Spielberg's Lincoln: A numismatic mistake

Last night, I saw Stephen Spielberg's film, Lincoln.  I was throughly enjoying the cinematic experience until one of Lincoln's adversaries told Lincoln that people from back home hate him so much, they won't even use half dollars with his portrait on them.   Hmmm.  Lincoln's portrait on the half dollar while he was still alive?  The mere thought is absurd.  Lincoln was the president -- not the king.  Certainly he would not be so arrogant as to put his own portrait on a coin.

The words were supposedly uttered in 1864.  The illustration above shows an actual 1864 half dollar. Is Lincoln dressed as a woman on the obverse or is he in an eagle costume for the reverse?  Probably not. In 1864, the nation was suffering through the seated liberty coin design for all denominations.  No Lincoln to be found.  The only time Lincoln was depicted on a half dollar was in 1918 for the Illinois Commemorative half dollar.  He appeared on the Lincoln cent starting in 1909.

Film writer Tony Kushner has a number of historical inaccuracies in the film.  This is to be expected in a dramatic work.  As pointed out by historian, Eric Foner, author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, the film offers a tremendous exaggeration in Lincoln's role in passing the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery -- an amendment that he did not initiate, and only started to support in mid 1864.  And as I point out, the important contains an important  error in a numismatic reference.

The dollar coin --- will Congress try yet again?

The dollar coin was never popular in the United States.  The main complaint in 1794 was that the dollar was too heavy to carry around.  Today, you would need thirteen dollars clunking around your trouser pockets to provide the same buying power as the original dollar.  Americans are uncomfortable with that and prefer greenbacks folded neatly in a wallet or crumpled in a drawer.

I myself enjoy the dollar coins.  Apparently I have little company.  From Morgans to Ikes to Suzies, the coins had never found a comfortable home in American pockets.

Today, Congress is yet again trying to eliminate the dollar bill and replace it with the unpopular coin.  At a Congressional hearing, the Government Accountability Office regurgitated their comment that the exclusive use of dollar coins would save 4.4 billion dollars over the next thirty years.  It sounds impressive until we do the math and find that it saves each American a mere forty eight cents per year -- not nearly enough to pay for the new pair of pants with the worn out pockets.

Learning about coins in school

From time to time I have complained about the lack of numismatic education in our schools.  I am pleased to report on a school that has decided to include at least some numismatics in their curriculum.

I met an eighth grader named Evie in Kingston, Pensylvxxxx (for her privacy, I have x'd out portions of her address).  During a brief interview, Evie told me that in school she was learning about the portrait on each coin and note.  She even learned that Salmon Chase was on the $10,000 bill (You will recall that Salmon Chase was involved in the origin of In God We Trust on our coins).

Of course, I would like to see much more numismatics taught in the schools.  At least the portrait information is a start.

North Shore Coins Suddenly closed for remodeling after allegedly buying stolen goods

I just checked the North Shore Coins website which states that "NSC is Closed for Remodeling."

There's no reason to check the website at http://www.northshorecoins.com/ (but many of you will anyway)
The sudden remodeling took place after the dealer was arrested and charged with buying thousands of dollars worth of  stolen goods.   The sellers of the goods were undercover police officers.

There are two comments of note here:

  1. It is always sad to see coin dealers whose lack of scruples allows them to purchase goods that they know were stolen.
  2. Why are the police selling stolen goods?
Please feel free to comment.  I am especially interested in readers opinions on the second point.

One million dollars for a 1943 S Bronze Lincoln Cent!

A 1943S copper Lincoln Cent has sold for a whopping one million dollars as a single collector, Bob Simpson, has virtually cornered the tiny market on the 1943 coppers.

I'm sure this is old hat to most of you, but in 1943, the US mint produced Lincoln cents out of steel to conserve copper for the World War II effort.  By error, a small number of copper coins were produced at each mint.

The value of the coin is based on several factors.  First the off metal error is rare, with only a small handful of San Francisco minted coins known.  Second, the copper 1943 error cents have been well hyped since 1943.  A third reason is the condition.  The particular 1943 S copper cent was graded as MS62BN making it the finest known.  A fourth reason is Bob Simpson himself.  Simpson now has the best known copper coin from each mint in 1943.  His AU version of the 1943 S is now on the trading block.  He has the only known 1943 S copper cent.  Had Simpson not had the goal of assembling this collection, the coin would not be worth as much.

In 1944, the mint returned to producing Lincoln cents out of copper.  A small number of steel coins were struck in error.  Simpson has an example of each of these as well.

And So, Dr. Peter Planchet tips his hat to Bob Simpson on the tremendous accomplishment of assembling the finest collection of the 1943 coppers.  Congratulations!

Romney vows to save In God We Trust on coins

With the presidential campaign in full swing, it is hard to believe that there had been absolutely no discussion about US coin policy.  That changed yesterday when Mitt Romney at a campaign rally in Virginia Beach stated "I will not take God off our coins."  His reference, of course, is to our motto "In God We Trust," which appears on all US coins.

Not to be outdone, the Obama campaign quickly responded by stating that "Romney’s implication that Democrats ever suggested removing religious references from the currency was extreme and untrue."

I have written about the motto In God we Trust on my website and have spoken about In God We Trust on youtube.  Many Christians have objected to the motto including Teddy Roosevelt who stated,  "My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege."

As I have said before, I know of no church service where the minister says "Let us pray.  Please take out your Jefferson nickel."  Do Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama really need the motto to practice their religion?  Or are they merely trying to score political points.

We now know the Romney and Obama position on "In God We Trust."  Hopefully in the near future, we will learn their views on other coin features such as "e pluribus unum" or the reeded edge.

What do you think?  Please comment!

1.84 million for the 1873CC dime!

Only one person in the world can have a complete set of United States coins.  And the key coin of all is the 1873 CC "no arrows" dime -- only one of which is known.  In 1873, the Carson City mint struck 12,400 such coins.  But soon after striking, the weight of the dime was altered.  The coins were to be melted and replaced by a slightly different version of the 1873 dime which contained arrows around the date, indicating the change in weight.  Only one specimen seems to have escaped the melting pot.  The unique 1873 CC "No arrows" dime has just been auctioned off in Philadelphia for 1.84 million dollars.  

As for the seated liberty series itself, I, along with most collectors, find the series somewhat dull.  I have always admired those collecting the series by date and mint.  And for all of the collectors except the one who purchased this dime, there will forever be an empty space in the album.

Arnold-Peter Weiss case sends chills down the spines of collectors

By now we have heard the case of Arnold-Peter Weiss, the Brown University medical school professor who was arrested for trying to auction three rare ancient coins.  At issue is that under Italian law, such antiquities could not be removed from italy after 1909.  The three ancient decadrachms, potentially valued at millions of dollars, ended up being declared forgeries.  Weiss, however, was still being prosecuted because he believed he was breaking the antiquities law, even though he was not.

The case contains several disturbing facets:

  1. A conversation was recorded in which Weiss stated "I know this is a fresh coin.  This was dug a few years ago."  Is the government monitoring the phone calls of high end coin collectors?
  2. The coins were examined by Weiss ( a well known coin expert) and many professional coin auctioneers who all assumed the coins were authentic.  This means that the modern day forger has gotten so good that the experts can be fooled.  Because of the coins values (the cheapest was expected to bring in $350,000), it was subjected to extra scrutiny.  How many other "authentic" ancient coins are in fact, frauds?
  3. Can most ancient coins now be confiscated?  There are many ancient coins in the hands of United States collectors.  Most do not have evidence that they were exported from Italy before 1909 (even if they were).  

The reverse proof silver eagle -- limited edition?

Today the United States Mint began taking orders for a two coin set containing a silver proof 2012 S American Eagle and a reverse proof 2012 S American Eagle.

The price of the two coin set is $149.95 -- about $75 per coin.  This price is sure a bolt from the blue.  After all, a "regular" 2012 proof silver eagle is currently priced at $59.95.

The mint's advertisement states "The United States Mint has a tradition of offering special limited-edition coin sets to American Eagle Coin collectors."
"What will the edition be limited to?" I hear you ask.

Customers may place orders from now until July 5, 2012.  However many are ordered -- that's how many the mint will produce.  This should limit any increase in value.  After all, you can buy as many as you want today, giving no reason to pay more tomorrow.

There are two gimmicks here:  One is the notion that a collector must be extra for the "S" mintmark.  Why should an 2012S be worth more than a 2012W -- especially when the mint can produce unlimited quantities of either to meet demand.  The second gimmick is the "reverse mirror proof," which in my view should be priced the same as a regular proof.

Will the public go for the gimmicks?  We can keep score.  On its web page, the mint will continually provide data on how many were sold.

1870-S Three dollar gold coin up for auction -- hold on a minute!

An 1870-S three dollar gold coin has been put up for auction by the Four Seasons Auction Company.  The 1870-S coin was thought to be unique and struck for the purpose of placing in the cornerstone of the San Francisco mint.  The mintmark was also unique in that it was handmade, rather than stamped.  The coin last sold in 1982 for $687,500.

The current coin is a different 1870-S three dollar gold coin.  This should cause us to pause -- so this coin is perhaps not unique.  The mintmark looks different from its sister.  Does this mean that a second die was made just to produce a single coin?  Or is this story quickly losing its credibility.

The coin was apparently discovered embedded in a souvenir book in San Francisco.  How and why did it get there?  This remains shrouded in mystery.

The auction company expected the coin to fetch about four million dollars.  And yet the coins has not been authenticated by any service.  Again, this should cause us to pause.  The auctioneer encouraged people to view the coin in person and to bring experts.  But who is the expert who can authenticate a coin with a unique mintmark that was struck from a once-used die?

The coin has apparently been suddenly removed from the auction.  Either way, I encourage my millionaire friends to exercise caution.

RIP Canadian Cent: 1858 -- 2012

The Canadian government is pulling the plug on the one cent coin.  This year will be the final year of mintage and distribution of the cents.  Because of inflation, the cent has been so devalued that most Canadians don't use them.  Since its debut in 1858, the Canadian cent has lost about 95% of its value.  The Canadian cent has been composed primarily of inexpensive steel, which still costs the Royal Canadian mint about 1.6 cents to produce.  United States cents are primarily zinc and are even more expensive to produce.  The cents are still legal tender (In Canada, cents are legal for up to 25 per transaction compared to only 10 per transaction in the US).  Eventually, Canada will round cash transactions to the nearest cent.

The discontinuation of a coin is always a somber occasion.  I send my condolences to my Canadian friends.  Perhaps in a few years, we will follow your path.

A silver quarter found in change

Today in my pocket, I found a 1942 quarter.  Although the Philadelphia minted quarter is quite common (actually the second most common quarter minted between 1932 and 1962), most have been pulled from circulation by the silver hoarders .  In fact, this is the first silver quarter I have received in change in over fifteen years (I have received a couple of silver wartime nickels in that time).

The coin has been in circulation for 80 years (although, I'm guessing it sat in a drawer for many of the years -- as it clearly does not have 80 years worth of wear.

This completes a great week for me in which I also found a pearl inside a fried oyster.

Battle of the special interests: Paper dollar vs. dollar coin

In the Congress, we are hearing passionate debate about whether the paper dollar should be replaced by the dollar coin .  Unfortunately, the passion is fake.  In reality, there is a battle between two special interests.  Please see my webpage for my cynical history of the United States dollar coin .

One one side are the preservationists, who seek to retain the paper dollar.  We expect the traditional conservatives.  Instead, we have Senator John Kerry and Senator Scott Brown, who wrote the currency Efficiency Act, which would substantially reduce the number of dollar coins.  The reduction of coinage of dollars would save the country money, because most of the dollars are returned to the treasury where they are simply stored.  It is not a coincidence that both are from Massachusetts, the home of Crane and Company, which currently holds a monopoly on the production of the special cotton and linen paper which comprise our paper money.

On the other side are the abolitionists, who have introduced a bill that would eliminate the dollar bill, thus forcing Americans to use the dollar coin. The main lobbying group for this bill is the Dollar Coin Alliance.  The Dollar Coin Alliance argues that the switch to the dollar coin will save the country money because dollar coins last longer than paper money.  Their silly arguments include the fact that cotton prices have increased dramatically (of course the value of the cotton in a dollar bill is close to nil).  The Dollar Coin Alliance is simply another special interest group comprised of those who will profit more with coin dollars.  The members include the Copper and Brass Fabricators Council, the Copper Development Association, Global Brass and Copper, and the National Mining Association.  Hint: They're not mining for cotton.  The group also includes MBI coin, which owns Danbury Mint.  The Danbury Mint sells dollar coins for a handsome profit.  If you hold your breath, you can check out the price below.

Why is there no Martin Luther King coin?

Recently I was asked why Martin Luther King has never appeared on a United States Coin.  He is the only person with a federal holiday to never appear on coinage. 
King’s best chance for a numismatic spot came was on a commemorative silver dollar .  In 1999, the Citizen’s Commemorative Coin Advisory board made the following recommendation: 
Committee recommends issuance of a commemorative coin honoring the accomplishments and life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Committee recommends the issuance of 500,000 $1 silver coins with a $10 surcharge per coin. The Committee recommends the surcharges generated by the sales of these coins be used for the purposes of acquiring the personal papers of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the preservation of these papers, and the creation of wide public access to these documents and others related to the Civil Rights Movement.”
This led to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Commemorative Coin Act of 2004.  The bill was referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, which is the last we have heard of it.
In the meantime, the congress was criticized by the Citizen’s Commemorative Coin Advisory board for coming up with coins for the government’s own self aggrandizement. Perhaps the nadir of US commemorative coins was the Capitol Visitors Center Coin series.  A coin commemorating a visitor’s center -- holy cheese.  According to the committee: “Enactment of the Capitol Visitor Center program marks the fifth time in 11 years that the Congress has authorized commemorative coin programs benefiting the Capitol, the Congress, or affiliated institutions, such as the United States Botanic Gardens and the Library of Congress.”  But I digress.
While King did not make it onto a coin, commemorative coins were approved honoring Leif Erickson, Thomas Edison, Lewis & Clark, John Marshall (a chief justice -- which I am sure you all knew), Benjamin Franklin, and Louis Braille .

There has been a small movement to get Martin Luther King on the circulating one dollar coin, based on a petition  from 2008.
This is unlikely to occur in the near future since the mint is locked into the Presidential dollar coin series for the near future.  Sacagawea has strong support as the non-presidential figure (the North Dakota congressional delegation will not allow her removed).  Production was recently ceased on the one dollar circulating coin (other than small quantities for collectors)  so there is no demand for another design.  And so, King’s best chance will be to get on a commemorative coin in the future  -- unless he replaces Thomas Jefferson or Franklin Roosevelt on the nickel and dime.  Both of these historic figures are under fire. Texas removed Jefferson from their school curriculum recently, and politicians regularly criticize Roosevelt for alleged socialism.
Adding to the problem is the fact that King was not an elected official.  As a result, his relatives, who run the King Center, insist on royalties for the use of his image.
Martin Luther King was a leader for desegregation, the abolition of capital punishment , and the end of the Viet Nam war.  (Of course, his viewpoints on some issues have been sanitized for modern consumption).  Appearing on a coin was not one of King’s concerns.

1.38 million dollars for a chain cent

A superb example of the 1793 chain cent has just sold for 1.38 million dollars in Florida.  This is a new record for a copper coin.  You can read about the background on the 1793 chain cent here.