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.
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.
U.S. cents have been made of copper, steel, and copper plated zinc. What’s next?
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.
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.
Would this metal detector find be considered “artificial toning” (Image from CTTodd.com)
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.
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.
An example of how copper tones
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.
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.
Art restoration is so understood that a graphic like this does not cause controversy.
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.
News out of the United Kingdom was that the Bank of England was thinking about eliminating the copper 1 penny and 2 pence coins. The discussion came from a blog post on the website Bank Underground, an independent blog written by Bank of England staff commenting on the Bank’s policies. The post suggested that there would be “a negligible impact on inflation, with the average impact being negative but not statistically different from zero.”
The economists that wrote the blog post has used the same argument that many others have used: the rising cost of copper and the reduced purchasing power makes the coin not worth minting.
In response, the Bank of England said that it was not considering eliminating the 1p and 2p coins.
Unfortunately, the Bank of England economists’ post will become fodder for those that want to eliminate the one-cent coin in the United States. The argument will repeat the same themes that the blog post outline as proof that this could be done.
The problem is that regardless of the position, using the arguments generated from data that does not consider social and economic information from the United States makes the using this as an example irrelevant or spurious at best.
And now the news…
August 18, 2018
A block below Central Park in Manhattan, an unassuming shop appears, from the vantage point of sidewalk passersby, old, dusty, and uninteresting. Yet it contains treasures. In billboard-laden New York City, the boutique’s beige awning barely snatches a glance. → Read more at fortune.com
August 18, 2018
AGARTALA: A commemorative gold coin to honour Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya has been launched on the occasion of the 110th birth anniversary of 'Tripura's last king'. The coin was released at a special Independence Day function at Ujjayanta Palace – the seat of the Manikya dynasty – by chief minister Biplab Deb, who was accompanied at the event by deputy chief minister Jishnu Dev Varma, who is a member of the royal family, and the Maharaja's granddaughter Maharajkumari Pragya Deb Burman. → Read more at timesofindia.indiatimes.com
August 19, 2018
RIGA — The whole mintage of the new silver collector coin dedicated to the Curonian Kings, a cultural group of free Latvian peasants that for many centuries inhabited seven villages in western Latvia, has been sold out at Bank of Latvia Cashier’s Offices, the central bank’s spokesman Janis Silakalns told LETA. → Read more at baltictimes.com
August 20, 2018
The Royal Australian Mint is paying homage to a group of iconic Ford and Holden race cars from the likes of Peter Brock, Allan Moffat, Dick Johnson and Craig Lowndes in a new series. Two fresh collections feature seven, uncirculated 50cent coins each from Ford and Holden chronicling the success of the brands in Australian motorsport. → Read more at supercars.com
August 22, 2018
Bank of England economists have reignited the debate over the future of 1p and 2p coins, arguing their removal from circulation would not stoke inflation. In a blog post on Wednesday the analysts said their work and the “overwhelming” evidence suggested the withdrawal of coppers would have “no significant impact on prices”. → Read more at theguardian.com
August 23, 2018
THE Bank of England is considering plans to scrap the one and two pence coins. It comes after economists claimed that scrapping 1p and 2p coins would not push up inflation. Here’s the latest… → Read more at thesun.co.uk
Keeping with this week’s theme of sports on coins, a company named Baseball Treasure (at baseballtreasure.com) created baseball “coins,” technically medals, representative of all 30 teams. Each team is represented by one player whose likeness will appear on the medals.
These medals are licensed by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Most of the medals are made from one ounce of copper. The medals are mounted on a baseball-card-sized cardboard card with player highlights, similar to what you would see on a baseball card.
The medals are sold in packs of three, six, and nine—or you will receive multiple packs of three medals. You can buy a box containing 36-packs. Assuming a pack contains three medals, their “Treasure Chest” contains 108 medals. For $3,000 you can buy a 12 box package with 432 packs containing 15,552 medals.
According to their website, one in every 432 packs will have a version of the medal made in .999 silver. Silver medals have been struck for each of the 30 players.
If you want to go for the gold, one in every 21,600 packs contains a specially marked medal redeemable for a gold medal featuring Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees. This was created to commemorate his rookie record of 52 home in the 2017 season.
José Altuve of the Houston Astros Copper Medal
Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers Silver Medal
Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees Gold Medal
For those who are into trivia and would like to win a silver medal, they will post a clue on social media with the answer being a major league team. If you want more information, visit their #JoinTheHunt webpage for more information.
Previously, Upper Deck created hockey coins that they sold for $100 per coin on a virtual basis. While you could request the physical coin, they created a system to buy and trade these medals. There was also the chase to find the gold versions in this series.
The hockey coins are legal tender coins in the Cook Islands.
I had interviewed the Vice President involved in the program and just could not bring myself to write about the interview because I was very skeptical about how the program worked. Initially, they were sold in what they called e-Packs, virtual packages that would be held by Upper Deck. From the e-pack website, collectors can trade with each other.
One of my issues with this program is that they are sold blind packaged like baseball cards. You do not know what is in the package until it is opened. At $100 you can receive either a one-ounce silver coin, one-ounce high relief coin, one-ounce silver frosted coin, or a quarter-ounce gold coins. It would be a real bargain if you received a gold. It would be a worse deal than many Royal Canadian Mint silver coins otherwise.
Visiting their website recently, there is an option to purchase the coins at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) throughout Canada. There is no option to physically purchase coins in the United States except through the e-pack website.
These coins must be selling well enough for Upper Deck to continue the program.
In both cases, I am just not impressed with either program.
Both programs are over-priced.
The Baseball Treasure program is selling one-ounce of copper medals at $6.65 each. With the current copper price of $3.2858 per pound, each coin contains 20.5-cents of metals. The rest is packaging, licensing, and distribution. Even so, that is a 3,123,9-percent markup that you may never make up on the secondary market if you were to lose interest, especially since this is a medal and not a legal tender coin.
Of course, it is a better deal if you found a silver or gold medal. Then again, part of the markup to the copper medal is subsidizing the silver and gold medals. Without knowing how many medals or packages are being produced, it is difficult to determine how much of the $6.65 price is subsidizing the gold and silver.
Baseball Treasure’s program is certainly a more interesting idea than the Upper Deck Hockey Coin Program. It is more affordable and carries less risk. The Treasure Hunt also looks like fun and maybe something I will look into. But for now, it is not something I will collect. But if you do be aware that the copper medals may not return much more than $1-2 on the secondary market, depending on the price of copper.
Fans of the NBC show The Blacklist that watched on Wednesday, October 4, would have noticed there was a numismatic role added to the script.
1943-D Bronze Lincoln Cent graded MS-64BN by PCGS
Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader, was trying to gain the attention of a high-rolling thief and found himself at a numismatic auction. The item up for bid was the 1943-D Bronze Lincoln cent. As part of the story, it was announced that it was the only one known to exist and that it was graded by the Professional Coin Grading Service.
Currently, there is only one known 1943-D Bronze Lincoln Cent and was graded by PCGS to be MS-64BN. It last sold for $1.7 million in 2010.
Since then, more 1943 Bronze Lincoln Cents were found including a 1943-S graded MS-62BN by PCGS. That coin was sold to Bill Simpson, a co-owner of the Texas Rangers, for $1 million in 2012. Simpson owns a complete set of 1943-PDS and 1944-PDS off-metal Lincoln cents, the latter made of zinc coated steel.
In the show, the hammer price was $3 million. All things considered, it is probably an accurate estimate of what the coin might be worth if it were to come to market today.
Of course, they did not use a real 1943-D Bronze Lincoln cent and there was a mistake when the coin showed up later in the story. But if you have not seen this episode, I am not going to spoil it for you!
Have you noticed that every election “is the most important in our history?” Or that “you have no clearer choice” than whatever any of the candidates are selling? There are so many clichés that it would require its own blog post.
But what does that have to do with numismatics?
Long-Stanton Manufacturing Company was founded in 1862 by John Stanton to make copper tokens that were used by merchants in the Cincinnati area when money was in short supply during the Civil War. Before starting his company, Stanton owned a company that provided the illustrations and dies that were used to make advertising tokens for the 1860 election.
The Election of 1860 preceded the outbreak of the Civil War. It featured fractured party nominees arguing over the future of the union. The Republican Party, formed out of the ashes of the Whig Party, nominated former representative from Illinois Abraham Lincoln. The Democratic Party nominated Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas. But the Democrats were split along the issue of slavery. Pro-slavery southern Democrats formed their own party and nominated then Vice President John C. Breckinridge from Kentucky. A few other candidates were nominated but these were the three that were the focus of the election.
One thing that is considered a highlight of this campaign were the famous debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. The main theme of the seven debates was slavery. Primarily, Lincoln was anti-slavery and maintaining the union. Douglas was not pro-slavery but favored new territories to choose their own paths. Lincoln argued in his “House Divided” speech that Douglas wanted to nationalize slavery. This came following Douglas’s sponsoring of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that repealed the ban on slavery in the new territories passed as part of the Missouri Compromise.
Although the use of language was more refined in 1858, the issues were just as divisive.
Seven debates were not enough for the public. Manufacturers, such as the one that Stanton provided illustration and die making services for, struck tokens for the candidates and their supporters to give away to gain support. Lincoln won the Election of 1860 with a majority of the electoral votes carrying 18 of 33 states while gaining only 39.8-percent of the popular vote.
Some say the election of 2016 is the most divided in our history. If we do not count the Election of 1824 in which nobody received a majority of electoral votes and the results had to be decided by the House of Representatives, it could be one of the more contentious election since the 1976 Carter-Ford race.
The folks at Long-Stanton thinks there is an indecision in this election, although the polls show that the country is about evenly split. They think to celebrate the 156 years since John Stanton created his tokens the company created their Indecision 2016 token.
Indecision 2016 token is 39mm and made of brass. Portraits of each of the candidates are on either side. If you are undecided, you can flip the token to choose who you will vote for.
Unfortunately, the portraits barely represent the candidates. While the TRUMP side of the token is passible the CLINTON side would not be recognizable if it was not marked. While I do not consider either candidate physically attractive these portraits are worse.
Since it is expensive to produce tokens and medals to just give away, the tradition of striking these types of pocket pieces are no longer part of the campaign. If you have ever read Warman’s Political Collectibles: Identification and Price Guide, you would see all the interesting trinkets that would be produced in support of the candidates. Nowadays, those who collect political memorabilia would be hard pressed to find something more than a button or lapel pin.
Having received the Brexit token, I decided to purchase one of the Long-Stanton Indecision 2016 tokens for my collection. Although the token looks better in hand since it has a proof-like strike, a close-up view of the portraits are about as bad as the images on Long-Stanton’s website. For $8.95 for a single token, including shipping, it is not a bad deal. They do offer discounts for buying more than a few.
Long-Stanton Indecision 2016 Token – Donald Trump side
Long-Stanton Indecision 2016 Token – Hillary Clinton side
Included in the package was an aluminum token from Long-Stanton that is “GOOD FOR 50 IN MERCHANDISE.” It does not identify the exact value of 50 whether it means cents or dollars, but it does not matter since it is unlikely to be redeemed from my collection. At 31mm it is smaller than the Indecision 2016 token but it is a throwback to times when tokens were created for store credit before paper coupons became ubiquitous.
Aluminum Long-Stanton Manufacturing Token
Aluminum Long-Stanton Manufacturing Token reverse offering “50 IN MERCHANDISE”
Rather than go with my numismatic collection, this token will go along with a small collection I have of political memorabilia. It will join other numismatic-related items that are related to my favorite president Teddy Roosevelt. I hope he is not insulted by either of these candidates. Somehow, I think T.R., George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln might not be happy if they were around today.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the potential effects of Brexit on markets should the Brits vote to leave the European Union. When the OUT vote won by a slim margin, there was an instant worldwide reaction. In the subsequent weeks, we have seen world markets react to everything. After an initial fall in markets because of Brexit they have recovered only to be sent back into uncertainty with world events.
The London PM Gold Fix was $1,265.12 before the polls closed on June 23. The next day, the London PM Gold Fix closed at $1,315.50 (4-percent increase). On July 15, the PM Gold Fix closed at $1,327.00, 4.9-percent increase since the vote. Experts are saying gold could continue to climb at the 4-percent rate for the near future.
Silver has been on a slow and steady rise for most of the spring also saw a bump following the Brexit vote. When the London Silver Fix closed at $17.29 on June 23, this was already a $3.29 increase (23.5-percent) from the January 4 first close of 2016 price of $14.00. After the results were announced, London Silver Fix closed at $18.04, a 4.3-percent increase. With the London Silver Fix closing at $20.14 on July 15 (16.48-percent increase), some pundits are suggesting that silver will continue to outperform gold for the near future.
Kitco Gold Chart as of 8/15/16
Kitco Silver Chart as of 8/15/16
When I wrote about Brexit, I also mentioned the “In/Out UK EU Referendum Medallion” produced by Chard(1964), a British metals dealer. After the post, the folks at Chard saw a small bump in sales from collectors the United States from a few of my readers. I was not paid to mention the medal. I just found the information online and thought it was an interesting idea. Shortly before the vote, someone at Chard contacted me and offered to send me some medals.
After a swim across the pond, the medals arrived in my physical mail last weekend. Even though I thought Brexit was a bad idea, the medals are still very cool. Design is the same on both medals. One is copper and the other is Abyssinian Gold, a type of brass made of 90-percent copper and 10-percent zinc that has a gold-like color. Medals are 31mm in diameter and weighs 14 grams making it a nice sized coin for flipping.
Chard Brexit copper token—IN side
Chard Brexit copper token—OUT side
Chard Brexit Abyssinian Gold token—IN side
Chard Brexit Abyssinian Gold token—OUT side
Chard sent two sets of the medals. I will keep one set and donate the other to my coin club’s annual auction whose proceeds will benefit the Scouts and other numismatic-related education in our region.
It appears that these medals can still be purchased for £2.95 each ($4.33 at the current exchange rate) plus shipping (estimated at £6.00 or $8.80) directly from Chard’s website. I am not making money from this endorsement. I just think it’s a fun collectible!
Static charts courtesy of Kitco
When the White House released its budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015 on Tuesday, included was a request that the Department of the Treasury perform “a comprehensive review of U.S. currency production and use, including developing alternative options for the penny and the nickel.”
U.S. cents have been made of copper, steel, and copper plated zinc. What’s next?
According to the budget report [PDF], it says:
The production and circulation of currency in the United States have been largely unchanged for decades, despite the growth in electronic financial transactions. Treasury is undertaking a comprehensive review of U.S. currency, including a review of both the production and use of coins, in order to efficiently promote commerce in the 21st Century. These studies will analyze alternative metals, the United States Mint facilities, and consumer behavior and preferences, and will result in the development of alternative options for the penny and the nickel.
Some of this has been ongoing for the last few years. As part of the Coin Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010, (Public Law 111-302 [PDF]), the U.S. Mint performed and Alternatives Metals study that was completed in August 2012 and then reported to Congress in December 2012.
The problem with the study is the politics written into the law which the report addresses in the executive summary. Key to the problem is the provision written into the law that gives too much consideration to the vending and coin-operated industry. Rather than find the best metals possible while considering the factors that would have to be changed to make new coins work in devices like vending machines, parking meters, and other machines that take coins for payment, the law is written as if the vending industry has veto power over the choices.
Reading the alternative metals report is like taking a college course in metallurgy. When reading the report, it is apparent that there is no perfect solution. Either the coin sizes and weights will have to change in order to meet electromagnetic signature (EMS) requirements to make new coins similar enough to provoke fewer changes to existing equipment or the EMS of the coins will have to change and the machines reprogrammed. In either case, something will have to change.
In short, the EMS is the waveforms that are sensed when a coin is exposed to low frequency radiation (harmless to humans). The waveforms are read by sensors and compared with a programmed baseline to verify that you dropped a real coin into the machine and not a slug.
As part of the alternative metal study, the U.S. Mint is holding a stakeholders meeting. Interested members of businesses, industries, and agencies will meet with the U.S. Mint study group to share their perspectives on the impacts of alternative metal compositions on circulating coins. This meeting will be held Thursday, March 13, 2014, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (EDT) at the U.S. Mint Headquarters located at 801 Ninth Street NW, Washington, D.C., 2nd floor. Attendance is by invitation only. Anyone interested in attending can contact Leslie Schwager, Office of Coin Studies at OfficeofCoinStudies@usmint.treas.gov, or by calling 202–354–6600 no later than Monday, March 10, 2014 to request an invitation and obtain additional meeting information.
You can read the full announcement about this meeting in the Federal Register 79 F.R. 6672. [PDF]
Because of the recent storms and closing of the federal government, my work requirements have shifted making it difficult for me to attend. Anyone who will attend this meeting is invited to contact me. I would be interested in hearing all perspectives about the meeting.
Given the political nature of both the budget process and the law behind the alternative metals study, it is reasonable to believe that nothing will be accomplished by the president’s budget recommendation or the meeting at the U.S. Mint. In fact, since congress has to approve any changes to U.S. coinage and that this congress has been the least productive in history, do not expect change in your pocket change any time soon.
When I returned to the hobby, the first show I attended was the Baltimore Coin Show. Back then, it was privately run by an area dealer who grew the show to something that required a facility the size of the Baltimore Convention Center to hold for a twice per year show. I remember walking into the hall at the time and being overwhelmed with the rows of tables and starting my adventure. Even when the show occupied only Halls A and B was really a sight to see.
Then Whitman bought the show and propelled it to levels greater than its previous owner, which did not seem possible. Not only has Whitman done a great job, but they expanded the show to three times per year and expanded the number of dealers to include Hall C. Hall C also includes Whitman’s own booth along with providing space for a Kids Corner, exhibits, services, and some numismatic organizations. In many ways the size and scope exceeds last summer’s World’s Fair of Money in Philadelphia.
I arrived at the Baltimore Convention Center mid-afternoon on the Ides of March to take in the show and meet with my fellow board members of the Maryland State Numismatic Association for a scheduled meeting. Before the meeting I was able to get through about a quarter of the bourse talking with people and handing out my new buttons for my campaign.
New Campaign Button
Since the MSNA president could not get away from work, I presided as the organization’s vice president. I kept the meeting under 45 minutes while still getting a few things done. We set a new meeting, adjourned, then went to the elevator for the two floor descent to the main level and the bourse.
I did not buy much at this show since I did not take my usual inventory before going. I did look for New York-related tokens and medals and for Maryland colonial currency. But I did not find anything that intrigued me.
Later in the day, I did go by the table of Butternut Coins and COL Steve Ellsworth. This is not the first time I have spoken the Steve but every time I do I find him a very intriguing and engaging person. Ellsworth is a specialist in Early American Copper Coin along and the Civil War. It was his expertise in Early American Coppers that I was interested in.
As I was looking through his cases, I told Steve about my One Page Collection idea where I would fill a single 20 coin pocket page with nice coins for around $50-100. Since I posted it, I wanted to put the collection together and plan to talk about it at the upcoming National Money Show in New Orleans. He gave me suggestions as to what to look for based on my price and condition guidelines and found two coins that will be added to the collection.
The first coin I found was an 1851 Braided Head large cent that his holder has marked as VF30. It is not a rare coin but a nicely preserve coin with a smooth brown color, nice details still remaining, very clear “Liberty” in the headband, and the signs of slightly weak strike on the reverse that does not detract from the look of the coin.
1851 Braided Hair Large Cent obverse
The other coin is a 1853 Braided Hair half cent that his holder has marked VF35. Again, this is not a rare coin but one that is really beautiful. The coin shows some streaks of red and I asked whether it might have been cleaned at one time. Remember, it was a common and acceptable practice to clean coins to bring out their shine and color. But Steve did not think so and that the streaks of color may be original toning. Even if the coin is naturally recolored from a previous cleaning, the coloring does not detract from the beauty of the coin.
1853 Braided Hair Half Cent Obverse
Both coins were well within budget and will be included in my one page collection. I appreciate the help that Steve provided in my search.
I have to start working on the 2, 3, and 5 cent coins one-pager.
Now that I decided to present these ideas at a Money Talks program in New Orleans, you will have to come to the show to hear about different ideas I have.
In the mean time, if you are in, near, or can get to Baltimore on June 20-23, it is a good way to spend a day or even the weekend. And let me know, we can sit down for coffee at the stand on the third level.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a one page collection starting with the one cent coin. The set also included an example of a half-cent to cover the lowest denomination of coins produced by the U.S. Mint.
The concept of the one-page collection is to create a meaningful collection using a single 20 pocket page that holds 2×2 holders. Using this format, I can create any type of collection without being bound to the albums and folders that are published by the numismatic press. I can also personalize the collection with information I find and other stories, some that I write.
When creating a one page collection, I am looking at ungraded coins that could be graded Fine or better and costs under $100 each. While I try to keep purchases under $50, having the ability to go over for certain coins gives me a little flexibility while staying closer to affordable.
I was asked what I used as a price guide to determine affordability. For full disclosure, I had been consulting the NumisMedia Online Fair Market Value Price Guide of collector coin. The site is free, updated monthly, and is the same information printed in their monthly publication. The NumisMedia Online Dealer Price Guide as well as their printed version requires a subscription.
Since my first one-pager was of the lowest denominations, I will move up a bit and put together a collection of 2, 3, and 5-cent coins.
The first coin struck by the newly created Mint was the half disme in 1794. As one of the original coins designated by the Coinage Act of 1792, legend has it that the coins were struck using silver donated by Martha Washington. Although there is no proof that our first First Lady donated her silver, it makes for a good story.
The first half-dismes were really not struck for circulation but over 86,000 coins of the 20.8 grains (1.35 grams) of .8924 fine silver were delivered to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (under the First Coinage Act, the Mint was placed under the Department of State). Originally designed by Robert Scot, the early Flowing Hair and Draped Bust half-dimes (the “s” was dropped in 1796 since it was silent anyway). Production ceased in 1805 with the shortage of silver.
Production picked up again in 1829 with the Capped Bust design by William Kneass and continued until 1837. After the passage of the Act of January 18, 1837, the weight of the coin was reduced to 20 5/8 grains (1.34 grams) and the fineness raised to .900 silver. For this change, Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty design was used for the new coin.
This is where the series gets interesting. First, there was a change in design in 1838 to add stars to the obverse. In 1853, to show that the size and weight was change, arrows were added to the date from 1853 through 1855 before being removed in 1856 when the weight was returned to the old standard. In 1860, the legend was move to the obverse replacing the stars and the reverse laurel leaves were made larger.
The silver half-dime was made through 1874 after the successful release of the copper-nickel coin we call the Shield nickel. Nobody is sure when the coin started to be called a nickel, especially since it is made of only 25-percent nickel. It has been speculated that it was called a “nickel” because of the composition while it circulated along side the silver half-dime.
The U.S. nickel is unique in that it is the only coin that has been made of the same .750 copper and .250 nickel composition since its introduction in 1866 except for the silver alloy used during World War II from 1942-1945.
Two and three cent coins were conceived out of the coin shortages during the mid-19th century. The three-cent coin, nicknamed the trime, was conceived in 1851 for better handling by the post office for buying postage. The silver three-cent coin was struck between 1851 and 1873. However, when silver became expensive and people were hoarding the coins for their silver content, congress authorized the striking of copper-nickel three-cent coins where were called to as three-cent nickels. Mint engraver James B. Longacre designed both coins that used a Roman numeral “III” on the reverse.
Starting this collection with an easy to find 1865 3¢ Nickel
During the Civil War, the silver shortage caused hoarding of coins. The only circulating coins were the copper large cents. In order to produce more coins that would circulate, congress passed the Coinage Act of 1864 that eliminated the silver half-dime, the silver three-cent piece (trime), and authorized the production of the bronze two-cent coin. The Longacre-designed coin featured a shield on the front and the denomination “2 CENTS” on the reverse between two wheat stalks.
Bought this 1865 2¢ coin from my coin club’s auction
Beginning with the Liberty Head “V” nickel, most of the coins should be easy to find and not cost a lot of money. In fact, it may be easier to find an 1883 Liberty Head nickel without the “CENTS” on the reverse, also called the Racketeer Nickel, than an 1883 nickel with the “CENTS” in Fine to Very Fine grades. It may be easier to find a 20th century version that would fit this collection nicely.
For the rest of the series, you can find nice coins at all grades without problems. Just be aware of the major varieties, such as the two types of Buffalo nickels, and the modern changes in the Jefferson nickel. It should be fun to complete this set:
✓ 1964-1873 Two Cent piece: When I started to look for a an example of a two-cent coin, I was surprised as to how many I could find that were nicely preserved and affordable. Most VF-XF coins in this series can be purchased for $40-60 or even less if you find a dealer having a good day.
✓ 1851-1873 Silver Three Cent piece (trime): It will be difficult to find silver three-cent coins from 1863 through 1872 because most were melted in 1873. One of the best examples I have seen were the 1852 coins. Not only are they affordable but the mintage of over 18 million make them the most available coins of the set.
✓ 1865-1889 Nickel Three Cent piece: After the two-cent coin, this was the other coin minted in reaction to the hoarding during the Civil War. Early dates are easily found because of their mintage figures in the millions and for affordable prices. It should not be difficult to find a nice Extra Fine coin for around $40.
✓ 1829-1837 Capped Bust half-dimes: If you want a real challenge, put together a typeset of all half-dime types. Part of the problem with that is the Flowing Hair half-dimes will cost thousands of dollars, if you can find them. For the average collector, I suggest a Capped Bust half-dime to start the five cent part of this set. Based on the price guides and what I have seen at dealer tables, you should be able to buy a nice one graded around Fine for $60-65. This should be a good representative start of the five cent series.
✓ 1837-1873 Seated Liberty half-dimes Types 3 & 4: No collection is complete without a representation of Christian Gobrect’s Seated Liberty design. Inspired by the similar image of Britannia, Gobrect posed Miss Liberty in the same manner except holding a union shield and a phrygian cap on a pole that signifies liberty and the pursuit of freedom. For this set, I recommend the 1853-1855 “Arrows at Date” (Type 3) variety. Aside being affordable at $60-70 in XF, the arrows tell the story of how the composition was changed while the coin was being used. The “Legend on the Obverse” (Type 4) variety is an interesting change and would be even more affordable. For the “Arrows at Date” variety, you may want to consider finding one with the “O” mint mark from the New Orleans mint to keep it interesting. “Legend on the Obverse” varieties from San Francisco are affordable and would make for an interesting addition to this collection.
✓ 1866-1833 Shield nickel: Rather than worry about the “Rays” versus “No Rays” types, I decided on the “No Rays” to keep this coin around $40. However, it is your collection and if you what to spend about $100 for a VF-XF Shield Nickel with Rays, go ahead since it will give your collection a little more depth.
✓ 1883 Liberty Head nickel “Without Cents” When Charles Barber designed the coin, his idea was to use a Roman numeral “V” on the reverse and not include the word “CENTS.” Since the three-cent coins used the Roman number “III” it was a logical progression. However, since the coin was about the same size of the $5 gold-half eagle, the Liberty Head nickel was gold plated in an attempt to pass them off as the $5 gold coin. These coins were then nicknamed Racketeer Nickels. It was then decided to add “CENTS” to the bottom of the reverse. After this decision was made, people thought that the coins would be recalled and started to save them, thus making it easier to find the 1883 without CENTS nickel than it is to find an 1883 with CENTS coin.
✓ 1883-1912 Liberty Head “V” nickel: Most XF coins in this series will be around $40 each, if you can find them. It is easy to find very worn coins and very expensive to find the higher grades. In fact, if you can find a nice XF 20th century issue, that would make a nice entry in this collection and only cost around $30.
✓ 1913 Type 1 Buffalo nickel: This iconic American design by James Earle Frasier ranks as one of my favorite. While it is a great design, the coin did not wear well and it is possible to find a lot of coins where the dates have been worn flat. On the reverse, Fraser designed the coin where the buffalo (actually, an American Bison) is standing on a grassy mound. On the mound was the denomination and mint mark. This high surface wore easily in circulation. It was later changed to remove most of the mound for a line. You can find nicely preserved Type 1 Buffalo nickels from Philadelphia for around $25. Spend as little as $10-15 more for an example from Denver. San Francisco coins will be $40 more.
✓ 1913-1938 Type 2 Buffalo nickel: Basically, the mound was hollowed out leaving the buffalo standing on what looks like a line. While not as aesthetically pleasing, it did preserve the denomination and mint mark on the reverse from wear. Best bet for this collection is to find a late 1930s example for $10-15. If you spend a little more, you can own an uncirculated 1935 or 1936 with a mint mark for $35-40. These make stare-worthy coin in any collection.
✓ 1938-1942,1946-2003 Jefferson nickel: Jefferson nickels come in four types with the left-facing portrait being the dominant coin of the series. With the exception of the 1939-D, you can find an uncirculated example for under $10. If you want an example with the mintmark on the reverse, select a coin from 1964 and earlier since the mint marks were move to the obverse starting in 1968 and no coins had mint marks from 1965 through 1967. Maybe you would want to add a 1970-S coin which was the last year the nickel was produced in San Francisco and had an obverse mint mark.
✓ 1942-1945 Wartime Silver Nickels: to reduce the amount of copper and eliminate the nickel that were need for the war, the Mint produced nickels using an alloy of .560 copper, .350 silver, and .090 manganese. To distinguish these coins from regular nickels, the Mint added a large mint mark over Monticello on the reverse. It was the first time the Mint used a “P” mint mark on any coin. Since the mint mark makes them unique, one from each mint would make a nice example. Maybe one from each year with each on representing one Mint. You can find nice uncirculated examples for an average of $5 each without looking too hard.
✓ 2004-2005 Westward Journey Nickel Series: After the success with the start of the 50 State Quarters series, to honor the 200th anniversary of the exidition by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in the newly purchase Louisiana Territory and westward, congress authorized this two-year four coin series to commemorate the journey. These modern circulating commemoratives are readily available and the four should not cost a lot of money, even as uncirculated coins. Make sure you find all four coins: 2004 coins with the left-facing portrait with the Peace Medal and Keelboat designs on the reverse. The 2005 coins had a wonderful obverse portrait designed by Joe Fitzgerald that included the word “Liberty” reproduced from Jefferson’s writing. The reverse included the American Bison and “Ocean in View.”
✓ 2006-Present Front Facing Portrait
: With the return of Monticello on the reverse, a new front-facing portrait by Jamie Franki based on the 1800 portrait painted by Rembrant Peale
and includes the “hand written” version of “Liberty” on the obverse.
An interesting aspect of this collection is that the coins are of all the basic metals used in non-gold coins. The 2-cent pieces were made from copper while the 3-cent coins had one type made in silver and anther in nickel. While most of the 5-cent coins were made of copper-nickel, the wartime composition removed the nickel and lowered the copper content by adding silver and manganese. It is a good representation of coinage metals circulating in the United States.
This is one set where it was difficult to think about how to keep it to 20 coins. Depending on where you shop, your patience, and your budget, this is a collection that can easily be expanded.
If you decide to use this guideline for your set, do not limit yourself to my suggestions. Consider other options. Consider adding another page. Make it personal. Make it yours.
Most importantly: HAVE FUN!
Someone who may be interested in collecting coins may look at the options and think that they are too daunting. Guide books talk about series of dates, mint marks, and varieties. Type books talk about every representative type, even ones that are not affordable to the average collector. Then the folder and album publishers give their interpretation of what a type collection should look like. What the novice to average collector is left with is confusion.
Collecting coins, specifically United States coins does not have to be daunting. You can put together sets of your own design that represents any time or any period. What is great is that once you define your goals, you can have the fun in putting the set together and showing it off to friends and relatives. It is also something that you can develop your own story and include it in your own album.
This is why I decided to create the One Page Collection. My one-page is a 20 pocket archival safe page to hold 2×2 holders of some type—for this, I prefer the self-adhesive cardboard holders with mylar windows. These pages can be placed in three-ring binders that can be used to build any number of collections. It is as flexible as your collecting whims can be.
Supersafe 20 Coin Pocket Page for 2×2 holders
An alternative to the pocket page are Gardmaster Coin Albums. Gardmaster is made by Collector’s Supply House of Paris, Ontario in Canada. Their albums are based on a slide system where the coins are placed into pockets of a strip and the strip is slid into the page keeping the coin in place without the need for an extra holder. The albums are a smaller size with a “Snappy” binder to remove, mix, and match pages. I discovered these albums while putting together a collection of Canadian coins. I then adapted a blank 16-pocket version to create a year set for large cents. You can do an Internet search to find a dealer who sells Gardmaster albums.
For these articles, I will stick with creating a collection using the 20-coin pocket page.
As a general rule, the coins in this collection must gradable at Fine or better and cost under $100. When I create a set of half-dollars and dollars, the limit will have to be raised because of the silver values and the rarity of earlier coins.
Since these are 20-coin sets, many die varieties are ignored to a certain degree. However, design and composition changes are always significant.
The first set I will create are the copper coins. Cents and half-cents were specified in the Coinage Act of 1792 that authorized the creation of the U.S. Mint. Under the new law, the half-cent and its larger cousin the one-cent coin was struck in pure copper from 1793 through 1857.
The first half-cent struck in 1793 weighed 6.74 grams and was 22 mm in diameter. Subsequently, the half-cent weighed 5.44 grams and its diameter varied between 22 mm and 22½ mm.
The 1793 large cent had two designs, the controversial chain reverse which was then changed to a wreath weighed 13.48 grams and varied between 26-28 mm in diameter. In the 19th century, the large cent weighed 10.89 grams and its diameter varied between 27 and 27½ mm.
Consistency in the size of both coins would not be achieved until the introduction of steam-based coining equipment starting in 1836.
Large copper coins were eliminated by the Coinage Act of 1857. Signed into law by President Franklin Pierce February 21, 1857, this act repealed the legal tender status for foreign coins in the United States. It required the Treasury to exchange foreign coins at a market rate set by Treasury. This act discontinued the half-cent and reduced the size of the one-cent coin from 27mm (large cent) to the modern size of 19.05mm (small cent) that is still being used today.
First small cent was the Flying Eagle cent designed by James B. Longacre. The eagle was based on a design Christian Gobrecht used on the reverse of the Seated Liberty dollars. The Flying Eagle cent was a short lived series because of its difficulty to strike properly.
After having problems with the Flying Eagle cent, Longacre designed the Indian Head cent—which is not the image of an Indian but a representation of Libery wearing an Indian-style headdress.
Rounding out our copper collection is the Lincoln cent. Introduced as part of President Theodore Roosevelt’s “pet crime,” the Victor D. Brenner designed coin has been around over 100 years with a periodic change in reverses including the new Shield reverse that began in 2010, 101 years after the coin’s debut with the wheat stalks on the reverse.
Looking at over 230 years of copper coinage there is a lot to choose from to try to make a representative set. The following is what I came up with:
✓ 1840-1857 Braided Hair Half-Cent: A typeset of copper coins has to include a half-cent. To represent I am including a later version of the coin. Not only are these coins readily available but you can purchase a quality example for under $100. Choose one with nice features and a rich chocolate brown color to best represent this series.
✓ 1816-1863 Matron Head Large Cent: For large cents, I am picking two coins. For the early Matron Head cent, I would look at the early dates. They are readily available in better grades at reasonable prices. If you can find a version before 1836, that would represent the pre-steam press era.
✓ 1839-1857 Braided Head large cent: Walk any bourse floor and you will find later large cents that are nicely struck and at reasonable prices. If you want to spend more money you can find a red-brown example, but those with that deep brown color are well struck and wonderful. Having a large cent from this era is a good representation of the pre-small cent times.
✓ 1857-1858 Flying Eagle cent: Forget the lettering varieties. Concentrate on finding a nice coin that would grade Fine or Very Fine for your collection.
✓ 1859 Indian Head cent: This copper-nickel coin with a lauren wreath reverse is a one-coin type.
✓ 1864-1909 Indian Head cent: While there is a copper-nickel version whose reverse has an oak wreath with a shield over the wreath, the bronze version is a new composition with the same reverse. I consider the 1859 copper-nickel covers the composition and the bronze oak wreath reverse covers the change in metals. Coins from the 20th century are very available and affordable. In some cases, if you can spend more than $100 for a coin, you can purchase a nice red or red-brown example.
✓ 1909 VDB Lincoln cent: First year of issue with the “VDB” initials on the reverse is much less expensive than the San Francisco minted coins. For a few extra dollars you can even find a nice red or red-brown coin.
✓ 1909-1958 Lincoln cent: With almost 50 year of coins you can find an affordable example as a bright red coin. Spend a little more money and try for a 1909 cent without the “VDB” initials to get a first year of issue.
✓ 1943 P-D-S Lincoln steel cents: The only coin produced for circulation by the U.S. Mint that did not contain copper (the .999 silver coins contains .001 copper and the .9999 American Buffalo Gold Coin contains .0001 copper). This is worthy of adding one of each to this set.
✓ 1944-1946 Lincoln shotgun cents: Although they are Lincoln cents in every way as the 1942 and earlier cents, these coins were made from the spent shells taken from the training fields around the country. These coins might look a little darker and very available at higher grades for the average collector.
✓ 1959-1981 Lincoln cent with Memorial Reverse: These coins are made from .950 copper with the Lincoln Memorial on the reverse. These are the last copper coins struck for circulation. Adding a 1959 coin would give you the first year or add your birth year.
✓ 1982 Lincoln cent copper and copper-plated zinc coins: In 1982, the U.S. Mint transitioned from copper cents to copper-plated zinc coins. If you do not want to supplement this part with the entire seven-coin collection, then it is not a problem to ignore the lettering size and find an example of a copper and a copper-plated zinc coin. Otherwise, any coin from 1983-2008 Lincoln cent could be used for the copper-plated zinc coin.
✓ 2009 Lincoln Bicentennial cents: This four coin set should not cost more than 50-cents per coin. For a bigger challenge, find proof version that were struck on .950 copper planchets.
✓ 2010-today Lincoln cent with Union Shield reverse: The end of this set pending and further updates.
With these 20 coin you now have a set that represents the history of half- and one-cent coins ever struck by the U.S. Mint. While my concentration has been on affordable and easier to find the coins for this collection, you can extend it by looking for more expensive coins or even better grades. One challenge would be to find all of the Lincoln and Indian Head cents as red or red-brown coins. I have seen nice red-brown Flying Eagle coins but were very expensive. And for a little more money, find an 1850s Large cent that is more red-brown than brown.
A page of Scott’s Large cent collection in a Gardmaster album
Another idea is to use the Gardmaster album, buy two 16-coin pages, and expand your collection. As you look through the types, you may want to start with my “Manageable Lincoln Cent Collection” for an idea on expanding your Lincoln cent typeset. From there, you can adapt those concepts to the other cent series.
Showgard pocket pages image courtesy of Vidiforms/Showgard.