A junk box find that is not junk

A few weekends ago, I was out picking when someone offered to sell a box of lapel pins and buttons. Most of the buttons were modern political mainly from the 1988 election through the 2008 election. There was a mix of both major parties along with a number of local and state races, primarily from Virginia.

The box was nothing remarkable. It was originally for high-priced basketball shoes from a well-known company in the western United States. Alongside many of the political buttons were lapel pins and some sports pins. I also noticed some buttons with cute sayings. While being stuck in the fingers I was thinking that I could buy the box and use it as junk filler at a show. Just like coin dealers have junk boxes, those of us in other collectible areas have our versions of junk boxes. In this case, I can lay them out in felt-lined trays and let buyers pick over them for a dollar each.

Flag and ribbon pins always sell. So do buttons that say, “I usually don’t wake up grumpy, I sometimes let him sleep.” This gets the ladies to laugh and look at some of my other items.

After setting up the card table I use to work on this type of sorting, I dumped the box in the middle of the table. Expecting to have to sort through a few hundred pins and buttons when I noticed a 2×2 flip on top of the pile. It was a coin sitting that was sitting in the bottom of the box now at the top of the list of things to look at.

At first glance, I noticed it was not a U.S. coin and thought that it just could be an uncirculated copper-nickel coin until I looked closer. Shifting my glasses to get a better view there was no mistaking the reverse design as a Mexican Liberatad. The 1984 Libertad is clearly marked “1 ONZA PLATA PURA” (1-ounce pure silver) with the obverse declaring it from “ESTADOS UNIDOS MEXICANOS” (United States of Mexico).

I found a beautiful, uncirculated 1984 Mexico Libertad worth more than what I paid for the box!

Although I love large silver coins, I have never owned a Libertad. Did you know that the edge of the Libertad has edge lettering? It reads “INDEPENDENCIA Y LIBERTAD” (Independence and Freedom). The distinctive mintmark of the Mexico Mint is on the reverse and has an overall great look.

I almost did not buy the box!

Save now for the 2019 Apollo 11 Commemorative Coins

Artist’s conception of the common reverse for the 2019 Apollo 11 commemorative coin program.

Every year since coming into office, President Barack Obama and his family packs up and flies to Hawaii for an end of the year vacation. Obama was born in Hawaii and still has some family on Oahu. Before leaving Washington, he will sign whatever bills are sent to him by congress. According to the White House News Feed, President Obama signed the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act on Friday, December 16, 2016!

Based on my posts from the last few weeks, I am sure you can tell I have a fascination with space. In fact, if there is such thing as reincarnation, I want to come back in the future to be able to travel around the universe in a manner similar to what we see in the movies. It is sad that there is no real enthusiasm for space exploration as there was when Apollo 11 landed on the moon!

In July 1969, my family lived in the Long Island suburbs of New York. The year before Apollo 11, my father bought a new, large RCA color television. Aside from learning that the beginning and end of Wizard of Oz was in black-and-white, I was able to watch the launches of the world’s largest Roman candle, the Saturn V rocket. Before Skylab and the Shuttle programs, it was a marvel of human achievement. I loved watching the liftoffs from Cape Kennedy and always wanted to go see one in person. I never did get to see a rocket launched, but I hope to some day.

This was a time when kids went outside to play, even in the summer evenings. We played a lot of baseball-related games including setting up a “field” in the street. Nobody was in the street. We were all home watching television and watching overhead shots of Mission Control in Houston. Even through the television, you could sense the tension until Neil Armstrong announced, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. TheEagle has landed.”

It wasn’t until years later when I learned more about the Cold War when I understood why it was more important for the United States to land and walk on the moon first. All I knew was it was very cool that an American was up there. It made Star Trek seem possible!

The moon walk was Monday night. Again, we were staring at the television watching the enactments as to what to expect. There were mockups of the Lunar Module and astronauts demonstrating what Armstrong was supposed to do. I remember the concentration on the “D-Ring,” the D-shaped handle that Armstrong had to pull on to open the door that had the camera. There was a question that the ring had to survive the landing and that the door could have jammed. We would have a historical moment without it being recorded on video!

“These are the first pictures ever broadcast from the moon,” was the words by whoever was on television. I remember the words but not who said them. Pulling on the D-ring worked and the world was watching. We watched as Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder onto the surface of the moon. After a brief stop to remove the cover on the plaque that was attached to the ladder, Armstrong put both feet on the footpad of the lunar module. After a quick bounce step from the footpad to the surface of the moon, Armstrong gave his famous like, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

There has been a “controversy” about whether Armstrong said “… one small step for man,” or “… one small step for a man.” Whatever is the correct version does not take away from the feat and the fact that Neil Armstrong was the first human being to set foot on Earth’s only natural satellite!

While NASA was the inspiration for many of the modern technologies we enjoy today, only Apollo 11 took it to the level of defining U.S. technology. While Skylab and the Shuttle programs were far more advanced, Apollo 11 stands as one of the 20th-century’s most amazing feats.

Needless to say, I am excited!

  • Commemorative program issued in 2019
  • Required design elements:
    • Convex in shape “to more closely resemble the faceplate of the astronaut’s helmet of the time”
    • “The Secretary shall hold a juried, compensated competition to determine the design of the common obverse of the coins minted under this Act, with such design being emblematic of the United States space program leading up to the first manned Moon landing.”
    • Winning designer to receive no less than $5,000 for their design.
    • Common reverse design “shall be a representation of a close-up of the famous ‘Buzz Aldrin on the Moon’ photograph taken July 20, 1969, showing just the visor and part of the helmet of astronaut Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, in which the visor reflects the image of the United States flag, astronaut Neil Armstrong, and the lunar lander.”
  • Mintage Limit: 50,000 $5 gold; 400,000 silver dollars; 750,000 clad half-dollar; 100,000 five-ounce silver proof dollars
  • Surcharges of $35 per $5 gold; $10 per silver dollar; $5 per half-dollar; and $50 per five-ounce bullion.
  • Payouts: 50-percent to Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum’s “Destination Moon” exhibit; 25-percent to the Astronauts Memorial Foundation; and 25-percent to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
I may not be much of an artist but I can play a little with Photoshop!

Monday out on a limb

We all have our bromides we use to describe Mondays. We have a love-hate relationship with Mondays. Those who love Mondays see it as a new beginning and to start the week on a high note. Others see is as another week of more of the same and another way for things to get worse.

As for me, I make sure I get enough coffee so that I can make it through just about anything.

Rather than dwell on the fact it is Monday and that there is a lot of news even before the day begins, I would rather start with something better. Prettier. More pleasing than anything else. I give you the 2016 Panda silver bullion coin just added to my collection.

The People’s Bank of China, through its subsidiary Panda Gold Coin, have been striking bullion coins with the image of a panda since 1982. Up until 1999, the images have been almost cartoon-like in nature. Starting in 2000, they hired a new artist who turned the panda image into a fantastic work of art.

The skill of the artist and die makers combine matte and shiny images with fine details to come up with an image that not only endures but keeps these coins selling at a premium. Even with their higher mintages since 2010, I have seen sales of the silver coin up to three-times its original sale value.

Making it more of an interesting coin if you want to collect and have a nice investment is that even with the weight change in 2015. Prior to 2015, the coin was made of one troy ounce of silver or about 31.1 grams. Starting in 2015, the coin was struck using 30 grams of silver.

When the change was discovered after not being officially announced, the industry was up in arms. Why? Because some felt they were being short-changed on 1.1 grams of silver for the same price, sort of like paying for 12 ounces of coffee that comes in the same 16-ounce can (I remember back when that was a newsworthy topic). At the current price spot price of $18.41 per troy ounce, 1.1 grams of silver is only 65-cents.

Somehow, I don’t think 65-cents is going to make a difference in the beauty of the coin.

Rather than worry about 1.1 grams of silver, I just love the coins and was able to purchase one this weekend. As for Monday, I would rather look at the beauty of the panda climbing out on a limb than whatever limb I end up climbing!

Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar

The original bit coin.

The original bit coin.

Let’s not put the cart before the horse. We all have used adages. Some are centuries old when it was really something special when a penny saved was a penny earned. For some adages, things are not always what they seem which makes appearances deceiving.

In a comment about a technical issue, I was trying to explain that something would not work and exclaimed, “That isn’t worth two-bits.”

To the few people in the room within my age group, they understood what I said. Those younger than being eligible for AARP and those born outside of the United States did not understand. Since it is more blessed to give rather than receive, it gave me the opportunity to teach someone about the origin of money in the United States.

When the colonies were settled, George I was the King of England. Although the king ruled from an ocean away, the governors sent to manage the colonies on his behalf were under strict orders to not allow the colonists to coin money. An exception was made during a small period in the 17th century, colonists had to make due with the low-value copper coinage the king and his governors allowed.

Even with a standing army in the colonies, the governors could not control the commerce. Instead, they applied duties and fees for allowing the colonists to trade with the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Notice that there were no taxes because only the king could tax the royal subjects. Governors could levy duties to run the colonies. They also took kickbacks and bribes in order to get their way.

Although the Pound Sterling was the coin of the realm it was not available to the colonies. Instead, trading posts accepted the 8 reales coin, also known as the Thaler or Spanish Milled Dollar, as payment for goods and services. With the trade of high-cost goods like tobacco, cotton, and hides caught in the Appalachian Mountains the colonies relied more on the Spanish Milled Dollar than on the copper British coins.

Colonial governors ignored the growing economy, as they were able to satisfy the companies that sponsored the settlements and paid the taxes while lining their pockets. Colonists were able to make do with what was left.

A problem came about that everything could not be worth 8 reales and without subsidiary coinage, it was impossible to give change. Using the silver value of the coin, people would cut the coin into pieces in order to make subsidiary coinage. A milled dollar cut in half was a half-dollar. That half-dollar cut in half was a quarter-dollar and the quarter-dollar cut in half was called a bit.

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

Getting back to our adage, two bits were made from a quarter-dollar. Saying something was not worth two bits was either a negotiating tactic or someone wanted to use a short bit to pay for an item. Like many adages that have origins in the 17th and 18th centuries, the reason for their existence has been lost with time.

But arguing about its origin would be rocking the boat. We do know that some of our colonial ancestors should have measured twice and cut once to avoid the problem. But alas, there is no sense crying over spilled milk.

From my collection

Bit coin image courtesy of The Dreamer Comic by Laura Innes.

What do you think it’s worth?

1809 Madison Indian Peace MedalFinding coins in pocket change can be a lot of fun. Then there are those who find hoards of coins buried in the ground or just stored somewhere that people forgot. From shipwrecks to treasure hunts, we all dream of finding the next jackpot somewhere.

On your great grandfather’s farm, a worker was plowing the field and found a silver medal. It has the image of President James Madison on one side and what looks like a peace medal on the other. Rather than letting go, great grandpa traded three hogs for the medal.

The medal gets handed down from generation to generation until one of his ancestors takes the medal to Antiques Roadshow to find out what it is worth.

You are told that it is a silver James Madison Indian Peace Medal. The 1809 medal was designed by assistant engraver John Reich and struck at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. It is not the largest of the medals but at 2½-inches, it is a fairly significant medal.

What is it worth? See what Jason Preston of Jason Preston Art Advisory & Appraisals of Los Angeles said about the medal on Antiques Roadshow:

Did you guess right?

Image and video courtesy of WGBH and the Antiques Roadshow

125 Year Celebration

Dr. George HeathIt has been 125 years since Michigan physicist Dr. George Heath founded the American Numismatic Association in 1891. Heath, who operated a coin business on the side, began this journey by publishing his own magazine in 1888 called The Numismatist. He used the magazine as a call to other collectors to create the ANA.

The ANA will celebrate this milestone at the upcoming World’s Fair of Money. In an interesting coincidence, or maybe planning, the celebration will be help practically next door to the place called “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Irrespective of whatever issues anyone sees or perceives with regard to the ANA, you have to admit that an organization like the ANA to survive 125 years is pretty amazing.

If you are interested in a long-form history of the ANA, I recommend reading “125 Years of Collecting with the American Numismatic Association” written by Q. David Bowers. It is not a quick read, but 125 years of history was not easy to create. The current page is in seven parts with an eighth promised for next month. There is no indication if that will be the last part. Still, it is a recommended article.

Currently, if you become an ANA member or renew your membership for 3 years or donate $125, you can receive a 2016 American Silver Eagle graded MS-69 by Numismatic Guarantee Corporation with a special Anniversary Label. I there is a limit of 2,500 coins. If you become a life member or donate $500, you can receive one graded MS-70. There is a 250 limit on the higher graded coins.

There was also a set of coins created for the National Money Show with a special label. There was a renewal opportunity that allowed existing ANA members to renew and receive their coin with the National Money Show label. These were coins left over from the show in Dallas.

Not only did I take advantage of the renewal offer but added a donation to receive both versions of the coin in MS-65. Although I do not collect grading service labels, this was an opportunity to support the ANA. There may be a limited number of coins left. If you are not a member, you may want to consider joining. If you are a member, either consider a three-year renewal or donate $125 to help the ANA. I believe it is a good cause!

Image of Dr. George Heath courtesy of the ANA.

Batman v Superman: Dawn on Silver

2016 Canada Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice $20 silver coin

2016 Canada Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice $20 silver coin

I have said time and again that I do not like gimmick coins but I have purchased gimmicks like shaped coins.

I have said that I do not like painted coins then I admit to buying painted coins.

So far, I have stayed away from strictly screen printed and lenticular printed coins but I have lauded some painted coins and added them to my collection.

If there is something that I prefer over everything else is a coin whose design is based on the engraving. For that reason, I have complemented and purchased $20 for $20 coins from the Royal Canadian Mint. Their $20 for $20 program produces .9999 pure silver coins sold with the face value of $20 (in Canadian funds). They are available directly from the RCM to Canadian and United States buyers only.

Last year, I purchased the Bugs Bunny and the Superman “Man of Steel” coins directly from the Royal Canadian Mint. My final price was $16.46 each in U.S. dollars after the exchange rate and the credit card company’s conversion fee. Sure these are gimmick coins, but I like the themes.

This year, the RCM has issued a Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice $20 for $20 coin. With a mintage of 300,000 coins, numismatists who are also fans of the movie can add this silver coin to their collection. Based on the image, it appears that Superman is overpowering Batman.

Looking at the coin’s aesthetics, it is a good looking coin. The artists at the RCM are very capable and have come up with really nice designs. While the concept of the $20 for $20 (US$15.14 as I type this) may be somewhat of a gimmick for a coin with 7.96 grams of silver ($3.90 when silver is $15.32 per ounce), the design is engraved art struck into a silver planchet that is affordable for many collectors.

I have not had the opportunity to see the movie. I do enjoy comics and comic-related stories, but I am not a hardcore fan. I like both characters and have always been a fan of Wonder Woman now played by Gal Godot. But the coin intrigues me. I might buy the coin before seeing the movie!

Like any good movie, here is the “trailer” the Royal Canadian Mint produced for the coin:

Raging into March

2015 American Silver Eagle Bullion CoinWhat began as an English proverb as “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” may become a relic of history. Aside from the weather implications the markets are experiencing a lion-like robustness that even has the governors and branch presidents of the Federal Reserve issuing conflicting statements about the future of interest rates.

While the professionals are attempting to figure out what the economic numbers are saying, one thing is clear that the U.S. Mint is on pace to break its 2015 sales for American Silver Eagle bullion coins. March opens with the U.S. Mint announcing that it has another 1 million silver coins ready for sale. This is the fifth time in 2016 that the U.S. Mint has made this type of announcement.

Year to date, gold prices are up about 17-percent and silver prices are up 11-percent. This has not stopped the buying of bullion coins. One Canadian dealer recently informed me that they sold out of a specific silver issue from the Royal Canadian Mint because of high demand, especially from the United States.

This is reaching beyond collectors. While the numismatic world was focused on Dallas for the National Money Show, my business kept me in the D.C. area as a vendor at one of the largest antiques shows in the mid-Atlantic region. Although coins are a very minor part of the show, some dealers that were selling silver coins had high volumes of sales. One dealer reported that he sold out of the 30 American Silver Eagle bullion coins graded MS-70 by the middle of the show’s second day.

An informal poll of attendees to the National Money Show suggests similar sales performances.

Even though there may be areas of the economy that has not caught up to the current economic trends, it is difficult to find an analyst or pundit that does not believe that the current trends will end in the short term.

It is likely that March will go out like a raging bull, even if I could not find a one-armed economist to disagree!
 

Charging Bull by Arturo DiModica

Charging Bull by Arturo DiModica is a bronze sculpture that stands in Bowling Green Park just south of the Financial District in lower Manhattan.

Proof reading is one way to avoid errors

2016 Mark Twain Commemorative Silver Dollar

2016 Mark Twain Commemorative Silver Dollar

One of the greatest mysteries of 2016, so far, has been resolved! According to Dave Harper at Numismatic News, the delay in the release of the 2016 Mark Twain Silver Dollar commemorative coin was because the of the Certificate of Authenticity.

Originally, both the press release and apparently the COA from the U.S. Mint announced that the reverse design included Jim and Huck from the Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This error seemed to pass a lot of people who read the books, including me. Jim, who was Miss Watson’s slave who befriended Huckleberry Finn, appeared in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Oops!

Apparently, someone forgot to proof read everything and the COAs were printed with the same information. Rather than distribute the wrong COA, which would have been interesting, the U.S. Mint had them reprinted. Citing an inventory issue, they delayed the sale of the silver dollar. It was not the inventory of coins that was the problem. It was the inventory of the complete package including the COA that caused the delay.

Packaging errors usually do not bring a premium. While they can be amusing, collectors have treated packaging errors as a nuisance. This would have been a fun error to keep around.

As an aside, I noticed that the 2016-W Mark Twain $5 Gold Proof Coin is listed as “Currently Unavailable” on the U.S. Mint’s website. The uncirculated coin is still available. Although there is a mintage limit of 100,000 gold coins regardless of strike type, there is no indication if this is the result of a sell out or a lack of inventory. Stay tuned.

2016-W Mark Twain $5 Commemorative Gold Coin

2016-W Mark Twain $5 Commemorative Gold Coin

Images courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

December 2015 Numismatic Legislation

Congress ended the calendar year with a proverbial bang. Aside from actually passing a budget, they passed a comprehensive transportation bill that not only has the possibility of raising our infrastructure grade from a D– to a D (hey… it’s an improvement), but in a few short words will have a big impact on the U.S. Mint.

H.R. 22: Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act
Sponsor: Sen. Rodney Davis (R-IL)
• Introduced: January 6, 2015
• Passed House of Representatives on January 6, 2015
• Passed Senate with amendments on July 30, 2015
• Conference report presented to Senate on November 5, 2015
• Conference committee convened November 18, 2015
• Conference report agreed on by the House and Senate on December 3, 2015
• Signed by the President on December 4, 2015 to become Public Law 114-94

Read the details of this law at https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr22

If you want to read my analysis of the impact to the U.S. Mint from this law, see the following four-part series:

  1. Transportation drives numismatic changes
  2. Now with more silver
  3. Palladium arcadium
  4. Transportation silver eagles

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