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).


  • 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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Series 1934 $1000 Federal Reserve Note

Series 1934 $1000 Federal Reserve Note

One thousand.

It is written as a one followed by three zeros.

In scientific notation it is written as 1 × 10³.

In the metric system, kilo- is the prefix for 1,000 of something like a kilogram is 1,000 grams or a kilometer is 1,000 meters.

A millennium is one thousand years.

One thousand days ago from today (April 14, 2013, the day this is posted) was Monday, July 19, 2010.

One thousand days from today will be Saturday, January 9, 2016. I wonder if it will snow?

“Grand” is slang for one thousand and Grover Cleveland appeared on the last one grand note produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

In Roman Numerals, one thousand is represented as “M.”

For the computer geeks, one thousand can be written as 1111101000 in binary, 01750 in octal (base 8), and 0x3E8 in hexadecimal (base 16).

If “A picture is worth a thousand words,” then what would one thousand blog posts be worth? You are reading what I never thought would occur. This is the one thousandth post to the Coin Collectors Blog!

When I started this blog on October 29, 2005, there were few websites for coin collectors. Back then, the numismatic publications were barely online and mostly as a place to subscribe to their print editions. Since starting this blog, there has been a growth in numismatic news outlets and other information. Rather than reporting the news, I moved to a little more analysis and opinion on the numismatic news of the day while keeping with other collecting information.

I like to think I started a trend but there are a lot of smart people out there with ideas of their own. I welcome them to online numismatic community.

It has been 7 years, 5 months, 16 days since my first post. I have had a lot of fun writing about my experiences, looking at the numismatic community, reporting some news, providing some analysis, and writing about whatever comes to mind. After all this time I can say that I am still having fun!

To those who have been around from the beginning, thank you for staying with me.

To those who joined since the beginning, thank you for reading.

Now onto the next 1000!

2007 Australia 1000 Dollars Lunar coins obverse

2007 Australia 1000 Dollars Lunar coins obverse

POLL: What kind of collector are you?

This week’s poll I want to know what kind of collector do you consider yourself to be?

I am not asking what you collect but how. I want to know if you buy raw coins and save them in an album or does your collection have to be only graded coins or coins that will be grade.

Do you pick from pocket change or do you go to the bank and buy rolls to search for something interesting?

For this poll, I thought of ten different categories of collectors. If you have a different strategy that is not in the list, add it to the comments below. Since there is no “right way” to collect, I would like to hear what other people do. Let me know what suits you best!

What kind of collector are you?

I buy raw coins and put them in albums. (41%, 9 Votes)
I am a change picker. (18%, 4 Votes)
I only buy graded coins or coins to be graded. (14%, 3 Votes)
I am a currency collector (graded and ungraded) (14%, 3 Votes)
I go to shows and search dealers' junk boxes. (9%, 2 Votes)
I am a roll hunter. (5%, 1 Votes)
I collect tokens and medals. (0%, 0 Votes)
I collect other items like Hobo Nickels, Love Tokens, etc. (0%, 0 Votes)
I hunt for old coins using a metal detector. (0%, 0 Votes)
I am a hoarder, saving every old coin I find. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 22

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Yes, that is my set of Somalia Motorcycle coins. I bought them from a dealer at a Baltimore show.

POLL: How can the ANA use technology to help you?

IBM 370/158By the time this is posted, I should be on a plane headed to the American Numismatic Association headquarters in Colorado Springs. This will be my first time visiting the ANA Headquarters and Colorado Springs. I hope it is not my last!

The reason for my visit is part of my role with the ad hoc Technology Committee to speak with a potential vendor who can offer services to the ANA to improve their technology infrastructure. With my background in building complex systems and information security, I hope to help the ANA create an environment that will use technology to better serve the members and the clubs. I admit there are some that will not embrace technology, but it will give the ANA an entree into a untapped population of collectors.

Technology is not the solution but the tool to use to bring the fun of coin collecting to more people than the 28,000 members of the ANA and hopefully make them members.

For this week’s poll, let’s imagine that the ANA has the technology to handle just about anything. What services would you like to see delivered by the ANA to help you or your club? The poll has nine suggestions plus an “other.” Pick your top three ideas. If you pick “other” then leave a comment here and let me know. In fact, I realize that the poll seems collector centric, so let me hear from dealers. I do not want to leave you out, especially since the collectors need you to help feed our collecting habits!

Comments are moderated only to prevent comment spam. All comments not deemed to be spam are approved regardless of your views—I especially like comments that disagree with me. If you do not want to give your name, then enter a handle or “anonymous.” Although the comment form asks for an email address, it will not be posted but will allow me to contact you if I have questions.

Let me hear from you and let’s work together to bring more the ANA to build a collector community.

What top 3 online services would you like to see the ANA offer?

Online courses including Summer Seminar (19%, 7 Votes)
Money Talks seminars from ANA conventions (14%, 5 Votes)
Weekly podcast with live call-in (14%, 5 Votes)
Videos from the ANA library (11%, 4 Votes)
Weekly news from around the ANA (11%, 4 Votes)
Broadcast of Board of Governors meetings (8%, 3 Votes)
Online reports from ANA shows (8%, 3 Votes)
Special museum video tours (8%, 3 Votes)
Virtual bourse from the ANA conventions (5%, 2 Votes)
Something else (3%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 14

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Image of an IBM System/370 Model 158 complements of Otto Rohrer on Flickr.
I chose the the image of the IBM 370/158 because it was the first computer I “mastered” in college. We have come a long way since then!

POLL: Should the U.S. Stop Producing the One-Cent Coin

With Canada now withdrawing their one-cent coin from circulation and the Great Britain debating whether they should stop producing their penny, some are looking to the United States to figure out a direction. In fact, a line buried in an article whose link was lost in the digital surf noted that the European Union will keep its 1- and 2-eurocent coins while waiting to see what the United States and Great Britain does.

There are good arguments on both sides ranging from the coin is too expensive to make to the argument that rounding creates a regressive tax on those who pay using cash. These coins are annoying or they provide equality with those paying cash versus those paying with credit.

An alternative would be to change the composition of the coin. Various new metals can make the coin profitable again and keeping the coin in production. Even keeping the costs at par would be better than the negative seigniorage the U.S. Mint generates today.

What do you think?

Should the United State stop producing the one-cent coin?

Yes, it costs too much to produce and is not worth a penny. (63%, 57 Votes)
No, we should just keep it. (19%, 17 Votes)
No, we should keep it but change the composition (19%, 17 Votes)

Total Voters: 91

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Image is The King of Errors: 1955 Double-Die Obverse that was graded AU-58BN by NGC proudly owned by the author.

POLL: Fund the Government Using Commemorative Coins?

Last year, I wrote an article suggesting that congress could authorize the U.S. Mint to issue commemorative coins to raise money to fix our national monuments that were damaged by an earthquake. After all, commemorative coins have been used to raise money for various other efforts, why not help the National Park Service and their fundraising efforts.

What about expanding that program to fund other areas of the government? Congress can authorize the commemorative program, the project that will be funded, and whatever money is raised from the sale of the coins will be used for that program. No taxpayer money, just funds from the sales and donations. It has the advantage of not costing the government money and involves citizens in the direct funding of their favorite projects.

What do you think? Let me know in this week’s poll!

Should congress use commemorative coins to pay for federal projects?

Yes, that sounds like a good idea (54%, 14 Votes)
Not sure it will help (35%, 9 Votes)
No, it is a bad idea or a waste of resources (12%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 26

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POLL: Which Top Modern Do You Want In Your Collection?

Last Friday, the Professional Coin Grading Service released its first annual list of the “PCGS Top 100 Modern U.S. Coins.” This list is their opinion of the best coins that have been struck since 1965.

Artist's conception of the 1964-D Peace dollar, the #1 coin on the new PCGS Top 100 Modern U.S. Coins list.

Artist’s conception of the 1964-D Peace dollar, the #1 coin on the new PCGS Top 100 Modern U.S. Coins list.

At the top of the list is the 1964-D Peace dollar, the coin I chose for the logo of this blog. Although U.S. Mint records from the time show that 316,076 were struck, they were never placed into circulation and all were allegedly destroyed. Apparently, PCGS believes, as I do, that someone might have purloined at least one coin. They are offering a $10,000 reward just to see and authenticate an example.

Let’s assume for the moment that a 1964-D Peace dollar still exists and you had the money to spend, which of the Top 5 in the PCGS Top 100 Modern U.S. Coins would you like for your collection?

If you have any thoughts on other coins in the PCGS Top 100 Modern U.S. Coins, feel free to leave a comment, below.

If money was not an object and the coin existed, which of the PCGS Top 5 Modern Coins would you buy?

2000-W proof Sacagawea dollar struck in 22 carat gold (33%, 9 Votes)
1964-D Peace Dollar (if it exists) (30%, 8 Votes)
1974 aluminum Lincoln cent (30%, 8 Votes)
1975 proof no “S” mintmark Roosevelt dime (4%, 1 Votes)
None, I just will not buy modern coins. (4%, 1 Votes)
1976 proof no “S” mintmark Bicentennial Type 2 Eisenhower dollar (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 27

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Image courtesy of PCGS.

POLL: Are you a member of a local coin club?

This week’s poll asks if you belong to a local coin club.

I believe that local coin clubs are more the future of the hobby than national clubs. Members of local coin clubs can get involved in ways they cannot with a national club and have a greater impact in their community than on a national basis.

I am a member of two local clubs, the Montgomery County Coin Club (MCCC) and the Washington Numismatic Society (WNS). I joined MCCC in 2002 when I became interested in collecting again and have been significantly involved since. I think we are a strong club in an area of the country where there are varied interests a lot of alternative activities for people to be involved. Attendance at our monthly meets range from 20 during the slow summer months to over 40 when we have a popular program. For 2013, I will once again serve as the club’s president.

Last year I joined WNS with the intent of going to their meetings and getting involved with a different group of members. While some WNS members are also MCCC members, there people who are not members of both and a different way of doing things. My “real life” work requirements has prevented me from being more involved, but I hope that will change in 2013.

I am also a member of the Maryland State Numismatic Association (MSNA), the umbrella organization over clubs in Maryland where I have been Vice President since 2012. MSNA is in transition because of local changes in the numismatic climate, mainly the three-times per year Whitman Coin and Currency Expo held in Baltimore. The transition gives us an opportunity to try new ideas and help grow interest in numismatics in Maryland.

Being a member of these organizations allows me to meet and talk with others about numismatics. There are some members who are well known on the national scene, those whose regional knowledge has been valuable, and those with interesting collections and ideas that I would have never thought about.

Taking the time to meet other collectors is as rewarding as the hobby—especially with MCCC and WNS who dedicates a part of their meeting to exhibits, a numismatic “show-and-tell” of new finds or something different from their collections.

Are you a member of a local coin club? If not, why not? Vote in the poll and comments are always welcome below!

EDITED TO ADD: To find a club in your area, you can search for one through the ANA Club Directory. You can search by state, zip code, or even by specialty.

Do you belong to a local coin club?

No, but I am interested in joining (58%, 11 Votes)
Yes and I attend meetings regularly (26%, 5 Votes)
There is no coin club in my area (11%, 2 Votes)
Yes, but I do not attend meetings regularly (5%, 1 Votes)
No, I am not interested (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 19

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