Archive for June, 2017

THE COLOR OF MONEY

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

THE WAY WE WERE – 1973

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.

Filed Under: News