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Numismatic Research

  • The Lincoln Cent's First Fifty Years

    Written by Kathleen Duncan, this article was previously published November 14, 2014 in the Monthly Supplement of the Coin Dealer Newsletter, Vol. XXXIX No. 11.  CDN is an industry newsletter reporting on the national dealer-to-dealer, wholesale coin market. To obtain copies of this article or for information about the publication contact CDN at cdn@greysheet.com.  Pinnacle also has a few copies still available.

    President Teddy Roosevelt influenced changes in all United States’ numismatics designs between 1907-1921. He became acquainted in 1908 with Victor David Brenner when Brenner was commissioned to do his portrait for the Panama Canal Service Medal. As the Centennial of Lincoln’s birth was approaching, Brenner had recently completed a plaque featuring a bust of the beloved former President. Thus the idea for the Lincoln cent was born, and the designer chosen. Brenner’s obverse displays Lincoln’s portrait facing right, with the inscription LIBERTY on the left and the date on the right. For the first time on a cent, the motto IN GOD WE TRUST appears along the upper obverse rim. Two sheaves of wheat frame inscriptions E PLURIBUS UNUM, ONE CENT and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. While the obverse design continues to this day, the reverse was altered in 1959 on the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s birth to feature the Lincoln Memorial.

    Mintages from the onset were substantial, with Philadelphia being the main producer but small-vdb copyDenver and San Francisco contributing in most years. Philadelphia produced more than 100 million cents in 1909 and by 1941 output topped 1 billion. Matte-proof Lincoln cents were produced in Philly from 1909 until 1916, and brilliant proofs were struck from 1936 until 1942, again from 1950 until 1964, and annually since 1968.

    This is often the very first series collectors pursue due to relative affordability, and many return to it when finances are more discretionary later in life. Several alluring issues are present among this design run, which features not only the most valuable error but also the most dramatic double die in all of numismatics. When collecting, a premium is placed on coins displaying original mint red color. Red status is reserved for those deemed to have 85% or more mint red. A Brown cent is defined as having less than 15% red remaining and a Red-Brown shows 15%-85% of its original mint color.


    1909-S VDB
    While most U.S. coins display the monogram of the designer, the V.D.B. at the base of the reverse proved unpopular, particularly to Chief Engraver Charles Barber. As a simple B wouldn’t suffice (as Barber’s name also began with the letter), Brenner’s initials were removed entirely. Not until 1918, after the death of Charles Barber, were they restored at the base of Lincoln’s bust, in much smaller letters, where they remain until this day. A mere 484,000 cents were minted in San Francisco displaying V.D.B., hence the most famous coin in the series was born. The only other Lincoln cent with a production of under a million is the Depression-era 1931-S, with a mintage of 866,000.


    small_1914-dThis issue has the smallest surviving population in all grades, and subsequently is one of the most coveted and valuable dates in the entire series. As such, it is frequently counterfeited, by the addition of a D mintmark on a Philly coin, or shaving the first 4 in the date of a 1944-D coin down. Both fakes can be easily detected: The D mintmark on 1914-D cents was not used after 1931. The cents coined in Denver between 1911 and early 1917 used a very small mintmark. A slightly larger, differently shaped version tookits place later in 1917 and remained in use until 1932. 1944 cents have the designer’s initials V.D.B. on the truncation of Lincoln’s bust, while those prior to 1918 do not.

    1917 Double Die Obverse
    Finally discovered in 1977, after going unnoticed for 60 years, the obverse shows substantial doubling in the word TRUST and the date, particularly on the 7. It is elusive in all grades. Gem examples are worth approximately $20,000, but all uncirculated coins are worth several thousand dollars.


    Although not a rare date in general, this issue is tied for third rarest in full red, gem condition. PCGS has graded only 10 examples in MS65RD and nothing finer, despite a mintage of 46 million that year. Part of the problem originated with the practice of the Mint at the time of using reverse dies in multiple years, even after their details had eroded. Many San Francisco issues, particularly from 1912 until 1927, prove elusive in high grade, uncirculated condition for this reason. The last PCGS MS65RD brought $44,063 in auction last year.

    1922 No D
    The nationwide Depression in 1920-22 reduced demand for cents to the point where only the Denver Mint struck the denomination in 1922. At some point, excessive polishing to remove clashing on heavily worn dies also removed the D mintmark. Examples always have a very weakly detailed obverse in other areas as well. While in most years the resulting coins would have been mistook for Philadelphia strikings, no cents were produced there in 1922. This is actually a die state, and not a true variety or error, but early promotion has made it an intensely sought after issue regardless. Full Red examples are nearly nonexistent with only two in all grades between NGC and PCGS.


    The 1924-S holds second place honors for rarity in full red, gem condition. Examples are notoriously poorly struck from seriously eroded dies. PCGS has certified a mere 8 examples at that level and NGC only a single coin, with nothing higher. This number hasn’t changed in at least 9 years, when the last PCGS MS65RD crossed the auction block in 2005 for $43,125.

    This issue is tied with the 1920-S for third place honors on rarity in full-red gem, although lesser-graded examples are only scarce and not rare. As with many San Francisco issues from this era, the dies were used for far too long, resulting in poor striking characteristics. Although no gem examples have traded publicly in almost five years, the last two PCGS MS65RDs only brought $18,400, a price substantially below the comparably elusive 1920-S.

    For reasons unknown, the San Francisco Mint registered low mintages for most denominations in 1926. Like the 1926-S Buffalo nickels, this issue is the rarest in the series in gem condition and fittingly holds the auction record for a non-error variety ($149,500 in 2006). Only a single PCGS MS65RD along with a single NGC MS65RD appear on the population reports, with nothing graded higher. The typical 1926-S displays poor details from moderately to heavily worn dies on one or both sides.

    1936 Double Die Obverse
    There are three different double die types for this year and mintmark, with the Type 1 being bylincolnquote far the most dramatic and popular. It is difficult to locate in any condition with only about 150 examples graded in total by PCGS and NGC. Surprisingly, it trades at a fraction of the price of the more popular 1917 Double Die, although both are comparably rare and the doubling on the 1936 is more dramatic.

    1943 Bronze and 1944 Steel
    With the United States fighting fronts in both Japan and Europe, the government needed copper and tin to make munitions. So, in 1942 the Mint took all but a trace of tin out of the cent alloy, changing it from bronze to brass. Because the Mint had a supply of existing (bronze) coining strip already prepared, the Lincoln Cents of 1942 are made from both alloys. By 1943, copper was removed completely and replaced by steel coated with zinc. Unfortunately, this new steel cent was often confused with the dime. It was also refused by vending machines and the zinc coating wore off easily, causing the coins to rust. Not surprisingly, their production ended quickly. Brass was again put to use in 1944, and the original bronze alloy composition resumed in 1947. The one-year failed experiment, however, resulted in the most valuable coins in the series: a tiny number of 1943 cents in bronze and a slightly greater number of 1944 cents in steel are extreme rarities and the most valuable error coins of all time.

    Bronze planchets made it into the hoppers at all three Mints and were struck and released into circulation. It is assumed the errors were created when a few stray planchets leftover from 1942 were lodged within presses and worked their way loose in the following year. Fewer than a dozen Philly coins are believed to exist along with 4-6 San Francisco specimens and what is currently a unique Denver Bronze 1943. As these have become popularly counterfeited, one can test authenticity by finding out if the penny sticks to a magnet. If it sticks, it’s not copper.

    A 1943-S graded PCGS MS62BN purportedly sold to a prominent Texas Collector in 2012 for $1 million. The unique Denver example graded PCGS MS64BN was purchased by the same collector in 2010 for $1.7 million. This same coin sold in 2003 for a mere $212,750 in auction, ratcheting up 800% in value in a mere 7 years!

    Slightly less rare, but still a monumental rarity, is the 1944 Steel Cent. 27 examples are confirmed as genuine from Philadelphia. 7 are estimated to exist from Denver and only one or two from San Francisco. Leftover planchets from 1943 may have been wedged in the presses and gotten loose the following year, as is assumed to have happened with the Bronze 1943. The possibility also exists, however, that the blanks from Philly were meant for the 1944 Belgian 2-Francs coin. The U.S. Mint was under contract to produce 2-Francs pieces for Belgium that year from the leftover stock of steel Lincoln cent planchets.

    1955 Doubled Die Obverse
    This remarkable minting error, the most famous double die of the 20th century, was the result of a change in the positioning of the hub with respect to the die after the die had already received at least one impression. The date, motto and LIBERTY all display dramatic doubling, apparent to the naked eye. This ordinarily would have resulted in the obverse die being rejected from use, but mint workers failed to notice the error until several thousand coins had been produced. Due to the great publicity the error received, more people than ever began taking an interest in coin collecting. Any uncirculated example is worth at least a couple thousand dollars and MS65RD examples have traded in excess of $30,000.

    It is thought that the increasingly curved fields of the designs of the era may have been difficult to polish uniformly on the dies, leading the Mint to produce matte finish rather than brilliant proofs between 1907 and 1916. From 1909 until 1916, Matte Proof Lincoln Cents were produced, although few collectors were pleased with their somewhat dull appearance. Just over a thousand proofs were produced in 1915 and 1916, and between 1917 and 1936 collectors went entirely without proof coinage in any denomination.

    When proof Lincoln Cent production resumed in 1936, the more popular brilliant style was resumed. Those produced in early 1936, however, displayed a satin finish that still proved small-vdbunpopular with collectors. Later in 1936, a more traditional, brilliant style was brought back, resulting in two distinct 1936 proof types. Although the surfaces of the 1936-42 proofs indeed display highly mirrored surfaces, finding examples with any amount of cameo contrast is exceptionally rare. As labor and materials became scarce during World War II, proofs were once again discontinued after 1942. When they were brought back in 1950, they finally possessed a strong cameo appearance, with frosted relief elements contrasting with well-mirrored fields.

    The Lincoln cent has been issued longer than any other United States design and in far greater numbers than any coin in the history of the world. Since it’s beginning in 1909, it has endured to this day with the same obverse, honoring our beloved 16th president. It was also the first circulating coin to portray a President’s likeness. Many collectors begin their numismatic journey assembling sets of this interesting, historically rich series. Only the most well-heeled complete a collection that includes each of the rarities and errors mentioned herein. Numismatists of all levels, however, can pursue this fun and fascinating series, as the collecting strategies are seemingly endless.

  • The Rosen Numismatic Advisory - Part Two

    Kathleen and several other notable industry leaders were asked last month by The Rosen Numismatic Advisory to participate in the 38th annual Crystal Ball Survey. Each responded to questions about the state of the market, challenges faced by rare coin collectors and investors, and outlooks about the near future of the rare coin market. The Crystal Ball Survey is published in two parts and below are excerpts from Part 2. To view Part 1 click here.

    Part 2

    Rosen: Which Morgan and Peace $1’s look underpriced to you? Which look fully priced?
    Kathleen: I’ll focus on Peace Dollars as I don’t specialize in Morgans. My favorite underpriced date is the 1924-S in PCGS MS65 at around $6500. PCGS has graded only 78 pieces, with just 6 higher. This population has increased only slightly in the past decade. As for an overvalued date, the 1922-P in PCGS MS67 is too high in the $20,000 range. You can by 40 MS66s for the price of one MS67.

    Rosen: How can someone make sure they’re getting a good deal when A) bidding at an auction, and B) when consigning to an auction?
    Kathleen: A) Make sure you view the coins in person or have a reputable dealer represent you. Photos are a poor substitute. Never assume that just because there is an under bidder, you are getting a fair price if you keep bidding to the bitter end. B) It’s useful to also trust a dealer to negotiate a good deal for you. This is extremely important when figuring reserves, a venue and the auction firm to use. The hazards of not having such an advisor are if the auction house only works to fill their next catalog and encourages you to sell your items without reserves, which can be disastrous.

    Rosen: Which under-$1000 coin is so appealingly cheap to you that you would love to sock away a large position in that coin?
    Kathleen: Besides many classic silver commems, I really like the 1939-1942 Walking Liberty halves in PCGS PR67. These are beautiful coins, with relatively low images that have tremendous upside potential.

    Rosen: Among U.S. copper, nickel and silver Type coins, pick a few that are especially appealing to you with good investment potential, and explain why you picked them.
    Kathleen: I like high-grade Mint State Barber Dimes, Quarters and Halves. These series contain some really scarce and rare coins that are trading at levels well off of their highs, presenting excellent values.

    Rosen: Now, U.S. Gold Type coins. Please state your favorites with good investment potential.
    Kathleen: The $2 1/2, $5, and $10 liberty series contain many tremendously rare dates, yet sell for prices that are exceptionally reasonable considering their scarcity. Many have low mintages and/or low survival rates. They really offer terrific bang for your buck.

    Rosen: What is your outlook for the Modern Coin market? It is a large part of the numismatic landscape now. How do you see it developing in the future? B) Are there any specific issues with good potential you favor? C) Do you view the growth of the Modern market as a long term threat to the market for vintage coins?
    Kathleen: Modern coins are money-makers for the Mint, so as long as there are buyers, the Mint will continue to produce more. B) I don’t trade in the modern market, but some lower mintage issues can certainly offer investment consideration though buyer should be wary of paying premiums for high-grade, albeit common, high-mintage items. C) Buyers of modern coins are simply a different breed of collector than those of the vintage material. However, I have seen some modern buyers convert to vintage issues, so it’s possibly a positive rather than a negative for the vintage market.

    Rosen: Please use this space to freewheel on any topic of your choice relating to numismatics.
    Kathleen: 1) Do your homework before you buy. Attend conventions and auctions to view as many coins as you can. Take a look at coins online and compare the coin you are considering with online images of other coins of the same type, date and grade. The internet is an incredible resource and learning tool. 2) Buy only from reputable dealers. Ask long-time advanced collectors who they trust. Make sure that the dealers you buy from have a buy-back policy on every coin they sell. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they would pay for the coin to buy it back, assuming unchanged market conditions. 3) If you are buying or selling through an auction house, have dealer representation. 4) Buy what you like. If a certain series doesn’t appeal to you, don’t buy it, unless you are buying strictly for investment. The collectors who historically profit the most are those who truly enjoy and are passionate about the hobby. If you like what you’re buying, you will invest more time researching your chosen series and will become a better buyer as a result. The result will be more profit and more fun!

    The Rosen Numismatic Advisory examines issues and trends within the industry. The annual Crystal Ball Survey publishes the opinions and predictions from some of the industry’s most skillful and respected professionals. For copies of the full version of this report and subscription information about future issues and other reports, contact Numismatic Counseling, Inc. at MauriceRosen@aol.com  or call 516-433-5800.

  • The Rosen Numismatic Advisory Taps into Kathleen's Market Insight

    Kathleen was once again asked by The Rosen Numismatic Advisory to participate in the 38th annual Crystal Ball Survey.  Kathleen and several other notable industry leaders responded to questions about the state of the market, challenges faced by rare coin collectors and investors, and outlooks about the near future of the rare coin market. The Crystal Ball Survey is published in two parts, with Part 1 featured below.

    ROSEN: How do you describe the condition of today’s coin market? Is it an opportune time for investors to look for opportunities or not?

    KATHLEEN: Yes absolutely. The economy has forced many collectors to either cut back on their purchases or sell their collections, so it’s definitely a buyer’s market.

    ROSEN: What are the main concerns of your retail clients about A)the hobby and B)the market?

    KATHLEEN: A) Gradeflation is a major concern with the hobby. When the grading changes for certain series, as it recently has for Walking Liberty halves and Washington quarters, the populations explode driving down prices. This is only good for the grading services which get more submissions, as dealers and collectors will resubmit hoping for upgrades. B) Clients of certain segments of their market have seen dramatic price drops: those buying Classic Commems for example. Although price drops usually signal opportunity for buyers, it’s not always easy to buy into these areas.

    ROSEN: What are the best coinage areas for an investor to concentrate? Why pick those areas? What potential do you see for them?

    KATHLEEN: Two areas that offer particularly good value are high-grade Mint State and Proof Seated and Barber coinage. They’ve not seen any price increases in two decades, although very few new coins have been graded over that time period compared to 20th century series. Also, there are other areas at historic lows as well: MS66 better-date 3-cent nickels, Shield and Liberty Nickels.


    ROSEN: I just published a report on 1892-1928 silver commems. Am I beating a dead horse here or are commems in general (silver and gold) great values? Do you have any favorites?

    KATHLEEN: I’ve liked the value of these coins for the last five years, and surprisingly they have gotten even cheaper since then. This is one of the greatest areas of opportunity right now. 70 of the 144 issues have original mintages of under 10,000, yet remarkably many can be purchased in MS65-67 grade for under $500. My favorites: Gettysburg, Huguenot, Lexington, Lynchburg, Maryland, Robinson and 1936D San Diego in MS67. All have populations of under  100 and are at historical lows.

    ROSEN: A) How are your clients responding to the CAC and PCGS-plus coins? B) Do such coins cast doubts on coins without those extra grading attributes?

    KATHLEEN: We have clients on both sides of the fence. Many are advanced collectors who feel very comfortable with their own grading expertise along with that of PCGS and our opinions as dealers. They don't care about CAC one way or the other. But we also have a minority of clients who feel the sticker gives them an additional layer of protection. For them, coins without a sticker are often questionable. Plus coins are, in general, bringing substantial premiums to non-plus coins, although premiums have diminished in the past year as more plus coins are graded. I haven't found that plus grading casts doubts on non-plus coins. It simply is an "in-between" graded with an "in-between" price.

    ROSEN: How do you view the market opportunities for six and seven-figure coins since the announcement of the Pogue Collection auction sales?

    KATHLEEN: Until the August ANA auctions, the market for six and seven figure coins seemed to be going nowhere but up. There were quite a few bargains to be had in that area, however, in those late summer auctions. Quite a lot of high dollar rarities entered the market in 2014, out-pacing demand a bit. The fact that Stack’s Bowers is auctioning the Pogue collection over three years (2015-2017)will hopefully give demand time to catch up with supply.

    The Rosen Numismatic Advisory examines issues and trends within the industry. The annual Crystal Ball Survey publishes the opinions and predictions from some of the industry’s most skillful and respected professionals. For copies of the full version of this report and subscription information about future issues and other reports, contact Numismatic Counseling, Inc. at MauriceRosen@aol.com  or call 516-433-5800.

  • Lincoln Cents - A Classic Numismatic Journey

    lincoln_blog_picThe Lincoln Cent has been produced longer than any other United States design and in far greater numbers than any coin in the history of the world. Since its beginning in 1909, it has endured to this day with the same obverse, honoring our beloved 16th president. It was also the very first circulating coin to portray a President’s likeness. Although only the most well-heeled have the necessary resources to complete a collection, numismatists of all levels can pursue this fun and fascinating series as its collecting options are seemingly endless.

    Many collectors begin their numismatic journey assembling sets of this interesting, historically rich series due to its relative affordability. A good percentage also return to it when finances are more discretionary later in life. The design run features not only the most valuable error of all time, the 1943 Bronze Cent, but the most dramatic double die in all of numismatics. Due to the intense publicity the 1955 Double Die received, more people than ever began taking an interest in the hobby of Kings. When collecting, a premium is placed on coins displaying original mint red color. Red status is reserved for those deemed to have 85% or more mint red. A Brown cent is defined as having less than 15% red remaining and a Red-Brown shows 15%-85% of its original mint color.1914D_L1C

    President Teddy Roosevelt influenced changes in all United States’ numismatics designs between 1907-1921. He became acquainted with Victor David Brenner when Brenner was commissioned to do his portrait for the Panama Canal Service Medal. As the Centennial of Lincoln’s birth was approaching, Brenner had completed a plaque featuring a bust of the beloved former President. Thus the idea for the Lincoln cent was born, and the designer chosen. Brenner’s obverse displays Lincoln’s portrait facing right, with the inscription LIBERTY on the left and the date on the right. For the first time on a cent, the motto IN GOD WE TRUST appears along the upper obverse rim. Two sheaves of wheat frame inscriptions E PLURIBUS UNUM, ONE CENT and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. While the obverse design continues to this day, the reverse was altered in 1959 on the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s birth to feature the Lincoln Memorial.

    Look for Kathleen’s article "The Lincoln Cent’s First 50 Years" in next month’s Coin Dealer Newsletter.



  • Winged Liberty - An American Archetype

    The Mercury dime is an icon of a not so distant past.  It is a symbol of an awakening, a budding America. It was pocket change during the Great Depression and carried by soldiers of both World Wars. In the early 20th century, Teddy Roosevelt launched a campaign to redesign U.S. coinage. In 1915, the Fine Arts Commission rejected Chief Engraver Charles Barber’s designs for the three silver denominations in lieu of a contest between three renowned sculptors – Adolph Weinman, Hermon MacNeil, and Albin Polasek. Weinman’s designs won both the dime and half, with McNeil taking on the quarter.  Their goal was to produce silver coinage that rivaled the artistry of the gold coins done by Saint Gaudens and Bela Lyon Pratt in the previous decade.

    "Liberty of Thought"

    Weinman’s spectacular work on the dime is often overshadowed by the larger half dollar, but for such a small planchet, the design is quite ornate. The obverse displays a portrait of young Liberty wearing a pileus with wings attached, meant to symbolize “liberty of thought.” The winged matron is not original, and was used as far back as ancient Rome. The reverse use of fasces also dates back to ancient coinage and symbolizes strength (or war) and authority.  This is wrapped in the olive branch of peace. Both obverse and reverse motifs were thought provoking themes for a world on the verge of war.

    Weinman's Iconic reverse.The life span of Weinman’s dime lasted long after the design was discontinued in 1945. The Roosevelt dime was produced after the death of FDR, as the late president started the campaign to end polio with the March of Dimes. Mercury dimes, however, were regularly seen in pocket change until the removal of silver from our nation’s coinage in 1965.

    The Mercury dime brings to heart nostalgia for a past generation that has been deemed the “great one.” The coin designs from the beginning of the last century are truly the most artful in our nation’s numismatic history. Each is a tiny work of art representing freedom and strength, born of an America growing into a great nation.

    Pinnacle has acquired a fabulous collection that while not complete, contains 75 wonderful examples of this beloved series. View the collection and other Mercury dimes HERE.

  • Fallbrook 1853 Mint Set

    Fallbrook 1853 Year SetThe year 1853 represents an interesting time in our nation’s coinage.  With 30 different issues, nearly every denomination produced by the Mint is represented. Only two short lived series, the twenty cent piece and three dollar gold issues, are lacking from the 1853 roster. The year includes a couple one-year silver design types with the “Arrows and Rays” quarter and half dollar.  The gold issues include all denominations from Philadelphia and representations from each of the three branch mints: Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans.

    This carefully curated Year Set contains 27 of the 30 possible 1853 issues, along with two duplicates and a variety.  The Fallbrook collection focused on quality for the grade as well as eye appeal.  The resulting set has many green tag holders and other very conservatively graded specimens, many in affordable collector grades.

    Historical Background 

    From 1850 through 1875, more gold was discovered than in the previous 350 years combined.  The flood of the precious metal into the world market distorted the ratio between gold and silver prices. As gold prices declined, silver skyrocketed and the market prices of U.S. silver coins exceeded their face values. Melting became rampant and change for retail businesses dried up.  Merchants and bankers were forced to make change with three-cent silver pieces, heavily worn dimes and half dimes, and Spanish fractional silver.

    The Silver Coins of 1853

    The Coinage Act of February 21, 1853, was enacted to ease the hoarding and melting of circulating specie. It reduced the weight (and thus the silver content) of all the silver coins except the dollar and three-cent piece by approximately 7 percent.  9624470_revTo distinguish the new lower-weight coins, they were given distinctive designs.  For the quarter and half dollar arrows were placed at each side of the date, with rays emanating from behind the reverse eagle. The arrows were also added to the dimes and half dimes. The “rays” design format (for the quarters and half dollars) lasted only one year, with a reminder of the reduced weight carried on through 1855 in the form of arrowheads only.   Congress’ plan evidently worked and by early 1854, for the first time in U.S. history, there was an adequate supply of fractional coins for commerce.

    The Gold Coins of 1853

    The smallest coin in U.S. history also owes its existence to the California Gold Rush. The groundwork was laid for the gold dollar in the Carolinas and Georgia, where the nation’s first big gold rush took place in the early 1800s. That rush had a major impact on United States coinage, leading to the establishment of two branch mints in the region—in Charlotte, North Carolina, and in Dahlonega, Georgia—and a notable increase in the number of gold coins being produced by the U.S. government.

    The first gold dollars made were privately minted by German immigrant Alt Christoph Bechtler, who operated a jewelry shop in North Carolina. As gold dust and nuggets were the primary medium of exchange in the area, Bechtler offered to refine raw gold into coins.  By 1840, Bechtler and his family had turned out more than $2.2 million worth of gold coins, of which about half were gold dollars.25003698_rev

    The gold dollar didn’t take its place in the official U.S. coinage lineup, however, until 1849, when yet another gold rush—this one in California—provided the spark. The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848 gave Congress the impetus to expand existing uses of the metal in U.S. coinage and find some new ones.   On March 3rd, 1849, Congress passed legislation authorizing not only gold dollars but also $20 gold pieces. Thus the nation’s smallest and largest regular-issue gold coins were born.

    By 1853, the U.S. Mints were producing all gold denominations except the $3 coin which didn’t begin production until 1854. The gold coins were in high demand and produced by Philadelphia as well as three branch mints. The value of silver had risen to be worth $1.06 in gold. And the early 1850’s saw the undervalued silver coins being melted and then sold for payment in gold coins. The gold coins were traded for silver coins, which were then melted and sold for gold. This practice, as mentioned earlier, dried up circulating silver coinages eventually leading to the Coinage Act of 1853.

    This offering, a year set from 1853, proves to be an interesting glimpse into one of nineteenth century numismatics' most prolific and varied years.

    To view all available selections from the Fallbrook collection, click here.


  • Buffalo Nickel Basics

    Buffalo Nickels A quick primer on the Buffalo nickel series.

    As a continuation of the drive to beautify the nation’s coinage that began with Teddy Roosevelt and Augustus Saint-Gaudens revamping the gold denominations, all five minor U.S. coins received design upgrades between 1909 and 1916. In 1913, Charles E. Barber’s Liberty Head nickel was replaced by the Buffalo nickel of sculptor James Earle Fraser, who formerly worked as Saint-Gaudens’ assistant. The obverse renders an authentic portrait of a Native American warrior facing right and the initial reverse (Type 1) depicts a bison on a raised mound.  As the words “FIVE CENTS” were quickly showing wear on the initial design, a modification (Type 2) removing the mound was made by Charles Barber.

    Over 1.2 billion Buffalo Nickels were minted at three Mints: Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver.  Circulation strikes were issued from 1913 through 1938.  In most years they were struck at all three active Mints, but none at all were produced in 1922, 1932 and 1933.  Additionally, Denver didn’t mint any for the years 1921, 1923, 1930 and 1931.  The Philly mint struck no nickels in 1931 and the final year, 1938.  And San Francisco didn’t create any in 1934 or 1938.  The 1938-D/S was produced when it was decided that Buffalo nickel dies would not be sent to San Francisco during the issue’s final year.  Reverse dies earmarked for San Francisco were instead repunched with D’s and produced in Denver.  There are a total of 64 regular issues spanning 23 production years.

    Proofs were struck from 1913 until 1916 and again in 1936 and 1937. Mintages range from a low of 600 for the 1916 to a high of 5,769 for the final proof issue in 1937.  (In the late 1980s, five 1927 so-called Specimens were also discovered.)  Proofs from 1913 to 1916 display a matte finish and exhibit a slight granularity and frostiness.  For the most part, this style was not favored by collectors, and mintages declined steadily due to weak demand.  After a twenty year hiatus, Proof sales resumed with the more traditional “brilliant” or reflective style, which was much more favorably received.  There are actually two different Proof varieties in 1936: The Type 1, Satin finish, which is semi-prooflike; and the Type 2, Brilliant finish, which is more highly mirrored and reflective.  The 1937 also features the Brilliant finish.

    The Buffalo nickel has been resurrected not once, but twice – the first time as a 2001 commemorative silver dollar, and again in 2006 as a $50 gold bullion coin proving its enduring appeal. The series hailed from the time when renowned artists created some of numismatics’ all-time best designs.  We continually seek out high quality examples of this series, so if you are interested in collecting these beloved coins, check out our current selection.


  • The Brief Life of the Two Cent Piece

    2c Series A quick overview of the two cent series.

    The denomination, designed by James Longacre, was struck for a mere ten years from 1863 (patterns
in 1863, circulating coins beginning in 1864) until 1873. Prototype patterns dated 1863 and early 1864 Proofs were struck with a small letter legend. The first business strikes of 1864 were produced from dies made from the same Small Letter variety hub.  A new hub with the Large Letter variety was used to make dies for the majority of the 1864 coins and for all subsequent dates of the denomination.

    During the first couple years of the Civil War, virtually all U.S. coinage vanished from circulation. Hoarders, speculators and frightened Americans set aside every gold, silver and even base-metal coin they could obtain.  Starved for coinage of any kind, Americans embraced the Two-Cent piece when it made its debut. Acceptance and mintage levels fell off dramatically after the war, however, as other coins made their way back into circulation. Fewer than 3.2 million Two Cent pieces were struck in 1866 and by 1870 production dropped precipitously below the one million mark. Business strikes hit rock bottom in 1872, when the Mint issued only 65,000 pieces for circulation. Finally in 1873, only proofs were produced. In all, the Mint coined just over 45.6 million business strikes and just over 7,000 proofs. Proofs were struck in each of the series’ 10 years.

    Despite its failure as a medium of exchange, the Two-Cent piece made an enduring contribution to the nation’s coinage history as the coin that introduced the motto IN GOD WE TRUST. Until then, U.S. coinage had carried no reference to a higher power. That change was largely attributed to the religious fervor created by the Civil War.

    Due to its short duration and absence of great rarities, this is a set that many collectors can complete by date (especially considering that only one mint—Philadelphia—produced this coin).  The Proof set is sometimes assembled with ten coins (one of each date), eleven coins (both varieties of the 1873) or twelve coins (including the extremely rare 1864 Small Motto). In addition, the set can be assembled in Brown, Red & Brown, Red or a combination of the three. We recently acquired a lovely group of six of the ten proof dates along with one business strike. All are gem quality Red-Brown examples, which represent terrific bargains compared to their full Red counterparts.

    Take a look…or two!

  • Book Review - Morgan Dollar, by Michael Standish

    morganbook_smallerLast month Whitman Publishing released the new book, Morgan Dollar – America’s Love Affair With a Legendary Coin by Michael “Miles” Standish. At the recent Whitman Baltimore Summer Expo, I received a copy and had a chance to read it on my long trip back west.

    Standish does an excellent job bringing the story of the Morgan dollar to life. His book is filled with great information and colorful illustrations. He is able to relate a quick historical background giving the reader a great sense of the times and circumstances that surrounded the inception and the continued production of the famed silver dollar. His nutshell explanation of the acts and economics that brought to life American numismatic's most popular series condenses the information into an entertaining and quick read.

    Standish dives into the silver dollar market giving a quick study of the early markets, while touching on the personalities and numismatists whose collecting and promotion of the series were instrumental in creating the vast silver dollar market that exists today.

    The book’s date analysis gets away from the dry statistical reporting of facts and gives instead a coin by coin story illustrated wonderfully with the Cardinal Collection examples. It reads like a diary of Morgan's great design and the factors that went into each year at Philadelphia and the branch mints. He’s able to touch on pertinent facts unique to individual dates and still keep the overall picture in sight.

    Morgan Dollar is a must read for the beginner collector. It should be added to the reading list of even the most experienced dollar aficionado. The most knowledgeable within the series will enjoy and likely gleam a bit of extra information and dive deeper into the lore surrounding the great cartwheel dollars.

    I suggest picking up a copy and submersing yourself in what is essentially a life and times account of one of American Numismatics most storied series.

  • The Highly Collectible Walking Liberty Half Dollar

    Originally published in the June 10th, 2011 edition of the CDN Monthly Supplement

    By Kathleen Duncan

    The United States didn’t always place a priority on its numismatic artistry.  Early mint officials primarily focused on the mechanics of production and uniformity in design.  Charles Barber’s designs, for example, were practical and easy to manufacture.  According to Teddy Roosevelt, however, they were aesthetically unfit for our great nation.  The coinage redesigns that began in his presidency vastly outshined the beauty of their predecessors.  From 1907 to 1921, the appearance of every United States coin changed.  Each was given a unique design with the exception of the Quarter and Half Eagles, which shared Bela L. Pratt’s innovative incuse design.  This individuality was an appreciated departure from previous eras where all our silver coinage shared one design and our gold denominations another.


    Design talent was recruited from outside the mint with competitions in 1907 for the gold and 1916 for the silver, with the Lincoln cent (1909) and Buffalo nickel (1913) in between.  One of America’s best young sculptors, A. A. Weinman, who studied under Augustus-Saint Gaudens, won honors for both his dime and half dollar models.  His Walker design portrays Liberty striding left toward the rising sun with her right arm outstretched and her left cradling an olive branch.  She is draped in an American flag and wears a liberty cap atop her head.  A majestic eagle perched on a mountain crag appears on the coin’s reverse.  The design is so well loved, that for the last twenty-five years the mint has been using Weinman’s obverse to produce our Silver Eagle bullion coins.


    The Walking Liberty Half was produced over a 30 year time span. No serious changes were made to any of the design elements.  Mintmark position changes were made from obverse to reverse in the middle of production in 1917, providing two varieties from the branch mints.  Other than minor mintmark size changes (1928-S, 1934-D, 1941-2-S), many dates saw mintmark repunching[1], including the Eliasberg 1916-D which now resides in a PCGS MS67 holder.  Additionally, several dates from the 30’s and 40’s can be found with doubling on either obverse, reverse or mintmark.


    The design, though unquestionably beautiful, caused definite striking problems for the mints.  Problem areas are Liberty's left (right facing) hand and leg, her head and skirt lines and the eagle's breast and leg feathers. Sharply struck coins command and deserve substantial premiums. In an attempt to improve the striking characteristics of the design, some minor modifications were made by Chief Engraver George T. Morgan in 1918 and again by Assistant Engraver John R. Sinnock in 1937 and 1938. Unfortunately, none of the revisions helped.


    While mintage numbers were high through 1918 due to economic expansion during the First World War, production declined sharply in 1919, and was erratic for the next fifteen years.  No half dollars were produced at all in the years 1922, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1930, 1931 and 1932.  Additionally, only San Francisco produced any in 1923, 1927, 1928 and 1933.  These were coins with substantial buying power, enough to buy a loaf of bread, a quart of milk and a dozen eggs at the time.  So it didn't take huge quantities to fill Americans' needs, especially after the onset of the Great Depression.  The sporadic production and highly circulated nature of the coins lead to the creation of some serious numismatic rarities amongst the early dates.


    Patient collectors with ample funds can pursue the entire 65 coin set. Purchasing the dates from 1916 to 1929 takes considerable financial resources in high-grades, as these issues saw extensive commercial use and are much rarer than the later dates in the series.  Although we recommend both PCGS and NGC coins, it should be noted that NGC coins often trade at much lower tariffs than their PCGS counterparts.  This can be to the buyer’s advantage if purchasing at market levels, as often great coins can be acquired at notable discounts.  Because of the substantial difference in price between these two services, and potential confusion, prices within this article refer to PCGS coins exclusively.


    The most popular and affordable collecting strategy is the Short Set, comprising the twenty issues between 1941 and 1947.  Once finished with their Short Sets, collectors often expand to the Late Dates consisting of the final forty issues (1933 to the end of the series).  Another option is a Date Set, providing one example from each year, regardless of mint. For the most numismatically ambitious, varieties can be collected on 12 different issues. And last, but not least, the gorgeous run of proof strikings from 1936 to 1942 is a short yet sweet way to pursue this design.


    Early Years (1916-1929)

    There are over a dozen dates that enter the five figure category in the MS64 or MS65 level; the 1919-D is a $15,000 coin even in MS63, and the 1921-S is expensive in all uncirculated grades.  One strategy employed by many is buying before the major price jump.  It’s usually a good idea to begin buying the most difficult issues, as over time the Key dates tend to experience the greatest price appreciation.


    If attempting to buy the highest grades obtainable, finding many of the early issues above the MS65 level will prove difficult.  MS67s are practically nonexistent, with the 1919 showing a population of 5, the 1916 a mere 4, the 1916-D only 3, the 1917 but 2, and six other dates sporting 1 lone MS67 apiece (1916-S, 1917-S Obverse, 1918-S, 1923-S, 1929-D and 1929-S).



    1916-S:  Although MS65s trade with some frequency, this is a coin that is much more difficult to locate in MS66 than the population numbers suggest.  MS66s are currently trading at the $20,000 level, considerably above the published price guides.  None have crossed the auction block for half a dozen years.  The solitary MS67 was graded long ago during the “rattler” era.


    1919-D:  The undisputed key to the series in higher uncirculated grades and scarce in all grades.  If you don’t want to pony up six figures for a gem example, expect to pay a considerable premium for a well-struck MS64 as this issue is notoriously poorly struck.


    1919-S:  This has the second lowest mint state survival rate of the series due to heavy circulation along with a reduced mintage, causing even MS63s to approach the five figure range.  For those with ample funds, MS65s and MS66s are reasonably available.


    1921-S:  The key to the entire series and second only to the ’19-D in MS65 and higher grades.  Even in XF condition, this coin commands $5,000 as it is scarce in all grades.  One can conservatively estimate that fewer than 200 true mint state examples exist.   MS65s are exceptionally rare and there is but a single MS66 graded by PCGS.  Strike is a problem, and well-defined examples are valued at noticeable premiums.


    Middle Years (1933-1940)

    With the exception of the 1935-D, all of the dates in this subset exist in MS67, although five will be challenging to locate:  the 1934-D has but 2 MS67s, the 1934-S only 5, the 1935-S just 2, the underrated 1936-S a mere 6, and the 1940-S but 3.  If seeking out the very best, the 1939 and 1940 also have decent populations in MS68.  Four other dates have 1 or 2 MS68s as well:  1935, 1936, 1937, and 1939-S, but most of these have been put away by a couple advanced collectors and are unlikely to see the light of day anytime soon.



    1935:  Although MS66s are relatively common, this date is surprisingly difficult to locate in MS67.  MS67s only appear in auction once every two to three years.  Expect to pay north of $5,000 to obtain one, 25% above price guide estimates.


    1935-D:  This key to the Late Date set is the worst struck coin of the middle dates, with examples displaying a well-rounded thumb and significant detail to Liberty’s hair and cap being nearly impossible to find.  Look for partial separation of the branches that Liberty holds and a bit of definition to Liberty’s head.  Flatness in the central obverse design is the norm, even on MS66s, and is probably why no MS67s exist.


    1940-S:  With this date begins a run of San Francisco mint coins with abysmal strikes and as I’ve placed each of the 3 MS67s at one point, I can state that 2 of the 3 had very little separation between the thumb and index finger.  One may have to settle for ample detail to Liberty’s head and a flattish hand on this one.


    Short Set Dates (1941-47)

    The 20 coin Short Set ranks with Carson City Morgan dollars as the most collected group of all US coins, and we don’t expect its desirability to diminish any time soon.  Recent increases in population figures of MS67 grades have created especially affordable prices (around $1,000 or less) on high-quality examples on the more plentiful issues.


    1941-S:  Commonly referred to as the classic rarity of the Short Set, population reports indicate the ’42-S and ’44-S are nearly as scarce in MS65 and slightly rarer in MS66 and MS67.  This is a date infamous for its poor striking quality.  Expect some weakness to Liberty’s hairline, skirt lines and left (right facing) hand.  A moderately good strike is about all you can expect here.

    1942-S:  This date has emerged as the condition rarity of the Short Set dates, with the lowest population in MS66 and a lone MS67 graded by PCGS.  Like all 1940’s S-Mint Walkers, this coin suffers from a soft strike.  Criteria for purchasing should include noticeable separation between Liberty’s thumb and index finger on her left hand along with good definition on her head, and on the eagle’s breast feathers.  Again, a reasonably good strike is as good as it gets.

    1944-S:  Although some numismatists may quibble, the 1944-S is likely the toughest short set coin to find with a full strike, typically more problematic on the obverse than reverse.  Separation of the thumb and index finger on Liberty’s left hand is a rarity.  Strong definition on her head and some distinction between her hand, thigh and the stem of the olive branch is obtainable; full striking detail is not.

    From its storied inception during the renaissance of America’s coinage, to its use on today’s silver eagles, the Walking Liberty has been a popular favorite.  The series has it all, from a beautiful design, to multiple subsets providing a wide variety of challenges.  It has the ability to keep even the most tireless collector occupied for a great many years.  Whether pursuing circulated examples or museum quality gems, you are certain to be charmed by this classic design which collectors and numismatists have cherished for nearly a century.



    Click Here To View Walker Inventory Selections


    [1] Until 1990, the U.S. Mint used to manually punch the mintmark into each individual coin die. Due to human error, occasionally a die would get two or more punches of the same mintmark. Although the mint usually caught these defective dies before any coins were produced from them, on very rare occasions a die would strike coins with multiple impressions of the same mintmark letter.

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