Posted on April 14, 2017 by Ron Guth
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.
Even 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!
Posted on April 5, 2017 by Steve Sloan
On April 4, 2017, the U.S. Mint released its annual Congratulations Set, with much more fanfare than usual. The Set, which contains a single Proof American Silver Eagle inside a handsome presentation folder, is typically purchased as a gift for someone to commemorate a special occasion, such as graduation. In years past, the Silver Eagle was made at the same branch of the Mint, which produced the rest of that year’s proof Silver Eagles – the West Point Mint. However, this year, the U.S. Mint made the coins for the Congratulations Set at the San Francisco Mint, making this coin a potential hit with collectors of proof Silver Eagles. Unsurprisingly, the Set reached “unavailable” status within minutes following its noon (EST) release.
Rather than adding the coins to the West Point portion of the PCGS population, as was the case in previous proof Silver Eagle releases, these S-Mintmark coins will comprise an entirely new population, the “Congratulations Set.” That, combined with the fact that this is only the second time the California-based mint produced proof Silver Eagles since 1992, and that there is a product limit of only 75,000 coins, makes this release significant in many ways.
The West Point Mint has produced Proof Silver Eagles from 2001 to present, and before that, the Philadelphia Mint from 1993 to 2000. San Francisco, however, was the original mint tasked to produce the coins in 1986, up until 1992.
Each proof American Silver Eagle released in the Congratulations Set since 2013, and graded by PCGS, was added to the normal proof Silver Eagle population for the year released. However, with its own distinct PCGS population and expected low mintage numbers, the 2017-S American Silver Eagle is already innately more rare, and modern collectors are apt to target this.
“While reviewing upcoming releases for 2017, we realized that, due to its surprise San Francisco origins, the coins would be added to an entirely new PCGS population, and these Congratulations Set Proof Silver Eagles will probably have the lowest mintage numbers since the 1995-W Proof Silver Eagles.
So, what we have here is the first San Francisco Silver Eagle release in five years, with a separate PCGS population, and very low mintage numbers. These coins will no doubt be popular among collectors,” said PCGS Vice President Mark Stephenson.
Additionally, PCGS will produce Congratulations Set labels for the 2017-S Proofs, available upon request.
For more information on the 2017 Congratulations Set, visit www.usmint.gov. To review the PCGS population, and monitor Congratulations Set coins, visit www.PCGS.com/pop.
Founded in 1986 by distinguished numismatic experts, Professional Coin Grading Service is the most respected coin authentication and grading company in the world and has offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Paris and the United States.
Posted on March 17, 2017 by Ron Guth
PERU 1805-JP 8 REALES
In 1817, Captain Amasa Delano published a 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.” Delano described his extensive voyages aboard the American ship Massachusetts as it traveled around the world. For general readers, this is a detailed description of Delano’s voyages to parts of the world that were mostly unknown at the time. Numismatists will be particularly intrigued by Delano’s visit to the Mint at Lima, Peru in 1805. Thanks to special access, Delano provided insider details of the Mint and its procedures.
Ken Bressett referred to the Delano story in Bowers & Borckardt’s 1993 reference book on U.S. Silver Dollars, where he pulled in a portion of the narrative relative to the use of silver plugs to raise underweight planchets to the required legal standard. However, there is a lot more to the story.
Original copies of the Delano book are quite rare. Fortunately, several modern reprints can be found on sites such as AbeBooks.com for as little as $13 plus shipping. Even better, digital copies of the original are available for free at Google Books.
This installment presents the first half of Delano’s mint visit (his story appears in the highlighted text blocks below):
The next curiosity here, that is worthy of mentioning, is the mint; which I visited and was shown every thing worth my attention in it. Two or three gentlemen accompanied me to see it, first having sent to know when we could be admitted, and the answer being returned appointing the day.
The Spanish King, Philip II, established a mint at Lima, Peru in 1565 by royal edict. In 1568, production began of silver “cobs” (crudely shaped coins cut from the ends of silver ingots). In 1659, the Lima Mint added gold “escudos” to their lineup. By 1805, Spanish colonial coins were made of a more uniform size and they bore the portrait of the King (as seen on the 8 Reales illustrated above).
When we went we were received with every degree of attention that could be shown. The master or conductor went with us over all parts of it, and shewed [sic] us all that was worthy of seeing, and explained every thing to my satisfaction. The building forms a square, one part of it fronting on the street. It has a strong wall on all sides of it, which forms a large square that is about one hundred and fifty feet each way. The gate is in the middle of the front side. We entered a row of buildings on the left hand after passing through the gate, in which the process of refining and separating the ore is performed; and as we proceeded on the left hand side, we came to where they were melting and casting gold and silver in iron moulds. It was cast in a proper shape to be drawn down cold. The process with the gold which was performed in my presence, was by bruising the ore fine with mauls, and then wetting it with some liquid, and working it over in the same manner as lime mortar is prepared in this country. This is done on the floor of the room, which was all paved with smooth stones, or bricks. This labour is done by negroes, who tread it over with their feet and kneed it like dough…
The implication here is that Peru used slaves to produce coins. The U.S. Mint, from its establishment in 1792, relied entirely on paid laborers.
…after which they put quick silver amongst it, as I was informed, which separates the ore from the other metals that are mixed with it. It had the appearance as they worked it, of yellow mortar, or dough. After it was separated, it was cast into ingots or bars. The silver is separated previous to its being brought to the mint, and cast into pigs that weigh from eighty to one hundred and sixty pounds each. Many tons of these bars I saw piled up like cord wood.
There was another method by which I saw them separate gold dust (so called,) which is by putting it into a little trench, that runs through one part of the mint. It is made serpentine, and is about one foot wide and two feet deep, with a little descent. Its sides and bottom are made as smooth and even as possible with stone and lime cemented together. In each of the turns of this trench a small ragged iron wheel is sunk, like the sunk wheel of a watch, in the cement at the bottom of the trench. This wheel has a shaft, or spindle in the middle, which comes above the top of the trench, and has another wooden horizontal wheel on the top of this spindle; to which were fixed bands that were brought from the barrel of a large wheel, which being put in motion moved all the small ones. The gold dust, sand, and all together as it was taken up, was put into the upper part of the trench, and a gate hoisted that set the large wheel going which moved the horizontal sunk wheels. The water running likewise through the trench carried the dust down, and at every sunk wheel it got a scouring; and by the time it had passed through the trench, the sand and other particles of matter lighter than gold were swept away, and the gold dust left in the basins formed for the ragged wheels to move in.
This sounds a lot like the way gold is processed in the field by modern mechanical devices (see the popular TV series “Gold Rush”). At Lima, this would been a big operation that required a lot of labor and a reliable source of significant amounts of water.
The next process is the melting of the metal. The method for this was to have crucibles made of a kind of clay which will stand fire. These are made in the form of a tub as large as aa half hogshead, with the top a little contracted, which were suspended by axles fixed to their sides, and placed in a frame similar to the method that blacksmiths hang their bellows; by which means they can tip them backwards and forwards. They then have an iron crutch, or brace, which hooks into two eyes like crane eyes, put into the side of the crucible for the purpose of commanding it. The crucibles are filled with charcoal, after a fire being kindled in them, and two or three hundred weight of gold or silver put on the coals. Two large bellows of a curious construction, worked by hand, were brought up to the front of the crucibles, and their pipes introduced into two holes made for that purpose, which blows the fire with great force. The fire is constantly fed with coals until the ore is sufficiently melted for casting. Whilst it is running into the moulds, it cannot be destinguished [sic], the gold from the silver, both being all red as blood. When the ore is sufficiently heated, the bellows is moved back by means of something similar to cogs or rollers; the crucible is then tiped [sic] backward, on account of the holes made for the bellows pipes, until the metal rises above the top of a little spout like that of a pitcher, but it will not run until it is touched with a small stick with a piece of cloth round the end of it and moistened with some kind of oil; this when touched to the spout where it is wanted the metal to run from, will flash in a blaze like powder, and immediately the ore will run in a small stream not much larger than a pipe stem, into moulds cut in small flat iron bars, about twenty inches long, one inch and a quarter wide, and half an inch deep, with wooden handles to them. After the ore is drawn off in this way in bars, according to the dimensions of the mould, they are taken to a room further to the right in which the grand water works are fixed; in this room were more than ten pairs of rollers arranged very much like those that sugar cane is run through in the West Indies, made horizontal, and gradually decreasing in space. The bars of gold and silver are run through between these rollers, from one to the other, until they are laminated to near the thickness of a dollar, and the gold to that of a doubloon, having by that time the requisite width. By the time they are nearly reduced to a right thickness they are more than four feet long, the silver having a similar appearance to iron hoops. They are then taken to another room still to the right, and run through a plate which brings them to an exact thickness, at which time they are wide enough to cut out the dollar. After this they are passed under a sharp steel trepan of a roundish figure, hollow within, and of proportionable diameter to shape and cut the piece at the same time.
The “trepan” (from the Spanish “trepanar – to create a hole) was used to produce blank planchets of a uniform diameter. If the thickness of the silver or gold strips were exact, each planchet produced using this method would be of consistent weight. However, such technical perfection eluded the Mint, as will be shown in the discussion of silver pins and plugs in the next installment.
This instrument is fixed at the lower end of a screw which is made with a very large worm; this causes it to descend very forcibly, and when the laminated bar is held under it, every time the screw is turned it comes down and cuts a piece out of the silver the exact size of a dollar; but when a gold laminated bar drawn to a proper thickness, is placed under it, the screw is supplied with another instrument to pierce out a piece the exact size of a doubloon.
The next (and final) installment of Delano’s narrative will include details of actual coin production at Lima.
Posted on February 18, 2017 by Ron Guth
I’m sitting here at the February 2017 Long Beach Expo in the shadow of one of the greatest coins in American numismatics – the $10 million 1794 Silver Dollar – and one of the greatest collections of U.S. Silver Dollars ever assembled – the Bruce Morelan Collection of Early Dollars. What Bruce has done is assemble many of the highest-quality examples of Bust Dollars from the 1794-1803 era. Thanks to the emergence of some incredible-quality coins in recent years, Bruce has had access to coins and collections that many of us never believed would ever appear on the market. When I wrote about this collection for the promotional brochure that accompanies this presentation, I called it the highest concentration of value in the PCGS Set Registry, meaning that the per-coin value in this set is simply off the charts.
The perspective I’d like to impart in this blog is from that of a “fly on the wall” who observed the comings-and-goings over a day-and-a-half day period. In other words, what was it like to observe the reactions of collectors and dealers as they examined this incredible set?
First of all, the marketing presentation for this set was stunning. Typically, PCGS displays important Set Registry collections in one or more cases in a designated area at major coin shows. For the Morelan Collection, PCGS took over a carpeted area measuring thirty by thirty feet (to my knowledge, that’s the largest area PCGS has ever devoted to a single collection). The premier coin in the collection, the PCGS SP66 1794 Dollar, took center stage in a specially constructed, secure cabinet, always attended by one or more of PCGS’ security personnel. A backdrop of large graphic panels presented each of the twelve coins in the collection with descriptive notes provided by Bruce himself. In front of the 1794 Dollar was a well-lit display case containing the remaining eleven coins in the collection, again with descriptive cards for each. The PCGS Marketing Department developed some fun, social media cutouts with which collectors could take photographs of themselves and their friends. In another area, a video monitor featured an endless loop of interviews about the collection with Bruce, David Hall, Don Willis, and me. PCGS Set Registry staffers Gayle and Cosetta were on hand to guide people through the display area and answer questions. PCGS Marekting Director, Steve Sloan, supervised the construction of the display and ensured everything ran smoothly.
On Wednesday, the day when dealers set up their booths, traffic was somewhat light, primarily because most of the dealers had already seen the coins when PCGS presented them at the Florida United Numismatists convention in January. Many of the dealers spent a lot of time examining each of the coins and relishing the experience. I kept hearing the word “Wow” over and over again, which was my reaction, too, when I first saw the coins on display. Many of the dealers had pictures taken of themselves standing beside the 1794 Dollar.
On Thursday, traffic through the exhibit was steady throughout the day. Hundreds of collectors and dealers took the opportunity to view these amazing coins. For most, this was their first exposure to coins of this type and quality, so we answered a lot of questions and explained the importance of the collection. The most common question came from collectors who wondered about the meaning of “Silver Plug” as it pertained to the 1794 Dollar. Normally, “plugged” is not a positive attribute because it means the coin has been holed at some time (usually for jewelry), then repaired by having the hole plugged. However, in 1794 and 1795, silver plugs were used, in the normal course of business, to increase the weight of some coins up to the required amount.
In the afternoon, Bruce Morelan, the owner of the set, came by. This was his first time seeing the display and his enthusiastic response was especially gratifying. Bruce is one of the nicest guys in the business, very approachable and congenial, and his passion for collecting is evident throughout his conversations about his coins. He held court and paused for photos with appreciative collectors and dealers who were present for this unannounced, special moment. Laura Sperber, who has assisted Bruce in building some of his world-class collections, visited the display. Here’s what she posted on her website shortly after her visit: “We actually had to wait in line to get our pics taken with the [1794 Dollar]! The display was beyond any we have ever seen anywhere.” Other veteran coin dealers commented that they had never seen a collection of such exceptional quality.
Kudos to everyone at PCGS who had a hand in presenting this fantastic display and, thank you, Bruce, for your willingness to share this unique collection.
Posted on January 20, 2017 by Ron Guth
I’ve always liked U.S. commemorative coins, especially the so-called “classic” silver and gold commems (those issued from 1892 to 1954). Two to three decades ago, this enthusiasm was shared by many collectors. Today, however, interest in this series seems to have waned. The justification for this judgment is the declining and flat prices for many of the coins in this series, especially among the silver versions.
What has happened? This is a closed series, mintages are fixed, and the only changes have been an increase in the number of certified coins. The designs are beautiful, mintages are low in many instances, and the coins are almost always Mint State, and nice. Why are prices so low? Or, asked another way, why aren’t collectors paying more attention to this series? Regardless of why or how they have been lured away from classic commems, now might be a time for collectors to take another look at this fascinating group of coins.
Where, in fact, are commem prices today relative to the past prices? Perhaps an examination of pricing history can gives us some context and perspective. As a service to collectors, PCGS has built price guides for most U.S. series that go all the way back to 1970 and which are presented in graph form. The graph of the index for classic silver and gold commemoratives shows a sharp peak in April 1989 followed by a sharp decline that ended nine years later, then ticked up gradually until October 2006, then declined gradually until the present time. In 2016, the index began the year at approximately 25,000 and fell to an ignominious 21,000 by the end of the year. The last time the index was this low was sometime in 1983! Can you imagine being able to purchase any other U.S. coin today at a 1983 price?
Here are some of my favorites in the series:
1939-P, D, or S Arkansas. Extremely low mintage of 2,103 coins (2,104 for the 1939-S). Current PCGS Price Guide in MS65: $525 to $650 each. In 1988, the Redbook listed an MS65 price of $950, and that was for the most common type!
1935-S or 1936-D San Diego. I live in San Diego, so naturally, I like this coin. Current PCGS Price Guide in MS65: $120 to $135. Huh? The lowest Redbook price in 1988 was $600 in MS65.
1946 Iowa. This is a common coin in high grade, but $225 for a PCGS MS67? A real no-brainer. MS65s were $550 in the 1988 Redbook.
Oregon Trail (any, but especially the 1939’s). One of my favorite designs in the series. As with the 1939 Arkansas commems, the 1939 Oregon Trail commems have low mintages (just over 3,000 each). Current PCGS Price Guide in MS65: $550 to $575 each. Again, the TYPE price for these in the 1988 Redbook was $750 in MS65 – and they certainly have not become more common.
If you’re a contrarian, give the classic U.S. commemorative coins a look. You’ll find tremendous values there. Have fun!
Posted on January 6, 2017 by Ron Guth
Wayne’s World was a zany 1992 movie starring Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) as two “dudes” who broadcast a public access TV show from Wayne’s parents’ basement. The film was based on Saturday Night Live skits in which Wayne and Garth expounded on rock-and-roll music and girls. The film cost approximately $20 million to produce and went on to gross more than $183 million.
However, this is the story of a different Wayne’s World, a numismatic one that started several years later – on September 4, 1998 to be exact. On that fateful day, Wayne Homren, a member of the Numismatic Bilbiomania Society, started a weekly email publication directed at members of the organization. His stated purpose was as follows: “This is intended to be a moderated, low-volume mailing list, with no more than one message every week or so. Its purpose and use will evolve over time – please send us your comments and suggestions.” The second edition, sent to the eighty-eight members who had signed up by then, included two notices: 1) that the official club publication had gone to the printers and 2) that a member was seeking information about known copies of the Howard Rounds Newcomb book on the U.S. Large Cents of 1801-1803.
In the eighteen years since then, Wayne’s publication has become known as the E-Sylum (a play on Asylum, the name of the club’s print publication), it has grown in terms of scope and size, and it now goes to over 2,000 subscribers. The E-Sylum has become one of the most important, weekly sources for numismatic news and information. From its text-only, single-notice, initial publication, the E-Sylum has morphed into a sophisticated HTML-based presentation. The most recent issue (January 2, 2017) includes thirty-seven items in the table of contents, on a variety of subjects ranging from new numismatic publications, a coin treasure hunt, an obituary, a biography, bridges on ancient coins, 2017 coins from the Royal Mint, paper money, Victoria Crosses, and much more. The amount of work that Wayne puts into each issue is tremendous — and he has done it every week for eighteen years. Like Wayne and Garth of Wayne’s World, Mr. Homren is just as passionate as his favorite subject – numismatics. And, like Wayne’s World, the E-Sylum is public access – it is completely free of charge.
I look forward to each weekly installment of the E-Sylum and Wayne’s Words (Homren’s self-styled introduction – was this a deliberate nod to Wayne’s World?). Like clockwork, the E-Sylum appears in my inbox each Sunday night, a perfect time to relax and enjoy the fruits of Wayne’s work. Always, I learn something new and useful.
I invite you to become a part of the E-Sylum and Wayne’s “world” by subscribing here. Tell him PCGS sent you. To view all eighteen years of the E-Sylum, check out the Esylum Archives.
Posted on December 13, 2016 by Ron Guth
One of the recent innovations out of the great minds at PCGS is Collectors.com, a tool that scans the internet for numismatic listings (or other collectibles), then combines them in a searchable format. This tool makes it easy for collectors to locate the coins they need and want for their collection without having to sift through a lot of meaningless data. More importantly, Collectors.com tracks down coins that a visitor to the web might miss completely on obscure sites.
Your first step is to visit Collectors.com. On the home page, you will see 10 different categories, including “Coins” in the upper left. Clicking on the “Coins” icon takes you to the main coin page. On the left side of the page is a listing of U.S., World, and Ancient coin categories with a variety of subdivisions. For instance, in the U.S. coin category, I see 31,259 listings just for gold coins. When I click on that subcategory, I get over 1,300 pages of gold coin listings (way more than I can ever want or afford). If I type “$20 gold” into the search bar near the top of the page, I get back 170 pages with over 4,071 listings (still way too much). If I narrow the search to “1884-CC $20 gold,” I’m down to 1 page with 19 listings. Now that I have a more manageable group of coins, I can sort them in a variety of ways, including by grade or price. Since I fashion myself as a quality buyer in this case, I’ll sort by grade from highest to lowest. I’m rewarded with two PCGS MS62 examples, one for $27,500 and another (with a CAC sticker) for $30,500. If I was ready to buy, I would click on either of the two coins and the system would put me in touch with the seller, and I could add a very special coin to my collection.
Since my interest is in German coins, I’ll head back to the home page and start a new search. Germany leads the World Coins section with a whopping 223,122 coins spread over 9,297 pages. If I search for just “PCGS,” I find an impressive 1,623 results in 68 pages. The most expensive PCGS-graded German coin on Collectors.com is a gold medal from Bavaria for $14,995, but I’m looking for something a little more generic. If I refine the search to “PCGS 1/2 Mark,” the system returns 47 results and a great group of coins from which to choose.
Up to now, you and I have been proactive in searching for coins. In other words, we only find coins if we initiate a search. However, Collectors.com has a great feature that allows us to create a watchlist so that if any coins show up based on our want list, we’ll get an instant email alert. We don’t even have to be on the site, yet Collectors.com will give us first shot at new listings. Pretty convenient, eh?
Here’s an even better feature. For those of us who participate in the PCGS Set Registry, Collectors.com will send us an email alert when a coin comes along that will fill a hole in our set or upgrade an existing coin. This makes it easier than ever to climb the rankings on the Registry, and it can even be critical for maintaining the top position. Also, as you visit your own sets on The PCGS Registry, you’ll sometimes see a “SHOP” button on your listings that alerts you to a coin you need for your collection.
If you’re serious about adding to and improving your sets, Collectors.com is a must-have tool. Try your own searches to see what turns up. I think you’ll be very impressed.
For some informative articles about Collectors.com, click here and have fun!
Posted on November 10, 2016 by Ron Guth
Will you be happy with the Good-4? Can you afford the VF30?
Collecting coins is all about decisions. Simply put, none of us have enough money to collect everything we want. Absent piles of cash, we must pick and choose among a variety of coins to decide where we want to spend our money and focus our energies. Many times, the choice boils down to aesthetics – what “floats our boat.” Do we like the ever-popular Morgan Dollar, the beautiful Standing Liberty Quarter, or are we attracted to the odd Half Cents of the 1793-1857 period? Even after we make an aesthetic choice, we must still address the tension between quality and cost. What is your preferred grade? What can you afford? Making these decisions BEFORE you begin collecting is crucial to a gratifying collecting experience. If you’re not happy with the quality you can afford, don’t even bother starting — you’ll be miserable early on in the process. If you run out of money before you can complete your set – well, that’s not much fun either.
Here’s an example of how this decision-making process works. Let’s say you really like the Barber Half Dollar series. What would it cost to build a complete collection where all of the coins are the same grade? The Barber Half Dollar series is relatively short, so it’s a matter of picking a grade and adding up the catalog values for all of the coins in the series. Fortunately, a lot of this data-crunching has already been done for you in the form of the PCGS Price Guide (for Barber Half Dollar, click here). In Good-4, you can expect to spend just over $3,000 to complete a set of Barber Half Dollars by date and mintmark. In VF-30, a full set of Barber Half Dollars would cost $22,740 (give or take) and in MS63 a complete set would run $165,000 (keep in mind that these are approximate figures, and they account for the time spent in hunting the coins down). If you had a budget of $20,000, you’d have no problem completing the set in Good-4 or Fine-12 ($9,417). However, a VF-30 set is probably out of reach unless you add more money to your budget.
If you are shut out of Barber Half Dollars, follow the same process for other series until you find one you like.
For $20,000, you can complete a set of Franklin Half Dollars in MS66 with money left over. How about a set of Standing Liberty Quarters in EF40? Or a set of Classic Silver Commemorative Half Dollars in MS64? Or a complete set of $2.50 Indians in MS62?
You decide how much money you have to spend, then hunt down a grade and a series you can live with. There is no right or wrong answer – collect what you like. Having fun is what coin collecting is all about.
Posted on October 14, 2016 by Ron Guth
1795 50C O-128 PCGS VF20
A Condition Census is a listing of the best examples of a particular coin. Such lists are developed to give collectors an idea of what coins are available, who the former and current owners were and are, and when and where the coins appeared for sale. Stripped-down versions of a Census give grades only. For instance, in the fifth edition of “United States Early Half Dollar Die Varieties 1794-1836″ by Donald L. Parsley, the census for the 1795 Overton-128 variety is presented simply as 30,20,15,15,12, indicating that the best known example is a VF30. In the new (2015) “Early United States Half Dollars, Volume 1, 1794-1807” by Steve M. Tompkins, the 1795 O-128 becomes Tompkins T-18 with a census of 30,20,15,15,12,12,10. Without knowing if the authors wrote about the same coins, it still appears that the best example of a 1795 O-128 (T-18) is a VF30.
However, neither author tells us anything about the coins themselves, thus if a collector wants to learn something (the overall appearance of the coin, the past auction history, etc.) about the VF30, where should he/she go? In the world of early Half Dollars, the next best stop is Stephen Herrmann’s “Auction & Mail Bid Prices Realized for Bust Half Dollars 1794-1839.” Once there, the collector learns that the highest grade 1795 O-128 ever offered for sale was a VF30 from Sheridan Downey’s July 1993 Mail Bid Sale #9. That particular coin was from the Overton Collection, it was the plate coin in the Overton book, it was certified by NGC, and it was withdrawn from the sale (for an undisclosed reason). Armed with that information, one can finally see an image of the elusive VF-30 1795 O-128 by going to the Overton book. Herrman’s book provides much more information about the best 1795 O-128’s. His listing of the top seven citations (30,20,15,15,15, 12) looks surprisingly like the Overton and Tompkins censuses, but now we can see details about the individual appearances of each coin: the auction house, the sale date, the lot number, the price realized, and comments on some of the coins.
Armed with this information, plus visits to the Heritage and Stack’s/Bowers websites, data from the PCGS Pop Report, and TrueView images from the PCGS CoinFacts website, we can now construct a truly meaningful Census that looks like this:
VF30 (raw) – Overton Plate Coin. Overton Collection – Sheridan Downey Mail Bid Sale 7/1993:143, withdrawn
VF20 (PCGS) – Sheridan Downey Fixed Price List 7/2009, $1,950
F15 (PCGS) – Stack’s/Bowers 3/2014:5339 (as PCGS F15 28913629), $3,525
F15 (PCGS) – Sheridan Downey, sold privately in 6/1998 – Westmoreland County Collection of Early Bust Halves – Heritage 1/2008:1345 (as PCGS F15 13875463), $8,050
F15 (NGC) – Julian Leidman, sold privately in 4/1982 – Jules Reiver Collection – Heritage 1/2006:22508 (as NGC F15), $3,737.50
F12 (PCGS) – Michael Summers, sold privately in 8/2006 – Heritage 4/2008:954 (as PCGS F12 07342139), $4,887.50 – Heritage 3/2009:1910 (as PCGS F12 07342139), $3,737.50
F12 (NGC) – Heritage 4/2016:3417 (as NGC F12 2676127-003), $3,995
VG10 (NGC) – Silver Plug! Stack’s/Bowers 11/2015:20056 (as NGC VG10 3906316-001), $49,937.50
Now the collector can make a much more informed decision when buying or selling a 1795 O-128 Half Dollar. The same process can be used for just about any U.S. coin. In fact, that’s what we’re doing at PCGS CoinFacts. Check to see what’s available for your favorite coin.
Posted on September 15, 2016 by Ron Guth
I hate missing coin shows. They’re where all the buzz is. They’re where a lot of my friends are. They’re good barometers of the market. They’re like visiting scores or hundreds of coin shops in a single weekend. If I miss a show, I feel like I’m out of the loop. Thus, after the show is over, I immediately call up friends who I knew were at the show and ask them all about it. Or, thanks to the Internet, you can learn a lot about the show from Show Reports.
Show Reports are personal experiences as related by actual participants at the show.
For instance, I recently posted a “2016 ANA Diary” on the PCGS Blog sharing my experiences at the August 2016 American Numismatic Associations convention in Anaheim, California. Much of my time was spent in meetings, promoting PCGS CoinFacts, sharing information about coins, or answering questions at the PCGS Booth. My experience was much different from the dealers who were doing actual business on the bourse floor. So, even though I was at the show myself, I was curious to see the perspectives offered by other people. Several dealers post Show Reports, which are available to anyone with a computer (including you), so here’s what I found.
One of my favorite Show Reports is the one offered by John Agre at Coin Rarities Online . John specializes in high-end U.S. colonial coins and he is a very active buyer and seller. Plus, he tells great stories. I’ll let you read through his eight(!) days of entries to see what he had to say about the show.
Next up is Charmy Harker’s Show Report. Charmy is known in the industry as “The Penny Lady” for her penchant for Flying Eagle, Indian Head, and Lincoln Cents. Her Show Reports are among the most popular posts on the PCGS Message Boards. They are usually loaded with images from start to finish, including after-hour festivities (and great wines). For her take on the 2016 ANA show, click here.
Another great Show Reporter is Laura Sperber of Legend Numismatics, who posted Pre-, Actual-, and Post-ANA Reports. Laura’s Market Reports and Hot Topics are always exciting and they come from the standpoint of one of the leaders in the coin market.
Dave Wnuck, a former partner of the afore-mentioned John Agre, and now operating under Dave Wnuck Numismatics, LLC doesn’t report on shows per se, but he does issue an entertaining “Making The Grade” newsletter that often touches on his experiences at coin conventions. You can read archives of his newsletters here.
Numerous other people post show reports on the PCGS Message Boards and elsewhere. Combine that with the trade publications and press releases from the big auction houses, and you almost don’t have to go to shows anymore.
Okay…that may be stretching it a bit.
If you have a favorite show report, please post a link to it in the Comments section.
Even better, visit the next coin show and post your own Report!
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