canadian Coins, the coin would be graded around F-12. But since it is the first year of issue and the general rule is to buy the best you can afford, this was how I was going to make my start with Vickie cents.

1858 Province of Canada Large Cent (Vickie Cent) obverse

1858 Province of Canada Large Cent (Vickie Cent) obverse

1858 Province of Canada Large Cent (Vickie Cent) reverse

1858 Province of Canada Large Cent (Vickie Cent) reverse

Since I was there I decided that even though it was not the first year of issue, I would pick up the last year of issue. Since Queen Victoria died in January 1901, that was the last year her image appeared on coins in the British Commonwealth. I picked out a nice extra fine example to mark the beginning and end of the series.

1901 Dominion of Canada Large Cent obverse —Last year of Victoria Cent

1901 Dominion of Canada Large Cent obverse (Last year of Victoria Cent)

1901 Dominion of Canada Large Cent reverse

1901 Dominion of Canada Large Cent reverse (Last year of Victoria Cent)

Vickie cents were produced in 1858 and 1859 with a few distinguished varieties. One notable variety is the 1858 coin-aligned reverse. At the time it was the Royal Mint’s practice to have coins aligned in what we call today “medal alignment” where the top of the obverse and reverse point in the same direction. An error at the mint created a rarer coin-aligned (tops on opposite ends) coin. In 1859 there were overstrikes, doubled numbers, alignment differences, and composition differences. If I were to look for all of the known varieties, the cost of the 1859 with a Narrow 9 made of brass (not bronze) would cost about as much as a 1914-D Lincoln cent and be much more difficult to find.

The cents of 1858-1859 were minted in enough quantity to keep the Canada stocked with cent until 1876. New portrait, and varieties, were introduced as well as a striking at the Birmingham Mint, also known as the Heaton Mint, along side the British halfpenny, which used the same planchet. Coins struck at the Heaton Mint were given the “H” mint mark.

Foreign coin collecting can be an adventure that may not be as expensive as their U.S. counterparts. If you are collecting for fun, as I am, pick a country, learn a little about the history, and pick a series to collect. I picked Canada because my wife’s family is from the Province of Québec. Not only will you find it a challenge, but the lower demand may make your endeavor more affordable.

Stay tuned for more!

A coin expert’s survey

Click on graphic to see full survey

Click on graphic to see full survey

During the latter part of 2014, I was asked to participate in a “Coin Experts Survey” by a representative from International Precious Metals. As one of the 19 experts, I was asked ten questions about my opinion about numismatic issues and some numismatic preferences. Although the survey results were published in January, I am now finding time to write about it.

One of the problems I had with writing about this is that I did not know what to say. While it was fun to participate, what can I add to the survey? Rather than just reporting, I decided I would share my answers with some commentary.

Question #1: What is your favorite individual coin?
My answer: 1955 Double Die Obverse Lincoln cent
Prior to the appearance of the 1955 DDO Lincoln cent, there was almost no interest in error coins or that coins with errors can be collectible. After the discovery of the 1955 DDO, it was a number of years before error collecting was considered acceptable—I found a 1960 referenced to “spoiled 1955 pennies.” It is a historic coin in that it is the only coin that can be pointed to that started a type of collecting. That is what makes it so cool!
Question #2: What is your favorite coin series?
My answer: Peace dollars
I love the design of the Peace dollar. The image of Liberty on the front is, in my opinion, the one of the best images on U.S. coins. For collectors, it is the one set of silver coins that may be the most affordable for average collectors with the 1928 and 1938-S being the most expensive. It is also the only complete set of silver coins I own.
Question #3: What coin is most overpriced on the market right now?
My answer: Any coin in a slab with a CAC sticker
I have previously written of my dislike for CAC and how I feel they are practicing market manipulation. There are too many people willing to blindly accept CAC as an authority and some cannot explain why. While that CAC may have helped force PCGS and NGC to improve their processes, I have seen coins with CAC stickers I just did not like.
Question #4: What are some examples of undervalued coins?
My answer: Almost any commemorative coin
I should have clarified this answer to say that almost any modern commemorative coin. There are many commemoratives that did not sell well and not worth much more than their bullion value and a small numismatic premium. Even though they were not popular, they do have artistic value. A dedicated collector could put together a nice collection of modern commemorative coins for not a lot of money.
Question #5: What is the hardest coin to locate and purchase in the US?
My answer: A solid, mid-grade Liberty Head nickel
While most of the people taking the survey left this question blank, I was thinking about my own experiences. Not including rare coins, it is not that difficult to find key and semi-key dates. But if you really want to search for coins that are not easy to find, try to put together a set of extra-fine to almost uncirculated Liberty Head nickels. You can find a lot of lower grade nickels and higher grade nickels. Finding these solid mid-grade nickels can be more difficult than finding a 1913-S Type 2 Buffalo nickel.
Question #6: Do you think the penny will ever be phased out? If so, what year?
My answer: No. Never.
Although I am not in favor of eliminating the one-cent coin, I do not think it will ever be eliminated because of the dysfunction of congress. Congress would not be able to come to any consensus and neither side of the aisle does not have the intestinal fortitude to make a stand one-way or another.
Question #7: What President deserves to be on a coin/bill that hasn’t previously been featured?
My answer: Not counting the presidential dollars, Theodore Roosevelt
In this political climate, I knew what the dominant answer would be. Rather than thinking about the political, I was considering what president had the single largest impact on U.S. coinage. No other president had the impact on coin design than Theodore Roosevelt. While his “pet crime” was directly responsible for the designs by Bela Lyon Pratt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and Victor D. Brenner, it was the seed he planted for the renaissance of coin design. Remember that James Earle Fraser and Adolph A. Weinman were Saint-Gaudens’ students and added notable coin designs of their own.
Question #8: Do you think the US will ever introduce a brand new denomination?
My answer: No.
For the same reason that congress would never be able to vote on legislation to eliminate the one-cent coin, the same dysfunction will prevent new denominations from every being created.
Question #9: Which of the following phased out coins/bills do you think the US will begin minting in the near future?

  • Kennedy Half dollar
  • Susan B Anthony silver dollar coin
  • Sacagawea dollar coin
  • Two dollar bill
  • None
My answer: All items in the list are being produced except for the Susie B’s. There is no correlating law to authorize the U.S. Mint to produce the Susie B thus it could never be produced unless congress changes the laws. Kennedy halves and Sac dollars are being produced for the collector markets, but there are correlating laws to allow them to be produced. Authorization is codified in 31 U.S. Code § 5112.
The $2 Federal Reserve Note is different in that the law (12 U.S. Code § 411) authorizes the Federal Reserve to determine what notes are produced. The way the law is written, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is not as regulated as the U.S. Mint. The only legal consideration is that the Fed could only have notes produced based on the denominations codified in 12 U.S. Code § 418. The law does not say these denominations have to be produced. Section 411 lets the Fed decide. In 1969, the Fed decided to stop producing large denomination currency. By the Fed’s definition, large denominations are FRNs larger than $100. Currently, the $2 FRN is being produced. The Fed does not order many and the rest are produced for the collectors market.
Yes, that was my answer and I’m sticking to it!
Question #10: If you didn’t collect coins, what would you collect?
My answer: Cars, sports memorabilia, lapel pins
In reverse order, I do collect lapel pins from situations meaningful to me. I have a collection that includes past professional activities, interests, places I have visited, and more. While I have some sports memorabilia, I am jealous of the collections I have seen of people who just pickup items as they go along. Of course those people are like Penny Marshall who have a phenomenal collection but also has access.
When I mention cars, I am not talking about a Jay Leno-like collection, but I wouldn’t mind his collection. I am just looking for a few cars to have some fun with. While I own a 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster with a 225 cu. in. Slant 6 engine (memories of my youth), I want other classics. A few great examples come to mind like a 1959 Cadillac convertible in red (Eldorado or Series 62, I don’t care which), a 1968-70 Dodge Charger R/T with the 426 Hemi engine in Plum Crazy purple, and a 1930s 4-door car to create a hotrod (yes, I know 2-doors are more popular, but I have an interesting idea). Every so often I see movie or television-related cars that come up for sale that I think would be cool to own.
But I digress. While I am looking for a token with a cut-out “Q” as part of its design (it does not have to be a transportation token since none were made like that), you can check out the survey and compare my answers with those from the other experts.
Infographic courtesy of International Precious Metals.

Be on television, claim your 15 minutes of fame!

Installation of Vote McGovern and Mao paintings at the Warhol Museum.

Installation of Vote McGovern and Mao paintings at the Warhol Museum.

When you ask people what comes to mind when you mention Andy Warhol, usually the first thoughts are of his pop-art pieces like Campbell Soup cans, Marilyn Monroe, and even one of Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong. Warhol was an artist of phenomenal commercial success whose art and life fit the times which he lived.

Warhol was also a bit of a philosopher. His unique views were often quoted and made profound by the utter simplicity of his ideas. If you read his 1977 book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, you will get a sense of his philosophy and a look at what the world was like in the mid-1970s.

Philosophers are usually considered weird or crazy until history gets to look back and see how profound they really were. This is the case with Andy Warhol. Arguably his most famous quote was, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Warhol said this in 1968, almost 35 years before social media and reality television would change how people became famous.

Are you looking for your 15 minutes of fame? Do you want to be on television with a real speaking role and not as part of a videobomb? Then I have learned of an opportunity for you.

If you have unique coins or currency or anything numismatic that you want to sell and want to be on television, then you can be on the History Channel hit series Pawn Stars at the World’s Famous Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas.

Gold and Silver Pawn ShopRecently, I had been contacted by one of the casting assistants from the production company that produces Pawn Stars looking for people to be on the show. They are looking for unique items and sellers to come into the shop. Not only will you be able to sell your item, but you will do it on television and meet the Pawn Stars. Maybe you can even meet the newly slimmed down Chumlee!

According to Left Field Pictures, the show’s production company:

If you will be visiting the Las Vegas area soon and have an amazing or unique item that you would like to sell on the show, we want to hear from you! Email us at: pawnstarstvshow@leftfieldpictures.com.

Be sure to include the following info:

  • Your Name
  • Contact number
  • Description of your item (the more info the better!)
  • Detailed Photos of your item

If you and your item qualify and are selected, you could meet the Harrison’s and be on Pawn Stars!

PLEASE NOTE: the above information is required for all items in order to take them into consideration. We cannot offer appraisals for items that do not appear on the show.

Some of the numismatic items I have seen on the show include encased postage, a collection of Republic of Texas currency, rare tokens issued by mining companies to their employees, and shipwreck gold coins. I have also seen Charmy Harker, The Penny Lady, on the show. You might have seen Harker’s exhibit “Penny Potpourri” at recent coin shows, she appeared on Pawn Stars in 2012. She tried to sell a World War II-era aerial bomber camera to Corey. It was quite a treat to see someone you know on television!

If you appear on the show, contact me. Not only do I want to hear about it but I would like to interview you about your experience. Take some pictures and I will extend your 15 minutes of fame here!

Image of the Warhol Museum courtesy of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
Gold and Silver Pawn Shop logo courtesy of the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop.

More than just a sales failure

2013 Girl Scouts of the USA Centennial commemorative coin

2013 Girl Scouts of the USA Centennial commemorative coin

For the first time the U.S. Mint’s history, an organization did not receive a payout from a commemorative minted for them.

Following the close of the year, the U.S. Mint told Coin World that the sales of the 2013-W Girl Scouts of the USA Centennial Commemorative coins was so low that it did not cover the costs of the program as required by law. U.S. Mint records show that 86,354 proof and 37,463 uncirculated coins were sold for a total of 123,817 coins. That is a little more than 35-percent of the 350,000 authorized by the law.

Sales of the 2013-W Girl Scouts of the USA Centennial Commemorative coins was to have ended on December 17, 2013 but the U.S. Mint extended the sale through December 31, 2013. By law, a commemorative coin can only be sold in the year it was struck.

The U.S. Mint cannot be faulted for this lack of interest. Information about the coin had been a fixture of the front page of the U.S. Mint’s website. Their information included a video introduction by United States Treasurer Rosie Rios and provided information in its various outreach programs. The U.S. Mint is limited on the type of advertising it is allowed to use.

Usually, the burden of advertising falls to the organization that would most benefit from the sale of the commemorative coin. Since I do not have a connection with Girl Scouts of the USA, I cannot report on their promotional experience.

This news is both sad and troubling. Although there are collectors who will buy the coin to be part of their commemorative collection, the real success or failure of a commemorative coin is based on its subject. For whatever reasons, the Girl Scouts was not a popular subject.

When a commemorative is made for an organization, purchasers want some affinity for the organization. Unless you are a collector, you are not going to buy a coin honoring that organization, especially when the price is over $50 during a recovering economy. I wonder if a clad half-dollar may have been a better idea?

While having a program to honor the centennial of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. was a laudable idea, maybe it was not a good one. It was a coin with a limited appeal and those in the target audience did not respond.

It is also troubling that the Girl Scouts were not able to generate more sales on its own. In coming up over 31,000 coins short of being able to receive the payout, it is time to question the diversity of the hobby—again.

Numismatics is dominated by middle-aged to older white males. While there is an outreach to young numismatists, those programs appear to succeed in recruiting mostly white boys and keeping them interested until they become 18 years old.

Consequently, there appears to be no concentration on providing opportunities to young girls and minorities. While the Boy Scouts provide one outlet, local experience shows that those troops are dominated by young white males. Surely there are girls and minorities interested in numismatics. If not, why not?

If anyone missed the point, the executive directors of the American Numismatic Association and Industry Council for Tangible Assets (ICTA) are women. I do not believe either have their jobs because they are women. They are qualified people leading an industry that happens to male dominated.

There has to be a way to appeal to the demographics that are not being represented in the hobby. Aside from women and minorities, the hobby has to figure out how to engage those older than young numismatist (YN) but younger than middle-age. There has to be a way to keep them interested if they started as a YN or grab their interest before middle age. In 2011 I addressed these issues calling potential members the “Lost Demographic.” There have been little changes since.

What will it take to expand the hobby to all sectors of society? Please feel free to let me know in the comments section below. We can all work together for the betterment of the hobby!

Counting Down the Top 10: #4 Organizational Change

In a move that continues to be unexplained for reasons to be rumored to be grounded in personal issues rather than sound reason, American Numismatic Association Executive Director Jeff Shevlin was fired by the Board of Governors. Based on both public and not so public information regarding this firing, I believe that the ANA Board of Governors made a colossal mistake that proves that the Board is not up to the task of properly running the organization.

ANA Executive Director Kimberly Kiick

ANA Executive Director Kimberly Kiick

Rather than change the Board, the ANA elected a Board with the same issues that the previous Board and added Laura Sperber, a solid dissenting voice of reason. While I do not agree with some of Laura’s opinions or ways of doing things, her inclusion on the Board is probably the best second best choice that the ANA membership could have made—reserving the best choice would have been to elect me!

In a move to try to avoid controversy at the National Money Show in May, the Board rushed in to appoint longtime employee Kim Kiick as Executive Director. While her past experiences with the ANA questions as to whether the ANA made the best choice, her performance since her appointment shows that my opinion could be proven wrong. Time will tell.

Kathy McFadden, Executive Director of the Industry Council for Tangible Assets

Kathy McFadden, Executive Director of the Industry Council for Tangible Assets

For the commercial side of numismatics, the Industry Council for Tangible Assets (ICTA) has made a number of positive changes. Well, not all of them positive as the ICTA wished long time Executive Director Eloise Ullman a happy retirement. Ullman was ICTA’s Executive Director for 23 years and her success in guiding that organization will be a tough act to follow.

Moving forward, Kathy McFadden was hired as Executive Director. McFadden has spent 18 years leading two different region associations of mechanical contractors with experience in legislative advocacy, public education, finances, public relations, etc. I had met McFadden for all of two-minutes at the Whitman Expo in November and look forward to working with her in my role with the Gold & Silver Political Action Committee.

David Crenshaw, Chief Operating Office of the Industry Council for Tangible Assets

David Crenshaw, Chief Operating Office of the Industry Council for Tangible Assets

Another positive addition for ICTA is the addition of David Crenshaw to fill the role of the newly created Chief Operating Officer to ICTA. For the last nine years, Crenshaw has been general manager of the largest and best privately run coin shows in the country, Whitman Coin & Currency Expo. Crenshaw took over as the general manager after Whitman bought the Baltimore show from its original owners. Since then, the show has expanded and improved to even survive the recent economic downturn.

Crenshaw leaves a good property for Lori Kraft who was named the Expo’s new general manager by Whitman.

The ANA’s changes were shrouded with turmoil and the ICTA changes are a celebration for an organization that is thriving. Certainly an interesting juxtaposition.

Thanksgiving 2014

American Abundance designed by Albert Laessle and issued in 1934

American Abundance designed by Albert Laessle and issued in 1934


After arriving in the New World in 1620, the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest in 1621. The three-day even was attended by 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans that lasted three days. The tradition of giving thanks for successes was a tradition that the Pilgrims brought with them from England. This three-day celebration in 1621 is considered the first Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving was celebrated during many different times within the colonies, mainly to give thanks for something that was honorable to the colony or the locality that observed the celebration. The first national recognition of a Thanksgiving celebration came when General George Washington declared December 1777 as Thanksgiving honoring the defeat of the British at Saratoga. As President, George Washington declared the first national Thanksgiving celebration on November 26, 1789. The only other president to issue a Thanksgiving proclamation was President James Madison. From then, it was up to the individual states to declare a Thanksgiving holiday.

As part of his attempt to maintain the union, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that made Thanksgiving Day a national annual event on the last Thursday in November beginning in 1863.

Thanksgiving remained the last Thursday of November until 1939 when he declared Thanksgiving to be on the fourth Thursday of the month to give merchants more time to sell good during the Christmas shopping season. Congress passed a joint resolution in 1942 fixing Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November.

In 1947, the National Turkey Federation has provided the President of the United State with one live turkey and two dressed turkeys. President Harry Truman is credited with pardoning the first turkey in 1947 but it did not become a tradition until President Ronald Reagan started in 1987 and continued by President George H.W. Bush in 1989. Since 1989, the pardoned turkeys have lived the rest of their lives at Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Virginia. Those pardoned by President Obama have gone to live at George and Martha’s old place in Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Medal image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.

Staid collectors need to expand their horizons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Zealand Mint produces Monopoly coins for the Island nation of Niue. Did you pass Go?

New Zealand Mint produces Monopoly coins for the Island nation of Niue. Did you pass Go?

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

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

2007 Somalia Motorcycle Non-circulating Legal Tender Coins

2007 Somalia Motorcycle Non-circulating Legal Tender Coins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credits

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

Colonial Coin Club celebrates 50 years and counting

Encased cent given to attendees to the Colonial Coin Club’s 50th Anniversary celebration.

Encased cent given to attendees to the Colonial Coin Club’s 50th Anniversary celebration.

Sometimes it is fun serving as an officer for a coin club or a regional organization. The past week I had the honor to represent the Maryland State Numismatic Association as its vice president at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Colonial Coin Club of Annapolis, Maryland.

The Colonial Coin Club was founded in 1963 by members of the Baltimore Coin Club who commuted to meetings from Annapolis. While not that far of a commute, these members felt there was enough interest to form their own local club. The first meeting of the Colonial Coin Club was March 19, 1963. Fifty years later they are still a vibrant club serving collectors in the Annapolis area.

With my busy schedule, not only did I welcome the one night diversion to join the celebration at a nice restaurant in Gambrils, Maryland, but I had a chance to speak to congratulate them, encourage them to continue their good work for the next 50 years and beyond, and invite them to participate with the state organization and to visit the club I am president of, the Montgomery County Coin Club.

Colonial Coin Club has quite a history serving collectors in the eastern part of Maryland. Although Baltimore may be Maryland’s largest city, the areas around the Chesapeake Bay is the birthplace of the original Maryland colony. Although the Calvert family settled into what we now know as Baltimore, Annapolis was the colony’s economic hub. Amongst Annapolis’s residents was Jonas Green who became the colony’s official printer. Green served as an apprentice and worked for Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia.

Green died in 1767 around the time that the colonial government was issuing its first currency. Taking over the printing business was his wife Anne Catherine Green making her the first woman to publish a newspaper in the colonies. Because of the social stigmas against women in these types of position, she printed her name as A.C. Green.

1783 Chalmers Shilling (PCGS XF 40).

1783 Chalmers Shilling (PCGS XF 40).

Drawing on the history of the Maryland colony, the Colonial Coin Club uses the 1783 John Chalmers shilling as part of its logo. Chalmers, who was a silversmith by trade, served as a captain in the Continental Army, was a representative to the common council of Annapolis, and was once the sheriff of Baltimore. As a civic-minded entrepreneur, Chalmers seized on the new law in Maryland that ended the practice of issuing paper money and the shortage of specie to propose a new coinage system. Chalmers created several prototypes that included the one shilling, three pence, and six pence coins. Chalmers’ shilling became the most famous of the his coins.

The design of the Chalmers Shilling has been a matter of debate. Several references call the long animal depicted a worm while others call it a snake and the two birds as doves. Some claim the birds are fighting over the worm/snake and there is no speculation as to why the worm/snake is depicted over a hedge. If you consider Maryland’s history at the time, snakes were not as prevalent in the Annapolis area. Birds would be going after worms and the two birds, which could be doves, are not fighting but sharing the worm—a symbol of Chalmers trying to tell people to get along during the tense period of transition from being British subjects to a free country. Considering that the coins were designed by Thomas Sparrow, who also designed the Maryland currency when it was issued, The worm over the head was to show unity across the Maryland fields.

If nothing else, I am adding the speculation as to the meaning of the coin.

As part of the celebration, the club put together a nice book of their history with articles from their journals, members, press clippings, and images that also makes is a really nice modern scrapbook of the club. It is an impressive bit of work by Betty Meck, a past president of the club, with help from their current Secretary, club historian, and the member with the longest service to the club Hank Schab. Both of whom I had a pleasure to meet and want to make special note of their contributions.

Also attending was Will Mumford. Will is a past president of the Colonial Coin Club and archivist for the Maryland State Archives who wrote, Barter, Bits, Bills and Tobacco: The Story of Money in Early Maryland. Will also wrote Strawberries, Peas, and Beans about the Pickers Checks in Anne Arundel County.

For a good overview of picker checks, you can read Picker Checks, Currency of the crops [PDF] by Gilbert Sandler from the University of Baltimore archives.

Finally, I would like to thank Colonial Coin Club President Rod Frederick for inviting the Maryland State Numismatic Association to participate which allowed me to be there as their representative. I will be 103 when the club celebrates a century of serving the coin collectors of the Annapolis area. I hope they will invite me back to celebrate with them!

A few images of the Colonial Coin Club’s 50th Anniversary history and album:

Chalmers Shilling image courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries. Coin is from the January 2008 FUN Auction in Orlando and sold for $13,800 (including buyer’s premium).

Return of the Poll: What’s on your desk?

Some of the numismatic items found on my desk.

Some of the numismatic items found on my desk.

To bring back the weekly poll, I thought about my post the other day about desktop finds where I discussed the items I found while cleaning my desk. I was thinking about this and was curious as to what other collectors do? After all, many of these items are the results of my saying “oh neat” and buying something outside of my collecting interest. Others are items that were given to me that are also outside of my collecting interest.

I read articles that say if you’re not a collector you’re an accumulator. But it is not that simple. Sometimes I over buy just to get one specific item. For example, the lot of Canadian dimes I found on my desk were purchased because I wanted one of the dimes for my collection. I will probably resell the rest of the dimes, but in the mean time they are on my desk.

Other items are souvenirs like the faux million-dollar bill and the package of shredded currency. While I may not have an attachment to them, they are not salable and I just do not want to throw them away. Maybe I’ll create an auction lot of this stuff to see if someone else wants it but it is still here, too.

What about you? Do you buy extra items and think you’ll resell them later? What about those souvenirs? How many of you have cheap items that you know you cannot resell or even give away? Take the poll. Comments are always welcome!

What kind of "extra items" are in your collection?

I have bought something I thought was neat or unusual. (35%, 6 Votes)
I have bought lots of coins or exonumia just for one or two items. (24%, 4 Votes)
I have souvenirs that are not part of my main collection. (18%, 3 Votes)
I collect souvenirs but have bought more than I should have. (12%, 2 Votes)
I have a box of goodies, want to see it? (12%, 2 Votes)
I just have what I collect and nothing extra. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 8

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