My posts with the titles “SCAM ALERT” has been the most popular posts in the last few months. They warn about these Chinese scammers. After buying two of these coins and examining several websites sent to me by readers, my analysis has lead me to the following:
Two counterfeit American Silver Eagles purchased from LIACOO, a company based in China.
- The scammers are in Shenzen, China
- It may be more than one person behind the scam, but they are working together.
- There appears to be a pocket of these scammers in the Middle East. Early analysis suggests they are in Doha, Qatar.
- All email addresses are either on Gmail or use Google’s professional services that allow Gmail to look like a real domain.
- Any of these sites that have a U.S.-based telephone number are using burner phones. For those not familiar with the term, a burner phone is one on a pay-as-you-go plan. The phones are cheap, easily disposed of, and are difficult to trace.
- Any of these sites that use a U.S.-based physical address use a dropbox service from a logistics company. The dropbox service is a locker that the company pays as a way to manage shipping remotely. There are legitimate uses for these dropbox services, but these scammers use them to make it look like they are located in the United States.
- The scammers are using branded gift cards to pay for these services.
While investigating these sites, I learned that there are five tips that, if followed, you will avoid being scammed.
- NO LEGITIMATE DEALER IS SELLING BULLION COINS FOR BELOW THE SPOT PRICE!
The current price of silver is $23.43 per troy ounce. If anyone is selling American Silver Eagles for less, they are likely trying to sell counterfeit coins.
- IF THE DEAL IS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT LIKELY IS NOT A GOOD DEAL!
When purchasing bullion and coins from dealers, the price between the spot price and the price the dealer will sell the coins for is called the spread. The spread can change based on inventory, availability, and other market forces. It is rare when the spread is less than 5-percent. Some of the largest dealers will lower their spread for their better customers or as a special to lure other customers. A good deal is when the spread is less than 5-percent. However, the spread is rarely less than 2-percent. If a legitimate dealer sells metals for less than 2-percent over the spot price, that is a good deal. These companies are not in business to lose money. Be very worried if someone is trying to sell bullion coins for less.
- IF THE DEALER DOES NOT IDENTIFY THEMSELVES ON THEIR WEBSITE, THEY ARE LIKELY HIDING SOMETHING.
On every website that is likely selling counterfeit coins, they have a wonderfully written “About Us” page that says nothing. The Of the four websites that readers have sent to ask if they were legitimate, all of the “About Us” pages were copies. A web search using sample passages from the page yielded thousands of results.
- IF THE CONTACT PAGE DOES NOT HAVE LEGITIMATE CONTACT INFORMATION, THEY ARE LIKELY HIDING SOMETHING.
One of the indicators of a site owned by Chinese scammers is if they give you hours in HKT or Hong Kong Time. These scammers are not in Hong Kong but are in Shenzen, which is in the same time zone.
- IF THE SITE IS “POWERED BY SHOPLAZZA,” IT IS LIKELY A SCAMMER SITE.
Go to the bottom of any page. If there is a copyright statement followed by “Powered by Shoplazza,” then run away. Shoplazza is a newly created service out of China that seems to be a Shopify clone made by reading Shopify’s HTML. While looking at the HTML code, there are indications that the site was created quickly. During a quick look at three sites highly suspected of selling counterfeit American Silver Eagle coins, I was able to confirm that their sites are hosted on Shoplazza.
IF THERE ARE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT A WEBSITE THEN DON’T PURCHASE FROM THEM!
Since my first post about these Chinese scammers, I have received at least five notes per week saying they bought ten coins from these websites. Everyone that received the coins and was able to weigh them found they weigh only 25 grams. A real American Silver Eagle coin should weigh 31.103 grams.
Yes, I bought two coins from one of the sites, but I did so for educational purposes. I suspected that these would be counterfeit, and I wanted the coins to learn more about them. I believe they are silver plated. As for what is under the silver plate, I have to wait until I can visit a dealer with one of those devices that can analyze coins.
Please do not buy from them.
The font for LIBERTY is too thin. Also, the stars in her flag draped over the shoulder are too small.
Aside from the rims being to thin, look at the U in United and the dash between SILVER and ONE. These are not correct for the 2020 ASE.
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UPDATE: I BOUGHT TWO COINS FROM THIS COMPANY. THEY ARE FAKE, AS SUSPECTED. Read more → here
If a deal is too good to be true, it probably is.
Facebook users might have seen an advertisement trying to sell American Silver Eagle bullion coins for $9.99. DO NOT BUY FROM THAT ADVERTISEMENT. IT IS A SCAM!
Device that could metallic analysis of a coin below the surface
The company is named LIACOO. Please note the two “ohs” because there is a legitimate company spelled with a single “oh.” LIACOO appears to be selling knock-off products made in China and representing them as genuine for less than market value.
A reader purchased five of these coins. After they arrived, this person said that something looked wrong and asked for help. The images that were sent makes the coins appear to be cast copies of American Silver Eagle coins. COUNTERFEITS!
First, you will NEVER find a legitimate seller sell American Silver Eagle for less than the wholesale price. You may be able to find someone who will round down your cost to the nearest dollar as a loss leader, but the price will never be more than 1-2% less than the spot price. The current spot price of silver is $17.84. If you find someone selling legitimate American Silver Eagle for $17.00-17.50, they will probably sell the coins to convince you to do further business with them. Otherwise, you may want to check the company further.
In this case, an examination of their website has no information about who they are.
- There was no physical address.
- There was no telephone number listed.
- The site did not have any policies for shipping, returns, or customer service.
- The pictures of legitimate monster boxes and roll containers were “borrowed” from another site.
There are two places where they provide contact information. On their FAQ page is an email address that uses a different domain. Contact information for the company’s domain name appears on one page that listed an email address, and that customer service was available between 9a and 5p HKT. HKT is the time zone abbreviation for Hong Kong Time.
If that was not enough to convince you that this deal is too good to be true, further research went into their Internet presence.
Their domain name registration shows that the name was purchased from a company in Guangdong, China, that appears to service small businesses. This service provider is reselling the services offered by Baidu. Baidu is a Chinese state-controlled search engine, sometimes called the Google of China. The Chinese government heavily regulates Baidu.
The website is hosted on servers owned by Alibaba. Alibaba is a China-based e-commerce conglomerate whose ties with the Chinese government is uncertain. Although founder Jack Ma has claimed to have no government ties, it is essential to remember that the Chinese government regulates everything and censor Internet traffic inside its borders.
Everything regarding their Internet presence confirms that they are a China-based company. Remember, many of the worst counterfeit coins have origins in China.
I provided the details of the clues I was looking for to help you understand how to spot a scammer. I went further by looking into their Internet presence since I have the background to understand the under-the-hood workings of the Internet. However, my examination of the website was enough to convince me not to buy the coins.
If anything about the offer makes you uneasy, then do not buy the coins. If you want me to look at the site, leave a message in the comment section below, or send me a note. “Let’s be careful out there.”
Even as some areas of the country are easing quarantine restrictions, the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home. Although the United States has 4.25-percent of the world’s population, it has 33.19-percent of the reported cases of the disease with a death rate of 5.77-percent.
The dangers of the novel coronavirus are not only to older people, who dominate the hobby, reports that younger people who may not have shown symptoms have experienced strokes. Even the youngest children are showing symptoms that resemble Kawasaki disease.
I know it is a financially and mentally tough situation. The business I worked hard to build was beginning to break through when Maryland ordered non-essential companies to close. When I am not working alone to organize a warehouse, I am finding solace in numismatics.
During the last few weeks, I have been reducing the to-be-read pile of books. But I am beginning to run out of books. I am looking for something different. Since I like history and tying history with numismatics, I am looking to learn something new. With a tight budget, I am also looking for something new that does not cost much.
I found four entries to my Quarantine Reading List that are interesting and have taught me something. The best thing about each of the books is that each is available online.
U.S. Mint Modern Era
Other than the formation of the U.S. Mint, there is no single seminal event that marks its history than the elimination of silver from circulating coinage. It is the dividing line between what is considered classical coinage and the modern era.
When you find information about the era, it discusses the discussion and the result that created clad coinage. But when you dig into the policy, there is a bigger story. As with a lot of history, the details help us understand the road to where we are today.
The road to modern coinage began with changes in the laws and policies at the U.S. Mint. The one place that every law and policy announcement documented is in the “Annual Report of the Director of the Mint Fiscal Year June 30, 1965.”
What makes this over 300-page document interesting to read are the details that are no longer present in present-day Annual Reports. The text reprints congressional testimony, reports, announcements, policies, and the laws that affected the U.S. Mint. Since this report covers the last half of calendar year 1964 and the first half of calendar year 1965, it is ideally situated to document the government’s action from silver to clad coinage.
The first numbered page begins with the text of the Coinage Act of 1965.
For those that like charts and data, you can go to page 201 to read the section on “The World’s Monetary Stocks of Gold, Silver, and Coins in 1964.” It is a look at circulating coinage of the entire world for 1964. It is a fascinating view that the U.S. Mint stopped doing in 1972.
Download your copy of this Annual Report → here.
While looking for records about colonial currency, I stumbled on an electronic copy of Description of the Paper Money Issued by the Continental Congress of the United States and the Several Colonies by John W. Haseltine, published in 1872. Haseltine was a dealer, auctioneer, and cataloger of many collectibles, including coins. Many of his catalogs were sparsely illustrated, but the listings have proven invaluable.
Paper Money Issued by the Continental Congress is one of those catalogs. Its contents are nothing more than lists of colonial currency issued in the 18th century. It is a useful reference for anyone with interest in the currency of that era. Download a copy → here.
If you want a colonial currency reference that is more extensive, you can download The Early Paper Money of America by Eric P. Newman → here.
Branch Mints and Gold Coins
Did you know that the Charlotte Mint was the first branch mint outside of Philadelphia? Authorized in 1835 following the gold strike at the Reed Gold Mine, it became operational in 1838. The Charlotte branch mint was closed when the building was seized in 1861 by the Confederacy during the Civil War.
When I wanted to learn more about the Charlotte Mint, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Charlotte Mint Gold Coins, 1838-1861 by Douglas Winter is available to read online or to download. The book is an easy read with illustrations, and a catalog of the coins struck at the mint. You can find the book → here.
The branch mint in Dahlonega, Georgia, opened after Charlotte also to mint gold coins from a nearby gold strike. Dahlonega was also seized by the Confederacy in 1861 and did not reopened.
Gold coins minted at Dahlonega carry the “D” mintmark. Since Dahlonega only struck gold coins and gold coins were not struck in Denver, this has not been an issue. To read about the colorful history of this branch mint, read Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861, Second Edition, by Douglas Winter. The book is similar in format to Winter’s Charlotte book. You can find this book → here.
Winter did write books about the gold coins struck at the New Orleans and Carson City Mints, but I had not read either book at the time of this writing. These books and more free resources are available through the Newman Numismatic Portal.
Contrary to popular belief, you can put metal in your microwave oven. It will not make your oven explode or catch fire. But that does not mean it is a safe thing to do.
Microwaves work by shooting electrons at whatever it finds. The electrons create friction as it passes through the surfaces and generates heat. These electrons cannot pass through a metal surface. When you try to microwave metal, you will see sparks as the electrons skip over the metal surface.
Some chefs have discovered ways of using aluminum foil to direct the electrons to use the skipping electrons to add extra heat to one area of the food. As part of the process, the electrons speed up before finding someplace to go. Another technique is to cover areas to minimize the reaction.
Regardless of how you try to control the flow of electrons, they have to find someplace to go. The reaction is the basis of chemistry. A free electron looks to bond with an atom that has more protons than electrons. It balances the equation.
This basic science lesson is to help explain why you do not want to microwave your currency.
You might have heard that using your microwave oven would help kill the COVID-19 virus. Some research says it is plausible, but the idea is for food. If you have any questions about whether your takeout order is safe, put it in your microwave. You can also heat your food in an oven or on your stovetop. As long as you cook the food to over 140°F (60°C), you will kill most pathogens.
But what happens when you put money in your microwave? It will burn!
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has produced currency notes with a security thread to thwart counterfeiting since 2003. The security thread is a thin ribbon of metal embedded into the currency paper. Hold the currency up to the light, and it will tell you what the denomination should be. On the $100 note, it is a wider strip with a distinct look.
When you microwave money, the electrons will strike the metal thread, pick up speed, and look for a place to land. The next softest material is the currency paper around the security thread. The increase in friction on the currency paper will cause the paper to burn.
Think of it like this: rub your hands together for a few seconds. You will feel your skin begin to heat. Now multiply your hand rubbing by the speed of an electron flying by, and the friction will burn your hands. That is what is happening to the paper.
If you do burn currency paper, bring all the pieces to your bank. The bank will exchange the notes for ones that are not burned and will send them back to the Federal Reserve for disposal.
First, if you are working with collectibles, DO NOT CLEAN YOUR COLLECTIBLE COINS AND CURRENCY! Cleaning collectible coins, currency, tokens, and medals will reduce their collector value. Just don’t do it!
There are many ways you can clean your circulating pocket change. You can wipe them with a disinfectant, including 70% rubbing alcohol or a household wipe that contains alcohol and Dimethylbenzyl Ammonium Chloride (Clorox and Lyson bleach-free wipes contain this chemical). Another method is to wash coins using warm water and a dish cleaning detergent. Finally, leave coins in your pocket when you wash your pants. The only problem with washing coins with clothes is the racket your dryer will make, and you may dent the drum. Currency may require a warm iron to make flat again.
Another method is using ultra-violet (UV) light.
UV light is classified into three categories depending on the wavelength. UV-A is the longest wave length. UV-B is considered a medium wave length. UV-C is the shortest wavelength. It is also the most deadly.
Image courtesy of Phonesoap, a smartphone cleaning device that uses UV-C light.
The short wavelength of UV-C light will penetrate cell walls and kill the DNA within the cells. We are protected from the Sun’s UV-C light by the Ozone Layer of the Earth’s atmosphere. By destroying the Ozone Layer, we let the Sun’s UV-C light penetrate the atmosphere increasing skin cancers.
While UV-C is altering your DNA to create cancers, it is also killing germs using the same properties to alter its DNA.
You can buy lightbulbs that generate UV-C light. However, if you create a UV-C disinfecting station, be careful. Shining UV-C light randomly will cause skin damage worse than a tanning bed. A tanning bed mixes the spectrum of UV light and filter most UV-C light. But a dedicated UV-C light is not good for your body.
Since UV-C light does not generate a lot of heat, you can create an enclosed disinfecting station using almost any material. One example is to create a box using poster board with the edges sealed with duct tape. Cut a hole in the top for the light and then seal the hole with the duct tape. Place your currency inside the box and leave it for 15 minutes.
If you spend a little more money, you could purchase a wall timer. Set the time for the light to turn on after you leave the room and to turn off 15 minutes later. Do not go into the room until the process completes.
There are commercially made devices made with sealed chambers and timers.
Finally, if you want the safest way to disinfect your money, place it in a plastic bag that seals. Close the bag most of the way. Leave about an inch unsealed. Then let the bag sit in a sunny area for about 24 hours. The natural UV-C light will disinfect the money. When you are ready, remove the money and throw the bag away. Use a clean bag for the next round.
Of course, you can avoid all of this by using a credit card that you can clean with a disinfecting wipe when you get home. Contactless payments, like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay are also alternatives to paying with cash.
Someone walked into my shop today with a box full of items he said that he wanted to consign to one of our auctions. He said that someone mentioned that I was knowledgeable about coins and wanted me to help liquidate his collection.
I have to admit I was excited as he held a box that you would pack books in and not carry coins. We put the box down and opened the box and was instantly disappointed.
On the top was a complete set of the State Quarter packages from one of the television shopping networks. It was the type of stuff that was over-hyped by touting their “limited production” by the U.S. Mint.
Looking at a few of the packs, they contained two quarters for each state on a card. They appear that if they were graded, they would probably average MS-64 and be worth $5-7 each. If they grade higher, the coins could be worth more. It is not worth my time and money to have them graded. Further, in the liquidation auction business, I would doubt these would sell for more than $5 per card.
The look on his face when I told him was as if I kicked his dog. He then gave me the same familiar story: they cost so much; the guy on television said they were a limited run; they should be worth more; and many other tales as seen on TV.
Anyone who has worked in a coin shop or handled second-hand property has heard the stories. Someone with a slick marketing presence appears on television and spins the tale to sound better than it is. Sure, the State Quarter was a limited production, but the Mint produced hundreds of millions of each of those coins.
In addition to the State Quarters, he had coin sets produced by companies like the Franklin Mint and the National Collectors Mint. While I try not to promise what could happen in an auction and avoid asking how much they paid, he pulls out a Buffalo Nickel display still offered by one of these companies.
The display is a round wooden stand that can rotate on a base. Around the edges is a space for 25 Buffalo Nickels. The nickels on his stand looked to be in extra fine (XF) to almost uncirculated (AU) condition. On top of the stand is a pewter figure of a buffalo (bison) modeled after James Earle Fraser’s image.
It is a lovely display, but one that is not popular. A previous consignor had the display without the coins. We finally were able to sell it for $1.00 to someone who was going to take it apart and repurpose the wooden stand. Selling the nickels in today’s market should allow him to break even.
For the last 25 years, this gentleman bought these coins and medals at a premium above their value. The box had gold plated medals with micrograms of gold that are nearly worthless in the collector market. He did have some older sterling silver sets that he bought when silver was under $8 per ounce. He can make money on those items to make up with some of the losses.
After going through the box, I said that he would be lucky if I can get $500 for everything. That lead to the look as if I kicked his other dog.
He asked how these people get away with overcharging for their merchandise. Unfortunately, there are few laws regarding price gouging except in an emergency (like overcharging for gas during a crisis) or if done fraudulently. But these television hucksters are practiced and can afford the lawyers to tell them how far they can go before they cross the line.
There are no laws to prevent companies from calling themselves a mint. There are credible companies that use “Mint” as part of their business name (e.g., I have been a customer of Miller’s Mint from Long Island and highly recommend them). Others use the moniker to make their products sound more official than they are.
If you like the packaging and are willing to pay the premium for it, then enjoy your collectible. While the Buffalo Nickel stand is not my style, I can understand the appeal. But when it comes time to sell, the packaging has little to do with the numismatic value of the coins or medals.
Anything plated has less than a gram of the metal. There is so little plating that it is not worth the cost for someone to have melted.
Which reminds me, the “1933 Double Eagle Tribute Proof” plated with 14 micrograms of 24 karat gold is not worth the $19.95 they charge on television. Even at the current price of gold, the item contains less than 1-cent worth of gold ($0.00047).
It bothers me that I have to disappoint people like this. It is worse when I have to tell an older person, like the octogenarian gentlemen who was in my shop this week, that the collection he thought was an investment is not worth a lot.
I am not sure what can the industry can do to prevent this from happening. These are legitimate businesses whose marketing practices may be less than ethical but are legal.
Some might suggest that this is something the American Numismatic Association should try to deal with. The ANA may not be the right organization for this. Maybe a consortium that includes the Professional Numismatic Guild (PNG), the Industry Council for Tangible Assets (ICTA), and the ANA could work together to find a solution.
Until then, I am open to suggestions!
Although it has been a while since I have posted something outside of the Weekly World Numismatic News, it does not mean that I have been idle. Here are some random thoughts:
First, I want to thank the American Numismatic Association Board of Governors for awarding me the 2019 Glenn Smedley Memorial Award. It is an honor! I wish I could have been there for the award ceremony.
2019 Glenn B Smedley Medal
ANA President Steve Ellsworth asked me to continue as Chair of the Technology Committee. I accepted his appointment. Steve has a different vision for how to move forward. Change is a good thing and will work with him and the Board to do what is best for the ANA.
There continues to be work to do for the ANA to add technology to the numismatic experience. One of the areas I would like to include more technology are the exhibits. After speaking with one person familiar with the exhibiting process, I think there are ways to add technology without technology overshadowing the numismatic content. I will have a proposal shortly. Stay tuned.
Not long ago, U.S. Mint Director David Ryder said that there might be a chance to add color to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coins. I have had a mixed feeling about adding color to coins. There are some cases where the color acted as an enhancer. Other times, some mints produced coins that were discs with prints. I will wait until the design is released to decide how I feel about the Mint’s attempt with color.
2007 Somalia Motorcycle Coins
I love these coins but is this the direction the U.S. Mint should go?
There are many collectibles whose values have declined over the last year, including some collector coins. One area that remains low are those collector sets produced by the television hucksters or the private mints. These firms overhype the value of their wares to convince buyers that they should purchase them as an investment. Recently, I handled an estate with several items purchased from QVC and the Franklin Mint. All of the coins were overpriced. The family was upset when I provided my valuation. I will talk about this more in a future post.
Another article idea that is inspired by my business is the difference between collecting and investing. Although some people like to try to mix the two, most of the time, the result is that the investor does not create a compelling collection while most of the collectors create value without trying.
Recently, I decided to liquidate part of my collection. As part of the process, I realized how much I have learned over the years. It is a real case of “the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know.” I learned several lessons during this process, including not to trust my judgment. In one case, coins I graded years ago were over graded. If I would have used the tools and knowledge, I have today, and the grades would be different.
I sold my silver Pandas. I lost interest after the composition was changed but the hype has kept the prices up. Hype is not a long-term strategy.
Finally, I am still waiting to find a “W” quarter in change. I have yet to see one. Most of the people I know that are looking for these quarters are roll hunting. If I were into conspiracies, I would suggest that the Mint did this on purpose to increase the demand for quarters. People would demand rolls of quarters, forcing the Federal Reserve to order more.
Considering the U.S. Mint is a government agency, I bet they are storing most of the quarters in Area 51! After all, if we are going into conspiracy theories, we might as well go all of the way!
After my last post about the Staatliche Münze Berlin, the Berlin State Mint, a few German readers provided a lesson in the political structure of Germany to understand the institution’s role in the country’s coin production.
Unlike what I wrote previously, the Berlin State Mint is a government mint but for the government of the Federal State of Berlin.
Berlin is one of two cities that is also designated as a state. The other is Hamburg. The divisions trace back to the many small states that existed in the region during the days Holy Roman Empire. In short, it was an attempt to bring unification to the region by attempting to allow each smaller states, kingdoms, principalities, cities, etc. to provide their own rule for the common good. Some reference suggests that there were over 300 individual governments with their own governing rules at the height of the Empire.
Arguments, wars, and Napolean brought about many changes where many of the smaller states merged into larger ones and others changed by conflict. Following the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, Germany was forced to give up territories that left the current state boundaries were mostly set as they are today.
Before I hear from our German friends, I am leaving out a lot of history on purpose. I just want enough to bring context to the discussion. If anyone wants a more detailed discussion about the history as it pertains to the German mints, I recommend reading the article “Why Germany has Five State-Owned Mints
Although the Third Reich tried to unify the country around a federal government, there were a number of administrative functions left to the states including the minting of coins and printing of currency. Even Adolph Hitler learned that to keep his version of an orderly government, he had to work with each of the states.
Following World War II, the concept of the confederation of states continued with the formation of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Although the federal government has evolved with more central power, the states continue to have a degree of independence in their operations that a person with a background in United States history would consider a confederation.
As the country evolved and times mandated change, many of the mints were closed. Production consolidated with the changes in the political structure of Germany. Following the unification of Germany in 1990, only five state mints remained:
NOTE: First letter on the line is the mintmark associated with the mint.
Berlin State Mint
State Mint of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Munich
Barvarian Main Mint, Stuggart
State Mint Baden-Wuerttemberg, Karlsruhe
When the euro was introduced, German law mandated that the minting of the euro coins would be distributed evenly among the five mints. Any production beyond the federally mandated requirement to produce the euro is between the mint and the Finance Minister of the state.
As for the currywurst coin, although it is produced by the Berlin State Mint, it is a product of that mint and not a product endorsed by the German federal government.
If you are confused you are in good company. Even after spending parts of three days looking into the history, I am not sure I am right. It is more confusing than the structure behind the U.S. Mint!
Images of the Germany state mints are courtesy of the mints via their websites.
I was going to stop doing the LOOK BACK series after the summer, thinking I would have time to create new content. But we all know that real life has a way of changing even the best-laid plans. While fighting off a severe sinus infection thanks to the mold spores that thrive in this damp weather, business picked up. I am ecstatic that my new business is catching on but the infection put a damper on things.
I need a week to catch up. While doing so, I will publish two more LOOK BACK articles and try to finish a few of the new posts I started. For today’s LOOK BACK, I want to remind everyone that numismatics is more than coins. You can satisfy your collecting urges with exonumia as well as with coins.
Although the dominant area of numismatics is the collection and study of legal tender coins, numismatics is more than just coins. Numismatic is the collecting and study of items used in the exchange for goods, resolve debts, and objects used to represent something of monetary value. This opens up numismatic collecting to a wide range of items and topics that could make “the hunt” to put together the collection as much fun as having the collection.
Exonumia is the study and collection of tokens, medals, or other coin-like objects that are not considered legal tender. Exonumia opens numismatics to a wide variety of topics that could not be satisfied by collecting coins alone. An example of exonumia is the collection of transportation tokens. You may be familiar with transportation tokens from your local bus or subway company who used to sell tokens to place into fare boxes. Others may have used tokens to more easily pay in the express lanes at bridges and tunnels. A person who collects transportation tokens is called a Vecturist. For more information on being a Vecturist, visit the website for the American Vecturist Association.
Token collecting can be the ultimate local numismatic collection. Aside from transportation tokens, some states and localities issued tax tokens in order to collect fractions of a cent in sales taxes to allow those trying to get by in during down economic times to stretch their money further. Some communities issued trade tokens that allowed those who used them to use them like cash at selected merchants. Some merchants issued trade tokens that were an early form of coupons that were traded as coupons are traded today.
While tokens are items used to represent monetary value, medals are used to honor, commemorate, or advertizing. The U.S. Mint produces medals that honor people, presidents, and events. Medals produced by the U.S. Mint are those authorized by law as a national commemoration including the medal remembering the attacks of 9/11.
Commemorative medals are not limited to those produced by the U.S. Mint. State and local governments have also authorized the producing medals on their behalf that were produced by private mints. Many organizations also have created medals honoring members or people that have influenced the organization. Companies have produced medals to honor their place in the community or something about the company and their community.
Many medals have designs that can be more beautiful than on coins since they are not limited to governmental mandated details and their smaller production runs allows for more details to be added. Medals can be larger and thicker than coins and made in a higher relief than something that could be manufactured by a government mint.
Exonumia collecting also involves elongated and encased coins. You may have seen the machines in many areas where you pay 50-cents, give it one of your cents, turn the wheel and the cent comes out elongated with a pattern pressed into the coin. Elongated coins have been used as advertisements, calling cards, and as a souvenir.
Encased coins are coin encircled with a ring that has mostly been used as an advertisement. One side will call the coin a lucky coin or provide sage advice with the other side advertising a business. Another form of encased coins are encased stamps. Encased stamps were popular in the second half of the 19th century and used for trade during times when there were coin shortages.
Other exonumia includes badges, counter stamped coins, wooden money, credit cards, and casino tokens. Counter stamped coins are coins that have been circulated in foreign markets that were used in payment for goods. When the coin was accepted in the foreign market, the merchant would examine the coin and impress a counter stamp on the coin proclaiming the coin to be genuine based on their examination. Although coins were counter stamped in many areas of the world, it was prevalent in China where the coins were stamped with the Chinese characters representing the person who examined the coin. These Chinese symbols are commonly referred to as “chop marks.”
One type of counter stamped coins are stickered coins. Stickered coins were popular in the first half of the 20th century; they were used as an advertisement. Merchants would purchase stickers and apply them to their change so that as the coins circulated, the advertising would reach more people. Some stickered coins acted as a coupon to entice the holder to bring the coin into the shop and buy the merchandise.
Remember the saying, “Don’t take any wooden nickels?” If you are a wooden money collector, you want to find the wooden nickels and other wooden denominations. Wooden nickels found popularity in the 1930s as a currency replacement to offer money off for purchases or as an advertisement. Wooden nickels are still being produced today mostly as an advertising mechanism.
We cannot end the discussion of exonumia without mentioning Love Tokens and Hobo Nickels. Love Tokens became popular in the late 19th century when someone, usually a man, would carve one side of a coin, turn it into a charm for a bracelet or necklace, and give it to his loved one. The designed are as varied as the artists who created them. Hobo Nickels are similar in that hobo artists would carve a design into a Buffalo Nickel to sell them as souvenirs. While there are contemporary Love Tokens and Hobo Nickels, collectors have an affection for the classic design that shows the emotion of the period.
Currency collecting, formally called notaphily, is the study and collection of banknotes or legally authorized paper money. Notes can be collected by topic, date or time period, country, paper type, serial number, and even replacement or Star Notes (specific to the United States). Some consider collecting checks part of notaphily. Collectors of older canceled checks are usually interested in collecting them based on the issuing bank, time period, and the signature. For the history of currency and their collecting possibilities, see my previous article, “History of Currency and Collecting”.
Scripophily is the study and collection of stock and bond certificates. This is an interesting subset of numismatics because of the wide variety of items to collect. You can collect in the category of common stock, preferred stock, warrants, cumulative preferred stocks, bonds, zero-coupon bonds, and long-term bonds. Scripophily can be collected by industry (telecom, automobile, aviation, etc.); autographs of the officers; or the type of vignettes that appear on the bonds.
Militaria: Honorable Collectibles
Collecting of military-related items may be considered part of exonumia but deserves its own mention. It is popular to collect military medals and awards given to members since the medals themselves are works of art. Families will save medals awarded to relatives and even create museum-like displays to honor or memorialize the loved one.
Militaria includes numismatic-related items that represent the various services. One of the growing areas of collectibles is Challenge Coins. A challenge coin is a small medal, usually no larger than 2-inches in diameter, with the insignia or emblem of the organization. Two-sided challenge coins may have the emblem of the service on the front and the back has the emblem of the division or another representative service. Challenge coins are traditionally given by a commander in recognition of special achievement or can be exchanged as recognition for visiting an organization.
Over the last few years, civilian government agencies and non-government organizations (NGO) have started to create and issue challenge coins. Most of those agencies have ties to the military, but not all. Like their military counterparts, a manager or director can give challenge coins in recognition of special achievement or for visiting an organization.
Another area of military collectibles is Military Payment Certificates (MPC). MPC was a form of currency that was used to pay military personnel in foreign countries. MPC was first issued to troops in Europe after World War II in 1946 to provide a stable currency to help with commerce. MPC evolve from Allied Military Currency (AMC) to control the amounts of U.S. dollars circulating in the war zone and to prevent enemy forces from capturing dollars for their own gain. Prior to World War II, troops were paid in the currency of the country where they were based. With the ever moving fronts and the allies need to control the economies to defeat the Axis powers, AMC was issued to allow the military to control their value.
After the war, MPC replaced APC in order to control the currency and prevent the locals from hoarding U.S. dollars preventing the building of their own economies. When military officials discovered that too many notes were in the circulation, being hoarded, and thriving on the black market, series were demonetized and reissued to military personnel. Those holding MPC notes, not in the military received nothing and were encouraged to circulate their own currency.
MPC were printed using lithography in various colors that changed for each series. From the end of World War II to the end of the Vietnam War there were 15 series printed with only 13 issued. Although the two unissued series were destroyed, some examples have been found in the collections of those involved with the MPC system. Amongst the 13 series that were issued, there are 94 recognized notes available for collectors. Most notes are very affordable and accessible to the interested collector.
The original article can be read here.
Now that I am running a collectibles business, I see a number of interesting items coming into the shop.
Last week, someone came into the shop with items that she wanted to sell in order to downsize prior to moving. One of the items was a small plastic bag of foreign coins. The bag contained a lot of low-value base metal coins that would trade for under one dollar from a dealer’s junk box.
Although I do not keep a large inventory of coins, I have a basket I fill with foreign coins for anyone who wants to look through them. I will sell the coins for 25-cents each even if they are worth more. When parents come into the shop with their children, I will let the kids pick out a coin. I challenge them to go online and learn what they can about the coin.
Sometimes, my assistant and I will look through the basket for something interesting. While my assistant is not a collector, she knows I am and looks for specific items I am looking for (more on that another time) and anything that looks interesting.
After moving furniture in the warehouse, I returned to my desk and found a small pile of coins. Some were part of the coins I was looking for and a token with the date of 1895. What is this coin?
Obverse of a token from Hacienda El Altar and La Caridad. The plant in the center is likely a cane that was popular in the region.
Reverse of a Hacienda El Altar and La Caridad token declaring they were owned by Ramón González Espinosa from San Sebastián and is worth 1 Real.
On the obverse and above the date is a tree. The legend around the coin says “EL ALTAR, LA CARIDAD.” On the reverse, it gives the denomination of “1 REAL” and the legend says “RAMON GONZALEZ ESPINOSA” and “SAN SEBASTIAN.” Immediately, I think this is a Spanish coin.
San Sebastián is a coastal city in the Basque region of northern Spain close to the French border. Although there is evidence of human settlement from at least 24,000-22,000 BCE, the earliest recorded evidence dates to 1014 and the monastery of St. Sebastián.
But there was no reference of a 1 real coin being issued in the region in the late 19th century or anyone in the region named Ramón González Espinosa.
Who was Ramón González Espinosa? Trying an Internet search of that name finds people with that name in California, Texas, and elsewhere around the world. Searching for Espinosa and San Sebastián also lead to a lot of irrelevant results.
Next was to figure out what El Altar and La Caridad represent. El Altar is “The Alter” in Spanish and La Caridad translates to “The charity.” Could this have been a token used to try to raise money in Spanish speaking country other than Spain?
Just to see what would happen, rather than using google.com, I went to google.com.mx, the site that serves Mexico and Latin America. I entered the information for all of the legends and searched. When too many items came up and my rudimentary Spanish found that they were irrelevant, adding quotes around each phrase lead found an interesting page.
On a blog that is written by a Venezuelan numismatist, there was an article with an image of the same token. Using translation software, I was able to obtain enough information to learn more about the token.
During the late 19th century, Venezuela was undergoing a financial crisis that caused a severe coin shortage. The situation became so bad that the haciendas, plantations in Venezuela, could not pay their workers. To help solve the problem, hacienda owners would create their own tokens to act as promissory notes. They would pay their workers using these tokens. When coins were available, the hacienda owner would pay the merchants.
These tokens circulated as money throughout the region.
The token we found was from the Hacienda El Altar and La Caridad, both were the properties of Ramón González Espinosa. Espinosa’s properties were located in Aragua State
The haciendas were in San Sebastián de los Reyes (Saint Sebastian of the Kings) in Aragua State. The town is located on the Guárico River that leads to the Caribbean Sea. El Altar and La Caridad were livestock farms.
It is unusual for the names two haciendas to appear on a single token. According to references about other tokens from this era, when the same person owned multiple haciendas they had tokens made for each of their properties to distinguish the accounts from each other. Since there were no other references for tokens with more than on hacienda, it is not known as to why Espinosa created only one token.
Most tokens from this era were made using a copper-nickel alloy that ranged from 40-60 percent nickel. Most were thin discs and had different shapes. Hacienda tokens ranged in value from ½ Real to 5 Reales. Tokens from Hacienda El Altar and La Caridad were issued in ½, 1, 2, and 4 Reales.
The Venezuelan government continued to have a difficult time producing enough coinage. After Cipriano Castro seized the government in Caracas, he contracted with the Mexico City Mint to produce low denomination copper coins. In 1902, Venezuelan government contracted with the U.S. Mint to produce lower denomination silver coins.
Slowly, there was enough of a coin supply that it ended the need for hacienda tokens. But they continued to circulate because hacienda owners used it as a way to control their workers. When Juan Vicente Gómez overthrew Castro, who left Venezuela in 1908 for medical treatment in Germany, he instituted a rule to end the circulation of these tokens by ordering the hacienda owners to buy back the tokens using state currency.
It is estimated that over 10,000 tokens were once in circulation. After the order was given to redeem the tokens most were melted and used for other purposes.
Although it is rare to find one, they are not worth much in the numismatic market. However, finding one allowed me to learn more about its origin, hacienda tokens, and how the United States helped in ending this practice.
In other words, yet another reason why numismatics is a fun hobby!
I write this blog from the perspective of a collector. I champion the collector. I think that collectors are the most qualified to determine the direction of the hobby. The collector is the consumer and the consumer is almost always right.
When it comes to helping with the direction of the hobby dealers should also have a say. Their input is important. But they should be there to support the collector because without collectors the dealers have no business. Dealers should not be dictating the direction of the hobby.
Recently, I was listening to The Coin Show podcast hosted by Matt Dinger, a dealer in Indianapolis, and Mike Noodle, a collector that says he works in a coin shop (I think he said it was a part-time gig), and became very concerned when Matt said that the U.S. Mint was hurting the hobby.
Are these sets hurting the hobby? Should the U.S. Mint stop producing them? (U.S. Mint image)
Regular listeners to The Coin Show knows that Matt is not a fan of modern coins and the products of the U.S. Mint. In fact, during the last show, he admitted to not carrying American Eagle coins because he does not want to support the U.S. Mint in damaging the hobby.
During the podcast, Mike came to the defense of U.S. Mint collectors but that defense was tempered when he said that collecting U.S. Mint products was for beginner collectors and that it was a way to start before the collector “graduate” to other collectibles.
I have questioned Matt and Mike in the past on Facebook but this time I felt their statements crossed a line. My regular readers know I can get hyperbolic but I try to remain respectful. As it happens on Facebook and anywhere else on the Internet, people cannot take the words at face value and have to read something into them.
This time I emphasized that not only do I collect U.S. Mint items but have not “graduated” to the type of collectibles Mike and Matt proclaim to be real collectibles. New readers can go through this blog and see how my collection can be classified as normal to eclectic.
After a lot of angry discussions (you will see a sample below) and some churlish responses from others (not Matt or Mike), I finally coaxed out the reasons for Matt’s hatred of modern U.S. Mint products. Unfortunately, it seems his reasons have more to do with the industry than the U.S. Mint.
According to Matt, the U.S. Mint is harming numismatics by selling annual sets like proof and mint sets at the prices they set. During the Facebook discussion, Matt and Sam Shafer, another Indianapolis-area dealer, said that they believe the U.S. Mint’s prices are too high.
From their perspective as dealers, they claim it is the U.S. Mint’s fault for the differences between the manufacturer’s suggested retail price the secondary market.
Using that logic, can I blame Chevrolet for the secondary market price of the 2014 Silverado I just purchased? If I tried, General Motors would laugh me under the tonneau cover of the truck! Yet, coin dealers are applauded for applying the same logic. This does not make sense.
How can you blame the manufacturer for the secondary market’s reaction?
Matt wrote, “I feel like the depreciation seen in modern sets is much more harmful to potential collectors or beginning collectors.”
I guess if General Motors followed that logic, they would stop making trucks!
But we are talking about collectibles. In that case, Topps, Fleer, and Upper Deck should stop producing baseball cards.
This is only an argument by dealers who would rather sell what they like and not take a broader view of the collecting market. In my new life, I am a collectibles and antiques dealer. The items I buy are either from the secondary market or I buy new items from manufacturers such as comic book and baseball card publishers.
I have been in antiques and collectibles market as a part-time dealer for 10 years. During that time I have been selling at antique shows, flea markets, and online. I have met and spoken with dealers about the market and its volatility. Everyone I speak with survived the Great Recession of 2008. What I learned in these discussions is that ONLY the numismatic industry demands that its collectibles rise in value. If the coin does not increase in value it is not because the market has spoken. It has to be someone else’s fault. After all, these dealers have to be right so it must be the U.S. Mint’s fault.
This 1901 $10 Dollar Lewis and Clark Bison note (Fr# 122) was sold by a dealer at an antiques show by a dealer not complaining about the collecting market.
The vast majority of dealers are very good and very reasonable. Many do understand the view of the collector and work with them. However, there is a subset of dealers that can be some of the most stubborn business people I know. They refuse to change with the market. Even if the market is not looking for their niche, they will not adapt to the market. Their mind is made up do not confuse them with facts.
They are also the most vocal in their opposition to market forces. Their usual retort is “you don’t understand, you’re not a dealer!”
With all due respect, I do not need to be a dealer to know that not changing with the times is doing more to hurt the hobby than the U.S. Mint is by doing its job.
Another argument is that the U.S. Mint has too many programs. Are they kidding me? Have they looked at the offering by the Royal Canadian, New Zealand, and Royal Mints? When was the last time they looked at the websites of the Perth Mint or the Pobjoy Mint? Comparatively, the U.S. Mint’s catalog looks bare!
Did you know that the Pobjoy Mint struck this coin under the authority of the British Virgin Islands. Is this good for the hobby? (Pobjoy Mint image)
The U.S. Mint does not offer dozens of non-circulating legal tender (NCLT) coins. U.S. Mint coins are struck and not painted. The U.S. Mint does not offer piedfort version of circulating coins or even coins guilt in gold or palladium. The U.S. Mint does not make deals with movie production companies, comic book publishers, or soft drink manufacturers to issue branded coins.
Every coin that the U.S. Mint offers for sale has an authorizing law limiting what they could produce. According to those laws, the U.S. Mint has to recover costs and is allowed to make a “reasonable” profit.
But what is reasonable? This is a question that has a lot of valid arguments on both sides. However, the U.S. Mint is subject to oversight by the Treasury Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and, occasionally, review by Congress’s Government Accountability Office (GAO). Neither oversight agency has produced a report saying that the U.S. Mint’s prices are unreasonable.
The U.S. Mint is selling what they manufacture at a price that the competent oversight agencies have not complained about. The only one complaining is by the dealers in the secondary market.
Why are these dealers complaining?
We get to the crux of the problem when Sam Shafer responds, “I would rather sell a customer a Morgan dollar than a set of glorified shiny pocket change.”
It does not take a rocket scientist to understand why a dealer would write that. A dealer makes more money selling Morgan dollars than modern coins. It is about business, not about what the U.S. Mint is doing. It is also a very reasonable response if the dealer would own up to the fact that it is about the impact to their business. Blaming the U.S. Mint is like crashing into a wall and blaming the wall for being there!
But Sam must have had some bad experiences: “How about you come down from your pedestal, put your loudspeaker up your rectum and work in a shop for a few years where you can witness the devastation of families first hand for a few years.”
This is a strong statement, even if you discount the placement of inanimate objects into bodily orifices they do not belong. What has the U.S. Mint done to cause “devastation?” The U.S. Mint sells products to those who want to buy them. You are not forced to buy from the U.S. Mint.
Sam continues, “While your [sic] at it maybe you can take up your glorious cause of finding homes for the 50 billon [sic] sets the government produced and bulk sold over the years to the collectors who assumed that 5 sets would better than 1.”
By Sam’s logic, it is the U.S. Mint’s fault that someone speculated and the investment did not pan out? Whose fault is that? Who told someone that buying these sets would be a good investment? Not the U.S. Mint! Where does the U.S. Mint say in any of its publications or website that coins make a solid investment? How could these speculators have come to this conclusion?
The U.S. Mint goes out of its way to avoid participating in the investment market. They do not represent any of their products as investment grade instruments. This is why the U.S. Mint does not sell investment bullion directly to the public. The government sells these products to distributors who will then sell to the dealers that will sell them to the public. The government is not involved in the price speculation of numismatic items.
2018 Fiji Coca-Cola Bottle Cap-shaped coin is not a U.S. Mint product. It contains 6 grams of silver (about $3.20) and costs $29.95. Is this good for the hobby? (Modern Coin Mart image)
The U.S. Mint does not even acknowledge historical and aftermarket pricing for the items they manufacture.
The U.S. Mint sells collectible coins. They do not sell investments.
Over the years, I have received more complaints about dealers than allegedly worthless State Quarters or the U.S. Mint’s annual sets. But why are coins allegedly worthless?
Did the U.S Mint make claims that these one-time-only coins are really special and that they would be the greatest thing since sliced bread?
Did the U.S. Mint create rolls in sonically sealed plastic holders and tout them as the next great collectible?
This is not a U.S. Mint Product! (Danbury Mint image)
Did the U.S Mint create books, boards, folders, albums, maps, touting this as a once-in-a-lifetime way to collect?
All this came from the secondary market. Who runs the secondary market? DEALERS!
DEALERS set the values for the coins based on what they sell them for.
DEALERS take coins and entomb them in sonically sealed plastic holders saying that this is how you should be collecting. They tell you one encapsulating service is better than another and then make you pay different prices if you use a service they do not like even if the number assigned as a grade is the same on both pieces of plastic.
DEALERS have convinced an entire class of collectors that if they do not have a plastic holder with this new, whiz-bang label that their collection is not complete.
DEALERS have also complained about whose name and image have appeared on some of those labels.
Tragedy grips the industry when a Pawn Star is featured on a plastic holder’s label! (NGC image)
DEALERS genuflect when someone puts a shiny green sticker on a plastic holder as if it was blessed by some deity. They prostrate themselves if the plastic holder is granted that divine gold sticker! After preaching this gospel to their flock, you are considered a heretic if you question the validity of the sticker and the motives of the sticker maker.
While the U.S. Mint is not perfect, the problems with the numismatic market have not been created by a tightly regulated government bureau. The problems come from the secondary market whether they are overstating the values of these items or demeaning collectibles that they cannot make a hefty profit on.
Maybe it is time for dealers to look in the mirror and ask whether the U.S. Mint is hurting the hobby or maybe they are refusing to recognize the problem is right in front of them.