2014 Trick or Treat

Hobo Ike and JeffersonIt has been a few years since I did an All-Hallows-Eve numismatic trick-or-treat that it seems like a good time to do add one. Here are my numismatic tricks and treats for this past year.

Girl Scouts need a values adustment

TRICK: It was announced in January that the 2013 Girl Scouts commemorative coin did not generate enough sales for the U.S. Mint to provide a payout of seignorage. This is the first time this has happened. Part of the problem was that the Girl Scouts are stuck in the 1950s mindset that does not see collecting coins as a girl’s hobby. Although values are important, this shows that he Girl Scouts’ values are behind the times and will not be the catalyst behind helping expand the hobby. They should be ashamed for contributing to this failure.

ANA Willfully Gives up its Premier Status

TRICK:The Professional Numismatists Guild and the American Numismatic Association announced in January that “the first” PNG-ANA Numismatic Trade Show the weekend prior to the 2014 World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont that it will be open to the public. While making it sound exciting it made the entire show 8-days long. This was a bad move because of the length and because it makes the ANA play second to PNG. If the ANA wants to be the premier numismatic organization, the one that anyone wanting to learn about and be about numismatics, The ANA should not play second fiddle to any other organization.

There are coin treats!

TREAT:In creating a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Kenney half-dollar, the U.S. Mint has made a coin that is not really circulated into something interesting for the collector. The dual-dated gold coin became an instant hit before the price of gold dropped and the silver sets are reportedly selling well. This was a good move by the U.S. Mint.

TREAT:For the most part, commemorative coins are sales do not meet expectation. While there are a few exceptions like 2005 Marine Corps 230th Anniversary silver dollar, most commemoratives do not come close to their maximum mintage. But the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame commemoratives appear to have hit a home run. The combination of the subject and the curve of the coin may be a significant factor in the coin’s success. The $5 gold and silver dollar coins are both sold out. There are some of the clad half-dollars available.

TREAT:Speaking of cool stories, what about the Saddle Ridge Hoard? After a couple found the hoard of gold coins while walking their dog, it spawned an interest in metal detectors and searching for buried treasure. It was such an amazing story that it even found its way into the national news cycle. But like everything else, another shiny story diverted the media’s attention and the coins went on sale to the general public on Amazon.com.

Not all coins are treats

TRICK: Colored and coins with gimmicks are proliferating in the market. So far, the U.S. Mint and the Royal Mint are resisting colored and other gimmicks while the Royal Candian Mint and New Zealand Mint are at a race to the bottom for gimmick coins.

Numsimatics and technology

TREAT: The ANA launched its new website with new technology ready for growth on time and under budget. This is the website that ANA Governor Laura Sperber said, “I can’t wait to see what a disaster the ANA new web site will be.” So far, there has not been a follow up from Sperber while the new site has been a success.

TREAT: More recently, the U.S. Mint had a great launch to their new website. After years of frustration with the online ordering of what would be popular items, the new site handled the launch of the 50th Anniversary Kennedy 2014 Half-Dollar Silver Coin Collection with no issues.

Failure to launch

TRICK: The U.S. Mint launched the Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coin at the Whitman Show in March not anticipating its popularity with fewer coins that there was a demand. It was as if the U.S. Mint had a blind spot with how popular this coin would be.

TRICK: The dealers who paid less than desireable people uninterested in anything other than a quick buck to mob the lines at the Denver Mint and the World’s Fair of Money. I continue to belive that their ethics must be questioned and appropriate actions taken by the ANA even though I do not think that will happen.

TREAT: With the drop in the price of gold, the current price of the gold Kennedy half-dollar tribute is less than what is was at launch. Teach these greedy dealers a lesson and buy the coins for less directly from the U.S. Mint!

U.S. Government hands out coal

TRICK: Because the U.S. Mint can only do what the laws that congress pass tells them they can do and congress is so dysfunctional they cannot even pass laws for issues they agree on, the United States was the only country involved with the Allies on D-Day NOT to issued a commemorative to honor the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

TRICK: In the name of political correctness, the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) continues to make it difficult for ancient coin collectors to participate in its hobby by allowing countries to ask the State Department to overreach on the enforcement on the Cultural Property Implementation Act. It is turning ancient coin collectors into criminals even for collecting common coins. Their actions are rediculous.

CCAC is the CCAC

TREAT: The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee suggested creating American Arts medals that will feature the artistic ability of the U.S. Mint’s artist.

TRICK: The arts medals are medals, not coins. Even with the beauty of medals like the 9/11 silver medal, it did not sell like coins would. In fact, it grossly under performed without raising significant sums for the 9/11 Memorial at the site of the Twin Towers in New York. But this is what the CCAC is face with because of congressional dysfunction (see above).

So goodbye everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian… it’s Hallowe’en.
— Orson Welles, The War of the Worlds, CBS Radio, October 30, 1938


Hobo Ike and Jefferson courtesy of Darth Morgan posted at Coin Community

U.S. Mint’s Techno Win

2014 Kennedy 50th Anniversary Silver Collection

2014 Kennedy 50th Anniversary Silver Collection

If you are like me and forgot, the U.S. Mint began to take orders for the 50th Anniversary Kennedy 2014 Half-Dollar Silver Coin Collection yesterday, October 28. The set consists of four 90-percent silver coins from each of the branch mints using the original design of the Kennedy half-dollar as designed by Gilroy Roberts. For those who are not regular collectors of these coins, the design is known as the “accented hair” variety with deeper highlights of the slain president’s hair. The set will be in a special faux leather folder enclosed in a specially designed box.

Each of the four coins will have different finishes. There will be one reverse-proof coin from West Point, a proof coin from Philadelphia, and uncirculated coin from Denver, and an enhanced uncirculated coin from San Francisco. The enhanced uncirculated coin will be struck on dies that will use a laser frosting and special wire brush treatments to enhance the design. The wire brush treatment is something new to the U.S. Mint that has not been seen on any publicly released coins or medals.

What is even more impressive is that the new computer ordering system withstood the challenge of a new product offering. In years past, the computer ordering for popular U.S. Mint products had sent the computer system into fits while trying to keep up with the requests. By all accounts, the computer system not only processed every order in a timely manner, but the U.S. Mint reports that the site was working at a rate of 14 orders per second and that the average peaked at 24.9 orders per second.

Orders for the set began at noon and after a half hour, 36,000 units were sold translating into $3.6 million in sales. As of midnight, 12 hours after opening the sale, the U.S. Mint sold 85,670 sets. The U.S. Mint is reporting that by 8:30 PM, they shipped 14,000. They started with 180,000 sets in stock which means there is time to order yours and to have it processed quickly.

For those of us who suffered through the pain of ordering of products line the American Eagle 25th Anniversary Silver Coin Set, the performance of the new website is a welcome change.

While the new website looks good and sports more modern functionality, it seems to perform well and works more smoothly than the old site. Unfortunately, I am not sure that I like the way the site is organized. My primary complaint is that the site is designed as a shopping site that seems to have buried the information about the coin programs. There should be a better balance between their mission as the government’s manufacturer of coins and the sales of those coins.

After years of frustration with the U.S. Mint, it looks like they are really working to serve its clientele including the Federal Reserve, which it is required to produce coins for by law. Maybe it has served the country well by having a professional run the U.S. Mint rather than a politician.

NGC Strikes Out with MLB

NGC MLB slabsFans of coins encased in plastic with special labels who also are baseball fans must be ecstatic that Fans of coins encased in plastic with special labels who also are baseball fans must be ecstatic that Numismatic Guarantee Corporation and Major League Baseball agreed to an exclusive deal that will allow NGC to reproduce team names, logos, and stadiums on labels used in NGC slabs.

NGC announced that they will “encapsulate the National Baseball Hall of Fame commemoratives and other legal tender coins with attractive certification labels that feature a range of popular MLB trademarks.” Aside from the Major League Baseball logo, the logos of the 30 clubs, and stadium images, it will also include logos of All-Star Game and those used for post season.

NGC says this is gives their customers “an exciting new opportunity to combine their passions for the sport and the hobby.” What it gives is NGC a new area for marketing and to extract money from the market.

I understand that NGC is a business and has owners that are concerned about the business generating revenues. But what this will do is increase their revenues at the risk of some of the protections they claim is good for the hobby by encouraging cracking slabs, thus making the population reports even less reliable than they are today.

Let’s consider that I am one of those odd people that happens to collect the coin but it happens to be in a slab to ensure that it is genuine and the grade is something agreeable. This is a really nice coin and it fits in with my collection. But the coin happens to be in a slab with the logo of the New York Yankees. I hate the Yankees. I despise the Yankees. I have hated the Yankees ever since my father, the Brooklyn Dodgers fan, taught me to say “Let’s Go Mets!”

Unlike the fans of plastic, I really consider the coin encased in the slab. It is possible that I may like a coin even with the consequence that the label inside that slab has a decoration I am allergic to. If I decide that the coin is worth purchasing even if I ignore the label, I will buy the coin, but that label will have to go. There is no question that when I bring the coin home, the slab will be cracked, the coin removed, and the label finding its way to an appropriate disposal fitting of my opinion of that team.

Once cracked out of the slab, I could send it back to NGC and just have them re-grade the coin an put it in a plain slab. I could send it to Professional Coin Grading Service to see if they will give me a more solid grade. If it is a Morgan dollar I can ask ANACS to attribute the VAM. I could also ust keep it as a raw coin. Since the vast majority of my collection is not slabbed, this is not a problem. Besides, I know it is genuine because NGC slabbed it and I could submit it later if I need it slabbed again for resale.

Frankly, how many people actually save the labels and report their crack outs to the grading services? In the few cases when I have cracked coins out of its plastic tomb, I have not reported the cracked out coin to NGC. They have been cracked out of the slabs from multiple companies and submitted to NGC at a time I was working on a registry set. I believe this will encourage cracking out of the slab and make the population reports less reliable than they are today.

Not only will this affect the grading service population reports but it could affect coins with Certified Acceptance Corporation stickers. My hatred of the Yankees will not have me think twice about cracking that plastic just because the CAC or anyone else put a sticker on the slab. If I am not telling NGC I obliterated their label, I am not reporting it to CAC either—especially since I am not exactly a fan of CAC.

I do not begrudge NGC for doing what they need to do to earn a living. But they need to explain how these gimmicks align with their uncompromising standards and a commitment to integrity. Just admit that these gimmicks are being used to improve revenues and that everything else is window dressing. I would respect the honesty.

Image courtesy of NGC.

Numismatics have changed, but are we having fun?

Advancements in all areas of life, whether it is the cars we drive, the entertainment that we like, how we shop, and where we get our news are inevitable. Where the car I drove in college had a the classic Chrysler Slant 6 engine with nothing electronic, I now drive a Chevy pickup with a Vortec V8 with variable timing controlled by a computer that will even start with the push of a button on my key fob.

Rather than complain about these changes, I try to embrace them as progress. After all, I started programming computers by punching cards in the 1970s. Today, the smartphone in my pocket has more computing power than anyone could have imagined while feeding our cards through the reader waiting for output on green bar paper.

Because I like to be progressive with technology and feel that not only have I seen a lot but that I adjusted, I tend to look down on those who cannot. I know that it may be elitist and contemptuous on my part and I should be more understanding, especially now that I bought a car with a Slant 6 as a toy and want another car without all of the electronics.

This self examination was prompted by an article by Q. David Bowers that appeared online on the Coin World website. In the article, Bowers reflects back as to how the hobby has changed since he started writing his column in 1961 and what it is today.

Basically, you used to have to know more about numismatics. You had to know what you were looking at in order to grade coins, know where to find the prices, have the education to know what is fake and what is not, and have a trusted dealer that you can go to to help you with your collection. It was a lot like my Slant 6 in that while the dealer would help, I had to know more about the car in order to keep it running, especially as a poor college student.

Today, Bowers says it succinctly, “No knowledge is necessary!”

While this can help grow the hobby, it makes it just a bit colder. You do not need a dealer when the Internet will do. You do not need the knowledge when companies will entomb a coin in plastic, say it is genuine, and assign a grade so you know what its state of preservation is. If the plastic is not enough, you can even find someone to place a sticker on the plastic to bless that the plastic is good. Then the sticker placer will buy the plastic to churn the market that will essentially drive up the prices.

Although the grading services do provide a service that guarantees the coin’s authenticity, they have also created a fervor over plastic that caused the the despicable behavior during the launch of the Kennedy gold tribute coin.

“If you are typical, quality means nothing. The label on a holder takes care of everything,” writes Bowers. Sadly, he is right because people are no longer collecting coins. They are collecting plastic and stickers while watching online price guides the way day traders watch stock prices. If the coin does not raise in value fast enough, they will buy the next number higher on a plastic package even if the new coins does not look better than the old coin.

Just like listening to the whine of a hybrid takes the charm out of being a car enthusiast, plastic and stickers are taking the charm out of collecting.

To regain the charm Bowers suggests niche or specialty collecting. He says to, “Check out the websites of the Colonial Coin Collectors Club, Early American Coppers, the Liberty Seated Collectors Club and the Numismatic Bibliomania Society, and poke around!”

In addition to Bowers’ suggestions, you may also want to consider Token and Medals Society along with the regional chapters, The Elongated Collectors (TEC), and even the American Vecturist Association. What makes tokens, medals, and even elongated coins very interesting is that you can really personalize a collection. Think about it, how many places have you visited that had a machine where you drop in some money plus a “lowly” Lincoln cent and with a turn of a crank you have the equivalent of a numismatic post card!

A hobby should be fun. So forget the plastic and stickers and go find something and have some fun.

For a little fun, here is a sample of my “Hometown Collection.”

Mintage Limits Set for 2015 First Spouse Gold Coins

The obverse design selected by the CCAC for the Jacqueline Kennedy First Spouse Gold Coin

The obverse design selected by the CCAC for the Jacqueline Kennedy First Spouse Gold Coin

WASHINGTON, D.C. (U.S. Mint) — Mintage limits for the First Spouse Gold Coin Program for 2015 have been set. In 2015, the coins will honor Elizabeth Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson. The combined maximum issuance of proof and uncirculated qualities will be 10,000 for Truman, Eisenhower and Johnson. From 2011 to 2014, sales have been similar, with fewer than 7,000 coins sold. Based on this trend, it is likely the total sales in 2015 for each of these designs will be similar to sales in previous years.

For Kennedy, in addition to being renown, the release of the 2014 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half-Dollar Gold Proof Coin may cause a sharp increase in demand from customers seeking to make special Kennedy gold sets using both the 2014 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half-Dollar Gold Proof Coin and the 2015 Jacqueline Kennedy First Spouse Gold Proof Coin. To account for this potential variable, we believe a maximum issuance of 30,000 coins would allow flexibility to increase production should customer demand exceed forecasted sales volumes for the other designs. These maximum mintage limits will be divided between coins with proof and uncirculated finishes based on consumer demand.

The Mint is not obligated to mint, and will not mint, to the maximum mintage limits unless it is supported by public demand. The production process and maximum mintages give us flexibility should there be a surge in demand over previous years.

Hi. I’m Scott and I’m a Collector

Desktop FindsCollecting is a progressive addiction. It might start innocently with a friend introducing us to collecting and even giving us a few freebies. We dabble into buying more, especially items that tie us to our youth. We progress in collecting more from those childhood years putting together sets that we could not afford them. That feels pretty good, and soon we are tempted into expanding our collection into earlier and later years.

We get hooked on the high that comes from completing sets we only learned existed when we discover there are more cool items we never heard about before. We buy at flea markets, estate sales, from online classified advertisements, auctions, and dealers in cramped stores. Eventually, we are completely addicted and start bidding furiously on everything related to our collection including items in better condition than what we already have.

The collectors’ eyes start to glaze over as they move into progressive rounds of the addiction. Related collectibles appear on den and basement shelves. Second and third sets accumulate. Family members enable the addicts by covering up for them when they miss family events to visit yard sales or dealers instead. Soon the addicts are looking for obscure pieces and those one-of-a-kind items desired only by the select few who are as addicted.

This was adapted from a section in the article “Baseball Cards: You Can’t Collect Everything, Right?.” When I read this in the section with the title “The signs of addiction” it was something that had to be applied to collecting in general. It is something to think about as we begin a three-day weekend!

It’s Classified!

Prior to the public disclosure of secret documents, administrations have declassified documents at various levels for many different reasons that those of us who worked in these areas did not understand what was to be classified at what levels and for how long. Each department and agency had its own rule. However, everything that was classified was supposed to be declassified after 50 years.

In 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13526 to try to create some order out of this chaos. Aside from defining the classification levels, document marking requirements, it also allowed agencies to apply to keep documents classified and for longer periods than previous reviews. The purpose was to protect national interests and security while preventing controversial declassification of documents.

Whenever trying to instill a new policy on the government, there will be many barriers to this change. While there are fewer areas of confusion, chaos remains. Of course the disclosures by Chelsea (neé Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden did not help.

So what does this have to do with numismatics? Both the U.S. Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing applied and were granted exemption from automatically declassifying documents.

Treasury Department, Procurement Division, Public Buildings Branch, Fort Knox - United States Bullion Depository (1939)

Treasury Department, Procurement Division, Public Buildings Branch, Fort Knox – United States Bullion Depository (1939)

According to a memo released on September 5, 2014, the Information Security Oversight Office of the a href=”http://www.archives.gov” target=”_blank”>National Archives and Records Administration granted the U.S. Mint a 75-year exemption from automatic declassification of documents. They also granted the BEP a 25-year exemption.

What information could these agencies possibly have that would be classified?

According to Steven Aftergood, Director of the Federation of American Scientist Project on Government Secrecy, who interviewed John P. Fitzpatrick, director of the ISOO, the exemption for the U.S. Mint is for “security specifications from the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, which was built in the late 1930s.”

In a comedic turn, Mr. Fitzpatrick told Aftergood, “Think ‘Goldfinger’.”

Then why does the Bureau of Engraving and Printing need an exemption from declassification for 25-years? A source familiar with the filing said that the exemption covers counterfeiting information. According to sources, there are anti-counterfeiting measures added to currency that have been planned for many years that have not been advertised. These are used by the United States Secret Service and other law enforcement organizations to detect counterfeiting. Many of the documents cover the planning for the changes that began in the 1990s.

$100 Federal Reserve NoteSources also confirmed that there were other documents that the BEP and Treasury asked to be included in this exemption but not their general contents. Some hint was given that the classified information concerns long term and ongoing operations against international counterfeiters. Although not confirmed, it is suspected that the classified documents discusses enemy foreign governments actively working to counterfeit United States currency. No country was named but it has been rumored that North Korea has been attempting to counterfeit U.S. currency.

And you thought all the U.S. Mint and Bureau of Engraving and Printing did was manufacture money!

Image of Fort Knox courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Summary of September coin-related legislation

With apologies for my absence, the end of the federal fiscal year has made me very busy. I have a few posts I am getting ready to queue up that I hope will be of interest. I appreciate your patience and hope to provide you with something interesting to read soon. In the mean time, here’s what congress did that is of interest to the numismatic community:

H.R. 2866: Boys Town Centennial Commemorative Coin Act
Sponsor: Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE)
• To require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the centennial of Boys Town.
• Passed by the House of Representatives on September 15, 2014
• Received in the Senate on September 16, 2014
• Referred to the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee

Track this bill at https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr2866

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