Weekly World Numismatic News for August 11, 2019

Mexico MintThis past week, two men entered the Mexico Mint (Casa de Moneda de México) and stole 1,567 gold coins worth an estimated $2.5 million. News reports say that these coins have a 50 peso value. Since the only gold coins available from the Mexico Mint of that type are Libertads, each coin is worth a little more than $1,600 each (about 31,500 pesos).

Initial reports say that security personnel did not follow appropriate protocols as the vault was left open before the robbery. Guards and other staff members were taken into custody for questioning.

The brazen daylight robbery occurred in an exclusive section of Mexico City that is well protected. Unfortunately, Mexico has seen an increase in violent crimes, including murder, with the increased activity of the drug cartels. The arrest and conviction of high-profile cartel leaders and the growth of exports to the United States created a situation where the cartels are fighting for territory.

An unconfirmed report said that the robbery was carried out by one of the cartels. If that is the case, the gold will likely be melted so that the coins would not be traceable.

And now the news…

 August 4, 2019

A treasure trove of 17th century silver coins has been found under the floor of a monastic church. Archaeologists from the University of Gdańsk were working in the presbytery of the 14th century Church of the Saint Andrew the Apostle in the town of Barczewo in Poland’s northern province of Warmia, when they discovered a glazed ceramic mug handle filled with nearly 1,000 coins.  → Read more at thefirstnews.com


 August 6, 2019

Thieves stole nearly 1,600 gold coins worth more than $2 billion in a brazen daytime robbery in Mexico City. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Armed robbers broke into a Mexican government coin manufacturer on Tuesday and filled a backpack with more than $2 million worth of gold coins from a vault that had been left open, security officials said.  → Read more at businessinsider.com


 August 6, 2019

Police are searching for the perpetrators of the theft, which took place in broad daylight on one of the Mexican capital's most prestigious avenues, Avenida Reforma, CNN en Español reports. The brazen heist is the latest development in a crime wave that has struck Mexico City in recent months as the security situation deteriorates across the country.  → Read more at www-m.cnn.com


 August 7, 2019

The Royal Mint didn’t produce any 1p and 2p copper coins in 2018 — marking the first time since 1972 and 1984 that none were created, respectively. Currently, there are an estimated 10.5 billion coppers in use and another 6.3 billion laying dormant in piggy banks and jams cars across the country.  → Read more at news.yahoo.com


 August 7, 2019

A glass bottle containing six kilos of coins from interwar Poland has been found buried under a monastery in Ukraine. Builders stumbled upon the stash one-metre below the Bernadine Monastery and St. Andrew’s Church in the town of Zbarazh where they were carrying out earthworks.  → Read more at thefirstnews.com

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Happy Anniversary to Modern Coinage

The dual-dated Bicentennial reverse designs are still very popular amontst collectors

On July 23, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Coinage Act of 1965. Congress passed the bill in response to the coin shortages caused by the rising silver prices. When it was signed, the act eliminated silver from circulating dimes, and quarters while reducing the amount of silver used to strike half-dollars from 90-percent to 40-percent for five years. After five years, the half-dollar would be struck using the same copper-nickel clad composition as the lower denominations.

The act forbade the striking of silver dollars for five years ending an experiment with the striking of Peace Dollars in 1964. There are rumors that at least one 1964-D Peace exists despite the U.S. Mint’s insistence that all of the coins were melted.

Finally, the act made all coins and currency produced in the United States and specific bank issues as legal tender, which reversed the demonetization of the Trade Dollar in 1867.

The Coinage Act of 1965 marks the dividing line between “classic” and “modern” coinage.

After fifty-four years of modern coinage, there continues to be collectors and dealers who turn up their noses at modern coins.

Although the stories behind many of the classic issues are interesting, modern coins provide a diversity that is meaningful and affordable for the average collector.

The first coin of the modern era that had a public impact was the dual-dated coins with the reverses honoring the nation’s bicentennial. The bicentennial was a two-year celebration preceded by three years of hype and prep. When the coins were released, many people searched their change, looking for the coins. It was the first time in many years that half-dollar and large dollar coins circulated in significant numbers since finding them in change was exciting.

The Susan B. Anthony dollar was less than successful because it was confused with a quarter

The modern era also saw a big flop when the Susan B. Anthony small dollar coin entered circulation. Even though the U.S. Mint tried to simulate the 12-sides on the coin’s design, the size and the reeded edge was confused with the quarter. People stopped using the Susie B. thus ending whatever momentum dollar coins had.

The most successful program of the modern era was the 50 State Quarters program. The program started strong with a lot of interest. Unfortunately, a downturn in the economy and the television hucksters overselling the potential value of the series turned away a lot of potential collectors.

As the success of the 50 State Quarters program grew, Congress passed laws to create several other circulating commemoratives. The programs include the Westward Journey Nickels, Abraham Lincon Bicentennial cents, and the Native American $1 coin program using the golden-colored planchets of the Sacagawea dollar.

The modern era saw the return of the commemorative coin programs. Some were very popular, like the 2001 American Buffalo Commemorative Coin and 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin programs. There were less popular coins, but none had flopped as bad as the 2013 Girl Scouts of the USA Centennial Silver Dollar.

Unlike previous commemorative coin laws, modern laws help the U.S. Mint limit the time these coins can remain on sale. It also limits their production to one year.

Finally, the modern era has given us the bullion coin series. It started with the American Silver Eagle program that was created to provide a way for the United States government to sell off silver saved in the Defense National Stockpile. As a result, the U.S. Mint has used the program to experiment with different finishes, including burnished and reverse proof.

Congress passed the Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985 a few months later after being lobbied by the gold mining interests. This law created the American Eagle Gold Bullion Program.

2013-W American Buffalo gold reverse proof obverse

Even more significant was Title II of the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005. Title II established the American Buffalo 24-Karat Bullion Gold Coins program. The law required the coins struck from .9999 put gold using the design of the 1913 Type 1 Buffalo Nickel as designed by James Earle Fraser. After the first year of issue, the U.S. Mint could change the design after vetting the design with the Commission of Fine Arts and the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. This law allowed the U.S. Mint to produce coins like the 2009 High Relief gold coin and the 100th-anniversary tributes to the Mercury dime in 2016.

After 54 years there are a lot of exciting choices for the modern collector. And this does not consider the collection of errors or varieties, like the three types of 1972 Eisenhower dollars or the wide versus narrow lettering on the reverse of the 1999 Lincoln cent.

It is past the time for the numismatic community to embrace the collection of modern coins more than it has. There may be few modern coins that are worth thousands of dollars, but they are available to capture the interest of potential collectors. After all, how many of us started collecting by searching pocket change.

Weekly World Numismatic News for July 21, 2019

While there was plenty of news this week, I want to take this opportunity to use myself as an example. Some may have noticed that the blog was taken down for a little more than a day earlier this week. The downtime was necessary to clean up after my account was attacked.

The attack occurred after I had given the person who is maintaining my company’s website the administrative passwords. Although that person did not attack my account, the use of compromised services on the Internet allowed the attack to happen.

Being attacked by malware on the Internet is nothing new. I am sure that most of you experienced an attack either of a website, your email, or social media account. The clean up is not fun. The embarrassment after spending a career as an information security profession is enormous.

I do pay attention to my version of the world to make sure that what I am involved with does not cause problems. Even so, something got passed my watch and infected my entire account, including this blog and the news site.

I have written about security issues in the past. As my experience has shown, letting down your guard can lead to an unintentional disaster.

I know that Internet security is both problematic and annoying. Having to watch over your virtual shoulders can make the time you spend online unpleasant. But it has to be done. You have to stay aware because the threats adapt as you do.

Fans of Hill Street Blues will remember that after the morning briefing, Sergeant Phil Esterhaus would say, “Let’s be careful out there.” Sound advice for the Internet age.

And now the news…

 July 14, 2019

London (CNN Business)Alan Turing, a crack code-breaker and visionary mathematician who was convicted under Victorian-era homophobic laws, will be the face of Britain's new £50 note. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney announced Monday that Turing, who killed himself in 1954 after he was subjected to chemical castration, will appear on the new polymer note by the end of 2021.  → Read more at cnn.com


 July 17, 2019

Nick Vorsin wasn’t sure what he’d find when he stopped in at the Calgary Coin Gallery, but he ended up buying a couple of nice surprises: two 1967 Canadian Centennial coins. One was a 50 cent piece, featuring an image of a howling wolf, along with a silver dollar featuring a Canada goose.  → Read more at globalnews.ca


 July 17, 2019

(UPDATED) A study finds that Filipinos frequently use P20 bills, leading to the banknote's wear and tear. A coin version will extend its life span. MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The orange P20 bill will soon get a coin counterpart, an official of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said on Wednesday, July 17.  → Read more at rappler.com


 July 18, 2019

Before you say, "Keep the change," make sure you don’t have one of these. You never know, one of your pennies could be worth the price of a nice dinner out — or maybe a whole lot more.  → Read more at cnbc.com


 July 21, 2019

Richard Hayes left a $45 million coin on the streets of Manhattan all day Tuesday, but he wasn’t particularly worried about a thief carting it off.  → Read more at marketwatch.com


 July 21, 2019

Rusty Goe has spent much of his professional life on a deep dive into the history of the U.S. Mint in Carson City. He’s written multiple books on the subject and spent thousands of hours in research, getting to know the people who worked there 150 years ago.  → Read more at carsonnow.org


 July 21, 2019

There was an increase in hoarding coins during the "tumultuous" reign of the queen, an expert says.  → Read more at bbc.com

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Copper: Scientific Fact and Numismatic Fiction?

Copper is the third most common element in the world.

Copper is a versatile metal that has been exploited for many purposes since the Bronze Age that started roughly in 3300 BCE. It is as practical as wire carrying electricity and for cooking. It is used for its artistic qualities such as the Statue of Liberty. Copper is also a medium of exchange.

U.S. cents have been made of copper, steel, and copper plated zinc. What’s next?

Copper has a long history of being integrated with coins in the United States. From the first half and one cent coins of the late 18th century, every coin ever struck for circulation has contained copper, except for the 1943 Steel Cent.

When coins were struck using precious metals, more were struck using a majority of the precious metal, and the balance was copper. Although legislation required changes in the composition of the alloy, copper continued to provide the filler.

Precious metals, like gold and silver, do not oxidize. Copper will naturally oxidize. Copper oxidizes when it is exposed to the environment. Water, salts, and acids in the air will react with the copper that will cause a molecular change in copper that causes its color to change. A typical example of what happens when copper oxidizes is the Statue of Liberty. The copper statue is now a blue-green color after many years of enduring the elements. That blue-green color is known as verdigris.

In numismatics, the copper oxidation is apparent as the colors of the half-cent, one cent, and two cent coins oxidize. When a coin is the color of the initially polished planchette, it is said to have a red color. As the copper in the coin oxidizes, the color is described as red-brown, sometimes with a percentage of red to brown color. A brown coin is a coin whose red color has completely oxidized.

The oxidation process is natural and can not be stopped. It is possible to slow the process. Eventually, the copper will oxidize and turn every cent ever struck to brown.

Large Cent with Verdigris

Would this metal detector find be considered “artificial toning” (Image from CTTodd.com)

Numismatics does not consider the oxidation of copper as damage to a coin until the appearance of verdigris. Then the coin loses its value. However, verdigris is not damage. Verdigris is the result of the natural oxidation process.

As collectors, we have seen the natural oxidation of copper accelerated by artificial means. Coins stored in holders made of the synthetic polymer polyvinyl chloride (PVC) produce an acidic gas as it oxidizes accelerating the oxidation of the copper used to make coins. That acceleration can lead to the rapid breakdown of the PVC holder, causing it to appear as if it melted to coin. Numismatists call this damage. It is a natural reaction by the copper.

When copper oxidizes, it does not change its molecular structure but alters its form. If someone would test the surface of a cent with bright red color and one that has turned brown, both will test as being made of copper. The surface would have to examined on a molecular level to see how oxidation has reformatted the molecular structure.

Statue of Liberty

An example of how copper tones

Oxidation only changes the color on the surface. The Statue of Liberty is an example of this phenomenon. When the statue was conserved in the early 1980s, experts found that the verdigris covering the copper was no more than 6-8 millimeters (one-quarter of an inch) deep. As a testament to how copper can maintain its structure, it the restorers estimate that it had lost .01-percent of its surface in her 100 years of living in New York.

Although few would call the verdigris on the Statue of Liberty ugly, verdigris on a coin causes people to turn their heads away.

Another way that the oxidation of copper changes coins is when a coin becomes toned. Some collectors marvel at colors some coins become when the copper in the alloy oxidizes. Others see the coin as damaged. Both views are right.

From a scientific perspective, a toned coin shows the flaws within the alloy. If the alloy was a consistent mixture of metals, toning on every coin would be similar. Instead, the inconsistencies of how the copper is mixed with the primary metal is revealed in the pattern of the toning. This inconsistency makes toning difficult to predict and challenging to detect whether toning was through natural oxidation or by artificial means.

Experts claim they can tell the difference between natural and artificial toning. With certain exceptions, such as the toning from known contaminants like the lignin in paper and PVC, very few people can tell the difference without extensive examination. Specialized equipment such as microscopes that enhance the image using a type of radiography is the only way to determine the difference between natural and artificial toning. And that is not a perfect solution.

The third-party grading services can examine coins using specialized equipment and determine whether the coin was naturally or artificially toned. But they can only be reasonably sure. Without examining the surface to determine the type of contaminants that caused the oxidation, they can provide the best guess based on the evidence they can collect.

If you read the various numismatic forums, members share many formulas that they found to accelerate the oxidation of the copper in a coin. Some have even bragged how they were able to have the coins graded by the third-party grading services as being naturally toned. Collectors continue to chase these coins and pay additional premiums for them.

Another numismatic curiosity is the alleged conserving of coins to remove damaging oxidation. Unlike the oxidation of iron, which breaks down the molecular bonds of the alloy, the bonds of oxidized copper molecules remain strong. The green color is on the surface of the copper where it was in contact with the contaminants.

It is impossible to reverse the oxidation of copper. The only way to remove the oxidized copper that has turned to verdigris is to remove that layer of copper. When speaking with professionals that restore art and antiques, they admit that their methods of restoring copper involve removing the oxidized layers. They recognize the fact that it is the only way to restore the luster to copper.

However, numismatic conservation services make claims that they can safely remove the oxidation without damaging the surface of the coin. When asking a professional art restoration company whether this was true, they wondered how these companies could get away with making their false claims.

When shown example images of coin conservation found online, the professionals were able to explain how most of the cleaning was done using sonic tools or high pressure distilled water possibly mixed with baking soda to raise the alkaline level of the water. They did refer to this as a form of cleaning because it is designed to loosen the bonds between the contaminants and the metals.

One set of images showed the removal of verdigris on a coin. The expert said that the only way to remove the verdigris spots was the alter the surface of the coin by removing that layer of copper which changes the surface of the coin. It is an evasive procedure, yet the example images showed the coin before conservation and following the work in a third-party grading service holder not marked as having altered surfaces.

While sitting at a table where a bronze bust worth tens of thousands of dollars was in the process of conservation, this expert saw before and after images of silver and gold coins and wondered if the numismatic industry knew something the multi-billion dollar art industry did not.

Analyzing the Structure of a painting

Art restoration is so understood that a graphic like this does not cause controversy.

The art industry documents its conservation methods. Auction houses, insurance companies, dealers, and collectors know how art is conserved. They accept that the surface of the bust on the table is being altered to remove the verdigris spots. Once completed, the restored copper bust will be worth more to a collector, who will know about the restoration.

Similar openness does not exist in the numismatic industry. Numismatic conservation companies do not document their methods by calling them trade secrets. These coins are in third-party grading service holders without any indication of their conservation, and the auction companies are happy to sell them for thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What have we learned?

  • Every coin that has been struck for circulation by the U.S. Mint contains copper except for the 1943 Steel Cent.
  • Copper oxidized to the point of forming verdigris on the surface.
  • Oxidation only occurs on the surface that is in contact with the environment.
  • The rate of oxidation is controllable through proper handling.
  • Once copper oxidizes, it is not reversible.
  • It is not possible to remove oxidation without altering the copper surface.

The art world understands that conservation of copper requires altering the surface. It is accepted as part of an industry where significant works sell for tens- or hundreds-of-millions of dollars. The numismatic world hides behind alleged proprietary secrets and few questions about what they are doing.

Maybe it is time to ask the numismatic conservation companies to disclose what they are doing to understand whether they are altering the coins’ surface, or not. Maybe it is time to ask the third-party grading service why are they not disclosing that they are placing conserved coins in their holders. Maybe it is time to hold the auction companies and dealers responsible for not disclosing when a coin is conserved.

Maybe it is time the industry is honest with itself and honest with its collectors.

Collecting Apollo 11

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
— President John F. Kennedy speaking at Rice University on September 12, 1962

Eisenhower Dollar Reverse featuring the Apollo 11 mission insignia

President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University was not the official policy announcement. He made that announcement on May 25, 1961. This speech was to convince the American people and Congress that it was necessary to fund this idea. Given the technology of the time, the space race was a longshot with people bound and determined to beat the Soviets to the moon.

Kennedy’s vision was accomplished by the Apollo 11 crew of Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin along with the thousands of support people on Earth. A little more than eight years after Kennedy made it the nation’s policy, Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy on July 16, 1969.

From within the capsule attached to the top of the Saturn V launch vehicle, a rocket once described as a giant Roman candle, the rocket roared to life to lift the three pioneers into the final frontier. Even though the liftoff occurred at 9:32 AM in Florida, it was watched worldwide regardless of the local time.

Four days later, on Sunday, July 20, 1969, the world held its collective breath as the Lunar Module (LM), call-sign Eagle, was guided to the moon’s Sea of Tranquility and landed at 4:18 PM Central Time. Relief came when Neil Armstrong transmitted a message to Mission Control in Houston:

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator) Charles Duke’s response summed up the feel of those of us on Earth as he stumbled a bit at the beginning:

“Roger, Twan– Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

According to the official schedule, Armstrong and Aldrin were supposed to get five hours of sleep. Realizing that it was unlikely they would be able to sleep, the crew prepared for the first walk on the moon’s surface.

Six and a half hours after landing, after Walter Cronkite and the CBS News team showed models as to how Armstrong will descend from the LM, pull the D-Ring to activate the camera, Armstrong left the LM and went down the latter. He pulled the D-Ring, and the world watched his progress. Just before reaching the surface of the moon, Armstrong uncovered a plaque mounted on the LM that read:

Replica of the plaque on Eagle, the Apollo 11 Lunar Module (Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute)

Armstrong looked at the surface and described the moon’s dust as “very fine-grained” and “almost like a powder.” Then with a short jump, he left the bottom rung of the ladder and was standing on the surface of the moon.

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Over the years, there has been a debate about whether Armstrong included the word“a” in the statement. That is not what was heard at the time, and modern examinations of the audio tapes neither confirm or deny the claim. Regardless of what he said, Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the surface of the moon, a little more than eight years since President Kennedy said it was his goal.

Apollo 11 Flown MS66 NGC Sterling Silver Robbins Medallion, Serial Number 241, from The Armstrong Family Collection (Courtesy of Heritage Auctions)

Ironically, with the concerns about weight and preserving fuel, there appears to have been a lot of souvenirs carried to space with the crew. The most famous of these souvenirs are the Robbins Medals.

The practice of carrying Fliteline medals started in 1965 with the flight of Gemini 3, NASA’s first manned mission in the Gemini program. In 1968, the Robbins Company of Attleboro, Mass. was contracted to produce the Fliteline medals starting with Apollo 7.

It is reported that 480 of these 28mm medals were carried aboard Apollo 11.

According to Heritage Auctions, the most paid for a mission flown Robbins Medal was medal #241, a silver medal graded MS66 by NGC, that sold for $112,500 (including buyer’s premium) on November 1, 2018. It was sold with a Statement of Provenance signed by Armstrong’s sons as being once owned by Neil Armstrong. The provenance likely accounts for its high price.

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