The shameless promotion of the coin business and extraordinary search for special rare coins did not begin with the explosion of the Internet. It can be traced to legendary coin dealer B. Max Mehl. From the empire he built in Austin, Texas, Mehl was probably the first coin dealer to market coins to the general public.
Mehl started advertising in The Numismatist in 1903 and in the following year issued his first catalog. In 1906, Mehl paid $12.50 to advertise in Collier’s magazine offering his Star Coin Book for 10-cents. Later, Mehl would expand the book and sell it for $1.
Benjamin Maximillian Mehl was born in Łódź, Russia (now Poland) in 1884. His family immigrated to the United States in 1895 and worked as a shoe salesman before he became a coin dealer. Stories about his relentless promotion report that he was shipping coins to more than 30,000 times a year.
Mehl is famous for his advertising that he “Will pay $50 for a nickel of 1913 with Liberty Head, not Buffalo.” Although he never found one, that did not stop him from advertising and trying.
Then there is the catalog, Star Coin Book. Before the Red Book, Blue Book, and Standard Catalog, there were few books that provided this amount of information and was affordable to the general public. The Star Coin Book was his marketing tool to make and keep people interested and to keep the orders coming in.
Mehl sold so many catalogs that one can be purchased for as little as $5.00 or as high as $50.00 depending on the year and condition. Many are in poor condition since they were not meant to be saved. Mehl wanted people to buy a new catalog every year.
Imagine my surprise when I was going through a box of odd books that I purchased from an estate and found a 1925 edition of The Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia and Premium Catalog. I picked up the book, paused as I tried to focus on the well-worn cover, and smiled as I realized what I had found.
The book is not in good condition but it is part of numismatic lore. It is Mehl’s work as a cataloger and seller of coins and some currency. It is page after page of coins and the values that he would pay if you wanted to sell your coins. These values are a range of what he would pay and he notes that is based on the condition of the coin. He does include a description of the differences in condition and most coin types include some type of picture, whether it is a photographic plate or a line drawing.
After the lists there are a few pages of history of coins, “Coins Past and Present” that is followed by coins he has for sale. All sales were done by phone or by postal mail. Remember, this was long before fax machines and the Internet!
There are both contemporary and modern writings about Mehl that describe him as a huckster and mendacious. Others describe him as a genius of marketing that helped grow the hobby. Regardless, Mehl has a place is numismatic history that has to be respected for being able to use the tools he had to build a successful business.
Since the news reports about the discovery of two 1943 Lincoln wheat cents struck on copper planchets hit the news, I have received a few inquiries as to whether they have a coin that could be worth tens- or hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars. All are disappointed when they find out that grandpa’s old album may not be worth more than $50.00 if that much.
“But the coin is so old!”Those of us who have been around this hobby for a while know that many factors go into pricing coins including supply and demand, condition, and other market forces. The considerations are so varied, that I wrote a two-part series on “How Coins are Priced” (links: Part I and Part II) that is still relevant.
The 1943 copper Lincoln cent is known as an off-metal error. It probably happened when the U.S. Mint started to strike the 1943 Steel cents and a few copper planchets were probably still stuck in the machine. According to Coin World, there have been 12 reported 1943 copper cents.
Now that the coin has been reported in the mainstream media, be careful about buying counterfeits coins. Sources report that would-be fraudsters are either taking the abundant supply of steel cents at a cost of 50-cents to $2 each and plating them with copper. This type of counterfeit is easy to detect using a magnet. Copper is not magnetic and will not react to a magnet.
Another trick they try is to alter the “8” on a 1948 Lincoln cent to make it look like a three. If you carefully study the style used on the “3” and the “8” you will see that they are very different shapes on the coins. Also, if you look at the date under magnification, you could see the tooling marks. This is where carrying a 10x loupe is beneficial.
Otherwise, make sure the coin is encapsulated by a reputable grading service and that you check the serial numbers against the grading service’s database.
While it is nice to have the attention, please do not be disappointed when I tell you that the rusting 1943 steel cent is probably worth about 25-cents or that reprocessed set may be worth one- or two-dollars.
As I am working on a manuscript about counterfeiting coins and currency, I started to search the internet for the location of some information when I stumbled on The British Museum’s website. Rather than find something about counterfeiting, searching the term “defacing coins” lead me to the most recent Curator’s Corner blog entry by Thomas Hockenhull, the curator of Modern Money for The British Museum.
For this entry, Hockenhull found a 1903 large penny with the words “VOTES FOR WOMEN” engraved over the head of King Edward III. It was done as part of the suffragist protests in England prior to World War I. Although not much of a presenter, The British Museum recorded a video featuring Hockenhull describing the coin and his research into how it might have come into existence. Rather than rehash what he said, you can watch the video here:
I have not to been to London for many years, but I remember spending a day at The British Museum was a highlight of the trip. It is one of the great museums of the world and worth setting at least one day touring the museum. There is so much to see that if you love to see the living embodiment of history, consider spending more than a day.
After three years of design and production plans, the Royal Mint has produced what they are calling the most secure coin ever. The 12-sided, bimetallic coin includes micro-lettering, a latent image that is like a hologram, and something embedded in the metal to change its electromagnetic signature so that coin operated machines can detect counterfeits. These changes were made necessary by an effort criminals made to flood the market with counterfeit the previous £1 coin.
Initially, there have been complaints about coin-op systems not being able to accept the coin. Everyone from parking lots with metered and machined payment to the London Underground has been seen as not ready for the change even though the Royal Mint produced test coins in 2016 to help businesses convert. In England, where supermarkets charge to use the shopping cart in a manner that U.S. airports charge to use luggage carts, some major chains have unlocked their carts because they cannot accept the new £1 coins.
Acceptance is not the only problem they have run into. The new pound coins appear to have errors.
The first error to show up caused people to think that the coin was being counterfeited when the thistle on the reverse did not strike properly. The Royal Mint confirmed that these were not counterfeits. They were errors in the minting process. Although it was reported that the Royal Mint did not examine the coins, after seeing the images they said:
Next came the center-melt error. A woman in Birmingham found a coin that looks like the copper-nickel center melted across the coin. When minting bimetallic coins, the centers are supposed to expand in order to fuse it to the outer layers. The design crossed over the edges of the two metals to help with the anti-counterfeiting and to make sure the metals are locked into place. Since the coin is struck evenly, it is likely that either the alloy making up the center contains more of the softer nickel than specified, or that the coin was struck as second time causing the already fused centers to melt because of the friction.
A European coin expert familiar with the bimetallic minting process suggested that the pressure on the presses were set too high. This caused the coin to not eject properly from the collar leaving it in the machine for a second strike. The second strike on the higher pressure caused the center to melt and position the coin in a way to force it to eject. He is looking for an example to make a closer examination.
A final error find was the separation of the center from the outer ring. Even though the Royal Mint has said that this is impossible and all but accused the person who found the error of a crime (destroying coins is a crime in the United Kingdom), it is possible for the parts to separate if the strike pressure is not hard enough to fuse the centers to the rings. If the melting centers are caused by too heavy of the strike, the removable centers are caused by too light of a strike.
It is theorized that the Royal Mint has two possible issues: quality control when resetting the coining presses when changing the dies and a design that cannot handle the tolerances.
Even when dies are changed for coins struck on a planchet with a single metal, the press has to be adjusted to ensure the coins are struck with the proper force. Even if the dies are made by the same person and machines, they can be mounted millimeters off. Operators are supposed to run a few coins and check the striking tolerances. If the strike is too hard, it will cause the dies to wear quicker (the first error) and possible cause multiple strikes (the second error) when the coins get stuck in the collars. Set too soft and the friction does not generate enough heat to fuse the metals (third error).
Looking for errors on eBay’s UK site, errors include coins without Queen Elizabeth’s portrait and 2016 trial strikes given to merchants to test coin-op machines that ended up in circulation.
While the Brits are having fun with the Royal Mint’s error, it is nothing like the “Godless Dollar” outrage by the easily offended when the edge lettering with “In God We Trust” was accidentally left off of the Presidential dollars. Maybe the United States cannot handle change to their change!
Not to be outdone, Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) introduced the Cents and Sensibility Act in the house (H.R. 2067) in order to force the change in our change. Stivers’ bill would require that circulating coins “be produced primarily of steel” and that “ be treated in such a manner that the appearance of the coins, both when new and after they have been in circulation, is similar to the one-cent, five-cent, dime, and quarter dollar coins, respectively, produced before the date of the enactment of this subsection.” This differs from the Currency Optimization, Innovation, and National Savings (COINS) Act (S. 759), introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), in that McCain’s bill would cease production of the one-cent coin, changes the composition of the five-cent coins, and ceases production of the $1 paper currency.
I don’t think either bill has a chance of being passed but if I had to pick one, I would prefer McCain’s COINS Act.