The late, great, Ed Reiter once called Q. David Bowers a “one-man library” due to his propensity to not only produce a massive amount of content, but to imbue each and every article, column, or book with quality as well. Commencing Wednesday, ...

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“One-man library” Q. David Bowers to contribute a weekly column starting on January 3 and more...

“One-man library” Q. David Bowers to contribute a weekly column starting on January 3

Background photo by Jeff Belmonte.

The late, great, Ed Reiter once called Q. David Bowers a “one-man library” due to his propensity to not only produce a massive amount of content, but to imbue each and every article, column, or book with quality as well. Commencing Wednesday, January 3, 2018, Coin Update and Mint News Blog will have the pleasure of hosting a weekly column by the world-renowned numismatist and prolific author. Every Wednesday, both blogs will be featuring a regular piece by Bowers, who was named one of the Numismatists of the Century by COINage magazine. Bowers himself describes the columns as covering topics such as “nostalgia, philosophy, and current events,” the latter of which particularly refers to auctions. Readers of the two blogs are in for a treat, as Bowers’s very name is synonymous with the field of numismatics.

Quentin David Bowers was born on October 21, 1938, in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, and since the age of 14 has massively contributed to the numismatic hobby. He made history by being the first person to serve as president of both the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) and the American Numismatic Association (ANA). The PNG’s highest honor, the Founders Award, was bestowed upon Bowers, and furthermore, he received their Freidberg Award for numismatic literature an unprecedented seven times. To many hobbyists, Dave Bowers is one of the most revered numismatists to ever grace the hobby. He holds additional interests in music and cinema as well, having assembled sizeable collections of musical instruments in addition to historical silent film posters. He has written books on collectible postcards, early silent film, mechanical music machines, famous personalities, and other historical topics.

Even if you are not familiar with Q. David Bowers, if you possess a copy of The Official Red Book, then you are already familiar with his work, as Bowers has been a long-time editor and researcher of the ubiquitous tome. He has produced many other notable works as well, both online and in print, such as Lost and Found Coin Hoards and Treasures (2015), A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents (second edition, 2017), A Guide Book of Half Cents and Large Cents (2015), and A Guide Book of Morgan Silver Dollars (fifth edition, 2016). He has contributed regularly to publications such as Coin World, The Numismatist, and CoinWeek as well. Bowers has appeared publicly on the Today Show, CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, and the Discovery Channel and has also lectured at Harvard University.

We on Coin Update and Mint News Blog are excited to host Q. David Bowers as a regular contributor and we are confident that you will find his weekly column intellectually stimulating and rich in quality.

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U.S. Mint’s response to members of Congress lacks commitment

Acting Deputy Director of the U.S. Mint David Motl’s November 17 response to an October 27 letter from U.S. Representatives Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Alex Mooney (R-WV) requesting information regarding the Mint’s efforts to combat the rising tide of counterfeit coins entering the United States lacks commitment.

“While the Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force (ACTF) appreciates Acting Deputy Director Motl’s acknowledgement that counterfeiting represents a serious threat to the nation’s coinage, we are nevertheless disheartened that the U.S. Mint’s efforts on the anti-counterfeiting front do not reflect a serious commitment to act against this threat,” said Beth Deisher, Industry Council for Tangible Assets’ Director of Anti-Counterfeiting who also coordinates the ACTF.

In his letter to congressmen Lucas and Mooney, Motl points to the Mint’s Second Annual Numismatic Forum, held on October 17 to discuss marketplace issues with 68 industry leaders. In fact, this forum would have been an excellent venue for U.S. Mint officials to describe the U.S. Mint’s anti-counterfeiting efforts, but the subject was never raised.

ACTF’s concern is that Mint leaders did not raise the subject because the U.S. Mint is doing little to address the surge of counterfeit U.S. coins now entering the United States. The Mint has long held the position that protecting the nation’s coinage from counterfeiters is the responsibility of the U.S. Secret Service; thus, it has remained inactive when it comes to developing and employing modern anti-counterfeiting technology to protect the coins it manufactures.

On November 9, 2017, eight days prior to Motl writing his letter to Reps. Lucas and Mooney, ACTF representatives met with the acting deputy director and other senior staff at U.S. Mint headquarters. In that meeting, ACTF described three important steps the U.S. Mint has the authority and the financial resources to use today to fight the counterfeiters:

  • Respond to the long-standing request from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to register U.S. Mint products with CBP to allow it to identify and interdict counterfeits as they enter the country. To-date, the U.S. Mint has not done so.

ACTF News Release, Page 2

  • Incorporate (as other sovereign mints have done) state-of-the-art anti-counterfeiting features into the packaging and certificates of authenticity that accompany its numismatic products.
  • Launch a research and development program to determine the most effective anti-counterfeiting features to incorporate into its precious metals coins. Other sovereign mints are far ahead of the U. S. Mint in exploring these options and incorporating them into their coinage. As soon as practicable the U.S. Mint should draw upon other national mints’ experience and tap private-sector expertise in order to identify and implement the best anti-counterfeiting technology.

In his letter, Motl states that “in the past two years, we have not received any complaints about current-issue gold, platinum, or silver coins.” In fact, in the November 9 meeting with Mr. Motl, ACTF representatives informed him and other Mint staff of evidence of counterfeiters producing fake American Eagle, American Buffalo, and U.S. commemorative coins, all of which are composed of precious metals.

David Ryder, who awaits U.S. Senate confirmation as the next director of the Mint, identified the counterfeiting threat as one of his top priorities. Ryder has deep experience in the field of anti-counterfeiting technology, and the U.S. Mint is in dire need of leadership that takes this threat seriously. ACTF encourages the U.S. Senate to act quickly to confirm him.

The Industry Council for Tangible Assets formed the Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force’s in January 2017. ACTF’s mission is to educate law enforcement authorities and policymakers about the rising threat of counterfeiting, mobilize law enforcement to attack counterfeiters where they are most vulnerable and provide expertise and other resources in the investigation and prosecution of counterfeiters and those involved at all levels of their distribution networks.

ACTF is totally funded through donations from businesses and individuals. For information about donating to support the work of the task force, visit the website of the ICTA or contact Beth Deisher at 567-202-1795; email Make checks payable to ICTA Anti-Counterfeiting, P.O. Box 237, Dacula, GA 30019.

Press release courtesy of the Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force.

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Bitcoin: Digital bullion, or just digital?

Image by Uberpenguin.

In a recent interview on the “Fast Money Halftime Report,” renowned trader Mark Fisher discussed the similarities between the current hype for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and the silver rush seen in the late 1970s and 1980s. Fisher attributes Bitcoin’s rapid rise in value to its organic popularity (i.e., no meddling by Wall Street) and massive public interest. However, what truly separates Bitcoin from silver is that Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, while silver is, and most likely always will be, considered a precious metal. Therefore, Bitcoin’s value as a currency is completely determined by the value placed on it by consumers. While some are beginning to consider Bitcoin the first incarnation of digital bullion, there are some important points to consider before placing the same level of trust in it as one would for gold or silver.

A typical Bitcoin transaction. Photo by FlippyFlink.

“Cryptocurrency” is defined as a subset of digital currency in which cryptography is used to securely process transactions that are initiated with more typical currency. Bitcoin made history as the world’s first “decentralized cryptocurrency” in 2009, and many similar cryptocurrencies have begun to arise in its wake. Bitcoin allows users to make secure and confidential transactions that cannot be traced through regular means. The notorious cryptocurrency has soared to over $11,000 in value over the last week, creating a massive boon to investors. However, some experts warn that the chaotic rise of Bitcoin’s value is a testament to its weakness as a currency, rather than its strength, and predict an incoming bubble.

Silver nitrate crystals. Photo by W. Oelen.

Gold and silver, on the other hand, have been considered precious metals for thousands of years by many different civilizations. These precious metals have faced the test of time and consistently came out virtually unscathed in their unquestionable value. Silver is useful in the construction of solar panels and water filtration systems. It is used in disinfecting compounds and important medical instruments, and is considered by chemists to be an important catalyst.

The mirror for the James Webb Space Telescope. It is coated in gold to reflect infrared light.

Gold additionally has some extremely practical uses in electronics and infrared shielding, and is famed for its resistance to acid, corrosion, and chemical reactions. It is important to note that even if their aesthetic value were to diminish as precious metals, their value for industrial purposes will likely never diminish.

While it is an exciting time for Bitcoin investors, it is important to always take everything you read (including this) with a grain of salt. Bitcoin may make for an excellent short-term investment, but gold and silver will almost always be considered an excellent long-term investment.

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Affordable colonial coinage

By Dennis Hengeveld

Colonial American coins are somewhat of a misnomer in the field of numismatics. While many of them were indeed struck before the United States declared independence from Great Britain, others were made afterward, yet are still classified as colonial coins. This might seem a bit confusing, but generally speaking (however, even here, there are exceptions to the rule) colonial American coins are those that were struck prior to the establishment of a Federal Mint in Philadelphia in 1793. As many coin collectors know many colonial coins are of the highest rarity and sell for high prices whenever they come up for sale, but as we will see in this article even collectors with a $100 budget should be able to add some colonial pieces to their collection, although they will be of lower grade, and may have some problems.

1773 Virginia Halfpenny. Newman 8-H, W-1490. 7 Harp Strings, No Period After GEORGIVS. AU-55.

1773 Virginia Halfpenny

Struck before the declaration of independence in Great Britain for circulation in Virginia, the Virginia coinage of 1773 are included among the number of the more available colonial coins. A true colonial coin, these were aptly shipped on the British ship Virginia and arrived in Virginia in early 1774. The obverse features the bust of King George III of England, while the reverse shows the coat of arms of the House of Hanover. These circulated extensively, perhaps even well after the War of Independence had ended, and today there is a large supply of coins in all grades available. $100 will get you a nice Fine and a coin that definitely circulated in the 18th century.

Spend a little more: A large hoard of Uncirculated Virginia Halfpennies came to the market out of Baltimore in the second half of the 18th century, and today this is the most common colonial coin in Uncirculated condition (some sources say that the original hoard contained as many as 5,000 pieces). Still popular, Uncirculated pieces sell for about $800, and if you spend some time searching, you should be able to find a nice EF for about $350.

1787 Connecticut Copper. Miller 15-R. Rarity-7. Mailed Bust Left. CONNECT, 1787/8. VG Details–Environmental Damage.

Connecticut Copper

Part of a series of coins struck by various states in copper and circulating as a halfpenny, Connecticut coppers were struck from 1785 to 1788. Modeled after the contemporary British halfpenny at the time, the obverse features a man’s head, while the reverse features a crude depiction of Liberty. Struck from a large number of different dies, some collectors avidly collect the series by varieties, some of which are very rare. Luckily, others are more available, and a few can certainly be found in lower grades (say Good or Very Good) for less than $100. More common varieties include the 1785 with Mailed Bust Right, 1786 with Mailed Bust Left, and 1787 with Draped Bust Right.

Spend a little more: Most colonial coppers are notoriously difficult to find in higher grades, as they circulated extensively throughout the Northeast. The key is to look for problem-free coins, with no corrosion and good eye-appeal. Keep in mind that quality was not important when these were struck, and even high-grade examples can look very crude. With a lot of luck and some searching, you might be able to find a decent EF with ok-ish eye-appeal for about $250, but those coins are few and far between, regardless of variety.

1788 New Jersey Copper. Maris 65-u. Rarity-4. Horse’s Head Right. Fine-15.

New Jersey Copper

New Jersey also struck copper coins to the standard of the British halfpenny, but unlike the Connecticut Coppers, the design is entirely different. Struck from 1786 to 1788, the obverse features a horse’s head and a plow (based on the state’s coat of arms). The reverse features a shield and E Pluribus Unum, the National motto that means “Out of Many One,” and would appear on Federal coins as well (New Jersey Coppers were the first to have this motto). New Jersey Coppers tend to be better struck than other Colonial Copper series, and certain varieties do tend to come in nicer grades. Much like the Connecticut Copper series, certain varieties are very rare, and this series also has a very dedicated collector following. For a common variety, like the 1787, expect to find a darker Good or Very Good, but a coin that should be instantly recognizable.

Spend a little more: There are some interesting varieties in this series, not all of which are rare. Two interesting varieties that might be worth stepping up for is the 1787 with the so-called “Serpent Head,” where the head of the horse looks more like that of a serpent, and the “Camel Head,” where the head, as you may have guessed, looks like that of a camel instead of a horse. Both varieties can be found attributed for about $300 in lower grades (perhaps with corrosion), but of course it is always more fun to find it unattributed in a dealer’s inventory (something known in numismatic circles as “Cherry-Picking”).

1788 Massachusetts Half Cent. Ryder 1-B, W-6010. Rarity-2. EF-20.

Massachusetts Copper

Another state that struck its own copper coins was Massachusetts, but unlike Connecticut and New Jersey, which contracted the minting out to private companies, Massachusetts established its own mint, wherein 1787 and 1788 half cents and cents were struck. The obverse featured a standing Native American surrounded by the word COMMONWEALTH, while the reverse features an American eagle with its wings spread and the state’s name surrounding it. The denomination can be found on the eagle’s breast. While this series is not as popular to collect by variety as some of the other states, certain varieties remain rare and command high premiums. For a collector on a budget, however, some remain relatively available, and a lower grade 1788 Half Cent with some corrosion can be found for right around $100.

Spend a little more: While you can certainly improve in grade a collector on a budget wishing to spend a bit more can also opt for one of the larger cents. A good option would be the 1788 cent. These are not all that much more expensive than the half cents. A nice Fine can be found for about $250 to $300 and makes for a good representative of this colonial type.

1767-A French Colonies Copper Sou, or 12 Deniers. Breen-701. RF Counterstamp. EF-40.

French Colonies 1767-Sou

Even though this piece was struck at the Paris Mint for circulation in the West Indies, these pieces are still often included in the American Colonial series, as some certainly made their way over to what is now the United States, particularly in Louisiana. Most pieces are counterstamped RF (apparently this only occurred in the 1790s), while the non-counterstamped pieces are scarce and more in demand as they are more closely related to Louisiana. Approximately 1.6 million pieces were struck so it should come as no surprise that this is one of the more available colonial-era coins. Expect to find a decent Fine of the counterstamped variety for right around $100. This is perhaps the least relevant coin discussed in this article, but once you are aware of its history, it still is an interesting and relatively affordable example of a colonial-era coin with a (somewhat loose) link to American history.

Spend a little more: Part of an earlier series, the 1721-H and 1722-H Sou or nine-deniers were struck at the La Rochelle Mint in France in large quantities and circulated extensively in colonial America. These are considered more closely related to the American colonial series and are also more difficult to find and more costly. For a decently looking VG or Fine expect to spend just a little bit over our budget, and more in higher grades.

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Review of NGC versus PCGS

By Michael Bugeja

Last year at this time NGC chairman Mark Salzberg made this announcement, on which he expanded at the beginning of 2017:

[A]ll coins currently in NGC Registry sets—including those graded by other services—will be allowed to stay in those sets. There will be no NGC Registry point deductions or rank changes for these coins or sets. Starting in January 2017, however, if you would like to add a new coin to an NGC Registry set, it will need to be an NGC-certified coin.

He knew the decision would be controversial but defended it by stating, “I cannot continue to allow coins graded by companies whose standards do not match those of NGC. It is not fair to the collectors who have built their sets with NGC-certified coins.”

On January 17, 2017, he expanded on the decision in another post, stating:

Over the last five years or so, I have noticed a perplexing trend at PCGS. There has been a dramatic increase in the grades assigned by PCGS for a wide range of coin types and, consequently, I believe that this has caused an extraordinary reduction in the value of many PCGS-certified coins.

PCGS president Don Willis responded as one might anticipate to the criticism:

We set the standard for third-party grading 30 years ago. Every other grading service has attempted to copy that standard and has been playing a game of catch up for all those years.

Personally, I subscribe to both grading services, which recently made subtle changes in their online sites. Nothing astoundingly good or bad in my view, but nevertheless mildly annoying. We’ll get to those later.

First, some background.

Coin Update has a long history of covering the two major grading services, mainly via my columns. This year, for example, I posted:

You can find my criticisms on Coin Update as early as 2010. Here’s an example, concerning a policy change by PCGS, which used to charge extra for “plus” grades, then a new numismatic phenomenon.

Over the years, I had been especially hard on PCGS. To its credit, however, and occasional irksomeness, it typically has changed policy in the interest of the hobby. It is my preferred holdering company, although I patronize both services.

We need the competition. NGC and PCGS provide that, and oh so much more.

I have found less to criticize over the years with NGC, apart from its ridiculous—yes, Mr. Salzberg, ridiculous—policy of not grading crossover slabs because (purportedly) NGC submitters were disappointed when they received lower grades.

This was NGC’s response in 2011: “In the end, we discovered that the cause of customer complaints was not the way NGC had structured its services. Instead, negative customer experiences were the result of the way that coins had been graded or described by other companies.”

So for the past six years, hobbyists have to crack out lesser slabs (except for PCGS holders, which still qualify for crossover), a surefire way to damage coins before submitting to NGC. That move was predictably not so nice for the hobby.

In the end, though, these are mere annoyances. So Mr. Salzberg and Mr. Willis, kindly note the following: “I am incredibly grateful for PCGS and NGC.”

The operative words here are “incredibly grateful.”

Our hobby is in tatters on the Internet. Without reliable services, which NGC and PCGS provide, I believe coin collecting would wane because of unethical practices in online auctions, ranging from eBay to Proxibid.

You can ready about that in this post, titled, “What Kind of Hobby Is This?

I patronize NGC and PCGS, more so the latter, because I understand its grading practices more fully. Some readers may prefer NGC for the same reason.

I do have petty concerns that might improve the submission and verification processes.

For starters, I think it’s time to retire or revamp the GSA PCGS slab.

In 2013, when the new holder was announced, I had reservations, which I expressed in this post.

I have mixed feelings about the oversized holder. On one hand, we’re looking at a coin encapsulated within two layers of plastic. On the other, the holder is handsome and preserves the GSA insignia of the original slab. Then again, not counting the weight of the GSA holder, the PCGS slab weighs more than five times what the coin itself weighs (26.7 grams for a Morgan equals 0.9418148 ounces). Also, the size of the PCGS holder does not fit inside the GSA box with the Nixon insignia. The box, as much as the GSA holder, is part of the allure of the GSA coins.

I continue to be asked via email from PCGS customer service if I would like this oversized slab. When submitting, I have started using exclamation marks, such as “No Large Holder, Please!”

PCGS also can take a cue from NGC and start using bands on Redfield holders. I never submit Redfield and Paramount holdered coins to PCGS because it doesn’t provide this service. PCGS will put “Redfield” on its label. But the whole purpose here is the Redfield holder, not the provenance. That holder is destroyed without a band, such as NGC uses.

PCGS also has redesigned its website for clients to check on submissions. It looks like this now:

I dislike the “processing” tab. Again, PCGS could take a cue from NGC and cut down on customer-service calls if it included “Quality Control” so we’d know at what stage the coins are during “processing.”

I have ceased using NGC’s verification site because of the manual labor now of not only including its awkward cert system, which includes an invoice number followed by the order of the coin in the submission, such as 2736345-001 (or -002) in the example below.

Now, if you want to verify the holder, you also have to input the grade in addition to the invoice number and the sequential coin number.

So for my Redfield dollars above, I would have to input 2736345 followed by oo1 or 002 and MS-64.

Too cumbersome. I’m sure it’s for added security, but I no longer have the patience to fact-check every NGC slab that I want to bid on in Internet auctions. And as far as values are concerned, I simply go to PCGS CoinFacts, which I find superb, the best out there, that used to cost a subscription but now is free.

Thank you, Don Willis, for that!

Quibbles, to be sure. It would require a handbook to explain all the benefits I could list, using these top services.

Take note of this, especially: I applaud their customer-service representatives. At NGC, they are so responsive, I know them by their names.

Coin Update will continue to monitor NGC and PCGS as we have done since 2010. Sometimes we get it wrong, often we get it right, but always we will have you, the hobbyist, in mind when we post.

Do you disagree with my analysis? Think I am too hard on NGC, PCGS, or both? Let fly in the comment section.

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