Ron Guth

Posted on December 19, 2017 by No Comments

In this installment, I continue our journey through the amazing collection of U.S. Gold Pattern Coins built by Dr. John E. Wilkison.

325639PCGS MS62

1849 $1 Gold Pattern, Judd 115, Pollock 130, Gold, Plain Edge

Gold Dollars were not included as part of the American coinage scheme until 1849. When contemplating the new denomination, a concern was the size of the coin. If made of the normal weight, the diameter of a gold dollar was only 14.3 millimeters — the smallest of any coins then in use in America. A coin so small could be lost easily, so experiments were made to enlarge the diameter of the coin without altering the weight. Judd 115 illustrates that concept. James B. Longacre, who was ultimately responsible for the final designs, cut each of these patterns by hand, adding denticles, stars, lettering, numerals, and a wreath as incuse elements of the die. Because of the hand-engraving, each Judd 115 is unique in the size, placement, and relative positions of the various design elements.  Even the shape of the central perforation varies: some are square in shape; others are more rectangular.  Researcher David Akers speculated that as many as nine or ten examples existed, but the actual number may be closer to six or seven.

Dr. Wilkison owned two examples of the Judd 115. One is illustrated above; the second is the plate coin in David Akers’ “United States Gold Patterns.”

469987PCGS PR65+

(1852) 50C Pattern, Judd 135, Pollock 162, Gold, Reeded Edge

Judd 135 was the only gold pattern ever considered for the Half Dollar denomination.  Like Judd 115, it showed how a perforated design could be used to enlarge the small amount of gold contained in a Half Dollar.  For Judd 135, Mint employees used a uniface obverse with a denticled border.  For the other side, they used the reverse die of a Half Dime.  Despite being of such a small diameter (15.9 millimeters), an oversized perforation was required to achieve the proper weight.  Akers doubted this was a Half Dollar Pattern, but an 1852-dated letter from the Mint Director, George Eckert to Senator R. Hunter states clearly that this a proposal for a half dollar in gold.  This fits with what was going on in 1852, simply that large quantities of gold from the California mines needed to be turned into coins.

Dr. Wilkison owned two examples of the Judd 135. The example illustrated here is the plate coin in David Akers’ “United States Gold Patterns.”  As of this writing, it resides in the Simpson Collection as a PCGS PR65+.  Simpson owns the second Wilkison example, as well — a lovely PCGS PR66 with the following pedigree:

W.H. Woodin Collection – Lenox R. Lohr Collection – Stack’s 4/1962:2193 – Dr. John E. Wilkison Collection, whose collection was sold intact in 9/1973 – Paramount International Coin Corporation, sold privately on 4/9/1976 (as part of the intact Wilkison Collection) – A-Mark – Paramount “Auction ‘79” 7/1979:171 – Paramount “Auction ‘82” 8/1982:1810 – Bob R. Simpson Collection (as PCGS PR66)

The National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution holds two Judd 135’s and a fifth is believed to exist somewhere “out there.”

151432PCGS PR66

Judd 136, P-163, Gold, Reeded Edge

Judd 136 is a companion coin to Judd 135.  Both were made at the same time (per the letter referenced above) and the purpose of Judd 136 was to create a perforated Gold Dollar.  At least four examples are known, with the possibility of a fifth.  Dr. Wilkison owned one example which he obtained from Dr. Judd in a massive trade in 1962.  The pedigree of Dr. Wilkison’s example is as follows:

DeWitt Smith Collection – Virgil Brand Collection (#46971) – Horace Brand – F.C.C. Boyd Collection – Dr. J. Hewitt Judd Collection – Dr. John E. Wilkison Collection, whose collection was sold intact in 9/1973 – Paramount International Coin Corporation, sold privately on 4/9/1976 (as part of the intact Wilkison Collection) – A-Mark – LRIS Collection – Superior 1/2008:658, $40,250- Bob R. Simpson Collection (as PCGS PR66, illustrated above)

In the next installment, we’ll look at the rest of Dr. Wilkison’s 1852 Gold Patterns

Filed Under: News


Ron Guth

Posted on November 21, 2017 by No Comments

In September 1973, Paramount International Coin Corporation (under the auspices of the noted gold coin expert, David Akers) purchased the collection of Dr. John E. Wilkison of Springfield, Tennessee. The collection consisted of 47 gold U.S. Pattern coins, 35 of which were different, and eight pieces that were unique. Dr. Wilkison built his collection over the period from 1942 to 1973, purchasing coins from the likes of dealers Charlie Green (who represented Dr. Wilkison at the 1954 sale of the King Farouk collection) and Abe Kosoff (who provided several major rarities and helped broker a mega-trade with the pattern specialist and author, Dr. J. Hewitt Judd). Dr. Wilkison’s collecting accomplishments surpassed those of any previous collector of gold U.S. Pattern coins (the King Farouk collection was the only one that was close and it had fewer different pieces and fewer total pieces).

In 1975, Akers published a book titled, “United State Gold Patterns: A Photographic Study of the Gold Patterns Struck at the United States Mint from 1836 to 1907.” Leaning heavily on the Wilkison collection and borrowing images from other collections and institutions, Akers was able to illustrate 46 of the 51 gold pattern coins. For the missing five pieces, Akers used copper versions of the same Judd numbers as illustrations.

In subsequent years, the Wilkison collection was broken up and sold off. Most have ended up in strong hands, which means they will not be entering the market any time soon. This, then, is the first of a series of articles that will seek to track down the coins from the Wilkison collection and update pedigree chains and grades, where known. Have the coins scattered to the winds or is there another collector who is trying to surpass Dr. Wilkison’s accomplishment? Stay tuned.

Here’s a teaser:

Judd 67

1836 $1 Judd 67, Pollock 70, Gold, Plain Edge


Judd 67 is one of the most “common” of all U.S. gold patterns, thanks to restriking in subsequent years. Dr. Wilkison had three Judd 67’s, but only two seem to have entered the auction market that can be identified as being from his collection. The last appearance of one piece was in 2002 when it sold as a PCGS PR64 in Superior’s ANA action. That piece is distinctive because it was struck over a Gold Dollar, with enough undertype remaining to identify it as an 1859, thus proving that at least some Judd 67’s were struck (or restruck) at a later date. The example illustrated is the plate coin from Akers’ Pattern book.   If it is ex-Wilkison, then the pedigree is:

Dr. John E. Wilkison Collection, whose collection was sold intact in 9/1973 – Paramount International Coin Corporation, sold privately on 4/9/1976 (as part of the intact Wilkison Collection) – A-Mark – Holman Family Collection – Heritage 11/2003:11001, $17,250 – Heritage 6/2004:6413, $17,250 – Heritage 8/2016:4421, $19,975

If anyone knows of the whereabouts of the third Judd 67 from the Wilkison collection, please let me know in the comments below or email me at [email protected], and I will update this entry.

Filed Under: News


Ron Guth

Posted on October 26, 2017 by No Comments

Recently, I purchased a twenty-six foot Ranger sailboat and renamed her “Makaleka.”

“What does this have to do with numismatics?” you ask. Well, Makaleka is the Hawaiian version of my wife, Maggie’s, name. This got me thinking of Hawaii and, being a numismatist, that got me thinking of Hawaiian coins. To mimic the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game, my boat is three degrees from Hawaiian coins: 1) my boat is named Makaleka; 2) Makaleka is Hawaiian; and 3) Hawaii has coins.

There are three places to learn about Hawaiian coins. The first is the “Redbook” (more properly called “A Guidebook of United States Coins”) published by Whitman.  Hawaiian coins appear in the back of the book under “other Issues.” The Redbook lists and prices all of the major denominations of Hawaiian coins. Also included are the tokens used on different Hawaiian plantations during the middle to late 1800’s.

The second source for information on Hawaiian coins is the “Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1801-1900” published each year by Krause Publications. As with the Redbook, Hawaiian coins appear at the end of the United States section instead of in their expected place in the alphabetical listings. The Standard Catalog lists all of the major denominations, some varieties, one pattern, but no tokens.

Hawaiian Money














The third source, and the best (in my opinion), is “Hawaiian Money, Standard Catalog, 2nd edition” by Donald Medcalf and Ronald Russell. This 160 page books covers every bit of history related to Hawaiian coins, paper money, commemorative medals, commercial tokens, school tokens, military tokens, plantation tokens, and much more. Every known variety is listed, along with patterns and Proof strikings. The pricing is dated (it’s from 1991) but, otherwise, it is a treasure trove of information.

The two most popular areas of Hawaiian numismatics are the afore-mentioned coins and tokens, so I’ll whet your appetite with a few highlights.

Hawaii Cent
1847 Hawaiian Cent – the first Hawaiian Coin – PCGS MS65BN

The first Hawaiian coin was the 1847 One Cent. The obverse features a bust of King Kamehameha facing the viewer; the reverse shows the denomination “Hapa Haneri” within a wreath. Researchers believe these were made somewhere in New England because they arrived in Hawaii aboard a ship out of Boston, Massachusetts. The 1847 Hawaiian Cents were the subject of one of my previous blogs and I refer readers there for the full story.

Hawaii Dollar1883 Hawaiian Dollar – PCGS MS67

The largest denomination issued by Hawaii was the Silver Dollar. These were struck at the Philadelphia Mint at the request of the Hawaiian government and the Dollars can be found in both circulation strike and Proof formats. The Proof version is extremely rare, with only 26 struck. The obverse features a bust of a bearded King Kalakaua I facing right; the reverse shows the Coat of Arms of Hawaii.

Hawaii Eighth Dollar PatternOdd Denomination 1/8 Dollar Pattern in Copper – PCGS PR67BN

Copper Patterns (or Die Trials) exist of the 1/8 Dollar, ¼ Dollar, ½ Dollar and 1 Dollar denominations (no Dime patterns exist because that denomination did not join the lineup until later). These were struck from the same dies used to make the silver Proof sets.

Hawaii Quarter Dollar ProofColorful Proof Hawaiian Quarter Dollar – PCGS PR67CAM

Silver Proofs are known of all denominations. Proof sets were made on two separate occasions and the maximum mintage of any of the denominations is 26 (only 20 of the silver Proof 1/8 Dollar were made).

Hawaii Kahului Token15C Token of the Kahului Railroad – PCGS AU55

Tokens were issued and used on several Hawaiian sugar plantations and railroads. They were meant for use in the company stores, but they circulated throughout the island, where coinage was scarce. They are generally crudely made, rare and difficult to locate in high grades.

You can establish a single degree of separation with Hawaiian coins by sourcing the publications listed above and purchasing your first Hawaiian coin or token. Then, the next time you take a trip to Hawaii, you’ll have a much deeper connection with the Islands. Aloha!

Filed Under: News


Ron Guth

Posted on September 29, 2017 by 10 Comments

James A. Stack, Sr. was a collector of substantial means and discrimination who was active in numismatics from the late 1930s until his death in 1951. He acquired many rarities and “finest known” coins by taking full advantage of the opportunities presented to him as great collections came onto the market. He owned an 1894-S Dime, a 1798 Small Eagle $5, an 1870-S Silver Dollar, an 1838-O Half Dollar, and hundreds of other U.S. coins including condition-rarities, pattern coins, early Proof coins, and Pioneer gold. Portions of his collection were sold over a 20 year period beginning in 1975. Had his collection been sold as a single unit, it would have been one of the landmark auctions of the 20th century. Nonetheless, the James A. Stack pedigree signifies importance, rarity, and quality.

The following auctions contained important portions of the James A. Stack Collection (note: Stack’s, the New York auction house, was no relation to James A. Stack…they just shared the same name).

The James A. Stack 1838-O Half Dollar – PCGS PR64BM

Stack’s 3/1975
This auction was the first introduction to the treasures that awaited in the James A. Stack Collection. This was a stand-alone sale (no outside consignments) of Mr. Stack’s Quarter Dollars and Half Dollars. Highlights in the Quarter section included a Mint State 1804, a Proof 1827 Original, and a Proof 1842 Small Date. Standouts among the Half Dollars included an 1838-O, a Branch Mint Proof. 1861-O, and a Gem 1892-O Micro O.

112196smallA nice 1796 Large Cent from the James A. Stack Collection – PCGS MS63BN

Bowers & Ruddy 4/1979
The second installment of the James A. Stack Collection included his U.S. Large Cents. This was the only time that a firm other than Stack’s was chosen to present Mr. Stack’s coins.

The Finest Known 1801 Half Dime – from the James A. Stack Collection – PCGS MS66+

Stack’s 11/1989
This sale offered Mr. Stack’s Colonial Coins followed by his Half Cents through Half Dimes. Highlights included a 1792 “Roman Head” Washington Cent with a blundered edge, an 1811 Restrike Half Cent, Proof-only Half Cents of 1831, 1836, and 1840-1849, an AU 1792 Half Disme, several Mint State Half Dimes of the 1794-1795 period, and an 1802 Half Dime.

The James A. Stack 1894-S Dime – PCGS SP66BM

Stack’s 1/1990
The 1894-S Dime from the James A. Stack Collection headlined this sale. Also included were his collection of U.S. Dimes and his Private and Territorial gold coins. Dimes must have been one of Mr. Stack’s favorite coins because the quality and depth of his collection was exceptional. He had a Mint State 1809 Dime, Proofs of 1820, 1822, 1824, and 1825, as well as numerous later dates. His selection of Pioneer gold was small, but included two $50 “Slugs”, an 1849 Mormon $20, a Gem Clark, Gruber & Co. Half Eagle, and numerous California Fractional gold coins.

Stack’s 3/1990
Nearly 2,000 lots were offered from the James A. Stack Collection of U.S. Paper Money, many of which hailed from the celebrated Albert Grinnell Collection of more than forty years earlier. From Demand Notes, Legal Tender Notes, Silver Certificates, Treasury Notes, Gold Certificates, to National Bank Notes, and even Colonial Currency, this collection included highlight after highlight.

2956small1820 $5 – PCGS MS66
A “taste” of the quality of the James A. Stack gold coins

Stack’s 10/1994
This sale included a nice run of gold coins from the James A. Stack collection. Highlights included a nearly complete set of Gold Dollars, a Proof 1821 Quarter Eagle, an 1841 Quarter Eagle, 20 early Half Eagles dated from 1795 to 1807, an 1819 Half Eagle, and hundreds of other high-quality Mint State and Proof gold coins.

The James A. Stack 1870-S Silver Dollar – PCGS MS62

Stack’s 3/1995
Other consignments to this sale make it difficult to know exactly which coins were part of the James A. Stack collection, but those that can be identified are a complete set of 20 Cent pieces (including the rare 1876-CC), a large selection of Proof and Mint State Seated Liberty Silver Dollars (including an 1870-S Silver Dollar that later went on to sell for more than a million dollars), a set of Trade Dollars (minus the 1884 and 1885), a wonderful selection of high-grade Morgan Dollars, various gold coins (including the ultra-rare 1815 Half Eagle), and a complete set of Proof 1872 gold coins

Coin Galleries (a subsidiary of Stack’s) 4/1995
I haven’t been able to locate a copy of this catalog, but I am almost certain that this sale would have included world coins from Mr. Stack’s collection. I’ll update the post as more information is uncovered.

Stack’s 5/1995
Some of Mr. Stack’s world coins were included in this sale, but, unfortunately, very few (if any) were identified as having originated with his collection.

No additional sales of James A. Stack coins have occurred since 1995 with the exception of reappearances of individual coins, and it is doubtful if any more coins are held by his estate or descendants.

1653smallThe James A. Stack 1797 $2.50 – PCGS MS62 (Finest Known) – his name was recently reattached to this coin’s pedigree

As desirable as the James A. Stack pedigree remains today, there are many instances where his name has been stripped, intentionally or otherwise, from the ownership chains. Reattaching his name, which occurs fairly frequently, is a pleasant by-product of my work on the PCGS CoinFacts Condition Census. In fact, discovering one of those connections is what brought my attention to this remarkable collector.

Filed Under: News


Ron Guth

Posted on September 1, 2017 by No Comments

Off-metal coins are those struck using a metal alloy different from the originally intended one. One of the most famous (and valuable) examples is the 1943 Bronze Cent (the normal planchets for the 1943 Cents were made of zinc-coated steel). As the story goes, some bronze blanks left over from the previous year hid in an empty hopper that was later filled with steel planchets of the new year. As the hopper was emptied into the coining press, the bronze blanks emerged, went through the normal coining process, and emerged as super-rarities waiting to be discovered by collectors.

1943 Copper Cent
The 1943 Bronze Cent.  Do you see anything wrong with this picture? (hint: it should have been made of zinc-coated steel)

From this example, we see that off-metal coins can occur accidentally, and it happens much more frequently than you might think. Talk to any expert in error coins and they can provide scores of examples of off-metal strikes. In fact, just about every denomination is known on an off-metal planchet: Lincoln Cents on silver Dime planchets; Franklin Half Dollars on copper Cent planchets, Washington Quarters on nickel Five Cent blanks, and so on. For many collectors, this is an exciting and unusual area that is a true departure from the norm.

Off-metal coins can be categorized by the intentions of the people who made them: 1) accidental off-metal strikes (as mentioned above); 2) off-metal strikes to experiment with various alloys in anticipation of a change in the coinage; or 3) off-metal strikes for sale to collectors. Though these categories appear to be distinct and separate, the lines are often blurred and we can only guess at the original intent. Often, the coins themselves give us the clues we need.

Judd 1749
Judd 1749 – it looks like a regular 1885 Morgan Dollar, but it’s made of aluminum

For instance, the U.S. Pattern series is replete with off-metal strikes. Recently, I wrote about Judd 1749, which for all intents and purposes looks just like an 1885 Morgan Dollar, but it is struck in aluminum. While it is true that aluminum was being tested as a coinage metal in the 1860s and 1870s, it was never considered as an alternative for the Morgan Dollar, which was intended to soak up all the silver coming out of Western mines. So, why was Judd-1749 made? The answer: to test a new, three-part collar that imparted raised lettering to the edge of the coin instead of the normal edge reeding. Interestingly enough, this experiment included both copper and aluminum blanks (off-metals) and silver blanks (the intended metal). However, the three-part edge collar was abandoned until it was revived again on the 1907 Saint Gaudens coinage.

What about the aluminum patterns of 1868, which exist in every denomination from the One Cent all the way to the Double Eagle? Was the Mint seriously considering changing the metal of the Double Eagle from gold to aluminum? Absolutely not. The clue to the purpose of the 1868 aluminum patterns rests in a number of complete sets housed in special presentation sets (click here to see what one of the sets looks like – courtesy of Clearly, these sets were made for sale to collectors at a profit. The same is true of many of the off-metal pattern coins, especially those made in the middle of a design run where there was never any intention to change the coinage.

Silver CWT
Off-metal 1863 Patriotic Civil War Token, struck over an 1853 Dime (notice the words ONE DIME running diagonally across the top of the shield)

Another area where off-metal strikes abound is Civil War Tokens, which are broken down into Storecards and Patriotics. In addition to being a replacement for the U.S. coins that were being pulled from circulation and hoarded, Storecards were a way for merchants to advertise their businesses. Patriotic Civil War Tokens presented no advertising and consisted primarily of patriotic designs. Most Civil War Tokens were the diameter of a U.S. Indian Head Cent and the vast majority of them were made of copper. However, many off-metal variants were made in small quantities in a variety of metals, including brass, white metal, lead, nickel, copper-nickel, and silver. Some Civil War Tokens were intentional overstrikes on copper-nickel U.S. cents, silver Seated Liberty Dimes, and even coins from other countries.

Finding good values in off-metal coins is a real challenge. Sometimes they bring a premium (often huge) over the regular types, sometimes they are priced the same, and other times, they can be purchased for less than the cost of a similar type coin. As a general rule, off-metal error coins and Civil War Tokens command a premium; often, an off-metal pattern coin will sell for less than the price of a corresponding type coin.

What’s your favorite off-metal coin?

Filed Under: News


Ron Guth

Posted on August 4, 2017 by No Comments

On August 4, 2017, the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) announced two new inductees into the PCGS CoinFacts Coin Dealer Hall of Fame: Kevin Lipton and David Proskey. Kevin is someone we’ve known since he was a teenager and who has made a significant impact on our hobby as a dealer and a friend. David Proskey is a little bit older than most of us, seeing as he was born in 1853. I call him “one of the unsung heroes of numismatics.”

In 2010, PCGS began inducting individual coin dealers into the PCGS CoinFacts Coin Dealer Hall of Fame at the rate of at least two a year: one from the pre-World War II era and another from the “modern” post-WWII era. Currently, there are twenty-eight member of the Hall of Fame (you can see all of them at
What does it take to make it into the Hall of Fame? What can you do to make yourself an attractive candidate?

The introduction to the Hall of Fame states: “The purpose of the PCGS CoinFacts Coin Dealer Hall of Fame is to honor the coin dealers past and present who have made the coin market/hobby what it is today. Their dedication, expertise, innovations, and commitments to numismatics have made “the hobby of kings” something millions of people in all walks of life can enjoy.” But, what are some of the characteristics of a Hall-of-Famer?

Harvey Stack, the winner for longevity

1. Longevity. Most of the old-time dealers in the Hall of Fame were active in the business for many years, usually for decades, an often until their death. The same is true of the current, living members. The late Art Kagin’s career spanned 72 years. Q. David Bowers has been active in numismatics for 64 years. The winner for longevity goes to Harvey Stack, who started his career in 1935 (82 years ago). Throughout those years of service, our members have “seen it all” and, in many cases, been the people who participated in significant events and, sometimes, were the catalysts and innovators that made those events happen.

Kevin Lipton received an award in 2002 for his work in stamping out fraud in numismatics

2. Consumer Protection. Many Hall of Fame members have spent much of their time, often gratis, in efforts to provide protection for consumers. Abe Kosoff was a founder of the Professional Numismatists Guild and a driving force behind the adoption of uniform grading standards. Our most recent inductee, Kevin Lipton, received an award in 2000 for his work in stamping out fraud in numismatics. James Ruddy published Photograde, the first grading guide to use actual coins to illustrate the various grades. Others have published informative guides to help the collector navigate through the sometimes confusing areas of die varieties, coin types, auction prices realized, and price guides.

Q. David Bowers has worked for decades to popularize numismatics

3. Promotion of Numismatics. In a sense, all of the Hall of Famers have been promoters of numismatics to some degree – after all, that’s their business. However, some have been more visible as promoters than others. B. Max Mehl, with his Star Magazine and ads in non-numismatic publications was one of the biggest. Q. David Bowers, on the dint of his publications alone, has probably reached more collectors than any other individual in history. Jim Halperin and Steve Ivy of Heritage have utilized the power of the Internet and related technologies to reach one of the largest audiences of any modern firm.

David Proskey edited the Coin Collectors Journal in the late 1800’s

4. Significant contributions. Many Hall of Fame members are authors who have penned ground-breaking articles and published important research works. David Proskey, one of this year’s inductees, edited the Coin Collectors Journal for several years in the late 1800’s (the Coin Collectors Journal was an amazing series that is still a fascinating read today). David Akers’ analysis of auction prices realized for U.S. gold coins, and the notes he published about them, remain relevant today and have rarely been superseded. While we’re talking about books, what about Q. David Bowers, the most prolific numismatic author of all time?

David Hall – what numismatists doesn’t know this man?

5. Visibility. It’s likely that you will recognize most of the names of the members of the Hall of Fame. This is because they were all highly visible at the forefront of numismatics. They advertised heavily in coin publications, they attended all of the big coin shows and auctions, or they were involved in highly publicized coin purchases or sales.

David Akers handled some of the biggest coin deals during the 1970’s and 1980’s

6. Big deals. Many of the Hall of Fame dealers were involved in big deals. Harvey Stack has been blogging recently about the Josiah K. Lilly Collection of gold coins, how his firm helped build it, and how the collection made its way to become the centerpiece of the National Numismatic Museum the Smithsonian Institution. John Albanese was a founder of PCGS, NGC, and CAC. Without David Hall, there would be no PCGS. It’s hard to name a collection, a deal, an organization, or an event that wasn’t touched in some way or another by our Hall of Famers.

Now you know some of what it takes to become a member of the PCGS CoinFacts Coin Dealer Hall of Fame. Pay your dues, do your time, and I look forward to inducting YOU in the future.

Filed Under: News


Ron Guth

Posted on June 29, 2017 by 3 Comments

When coins come clinking out of the presses at the Mint, they are pristine.  Copper coins are bright red, nickel coins are flashy silver-gray, gold coins are brilliant yellow, and silver coins are shimmering white.  From the moment they are struck, and as soon as they hit the atmosphere, coins begin to react chemically with their environment.  As part of the reaction process, colors of various hues begin to form on the surfaces of these coins – in numismatic terminology, this is known as toning.  The depth and appearance of the toning is completely dependent on how the coins are stored and to which chemicals they are exposed.

In this installment, we’ll look at the colors that appear on some different coin types.  But first, let’s examine how toning impacts the grade of a coin.  One of the more significant components of a coin’s grade is its eye appeal.  A sub-component of eye appeal – and a significant one — is toning.  Toning can be negative, neutral, or positive.  Negative toning can be dark, splotchy, dull, or so deep that the surface of the coin appears to be burnt.  Negative toning will lower the overall grade of a coin.  Neutral toning is middle-of-the-road; not really ugly, but not very attractive either.  Neutral toning will usually have no effect on the overall grade of a coin.  Positive toning can be stunning, and is often described variously as “rainbow”, “iridescent”, “monster”, “killer”, or just plain “awesome” toning.  Not unexpectedly, positive toning can add a lot to the overall grade of a coin, not to mention its value.

1891 CentWowza toning on an 1891 Indian Head Cent

Copper coins start out as bright red.  Over time, they will begin to tone to an even brown color as they move through the Red Brown phase, which PCGS defines as going from 95% Red to 5% Red.  Along the way, copper coins can also pick up some interesting colors, such as blues, oranges, and purples.  This is especially true of Proof Indian Cents, which often develop intense iridescent colors over time.  The color of early Large Cents can be affected by other factors, including the purity of the copper used as planchets.  Several prominent collectors, including Dr. William H. Sheldon, Dan Holmes, and Pierre Fricke assembled collections of Large Cents with as many different color combinations as possible.  Dr. Sheldon’s collection consisted of 66 different coins; Mr. Fricke had over 100 different examples, including red, orange, tan, green, blue, and gold colors.

Silver coins are more apt to develop colorful toning, particularly when they are near a source of oxygen and sulfur (found in most paper products).  Here is where you will find a wide spectrum of colors: blues, greens, purples, reds, and golds.  We’ve seen Morgan Silver Dollars with weave-pattern toning from the canvas sack in which they were stored.  Some of the Redfield Hoard Morgan Dollars were spattered with juice from exploding cans of peaches, which often led to some interesting toning.  albany

“Tab” toning on the reverse of an Albany Commemorative Half Dollar

“Tab” toning refers to some of the commemorative issues that were slipped into paper packets for sale to collectors, then stored that way for years.  Aficionados of toned coins often pay huge premiums for coins with wild color schemes.  In 2016, Legend Rare Coin Auctions sold the Northern Lights Collection of toned Silver Dollars.  One of the highlights was an amazingly toned 1881-S in MS66 that sold for $7,050 – or 28 times the PCGS Price Guide for a regular MS66!33513697

A stunning 1881-S Silver Dollar from the Northern Lights Collection

Copper-Nickel coins tend to be relatively inert, but they will also pick up colors depending on how they are stored.  Gold is another inert metal, but because it is often alloyed with copper, such coins can develop either undesirable red spots or desirable reddish toning.  If you are not a fan of toning and wish to avoid it altogether, stick with the modern platinum or 99.99% fine gold coins – they will never tone or tarnish.

double eagleCoppery toning spots on a Saint Gaudens Double Eagle

Here’s one important caution as you seek out toned coins: to avoid the trap of artificial toning, stick with PCGS-certified coins.  Our experts are very good at discerning the difference between original and artificial toning, plus each certified coin comes with the PCGS guarantee.

What is your preference: toned or untoned?  What is your favorite toned coin?

Filed Under: News


Ron Guth

Posted on June 9, 2017 by 1 Comment

This is the first in a series of blogs exploring the state of the coin market (and perhaps the world) in years past. I chose to start the series with the year 1973, not because anything earth-shattering occurred in that year, but because it was the first year in which I attended an ANA convention – the Big Kahuna of coin shows.

The world in 1973 was a much different place than it is today. Microwave ovens were just beginning to become popular in household kitchens. There was no such thing as a cell phone. Locked gas caps in cars were unheard of until the scarcity of gasoline following the OPEC oil embargo in October motivated widespread gas theft. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed out the year at 850. The Vietnam War was winding down, a cease-fire was signed in January, and the military draft ended shortly thereafter.  The World Trade Center opened in April in New York and the distinctive Sydney Opera House opened in October. The Watergate hearings began in May. The median price of a home in mid-1973 was $32,000, or roughly three-and-a-half times the median annual income of $9,265.

The coin market was also markedly different than it is today. The $100,000 price barrier had just been broken the previous year when World-Wide Coin purchased a 1913 Liberty Head Nickel from Abe Kosoff for $100,000. The coin prices of 1973 look incredibly cheap through the lens of 2017 but, of course, they seemed high for the time. Third-party grading was non-existent (PCGS would not come into being until thirteen years later). New Redbooks cost $2.50. Auction houses included New Netherlands, Stack’s, C.E. Bullowa, Jess Peters, Sotheby’s, French’s, Hollinbeck-Kagin, Harmer-Rooke, Mayflower, Paramount, RARCOA, Stack’s, C.E. Bullowa, Superior, and the American Auction Association (Q. David Bowers’ and Jim Ruddy’s first foray into the auction business). Few of these names exist today. The same is true of many of the big-name coin dealers of the day who have since passed.

The 1973 convention of the American Numismatic Association was held in Boston, Massachusetts from August 23rd to the 27th. Interestingly, these dates ran from Wednesday through Tuesday, spanning an entire week with the weekend smack-dab in the middle – a markedly different schedule than the conventions of today which run from the beginning of the week through the weekend. John Jay Pittman was President of the Association’s approximately 28,000 members. A full-page ad in The Numismatist cost $99.50. The official auctioneer at the 1973 ANA convention was Jess Peters, who offered a choice selection of important coins, including such rarities as a 1792 Disme in copper, a high-grade 1794 Half Cent, an 1879 Stella, a Mormon $10, a Templeton Reid $2.50, a Moffat $16 ingot, and over 100 additional Territorial gold coins.

Templeton1849 Mormon $10

My memories of the 1973 ANA Convention include striking a Washington Before Boston medal on a large screw press set up by the U.S. Mint. I considered myself a rather strapping twenty-year old at the time, but it took several swings of the weighted bars to get all the details to come up. Another recollection was of Chuck Furjanic and his row of multiple 1793 Chain Cents, plus many other exceptional copper coins. Abe Kosoff stood out from the crowd in his usual white suit; he was always such a distinguished presence. Superior was promoting an upcoming auction with an understated display of a single ancient coin and the accompanying catalog – I can’t recall the exact coin, but I remember being particularly impressed by the sheer power of the display. In 1973, silver art bars reached a sizzling peak. I saw the handwriting on the wall and when I returned home from the convention, I cashed out my entire collection of silver bars just before prices crashed.

If you attended the 1973 ANA Convention, please share your recollections below.

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Ron Guth

Posted on May 12, 2017 by 10 Comments

A nickname is a name given as a substitute for a real name. Most of us picked up a nickname or two during our lives which were given to us by family, friends, or even enemies. My wife and I gave our son, Christian, the nickname “Bubby”, which was a popular and familiar name when we lived in Kentucky, but became out-of-place when we moved to California. He is all grown up and married now, so I refer to him most frequently as “Son.” Occasionally, I’ll call him “Boy” as a throwback to the old Tarzan movies, but that doesn’t fit either since he’s bigger, heavier, and stronger than I am.

Coins are not immune to the nickname phenomenon.  There are literally scores, if not hundreds, of nicknames for coins, both U.S. and World.  Some nicknames are descriptive, such as “Buffalo” Nickel (instead of Indian Head Nickel).  Even the term “Nickel” is a nickname for a Five Cent piece made primarily of Nickel.  Canadian “Loonies” are dollar coins with a Loon on the reverse.


1987 Canadian “Loonie”

Nicknames can also be somewhat generic.  “War Nickels” refer to the silver-alloy Jefferson Nickels issued from 1942 to 1945.  “Trime” is the nickname given to Three-Cent Silver pieces (which are sometimes — but less-frequently — referred to as “fish-scales”).  “Steelies” are zinc-coated 1943 Steel Cents.  The term “Bow Dollar” is sometimes used for “Morgan Dollar”, which is just another name for the “Liberty Head” Dollar.

War Nickel1942-P “War” Nickel

Variety collectors love to give nicknames to unusual and distinctive varieties.  Dr. Sheldon and his forerunners gave all sorts of nicknames to Large Cent varieties.  Dr. Maris, who was instrumental in nicknaming New Jersey Copper varieties, was equally influential in the world of Large Cents.  Thus, we find nicknames for 1794 Large Cent varieties that might include: “Tilted 4”, “Double Chin”, “Sans Milling”,  “Apple Cheek”, “Scarred Head”, “Plicae”, “Office Boy Reverse”, “Pyramidal Head”, “Many Haired”, and more.  And, that’s just for the 1794 Large Cents.

Walter Breen used the nickname “Gynandroid Head” to refer to a variety of 1794 Half Cents. This, of course, is not an affectionate term, as it described the lovely Miss Liberty as being “mannish.” Where’d that come from?


Walter Breen’s “Gynandroid Head.”  Does Liberty look “mannish” to you?

Individual dates have been crowned with their own special nicknames. The 1804 Dollar has been called the “King of American Coins.” The 1844 Dime has been referred to as “Little Orphan Annie”. The term “Holy Grail” has been misused and overused to describe any number of special coins.

Collectors sometimes give nicknames to individual coins of special importance. For instance, the Gem 1793 Chain Cent (Sheldon 4) from the Joseph J. Mickley Collection is known simply as “The Coin.” C. Douglas Smith once owned an 1816 Large Cent (Newcomb 1) that he called “The Golden Biscuit.” Do you have nicknames for any of your coins?

Golden Biscuit

“The Golden Biscuit”

Find out which coins the following nicknames refer to and post your answers below (I promise they are all real): Serpent Head, Skeleton Hand, Transposed Arrows, Horned Bust, Spiked Chin, Comet, Starred Reverse, Bridle Variety, Snipe Nose, Spiny Tree, Ghost Tree, and Ice Cream.

Let me know your favorite nicknames. Have fun!

Filed Under: News


Ron Guth

Posted on April 14, 2017 by No Comments

This is the second (and final) installment of Captain Amasa Delano’s visit to the official government mint at Lima, Peru in 1805. Delano related his story as part of his 1817 book titled “A Narrative Of Voyages and Travels, In the Northern And Southern Hemispheres: Comprising Three Voyages Round The World; Together With A Voyage of Survey And Discovery, In The Pacific Ocean And Oriental Islands.” The first installment described the preparation of silver and gold bullion into blank planchets.  This installment describes the actual striking of silver 8 Reales and gold Doubloons.  Of particular interests to American numismatics is the description of the use of silver plugs to increase the weight of below-standard planchets.  This procedure relates directly to U.S. Half Dollars and Silver Dollars of 1795, some of which show evidence of having similar plugs inserted and about which we know very little because of the dearth of records relating to the early Mint at Philadelphia.  Delano’s text appears in the gray text blocks; explanatory annotations appear between the text blocks.

They are next milled by means of running them through a machine that is only the thickness of a dollar, which is confined edge ways, so that by turning a crank it will roll the dollar through, putting at the same time the mill on the edge.

Beginning in 1793, the U.S.Mint added lettering, milling or ornamentation to all U.S. coins using what is referred two as a Castaing machine.  Basically, a planchet was rolled between two parallel bars, each of which had portions of the edge device engraved into them.  This procedure was performed on the blank planchets before the coins were placed into the coining press.  Beginning in late 1795, Half Cents and Large Cents skipped this step and bore plain edges.

The next process is the weighing; the person who performs this has a little square box containing silver pins that are no longer than the thickness of a dollar, and of different weights and sizes; the dollars are thrown one by one into the scales, but seldom any of them are too heavy, when they are they generally pass them without notice, but if any are too light a pin is thrown into the scale, which brings it to the standard weight; the dollar is then put under a screw that has a pointed instrument in the end of it, which is screwed down and pierces a hole in the dollar sufficiently large to receive the pin; then it is placed under another screw, with a smooth end, which completely fastens the pin in the coin; they are then passed into another room and scoured. That process is performed by putting one or two bushels of them into a wooden bowl made for that purpose and lime juice poured into it sufficient to wet the dollars; when a man, supplied with strong leather gloves to prevent hurting his hands, rubs and scours until they become bright as silver can possibly be made.

Mintmasters operated under strict orders to produce coins of the proper weight.  If a coin was overweight, the government suffered a loss.  If a coin was underweight, the mintmaster could be accused of theft.  Underweight planchets could be fixed in one of two ways: 1) melt them down and start over or 2) add a silver plug to bring them up to the proper weight.  What we did not know before was that the pin was pressed into the planchet PRIOR to striking the coins.

After this operation they are passed to another room, which is the last in the square, and the first on the right hand on entering the gate, which is the apartment where all the money is coined. The master set the people to work at coining dollars and doubloons, to shew me the last process, as I had previously seen all but that. The method is, the impressions are cut on two pieces of steel, about the size of a blacksmith’s sledge hammer, and not very unlike it in shape, the impressions being cut on the face of each; these two pieces are fixed, one in a frame made of wood and iron on the ground, fastened very strongly with screws, with the impression upwards; the other piece is fixed at the lower end of a large screw, five inches in diameter and four feet long, with the impression side down, and placed directly over the one that is fixed on the ground, all parts of the machine being framed together in a remarkable strong manner. An iron tiller, or large bar, is put – on the head of the screw in the same manner a boat’s tiller is put over the head of the rudder, the hole for the screw being in the middle of the tiller, which is twelve feet long, having each end of it loaded with about fifty weight of lead, and ropes four or five feet long fastened to each end for the men to pull by, who sit down and take hold of the ropes, being from five to seven in number. The man who puts the dollars under has a hole sunk on one side of his work for him to sit in.

The above is a good description of the use of a screw press, the same equipment found at the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia.

When the men were all called to their stations and a thousand dollars emptied near the work, the master stepped to the pile and took a handful which he brought to me to inspect, and shewed me where the pins were put in to make up the weight, which were very plain to be seen.


350538Even after silver-plugged coins are struck, there is usually a seam visible on one or both sides between the plug and the surrounding coin.

One man who stands up at one end of the tiller throws it back and raises the screw. A piece of wood was taken out from between the two impressions that serves to keep them apart and a dollar put under in its stead, on which the screw is turned forward with the full strength of the men placed at the tiller, by which it comes down with incredible force on the dollar.

Die clashing occurs when the obverse and reverse dies come together without a planchet between them.  When this occurs, some of the designs transfer from one die to the other.  As careful as the minters may have been to place a piece of wood between the dies, clashing is a common problem on American coins.

The man at the opposite end of the tiller then heaves it back and raises the screw. The dollar is brushed off by means of a piece of iron twelve inches long, of the thickness and width of an iron hoop, which he constantly holds in his hand, and another dollar is put under. They were handed to me to see how fair and deep the impressions were made, and how completely the pins were pressed in; but I could see on some of them where the pin was. This may often be seen in Spanish dollars, if closely inspected.

The “bushels” of silver-plugged coins that Delano saw in 1805 are exceedingly rare today.  A close examination of many Peruvian 8 Reales from the early 1800’s failed to uncover even a single example of a coin with traces of a silver plug.  We would love to hear from anyone who has such a coin and we will continue to search for one.

After showing me as many as I wished to see, they set the screw to work as fast as possible. They could easily finish fifteen in a minute, or one in four seconds. The process with doubloons is the same as with dollars. The pressure of the screw when it comes down on the coin I should imagine to equal a great number of tons, perhaps one hundred. When we had gone all over this remarkable building, I asked the master many questions, which he answered with frankness, seemingly pleased to inform me of any thing that I might wish to know. On taking leave of the mint, I asked the master how much money they commonly coined in a year in that mint. He informed me that they coined from six to eight millions of dollars value in gold and silver, and also that the mint in Mexico coined from fifteen to twenty millions, and St. Jago, in Chili, from one and a half to three millions, which was all the money that was coined in these three kingdoms.

This was a massive output.  By comparison, the U.S. Mint produced only $319,435 value in gold and silver coins.

He told me that the bullion I saw belonged to different people, and was brought to be coined in the same manner as corn is carried to a mill to be ground, and that as fast as it was coined it was taken away by the respective owners. He gave me much information concerning the regulations of the mint too numerous to be here related.

Absent any special arrangements, the U.S. Mint operated under similar conditions and each individual bullion deposit was segregated and processed separate from all others.  Oh, how we wish Delano had related the regulations of the Lima Mint.

Almost all the heavy work was done by water. There seemed to be as many wheels and bands going in it as in one of our cotton factories. Water works can be carried on in Lima with as much convenience as in any place I ever visited.

In the early years of the U.S. Mint, the heavy work was done by horses.

The reason I had so much attention paid me at Lima was on account of the different services I had rendered, as many great men think it an honour to notice a person who has done well by his fellow creatures. This cause may be assigned for the viceroy’s noticing me, and among other marks of respect, gave me liberty to examine any curiosity in or about the city; as also to visit the prisons, to see any person in them I chose, and take out of confinement any Englishman or foreigner, and take him on board my ship. Many similar favours were granted me during my stay at that place.

It pays to have friends in high places!

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