A cricket hopped into the grading room

Today marks the third weekend of the college football season. Sunday is the second weekend of the NFL season. Autumn begins on Wednesday, and there are 43 days until Halloween.

Want to celebrate Halloween in style? Why not bid on an encapsulated cricket!

Slabbed cricket up for auction from the Collection of Fred Weinberg at GreatCollection Auctions (GreatCollection photo)

Up for bid at GreatCollection Auctions is a PCGS holder with the remains of a cricket. Yes, a real cricket.

According to GreatCollections, “back in the 1990s, there was a cricket disturbing the coin graders at PCGS, until one of them caught it and put it in a slab. It was then the subject at a high level meeting of graders where it was decided to give it to error expert Mr. Fred Weinberg.”

It was recently on display at the last World’s Fair of Money.

After more than 20 years, the carcass is a bit fragile. If nothing else, it proves that the slabs are not air-tight. If the slabs were air-tight, the carcass would not deteriorate.

Although the slab does not have a grade, the folks at GreatCollections said that they “would grade the cricket a solid MS-65 Full Head (Detached).”

As of Friday, September 17, the high bid is $2,900 with 54 bids. The auction will end on Halloween at 4:05 PM PST.

What started as a joke is now a fun part of numismatic lore.

Here’s an interview from CoinWeek with Fred Weinberg talking about the “error”:

Weekly World Numismatic News for February 23, 2020

Aussie coin collectors are scouring through their change, looking for a Mule Dollar.

A woman from Melbourne found an Australian dollar coin where the obverse was different from the others. The lettering and portrait were smaller and had a doubled rim. The story went viral on social media.

Australia 2000 1 Dollar Mule Comparison

Comparing the $1 mule on the left to a regular $1 coin on the right
(Image courtesy of the Australian Coin Blog)

The mule was first discovered in 2003, according to the Australian Coin Blog. Known as the “2000 $1 / 10 cent Mules,” the coins were sent to Perth for use in the casinos. At the time, the collectors and other interested people withdrew thousands of dollar coins from casinos and banks looking for the coin.

Australian coin experts suspect that the error occurred when someone accidentally installed the wrong obverse die into the coin press. Rather than using the die to strike the 25 mm dollar coin, the die that should strike the 23.6 10 cents coin was used. The 1.4 mm difference gives the impression of a doubled edge on the coin.

There are no statistics as to how many of these coins are in circulation. Considering they keep appearing every few years, the discovery causes a frenzy, especially amongst casual observers. It would be like someone finding an “extra leaf” Wisconsin quarter.

And now the news…

 February 17, 2020
Presidents on money Since Presidents Day is Monday, we thought we would see how presidents stack up against each other in money.  → Read more at eastbaytimes.com

 February 18, 2020
A ceremony has been held in American Samoa to mark the launch of a coin honouring the territory's national park. The new US coin with an image of a Samoan fruit bat. Photo: U.S.  → Read more at rnz.co.nz

 February 21, 2020
A Berlin court sentenced three men on Thursday over the 2017 theft of a gigantic gold coin from a city museum.  The coin, dubbed the "Big Maple Leaf," weighed roughly 100 kilograms (220 pounds) and had an estimated value of €3.75 million ($4.05 million).  → Read more at dw.com

 February 21, 2020
An ultra-rare U.S $5 coin minted during the California Gold Rush is set to sell for millions when it goes up for auction in Baltimore next month. The legendary 1854-S Liberty Head ‘Half Eagle’ is one of only three examples known to exist, and has been described as “one of the most famous rarities in the world of American coins”.  → Read more at news.justcollecting.com

 February 21, 2020
A rare $1 coin could be worth thousands of dollars thanks to one minor mistake. The Royal Australian Mint made an error when making 'Mule Dollar' coins – a small number of $1 coins from the year 2000 that were made using the wrong print.  → Read more at dailymail.co.uk

 February 21, 2020
Lifestyle Archaeologists. A Houston neighborhood called ‘The Scorpion.’  → Read more at houstonchronicle.com
Coin Collectors News


Is this backward “D” an error?

One of the more popular collector series is the Indian Head or Buffalo Nickels. Designed by James Earl Fraser, a student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, this design was a continuation of President Theodore Roosevelt’s “pet crime” to change the look of the nation’s coinage.

Introduced in 1913, the coin features a right-facing Indian head (now called a Native American head). Although there have been claims by several tribal chiefs that they were the model, Fraser’s notes suggest the image was created using the features of several men.

The reverse features the image of a buffalo, which in reality is a North American bison. The 38 different types of buffaloes live in Africa and feature larger horns similar to a longhorn steer. Most are domesticated and are raised like cattle is in the United States. Bison are largely wild animals native to the western hemisphere. Aside from their shorter horns, they have beards hanging from their chin and heavier coats that allow them to survive in colder climates.

But that has not stopped people from referring to the coin as a Buffalo nickel. It is a design so popular that when it has been used in coinage, the available supply usually sells out.

Like every five-cents coin made since the introduction of the 1883 Liberty Head or “V” nickel, the planchet is made from an alloy of 75-percent copper and 25-percent nickel. Most vending machines will not be able to tell the difference between a Buffalo nickel and a Jefferson nickel.

The coin’s ability to be used in vending machines and how a worn coin could pass the unwatchful eye of a cashier, it is possible to find a Buffalo nickel in change. Although there are very few of these coins remain in circulation, avid change hunters say they can find one every 12-16 months.

This was the case when a reader found what was thought to be a 1914-D Buffalo nickel. Although not a rare or key date, a 1914-D coin could be worth upwards of $70-80 in good (G-4) condition. Finding a Denver mint coin from that year would be better than finding a Philadelphia mint coin since a coin in good (G-4) condition would be worth $16-18.

But this coin was different. Rather than having a “D” mintmark on the reverse, the “D” was backward!

Prior to the U.S. Mint creating dies with mintmarks in Philadelphia, they would send dies to the branch mints without mintmarks. The coiners at the branch mint would use a punch to imprint the mintmark into the die before striking coins. Of course, this manual process was not perfect and there are cases of mispunched, repunched, overpunched, and other such errors.

There have been cases of a mintmark that was punched horizontally into the die. Those mintmarks were repunched correctly. Coins from the San Francisco mint has had errors where the “S” is punched upside down known as an inverted mintmark. This is a fun error to find because noticing this error requires a careful eye and patience along with understanding the shape of the “S” in the font used.

A closer look at the “inverted” D mintmark

However, there is no reference that mentions a backward punched mintmark.

Adding or removing mintmarks is a common method to artificially change the value of a coin. Remove the “S” from a 1921 Walking Liberty half-dollar and watch its value raise by 300-percent. Or practice adding a “D” to a 1914 Buffalo nickel to make a 400-percent profit.

After checking several references and speaking with two dealers, I sat with a box of Buffalo nickels I have to compare the mintmarks to the one on the coin. Additionally, I consulted with the images at PCGS Photograde. After all, it could be a real, undiscovered error.

The first thing I noticed on the image and with the coins I have on hand is that the mintmark on this coin is too defined for the grade. When comparing the coin to the images on Photograde, if the coin was sent in for grading it would probably be assigned a grade of G-6 of VG-8. Because of the worn rims, this coin would not grade higher than VG-8 and could be assigned a G-4.

As I was looking at the coins, those that would grade VG-8 or lower with worn rims also had mintmarks that were almost worn into the rim. In more than a dozen examples from my box, the mintmarks on all of the low-grade coins showed the rims and mintmark worn together.

Another aspect of the mintmark that bothered me was that the “D” seemed smaller than those on the coins I was looking at. For comparison, I pulled out my album with higher grade Buffalo nickels and found that the mintmark was similar in size to those in higher grades.

Then there is the coloring around the mintmark. Comparing it to the examples in my box, the dirt patterns around the “D” seems off. While the coloring around all of the letters appears to be uneven, there appears to be a consistent line around the “D.” In fact, the coloring at the bottom of the “D” is inconsistent with that of the other letters around it.

If I had the coin in hand, I would be able to examine it closer with a 15x loupe. I would even attempt to pick at it with a toothpick to see if the “D” would fall off. However, given all of the issues with the coin based on the images alone, I am reasonably certain that the “D” was added by someone outside of the U.S. Mint.

Of course, if you have your own theories then please post them as a comment, below.

PCGS Photograde images courtesy of PCGS and can be found here.

A LOOK BACK: When is a Variation Not a Variety

This week’s LOOK BACK is my take at the stir made over the positioning of the edge letters on the newly struck George Washington Dollar coins in 2007.

If you search the online auction sites, you will find less than honest sellers trying to sell variations in the positioning of edge lettering of the new George Washington Dollars errors or varieties. Letters that are pointed up, or the top of the letters towards the obverse, are considered “normal” by these sellers. Letters that are pointed downward, or the top of the letters closer to the reverse of the coin, have been called errors or varieties. They are neither.

Exasperating the issue is that one third-party grading service added a designation to their labels with the orientation of the edge lettering.

Images are courtesy of Ken Potter.

An accepted definition of a variety “is any variation in the normal design of a given coin, usually caused by errors in the preparation or maintenance of the coin dies.” They are also errors caused in the striking process. But these definitions do not account for the differences in the orientation. The problem is that after the planchets are struck into coins by the high-speed coining machines, they are mechanically collected and fed into a machine that will press the lettering into the edge of the coins.

The machine that adds the edge lettering uses a three-part collar to impress the incuse lettering does this without regard to position. not only could the edge lettering face any direction, but the lettering can appear at any position along the edge. The U.S. Mint confirms this by saying that because of “the minting process used on the circulating coins, the edge-incused inscription positions will vary with each coin.

Since the Mint is saying that the process can vary, these variations are normal for the design. Since these are normal variations, they are not numismatic varieties or errors. Thus, the coins with variations of orientation edge lettering are not worth the premiums being sought online. They are worth their face value of $1.

There have been errors found with the edge lettering. The most infamous has been called the “Godless Dollars” for coins missing their edge lettering and the motto “In God We Trust.” Most of these coins were minted in Philadelphia and discovered in Florida. Others have found doubling of edge letters and what looks like breaks in the three-part collars where letters have moved out of place. These are legitimate errors and worth a premium above face value. Orientation variations of the edge lettering are not errors.

If you want to consider these varieties, please save your money and visit your local bank. You can purchase these coins for face value without shipping and handling fees. If you purchase a 25-coin roll, you can spend the coins you do not want since they are legal tender.

The original article can be read here.

As round pound winds down the number of fake errors are rising

As the British are winding down the use of the Round Pound, stories are once again popping up about errors of the new 12-sided pound coin being sold for high prices on eBay.

Although the Royal Mint has admitted to manufacturing issues in trying to produce enough new pound coins to satisfy circulation requirements, their claim that the number of errors where the center are missing of the bi-metallic coins is likely post-minting errors.

A weak strike can prevent the two metals from fusing properly allowing them to separate

In other words, they are suggesting that people are removing the centers of the coin to claim they are errors.

To better understand why it is being claimed these are post-mint errors, I contacted a European-based dealer who has relationships with many of the continent’s mints. What follows is a summary of his explanation.

The Royal Mint coins money in a process similar to any other mint. Planchets are prepared, sent the coining press, stamped, dumped into a hopper, and sent down a conveyor where they are bagged. The bags are weight to a precise weight before the bags are accepted. Along the way, there are cameras and other sensors to detect errors.

All of the checks and sensors, including the weight of the coin, would be caught long before reaching the bagging section. Aside from the dimensions not being correct, the weight of the ring or center by themselves would not be up to the standard.

It is possible that the coins could separate in the bags during transport. However, these coins are transported to government authorized handlers. Some of them are similar to the companies that drive armored trucks here in the United States. They take the coins and prepare them for delivery to the banks.

The preparation process requires coins to be counted, rolled, and bagged. As part of the process, the coins are loaded into a system that transfers them to an automated line that brings the coins by conveyor to a machine that will either roll them or dump them in a bag. In both cases, the contents are limited by the amount they hold.

As part of the automated system, the coins are counted and check for size and weight so that if there are any coins that do not meet the Royal Mint’s standards are removed. The automated system would catch the ring and the center if they separated before the process.

Coins that are to be rolled are sent to a machine to roll them where they are counted and placed in rolls of £25 each. Those rolls are for bank and retail use and handled accordingly.

Bagged coins are used by bulk handlers such as the coin-op industry. Bags with £100 of coins are counted before being placed in the bag. If the coin cannot be verified before it is placed in the bag then the coin is rejected.

Is it possible for the coin to separate in the £100 pound bag prior to circulation? Of course, it is. However, there is one more check before the coins reach the consumer, and that is the coin-op machine itself.

Coin-op machines have mechanisms to try to prevent accepting counterfeit money and to ensure it is giving the proper change. Machines just do not eject any coin in its hopper. These checks include the weight, dimensions, and magnetic signature. The magnetic signature measures what happens after magnetic energy is flashed on the coin. Think about it as measuring how the coin would reflect light but use magnetism instead.

A pound coin that had separated would not pass the magnetic signature test and be rejected.

Although there are a number of points along the process that could fail, the number of checks between the Royal Mint and the consumer, it is highly unlikely that all of these separated pound coins exist.

It is possible that the coins being sold are from the reject bins of coin-op machines. However, the dealer I spoke with is suspicious of the number of coins being sold.

Trial strikes found without the effigy of Queen Elizabeth, II

This dealer told me that he will not buy 12-sided pound coins dated 2016 without their centers. Technically, they are not coins because they originally did not have the portrait of Queen Elizabeth on the front. Under British law, all legal tender coins must have the image of the monarch on the front. In 2016, the Royal Mint created about 2000 of these 12-sided test slugs for businesses to test coin-op systems ahead of the conversion. The dealer community has serious doubts that the test slugs had these errors and believes that people separated the centers from the rings.

My dealer contact said that nobody should pay more than “three-and-a-half quid” (£3.50 or $4.64 at the current exchange rate) for just a 12-sided pound outer ring. Even if it is not a legitimate Royal Mint error it is a nice conversation piece.

Examples of legitimate 12-sided £1 coin errors

1943-D Bronze Cent makes a TV appearance, sort of

1943-D Bronze Lincoln Cent graded MS-64BN by PCGS

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.

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!

Image courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts.

Errors verus Varieties: Varieties are spice

This is second article of a 2 part series:
  1. Errors versus Varieties: About Errors
  2. Errors verus Varieties: Varieties are spiceyou are here

A variety is a coin that differs from its basic design type in some distinctive way and is thus differentiated by collectors. Varieties are not errors. They are deliberate changes to the design whether it is to better define the design, adjust the design to strike better, or to add or change elements like dates and mintmarks.

A key difference between a variety and an error is that varieties are replicated for multiple strikes. Die changes, repunched mintmarks, repunched dates and over polishing of dies can reproduce the variety for the life of the die or until it is detected by Mint workers.

Nearly every series of coins has its own traceable die varieties that have been studied and catalogued by researchers. Researchers assign the varieties a number that is used by the third-party grading services to provide attribution to the variety on their holder.

Variety collecting is a very specialized subject. If you are going to collect varieties, you should read the references to understand the characteristics of the varieties. Some of the more well recognized and documented varieties include:

Catalog Coin Series Main or Initial Reference
Cohen (C#) Half Cents (1793-1857) American Half Cents – The “Little Half Sisters” by Roger S. Cohen, Jr.
Sheldon (S#) Large Cents (1793-1814) Penny Whimsy by Dr. William H. Sheldon
Fortin (F#) Liberty Seated Dimes (1837-1891) Liberty Seated Dimes – Die Varieties, 1837 – 1891, by Gerry Fortin
Overton (O#) Half Dollars (1794-1836) Early half dollar die varieties, 1794-1836, by Al C. Overton and Donald L. Parsley
Van Allen-Mallis (VAM#) Morgan and Peace Dollars (1878-1935) Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars, by Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis
Fivaz-Stanton (FS#) Varieties from the Cherrypickers’ Guide Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins, by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton

Arguably, the most collected series by varieties are Morgan Dollars. VAM varieties and catalog numbers were introduced to the hobby by Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis who discovered the varieties while examining Morgan and Peace Dollars. Their book, Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars began a hunt that has seen hundreds of more varieties found and cataloged.

Most VAM varieties cannot be seen without magnification and detailed knowledge of what to look for. The primary resource for VAM collectors is the VAMworld website. Aside from listing the identified VAM varieties, there are instructions how to identify VAM varieties.

Examples of VAMs from VAMworld

The third-party grading services have an optional service that will identify VAM varieties on their holders. However, they do not recognize all VAM varieties. There are three sub-lists of catalogued VAM varieties that are recognized. These varieties are as follows:

  • TOP 100: The 100 most significant VAM Varieties known
  • HOT 50: A list of additional 50 VAM Varieties that collectors are interested in finding. Many of these varieties are scarce and have sold for significant premiums
  • HIT LIST 40: A list of 40 new VAM Varieties that have been discovered since the publishing of the HOT 50 list

General searching for varieties and errors should consider picking up a copy of Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton. The book comes in two volumes. Volume 1 covers die varieties of half cents through nickel five-cent pieces. Volume 2 covers everything else including gold and bullion issues.

VAM example images courtesy of VAMworld

Errors versus Varieties: About Errors

This is first article of a 2 part series:
  1. Errors versus Varieties: About Errorsyou are here
  2. Errors verus Varieties: Varieties are spice

FDR dime struck on a nail (stand in for Festivus Pole)

Over the years, I have been asked what are the differences between errors and varieties. While some errors are distinctive, some wonder why some errors are not varieties and some varieties are not classified as errors.

A basic rule of thumb is that even though errors and varieties represent changes to the basic design of the coin, they differ in how they occur and the resulting appearance of the coin.

A Mint Error is the result of an issue with the manufacturing processes causing the coin to be damaged in some way. Errors can be the result in malfunction of the equipment, imperfect coining materials, or created by human error.

Even though modern equipment is supposed the make the striking process more consistent, when the manufacturing process involves striking billions of coins, there are bound to be a few errors. Coining machines have so many moving parts and everything has to work in concern, one variation in speed, force, vibration, or tilt can make the coins look very different than intended.

Then there is the human factor. Humans are imperfect beings subject to making mistakes. Even though the machines are supposed to help guide the humans to reduce mistakes, something can go wrong, especially in an operation that involves making billions of the product.

To help understand where some of the mint errors come from, they can be categorized as three different types: Planchet Errors, Die Errors, and Strike Errors.

Planchet Errors

1943 Lincoln cent struck on a copper planchet (Courtesy of CoinTrackers)

Planchet Errors are defects of a coin that was caused by the planchet, the coin blank, being imperfect prior to the coin being struck. Planchet Errors occur prior to striking the coin but in ways that could sometimes not be detected. Types of Planchet Errors include:

clipped planchet: Term used to describe a planchet that may have been cut incorrectly from the metal sheet. The clipped area may be curved if cut into the area where another planchet was cut out or straight if cut beyond the edge of the metal strip.
delamination: A form of planchet flaw caused by imperfections in the metal whereby a thin strip of the metal separates itself from the coin.
lamination or planchet flaw: Lamination is a type of error in the planchet that occurs when a thin layer of the metal splits or peals away from the surface of the coin.
off metal or wrong planchet: A type of error that occurs when a coin is struck on a planchet that it is not normally struck, such as striking of a quarter on a planchet that was supposed to be for a nickel.

Die Errors

A Die Error describes a defect caused by a flaw in the dies used to strike the coin. Types of Die Errors include:

cud: The area of a coin struck by a die that has a broken area across part of its surface. The result appears as a blob of metal on the surface of the coin.
die break or die crack: Fine raised lines can appear across the coin when something causes the die to break or crack. A cracked die opens a fine line in the design allowing the flow of metal to fill in the space when struck.
filled die: A type of error that appears on a coin when a foreign substance, such as grease, fills the elements of a die used to strike coins. A filled die error can also occur when the dies are polished to remove debris during the striking process. Modern minting processes have eliminated the polishing of dies but the problems with filled dies continue.
hub doubling: Refers to the doubling of the elements on a coin that was caused by the hub being pressed more than once into a die in different angles. Hub doubling occurs prior to the striking process when the dies are created. Master hubs are pressed into the dies to create working dies for the coining process. Mistakes in this process can result in the production of many coins with the error struck into them.
mule: A mule is a type of mint error that occurs when a coin is struck with two dies that were not intended to be used together.

1955 DDO Lincoln Cent

1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo Nickel

Two of the most famous dies errors are the 1955 Double Die Obverse (DDO) Lincoln cent and the 1937-D Three-Legged Buffalo nickel. The 1955 DDO Lincoln cent and is known as the King of Errors. It is the result of hub doubling that created the double-looking lettering on the coin. It is the coin that really started the error collecting segment of the hobby.

The 1937-D Three-Legged Buffalo nickel occurred when a mint worker polished the reverse die of the Buffalo nickel too aggressively without checking his work. The result was the front-right leg of the buffalo being eliminated from the die. A few thousand were created before the Mint officials figured out they had a problem.

Strike Errors

Off-center 50 States quarter struck in Denver

The strike occurs when the top die, usually the obverse, is pushed with such forced on a planchet sitting in a position on the anvil dies, usually the reverse, that will make the impression on the coin. Strike errors are the result of a mechanical problem that occurs during this process.

broad strike: A coin that is struck in a way that expands beyond the boundaries of the collar. A broad strike can give the coin n flat or elongated look.
brockage: A type of striking error when the coin is not ejected properly from the press and causes the mirror image of the exposed design to be struck on the next coin.
capped die: An error in which a coin gets stuck on a die and remains stuck for successive strikes. Eventually, the coin forms a “cap” on the die and imparts its image on coins it strikes. When the cap falls off, it usually resembles a small bowl.
clashed die: One of the more interesting errors occurs when during the striking process, a malfunction prevents a planchet from being in place when the dies are forced together causing them to crash into each other. This leaves the design from either side on the other. Subsequent coins are then struck with the latent image of the other side pressed into the coin.
cracked die: An error that occurs when during the stress of striking coins, the die cracks across its face. When a cracked die strikes a coin, the metal flows into the crack that impresses a raised area in the coin that is not part of the design.
filled die: A type of error that appears on a coin when a foreign substance, such as grease, fills the elements of a die used to strike coins.
incomplete strike: A coin that is missing design detail because of a problem during the striking process.
misaligned dies: A striking error caused by one or both dies not set properly in the coining machine or worked loose during striking.
multiple-struck: A type of mint error when the coin was struck more than once. A multiple-struck coin can show the design as it is struck in multiple places.
off-center strike: During the striking process, the coin is not seated in the right place in the area over the anvil (lower) die causing the coin’s design to not be properly centered on the coin.
overstrike: A type of minting error when a coin, token or medal is struck on a previously struck coin, token or medal.
partial collar strike: A type of striking error where a planchet does not enter completely into coining position and is struck partly within the collar and partly outside.
rotated dies: A type of mint error caused by the dies not being aligned when striking the coin, token or medal.

1999-P Georgia state quarter double struck and off center.

strike doubling or doubled strike: A coin that is struck more than once while in the coining machine resulting in doubling of design elements. Double strikes are different from hub doubling in that this type of error is a mechanical failure within the coining machine whereas hub doubling happens before striking. Double strike errors are rarer than hub doubling.
weak strike: refers to a coin that does not show its intended detail because of low striking pressure or improperly aligned dies.

When going to coin shows you can see some of the most fantastic errors. Some boggle the mind how they were done and how they escaped the U.S. Mint. Dealers whose concentration are errors do not reveal their secrets but I have been told that some have contacts with some of the security companies that haul money on behalf of the banks.

This topic is not complete until we talk about varieties. That will be the next post.


Finding error dies

Lincoln Cent Dies from the Denver Mint

In the hunt for something interesting, I stumbled across two listings on eBay for a two error dies from the Denver Mint being sold by noted error expert Fred Weinberg. These Lincoln cent dies are not dies with errors but dies with part of the design still visible.

Dies from the U.S. Mint makes for an interesting collectible. Standing about 2½ inches tall and about 1¼ inches across the base where it is loaded into the coining press, it is really an unremarkable piece of metal. Weighing 192 grams (about 6.8 ounces), the only distinguishing marks on the die is the serial number stamped on the base.

Before being discarded, workers at the U.S. Mint are supposed to completely grind off the design so that it cannot be used to strike counterfeit coins. Even though it is not cost effective to flood the U.S. economy with counterfeit Lincoln cents, the U.S. Mint does not want to take the chance someone will try. Once the design is removed from the die it can become a collectible.

Close-up images of the dies make the visible design look more dramatic than in person. After all, the images were likely taken with a macro lens on a die used to strike a coin 19.05 mm (0.750 inches) in diameter. Even so, the idea was fascinating enough for me to submit bids high enough to win both dies.

The first “error” die was used to strike the obverse of 1993-D Lincoln cents. This die is not completely filed down since it does show some of Lincoln’s hair. Although not a large area, there is enough of the incuse portion of the die’s section to be able to identify it as hair and providing a good guess as to where it would be on the coin. The sticker in the image was placed there by the seller. I decided to leave the sticker.

The other error die was used to strike the reverse of 1994-D Lincoln cents. In this case, the “error” is very subtle. There are two lines that would have been where the bottom two steps of the Lincoln Memorial would have been. Based on the placement, these would be to the center-right of the Lincoln statue in the monument. In the image, it is at the bottom of the “R.” I do not know why the “CR” is written on the die but I am not removing it, for now.

I do not know how Fred Weinberg finds these items but they are fascinating. The next time you go to a show you should check out his inventory. He finds some really interesting errors that have to be seen to be believed.

Looking down on the Lincoln Cent “error” dies. The 1994-D reverse die is on the left, The 1993-D obverse die is on the right.

Single images courtesy of Fred Weinberg & Co.

Is numismatics really dying as a hobby?

Coin CollectionAlthough I owe you my impressions of the U.S. Mint’s Numismatic Forum, giving it the proper treatment I think it deserves has taken longer than expected. Rather, let me jump ahead to a recurring theme that takes over the conversation on the state of the hobby: Numismatics is a dying hobby of the old.

MYTH: Electronic transactions have taken over and hard currency is being used less.

FACT: Electronic transactions make up only 13-percent of retail purchases in the United States and 7.1-percent worldwide. Although the pundits like to point out that trillions of dollars change hands electronically, this includes non-consumer-related transactions such as bank transfers from one account to the other using the Automated Clearing House (ACH). If your paycheck is deposited directly into your account, it is transferred using the ACH system.

In real money, the International Monetary Fund estimates that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the total costs for all goods and services, to be $18,561,934,000,000 ($18.561 trillion). If 13-percent of that is electronic retail purchases, that means that $2,413,051,420,000 ($2.413 trillion) is made not using cash. What about the other $16.1 trillion dollars?

WMATA Smartrip CardDepending on which report you read, electronic transactions should grow at a rate of 8-10 percent annually. Even if the U.S. GDP is on a pace to grow by only 1.4-percent, adding about $250 billion in electronic transactions will not make a significant dent in the rate of electronic transactions.

Of course, the U.S. are not spending $16 trillion in cash transactions, but both the U.S. Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing are on course for record production years. Year-to-date, the U.S. Mint has produced $870,133,500 in circulating coins (not including half-dollar, dollar, and commemorative coins). For Fiscal Year 2015 (October 2014-September 2015) the BEP produced $166,302,000,000 ($166.302 trillion) in currency (not including $2 notes). Although some of the currency does replace worn notes (the BEP reports that 90-percent of $1 notes replace damaged notes) and a significant portion of the $100 notes are shipped to banks overseas, which represents quite a number of transactions.

Although electronic payment options make up 13-percent of all cashless transactions you have to remember that this market barely existed a few years ago. Even as banks and large retailers push to increase the number cashless transaction, there are problems that society faces when moving to a cashless retail system. The biggest problem is one of scale. The United States makes more money, spends more money, trades more money, and has more economic impact than any other country in the world. It is the world’s single largest economy with a strong capitalistic culture where most of the commerce is done with small businesses. Amongst all business, 55-percent of retail merchants are cash-only enterprises. They are too small to consider paying the 3-to-5 percent fees for using a credit card, known as the “swipe fee.” Of those that do take credit cards, at least 36-percent require a minimum purchase.

MYTH: The sharing economy is turning the economic world upside down changing the way we will pay for goods and services.

Sharing EconomyFACT: Human beings have been sharing and trading goods and services from the dawn of time. You killed an ox and have the hide left over. I have a lot of fruit I picked that I cannot eat. I will give you an amount of fruit and you give me the hide. Money was created as a medium of exchange when I did not want your fruit but wanted some of the goods someone else had. It was the pre-historic version of the three-way trade.

Some of us grew up trading. I remember trading a Mickey Mantle baseball card for a Jerry Koosman and two Donn Clendenon cards —one from Houston and the other from Montreal, just after the Mets traded for Clendenon. I thought I gave the kid a deal because 1969 turned out to be Mantle ’s last year.

What has changed since I made the trade? There has been a tremendous change in technology. While we set the price for the baseball cards we traded, now there are price guides, electronic markets, auctions, and online trading sites. Even in other categories, you might place a classified ad in a newspaper or an advertising rag like PennySaver or something like Uncle Henry’s in Maine. Now there are sites like Craigslist, AirBnB, Uber and Lyft that expands the market.

Pundits like to point to the sharing economy’s growth. The problem with the reports is that this version of the sharing economy has gone from nothing to something with a lot of press coverage. Anytime there is something shiny and new it grabs the attention of the public before they move on to the next distraction.

We share numismatics all of the time. We go to shows and display our collections for competitions. We enter registry sets to try to create a nice collection or even worst collection with the advent of “low ball” sets of coins of very low grades. We blog and read about other’s collections. We post finds to public forums and sometimes bring our collections to show off at club meetings.

Sometimes we even trade. Have you traded a few Barber dimes for a Barber half because you needed the half for your collection? How about three Morgan dollars for an elusive 1921-S Walking Liberty half-dollar?

The only difference between this and the new sharing economy is the lack of computer interface. Sometimes that human interaction is more fun than hiding behind a screen.

MYTH: People, especially millennials are not interested in collecting anything.

New Zealand Mint produces Monopoly coins for the Island nation of Niue. Did you pass Go?

New Zealand Mint produces Monopoly coins for the Island nation of Niue. Did you pass Go?

FACT: The Hobby and Toy industry is estimated to be a $20 billion business with an estimated growth of 1.6-percent over 2015. Not all of the emphasis is on electronic games and gadgets. One study found that more money is pledged for projects on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter than any other category.

One of the fastest growing sectors of this market is board games. While some games do incorporate electronics into their play, this new generation of gamers is finding that social gaming can be as much fun as their online endeavors.

Numismatics has never been a welcoming hobby for the mid-to-lower level collector. Dealers who are older may have a difficult time relating to younger and, frankly, a non-white demographic (see my post about one such incident here). It has created a culture of cranky older Caucasian collectors who think that their way is the only way to collect.

It is not just the dealers. Mainstream publishers put a lot of effort into creating references and collecting supplies that satisfy the market as being pushed by the dealers. Even worse, while the American Numismatic Association does recognize other aspects of numismatics, the fact that most of the Board of Governors are in the coin business with years of experiences in the coin business, that becomes the focus of the ANA.

It is time for the industry and its representative organization, the ANA, to remember that numismatics is more than coins. Currency, exonumia, scripophily, and even military medals are all part of numismatics. Concentrating on coins, especially coverage of high-value sales scares off many novices who may be willing to look at coins as a hobby. When I go out to schools in the Washington, D.C. metro area, I will bring enough Metro (the local transit system) tokens for everyone in the class. After buying a bulk bag of tokens, I have plenty to give away along with the story of how they were once used. But it allows me to show the students that numismatics is more than coins. I explain how I sit at junk boxes and at the tables of token dealers to find items from my hometown of New York. When I show them four pages of 2x2s with tokens and medals from New York and say that in three years I may have spent as much as $200, they seem to understand that you can have fun without spending a lot of money.

MYTH: We lost those who collected the state quarters forever.

State QuartersFACT: We also retained a lot of those collectors. Unfortunately, we damaged many others.

What made the state quarter program popular was that the way it was administered made everyone a stakeholder. Rather than dictating the design, states were encouraged to allow public participation to help decide on their quarter’s design. Contests and state pride went into the quarters that allowed each state to celebrate their home state. Ordinary people were brought into the process and ceremonies held in each state announcing the designs and on the release of the quarters.

Of course, the state quarters were also the hobby’s demise as television hucksters sold overpriced junk surrounding the sets. Colored coins and “special” sets were sold at high prices with the hint that they would only increase in value. When these people tried to cash in on their “investment” they found they overpaid, became angry, and may not come back. During this time, the ANA was nearly non-existent in the education process as it was undergoing its own internal political battles. Without someone to help stand up for the hobby to help educate the public, the industry suffered.

Although the ANA has improved in many areas, it continues to be about coins with a slant toward classic (pre-1965) and rare coins. The only modern coins that seem to get any amount of respect from the community are commemoratives, bullion, and errors. With the so-called modern era being 52 years old, it is time for the old and crusty of the numismatics industry to either get on board with that it is new to the new collectors or maybe it is time to consider retirement.

The lesson I have learned in numismatics as well in my business of buying and selling collectibles is that in order to expand any hobby it has to be made into something personal. Sports collectibles sell memories of your heroes. Space collectibles sell the mystique of outer space. Automobilia seems to have a fascination for a lot of people even as what was considered modern nameplates like Plymouth and Pontiac have gone the way of DeSoto and American Motors.

Hobbies have to also be interesting. Is it really interesting to collect a series of all of the same coins where the only difference is the date or mintmark? Again, why does a collection have to be biased for coins? Can someone have fun collecting So-called dollars, transportation tokens, or even unusual coins? I think about how much fun Charmy Harker might have had to put together her award-winning exhibit Penny Potpourri with things made out of pennies. If you have not seen her exhibit, you can find images here. It has to be one of the best exhibits I have ever seen because it is unusual. I like things that are different.

In order to get people interested in the hobby, you cannot introduce it to them by showing a 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent or a 1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo nickel as an example. Not only are these coins difficult to find and less affordable, but not everyone may be interested. I like to use my two-pages of 2×2 holders with a set of transportation tokens with every letter of the alphabet cut out of the center, except “Q” and “Z,” along with some that have shapes. When I tell someone I paid around $50 for the initial investment and can buy most tokens for less than $5 each, they want to know how they could get started.

Here are some ideas to help you start a new collection. You can only use these if you do so by recruiting a friend or relative who is not currently part of the hobby:

  • If you want to start with coins, go find a folder of currently circulating coins and see who can fill their folder first only from pocket change. I recommend either Lincoln Memorial cents, which can be interesting finding S-mint circulating cents on the east coast, or Jefferson nickels (for fun, use Whitman Jefferson Nickel folder #2).
  • Another idea for collecting coins is to make a collection based on a theme. Ideas for themes can be the year you were born, coins with an animal like buffalos, or create a type set that represents some of the subtle changes in a long series like Lincoln cents.
  • There are more to exonumia than transportation tokens. If your state issued tax tokens in the early part of the 20th century then how about finding examples for a collection. Tokens are still being created for gaming, casino chips, parking tokens, or store tokens the pre-cursor to paper coupons. Advertising tokens can be a fun way to collect your hometown. Tokens with themes, shapes, and cutouts can be a lot of fun.
  • Go beyond tokens to encased coins. Encased coins have been used as a private commemorative, advertising, and I even found one for an electric supply company that promised money off if you returned it to their store.
  • You can collect elongated cents, also called squished pennies, from almost anywhere. Recently, I found a machine in the Philadelphia Mint’s gift shop. For 51-cents, each I was able to buy two souvenirs. Collecting elongateds also helps you keep the record of where you have been.

And I didn’t mention currency or scripophily. One cool idea would be to collect stock certificates representing what you might find on a Monopoly game board.

If you have other suggestions, send it as a comment!

Now go out and start a collection. Recruit a friend and do it together.

Selection of my New York collection


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