The first coins of the year minted by the Royal Australian Mint will have a special design to commemorate 50 years of Australian television.
The theme for the popular mintmark series in 2006 is 50 Years of Australian television and the first appearance in the series is the ‘C’ for Canberra mintmark.
The coin dates back to the evening of September 16, 1956, with design references to the original television cameras. But where it all started was with crowds gathered outside department stores and in homes across Australia to witness the moment, TCN Channel Nine flickered to life accompanied by the famous words “Welcome to television.”
It has been 50 years since Bruce Gyngell uttered those words and Australian television appeared. Television linked Australia to the world and brought the country closer to amazing images, like those of Neil Armstrong being the first man to walk on the moon.
“Television has had an amazing impact on Australian society,” said Dr Vivienne Thom, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Australian Mint. “Is now part and parcel of everyday Australian life, but if one takes the time to reflect on what this medium brings to our lives, with news, entertainment and reality shows the impact is enormous.”
The coin will initially be only available from the Royal Australian Mint on the Mint-Your Own Mintmark presses. The $1 ‘C’ Mintmark coin featuring the 50th Anniversary of Australian television will not be released into general circulation.
by J. T. Stanton, N.L.G.
Coin photography is becoming more and more an integral part of the hobby. Without photographs of coins, the hobby, as we know it today, would be far less advanced, far less interesting, and certainly less enjoyable.
Many collectors would like to photograph their own collections, but many feel the process is too complicated. Granted, photo-graphing small discs of metal that reflect light so easily is not as simple as taking a snapshot, but the process does not have to be difficult or drain the pocket.
There are several coin photographers in the country who are excellent. Their work is professional. Generally speaking, these individuals spend their entire workdays (and more) photographing coins. If you expect to become as proficient as they are in just a short time, think again. If you want to take coin photographs adequate for publication and archive, then, with a little patience and moderate expense, you will achieve your goal.
In this article I will attempt to give you the benefit of my experience and expertise gained during the last 15 years.
To begin, you must decide what type of coin photographs you’re interested in taking. Micro photos or macro photos? The difference is much greater than it may sound. Are you interested in color or black & white? Or maybe both? How much money are you willing to spend? How much time for practice are you willing to sacrifice? These are questions only you can answer.
I’ll start with a small list of basic equipment. The equipment is the second most important ingredient. You are the most important ingredient.
Basic Equipment for Coin Photography
35mm single lens reflex camera This type of camera is vital. A single lens reflex camera essentially allows the photographer to view the actual shot through the lens of the camera, which is very important for coin photography. Many modern cameras have a secondary lens through which the photographer views the subject. An SLR camera, which has a manual mode of operation, is required. Quite often, to get a good shot, you will need to override the camera’s automatic mode.
Lenses A selection of camera lenses does not have to be vast. I basically use only a 90mm macro lens for my macro shots. Other lenses can be used in combination with extension tubes and close-up lenses, but a good macro lens will produce the best results.
Stereoscope This is a vital tool necessary for micro photos. Some photographers use a bellows extension to enlarge very small details. I feel this can be very time consuming. Additionally, I use my stereoscope for normal examination. It takes only five seconds to attach my camera to the scope for photography. In this way, I get multiple use out of a piece of equipment. I also feel that a stereoscope provides better clarity for photos than a bellows.
Extension tubes and close-up lenses These accessories are often necessary to get the most out of each photograph. Extension tubes mount between the lens (or scope) and the camera body, increasing the distance from the object to the film, thereby increasing the magnification. Extension tubes are usually sold in a set of three: 14mm, 21mm, and 28mm. These in any combination allow for very tight control over magnification.
Close-up lenses are a cheaper version of providing more magnification. Most lenses have a minimum focal length (minimum distance from object to film). These lenses allow for closer focusing of objects, thereby “cheating” the minimum distance. However, at times, these can be useful to the most experienced photographer.
Copy stands A copy stand is a device upon which the camera is mounted, usually pointing downward, so that a small object can be focused, and the camera held perfectly still. This is very important for macro (full-coin) photos.
Other equipment Another piece of necessary equipment is a cable shutter release. This is a cord-like object that attaches to the camera, which allows the operator to release the shutter without touching the camera. This is important to reduce vibration during the photograph. An 80A filter is necessary for lighting correction for color work (discussed later). Other minor pieces will be discussed in more detail later in this article.
The film you use can be as important as the camera. Film is available in different “speeds” (generally indicated by an ASA rating), which differs in the amount of light necessary to expose the film properly. Some standard speeds are 25, 64, 100, 200, 400, and even higher. Generally speaking, each higher number requires half the amount of light as the previous number to make a proper exposure. For instance, if an exposure of one second is necessary for the ASA 25, an ASA 64 film would require an exposure of ½ second; ASA 100 – 1/4th second; ASA 200 – 1/8th second; and ASA 400 – 1/16th second.
Many brands of film today are all quite comparable. For color, almost any of the major brands are suitable. For black & white, nothing beats Kodak T-Max. All of these are available in a variety of film speeds. However, the film I use most frequently for black & white print work is Ilford XP-2. This film produces basically a black & white print but can be processed with C-41, which is the process used for color film in the convenient one-hour labs. It can be difficult at times to find a convenient lab to process black & white film.
Another plus of the XP-2 is that, although it is rated at ASA 400, the grain of the film is equal to that of ASA 100 speed film. Also, if necessary, XP-2 can be shot as if it were ASA 100, ASA 1000, or even ASA 1600. It is very versatile.
I do use Kodak Gold and Fuji for my color work. However, I also try other films from time to time. I have found that Konica is comparable to Kodak, and I can buy it for as little as half the price of Kodak.
The choices of slide film are almost as varied as the choices for color print film. However, when shooting slides, proper exposure is even more critical. I trust Kodak and Fuji and will rarely try other brands, although I am sure most are equally as good.
Since some of you may know very little about photography, I will try to explain some of the basic photographic facts that you will need to know for better results.
First, as mentioned earlier, an SLR is simply a camera that allows you to view the subject through the lens just as the image will appear on the film. Most instamatic-type cameras use a second lens for the operator’s view. This view may be slightly different from the image that will transfer to the film.
Most SLR cameras have a built-in light meter. This light meter will indicate the shutter speed the camera suggests for a proper exposure. Those cameras with an automatic exposure will use this shutter speed when the camera is set in the automatic mode.
The shutter speed can be set manually and usually with a latitude from 1 second to 1/1000th of a second. Most cameras will have the 1 second shutter speed setting indicated by a different color than the fractional shutter speed settings. These settings will be indicated as follows:
The numbers from 2 through 1000 are fractions of a second. For example, the 15 will indicate 1/15th of a second; the 250 will indicate 1/250th of a second. The higher the number, the shorter period of time the lens will be open. A shorter exposure time (lens opening) means less light exposing the film.
Some cameras may have a 2-second setting, which will usually be in the same color as the 1-second setting. Also, most of the SLRs will also have a setting marked ?B.? This setting would indicate that the shutter release cable (sometimes referred to as a bulb) would totally dictate how long the shutter will remain open. When the shutter release cable is depressed, the lens will open, and it will not close until the cable is released. This would enable you to have an exposure of 5 seconds, 10 minutes, or whatever.
Another important setting on the camera is the film speed. This adjustment is usually marked by numbers such as 25-64-100-200-400-800. There are often micro adjustments between these numbers which would allow you to set the ASA between these speeds. There are some cameras which allow you to set the ASA lower or higher than the numbers that I indicated. Still other, more modern cameras will make this setting automatically by reading a code on the canister of the film. The film speed setting is critical only when using either the automatic mode or if the camera’s internal light meter is being used as a guide.
The lens on the camera also has an adjustment with numbers in a graduated scale. This scale measures the lens opening (or aperture). This scale will usually indicate numbers such as 2.5 –
4 – 5.6 – 8 – 11 – 16 – 22 – 32. The different aperture settings adjust the amount of light being allowed through the lens opening. Using a given shutter speed, an aperture setting of 5.6 will allow basically twice as much light through the lens as will a setting of 8. A setting of 8 will allow twice as much light as a setting of 16. A very important fact to remember here is that the higher the number, the smaller the opening, and consequently, the less light that is allowed through the lens.
The aperture also controls something called “depth of field.” This is simply the distance in front of and behind the focused point that will remain in sharp focus. The higher the number, the greater depth-of-field (greater distance in front of and beyond the focused point which will remain in focus). This is very important with coin photography, especially when taking macro (full-coin) shots. A smaller (higher number) aperture would allow more latitude with the focus, which can sometimes be tricky.
A proper aperture, shutter speed, and film speed are all required to produce a properly exposed photograph. Most SLR cameras are aperture priority, which means that once the lens opening is set and the ASA rating is set, the camera’s internal light meter will determine the time required for a proper exposure. An exposure- priority camera (of which there are few) would indicate that the camera will adjust the aperture depending upon the exposure time set and the amount of light entering the camera.
Macro (full coin) photos
When I am about to take macro photos, I will always start by checking the camera to make sure it is operating properly. The next natural step is to load the film and check the ASA setting on the camera with the film I am about to use.
At this time the lens will be mounted on the camera. I am now using a 90mm macro lens. This lens allows focus of objects close to the lens, and I can easily take photos of a coin two times its actual size.
A standard lens normally will focus only as close as about three feet without attachments. However, by adding either extension tubes or close-up lenses, you can focus much closer — even as close as three inches. This is a good alternative to a more expensive macro lens; however, you will sacrifice some quality.
Extension tubes mount between the camera body and the lens. These offer better quality than do close-up lenses but are more expensive. A set of extension tubes usually runs about $125 to $150, whereas a set of close-up lenses might cost only $60.
For macro shots, I will mount the camera on my copy stand. A copy stand is simply a vertical bar mounted to a base. The vertical bar has a mounting attachment for the camera. When the camera is attached, the camera will be facing the base. In this way, the plane of the film is parallel with the base. Many copy stands will have a mount that is adjustable with a arm, which allows easy adjustment of the height of the camera.
I have several jewelry pads onto which I will place the coins while I’m photographing them. These offer a safe surface for the coin, minimizing or eliminating possible damage. Additionally, they are available in different colors, which will offer a variety of backgrounds. I generally use black and will discuss the reason shortly.
The cable release is vital for macro shots. If you try to cut a few dollars off your cost, you will spend it in added film expense. I don’t know of any one who can use the camera’s shutter button and not cause some vibration of the camera.
Lighting is very important, but often over complicated. Some people will tell you that it is necessary to have two lamps coming from various angles to light the coin properly. However, I have found that a single, standard 60-watt bulb is best.
I will slightly tilt the base upon which the coin is placed and have the light angled so that the reflection is directed into the lens. Or it may be easier to angle the camera slightly and then have the light reflect from the coin’s surface into the lens. The lamp will usually be the typical bourse lamp, which is easy to maneuver into the appropriate position. When using the tilt method, be sure to focus on the center of the coin. This will help to ensure that the entire coin will be in focus.
If color film is being used, simply screw an 80A filter (about $25) onto the end of the lens. This will correct the hue of the light for the color film. However, a filter is not necessary for black & white film. A blue photo flood can be used instead of the normal bulb and the filter.
This is an appropriate time for a tip. I have found that, generally speaking, if you will try to get the fields of the coin’s surface light and the shadows by the coins devices dark, the results will be best. Depending on the results you need, there are times when you might need to do the opposite.
To get the proper exposure setting, the use of a “gray card” is critical. A gray card is simply a card which is a precise degree of gray, or neutral, shading. (Cost is about $15 for a set.) With the light and camera in place, place the gray card in the position of the coin. Look through the lens to see what exposure the camera’s light meter reads as optimum. This will give you the proper setting for the shutter speed. Set the exposure manually.
If you do not use a gray card, the camera’s light meter may be fooled by the vast amount of light reflecting off the coin’s surface. It is always best to use a gray card. They are cheap!
I often find it necessary to move the light around from time to time to get the best possible photograph. Different coins reflect light differently, and obtaining the correct amount of reflection is important. It is generally much easier to move the light slightly than to adjust the coin. Also, I prefer to handle the coin as little as possible. Generally speaking, best results are obtained when the fields of the coin in the photograph are light, and the shadows appear on either side of the devices or raised areas of the coin. This gives the coin a true, three-dimensional effect.
There are two primary reasons that I prefer to use a black background. First, black is an absolutely neutral color. It will not alter the hues of any photograph. Even white will alter the hues. Second, black is the best background if a photo is to be converted to a slide. Using a black background during a slide presentation will permit the viewers to concentrate on the subject, and not any surrounding fibers or other matter.
However, there are times when I will use a blue or red background. As a rule, red will sometimes enhance copper or gold, and blue will sometimes enhance gold and silver.
Another tip: I will often use a small wood block to raise the coin off the surface of the pad. Doing so will cause the background to be out of focus. If the background is in focus, some fibers or the grain of the background may show in the photo. The fewer detracting marks and threads the better. You want the coin to be the focus of the photograph.
If you are photographing a coin that must be returned right away, try “bracketing.” This is a method of shooting several shots of the same subject but with a few different exposures. In this way you will be better assured of getting a properly exposed photograph.
Photographing coins through a stereoscope is really easier than one might think. Obviously, a good scope is necessary, and I highly recommend a stereoscope. This is a scope with dual eyepieces that will usually have better optics.
The camera will adapt to one of the eyepieces with a microscope-camera adapter. Adapters are usually available from the microscope dealer or from many camera supply stores. The adapter will simply match to the eyepiece and will also attach to the camera body without the camera’s lens in place.
In this configuration, the scope is then acting as the lens of the camera. Unlike with macro photos, the microscope will not have settings for the lens opening. The scope will also be the only means of focus that you will have. To focus, you must view through the view finder of the camera and adjust the scope until the image on the coin is as sharp as possible.
Best results are obtained when the coin is tilted under the optics of the scope. I have built a small, angled table upon which I rest the coins. It’s made primarily from cardboard 2 x 2s and covered with a black fabric.
The coin is then placed on this table and positioned under the lens of the scope, so the light will reflect from the coin into the lens. As with macro photos, best results are obtained when the fields of the coin are light, and the shadows fall on either side of the devices.
Film and lighting are the same as with macro photos. However, I recommend that film with an ASA rating of at least 100 be used. The lens of the scope is usually rather small and will allow small amounts of light into the camera. You will also discover, by moving the light around the coin, differing results can be obtained. You may find it helpful to move the coin platform around at times rather than moving the light.
I have learned with micro photos that the automatic setting on the camera can generally be used. I will “bump” the automatic setting on the camera to +2. This basically adds two stops to the length of the exposure. Remember that each setting on the lens either doubles or halves the amount of light as the next setting. A bump of two stops actually takes the automatic exposure and multiplies it by 4. For instance, if a normal reading would force the camera to an exposure of 1/15th of a second, a two-stop bump would force the camera to an exposure of 1/4th second. That equals two stops.
Many cameras have an adjustment that will allow you to use the bump simply by adjusting one dial. This dial will usually have 5 settings: +2, +1, 0, -1, -2. If you set the dial at +2, you are adding 2 “stops” to the exposure. If your camera does not have this adjustment, you can alter the automatic exposure by changing the film setting. If you’re using ASA 400 film, set the camera at ASA 100. That will give you the same result as if you had set the bump setting at +2.
Generally speaking, the light that the camera will read comes directly from the coin, and this reading is not altered by peripheral matter, as will the background in macro shots.
When producing slides for a presentation, I will usually shoot prints first. This gives me the opportunity to view the shots before the more expensive slide film is used. Once I select the prints I want, I will then take shots of the prints with slide film using the macro lens. I can also add type and indicating arrows to the actual print, so the type or arrows will show up on the slide when presented.
Additionally, by making slides in this way, I can keep a set of prints on files, and I can always make another set of prints or slides on the subject. It’s really easy.
Magnification can be added to either the microscope or for macro shots by adding extension tubes (or rings) to the camera. These are relatively inexpensive, really easy to work with, and are generally available in sets of three. By adding one or more of these tubes between the camera body and the lens, magnification is increased. These also work with the scope and can be added between the scope adapter and the camera body.
However, too many people feel that more magnification is better, whereas the opposite is more often true. With micro photos, I often like to be able to see some area around the object of my photograph. This often helps to see other identifying markers, such as die polish and scratches. Macro photos should be large enough for all details of the coin to be clear.
* Test your exposures. Simply run a couple of “test” rolls keeping track of each and every shot, what adjustments you made, and the readings associated with that shot. This process will help to reduce frustration in the future.
* Dead batteries can cause problems at the worst and least expected time. Keep your batteries fresh, and keep an extra set available at all times. Your batteries will die just when you need them the most. Batteries are cheap!
* When taking your photographs, look before you snap. It’s often helpful to be able to see die markers or some significant feature on the surface of the coin. These may come in handy in the future, either in identifying the coin or the die.
* Organize your prints, slides, and negatives so that they can be retrieved easily. I file my prints in the following manner. Micro shots of die varieties are filed in separate envelopes by denomination, date, and variety. Macro shots are filed by denomination, type, and date sequence. Photos of errors are filed by error type, and by denomination within that error type. I have about 20,000 prints on file and can put my hands on most specific prints within a minute.
Slides are also filed by topic, and most are housed in carousels ready to show. The carousels are not really expensive, and whenever I create a new slide presentation, I will buy a new carousel.
Negatives are also filed. Each time I have a roll of prints processed, I will assign a number to that roll. This six-digit number will be as follows: 920809. This simply means that the roll was taken in August of 1992, and it was the ninth roll I processed that month. In this way, I can always determine when the photograph was taken.
The prints from that roll are numbered as soon as I receive them. The number is placed on the back and includes the roll number and the exact frame negative number. In this way, whenever I pull a print for use in a publication, or if I need to have a copy or copies made, I can put my hands on the exact negative in a matter of seconds. Even photos that I shot twelve years ago! You’d be surprised how much time and irritation this procedure will save in the future.
* Buying film can get expensive, but you can save money here as well. In the back of almost any photographic magazine, there are several ads of companies which sell film, supplies, and equipment at prices far less than your local camera store. For instance, XP-2 is usually about $4.75 per roll in most camera shops. But I will buy 100 or 200 rolls at a time from one of these companies for $2.95 per roll. Quite a savings!
However, if you don’t use much film, I highly recommend that you buy from your local camera store. Try to develop a relationship with the owner. If you do so, he/she will be much more likely to help you when you need advice.
I hope these tips will assist you with your coin photography. If you should encounter a tip I might include in the future, please let me know. My goal is to be as helpful as possible — both now and in the future.
If you try some photos and are not satisfied with the results, feel free to send them to me, and I will offer my suggestions. I may be able to tell you something simple that you can do to make the photo better. If you do, please include some return postage. I’ll always be happy to assist you in every way possible.
Copyright 2000 by J. T. Stanton. This article may be reproduced in its entirety, as long as the source is recognized.
J. T. Stanton
P. O. Box 15487
Savannah, GA 31416-2187
by J. T. Stanton, N.L.G.
Cherrypickin’ in the numismatic hobby is simply the art of buying the best item possible for the least amount of money. The art has been around since coin collecting began. Years ago, collectors and dealers alike would examine the inventories of dealers in search for coins to fill a want list. Those doing the searching would naturally “cherrypick” the best coin possible.
Only in the past ten to fifteen years has the term “cherrypickin’” been commonly applied to the variety segment of the hobby. Today, the term implies that someone with specialized knowledge of a certain variety will search for and buy the variety for the price of the “normal” coin.
No single individual in the hobby can know everything about everything. Therefore, the opportunity exists for a specialist to “cherrypick” coins from those individuals or dealers often considered to be quite knowledgeable.
The variety enthusiast takes great pride in the knowledge that they have obtained. They will then use this knowledge to their advantage, usually by purchasing coins at normal prices that they can sell later for modest or even substantial profits. A true enthusiast will rarely boast about their accomplishments. However, they are usually quite willing to share their knowledge with others.
Varieties are those coins which are normal in most respects, yet have some characteristic on the coin that sets it apart from others of a like date and mint. These characteristics were generally a part of the die itself, therefore each coin struck from that particular die will have the same characteristic. Varieties generally consist of doubled dies, repunched dates, overdates, repunched mintmarks, over mint marks, misplaced dates, and even engraving errors.
Here we show some examples of varieties that have a value substantially above that of the normal coin.
This 1971-S Proof Lincoln Cent doubled die obverse has a retail value of $1000+, compared to the 75c for the normal coin.
Repunched dates can be minor, or highly evident. This 1894 Indian cent will fetch prices up to $4500, compared to $150 for a normal coin.
An overdate is simply one date that was punched into a die over a different date. This 1887/6-O Morgan dollar will bring as much as $7500.
Here is a rare 1942-D Jefferson nickel, with a D mintmark over a horizontal D mintmark. This repunched mintmark (RPM) brings as much as $750, compared to the $30 of the normal coin.
An over mintmark, similar to an overdate, is one mintmark punched over a different mintmark. The 1950-S/D Washington quarter is a good example. Values can reach several hundred dollars for an otherwise common coin.
A misplaced date is typically a coin that exhibits digits or letters punched into a position on the die where they do not belong, such as this 1870 Indian cent, with more than 20 digits punched in the denticles below the date. There are also varieties known with date punches in the bust, in the rock (on Liberty Seated coinage), and even in Liberty’s hair.
Collectors who specialize in areas such as Liberty Seated coinage, Bust Halves, Large Cents, Indian Cents and Morgan dollars are often dedicated to the collecting of the varieties within the series. These collectors will readily pay substantial premiums for varieties to add to their collections.
For instance, this 1829 Bust dime which has a 2 with a curled base, which will easily bring $10,000 for a coin grading EF. Not bad for a $50 coin. The “normal” 1829 dime has a 2 with a flat base. There are also Large Cent varieties which will bring prices in excess of $10,000 for an otherwise very common date.
But where would one get all this information? The information is available, if you’re willing to put forth the time and effort to obtain it. There are numerous books available which exhibit photos and descriptions of varieties. However, there is no book that will list or exhibit all the known varieties.
One of the more popular books available is The Cherrypickers’ Guide To Rare Die Varieties, by Bill Fivaz and J. T. Stanton. This book, soon in its Fourth Edition, has photos and descriptions of hundreds of varieties and over 800 high quality photos, and is a must for the variety collector. The new Fourth Edition of the book will be available in early summer of 2000, from J. T. Stanton, P. O. Box 15487, Savannah, GA 31416-2187 for $29.95 + $3.00 P & H.
Stanton also is the publisher of Cherrypickers’ News, a bi-monthly newsletter with news and photos of new varieties, research of previously known varieties, and up-to-date pricing information. Subscriptions are $25 for 6 issues, and $45 for 12 issues. Write to Cherrypickers’ News, P. O. Box 15487, Savannah, GA 31416-2187. You won’t be disappointed!
Books on a specific series are also available that exhibit many of the known varieties of that series. As of this writing, books which highlight varieties are available on Morgan and Peace Dollars, Large Cents, Lincoln Cents, Bust halves, Bust dimes, Liberty Seated half-dimes, dimes, quarters and halves, Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, Flying Eagle and Indian cents, Shield and Liberty nickels, Barber halves, quarters and dimes, Washington quarters, and many others. The research material today is a hundred times greater than just 15 years ago.
In addition to the books available, specialty clubs are also quite active. CONECA, the national error and variety club flourishes. Membership in CONECA is just $20 per year. Those interested should write to James Wiles, 9017 Topperwind Ct., Ft. Worth, TX 76134-5501. The bi-monthly newsletter is more than worth the annual dues.
Other specialty clubs include the Flying Eagle and Indian Cent Collectors, Liberty seated Collectors Club, Bust Half Nut Club, Early American Coppers, Barber Coin Collectors Society, John Reich Collectors Society, Society of Silver Dollar Collectors, The Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors, and of course doubled dies. Others certainly exist.
The information is available for those interested in exerting the time and effort needed, but patience is a must. Don’t expect to find rare varieties right away. If they were easy to find, they wouldn’t be rare nor valuable. It may take months or even a year before one finds their first rare variety, but when that first one is found, you’ll be hooked!
This segment of the hobby is one of the few areas that is still considered fun. Those enthusiast who are active are so because of the enjoyment, and not necessarily because of the profit. The profit just happens to be a very beneficial bi-product of the enjoyment.
Copyright 2000 by J. T. Stanton.
This article may be reproduced in its entirety, as long as the source is recognized.
J. T. Stanton
P. O. Box 15487
Savannah, GA 31416-2187
by Doug Winter Copyright © September 2001
A successful relationship with the right coin dealer is an essential component in the enjoyment of coin collecting. The collector who chooses to “go it alone” may be setting himself up for some serious problems, even if he is well-connected and knowledgeable.
A client (and friend) of mine recently coined a phrase that I feel succinctly describes the ideal relationship between the collector and dealer: the “dealer-partner.” The relationship between a dealer such as myself and my clients is mutually enhancing. I sell my nicest coins to my best customers and, in turn, will hopefully be able to reacquire these coins in the future. My clients buy nice coins at fair prices, acquire important insider information and market insights and, literally, put bread on my table.
When deciding on the “right” dealer, I would suggest that you think carefully about the following:
1. How much does the dealer know about the area that you wish to specialize in? If a collector called and told me he wished to put together a set of Lincoln Cents, I’d probably recommend that he choose someone else. I think I have a great eye and I probably know more about Lincoln Cents than most collectors. But I’m not what I’d call an expert in this area. On the other hand, if a collector called me and said he wanted to put together a set of Charlotte gold coins, I could state with honesty that there is probably no better dealer to work with than me. The collector needs to choose a dealer who really knows an area. That’s one reason why I have always respected specialized dealers and it’s why, some twenty years ago, I made the decision to be one.
2. What are the dealer’s credentials within the numismatic community? It can be hard to determine how well respected a dealer is within the numismatic community, given the fact that many dealers are not quick to compliment their competition. If I were a collector, I’d want my dealer to have the following qualifications.
First and foremost, I’d want him to be a member of the Professional Numismatist Guild (PNG). There are fewer than 500 dealers worldwide in the PNG and it is the only significant numismatic organization that doesn’t admit everyone who applies.
Secondly, I’d look for a dealer who is stable. If he has worked for three firms in five years, that’s a red flag.
Thirdly, I’d want to deal with an individual who was a proven expert. Has he written books or articles? Is he a contributor to the Redbook or other pricing guides? Do experts respect his opinions? A dealer who is universally respected and who has the credentials to back up this respect is a good person to do business with.
3. Does the dealer go coin shows and auctions? Unless a dealer attends shows and auctions, he will be “behind the curve” when it comes to knowing current market conditions. Dealers who get second hand information and pass it onto to their clients are not nearly as helpful as dealers who are out doing battle on the frontlines of coin shows and auctions.
4. Does the dealer actually enjoy working with collectors? Some of the most knowledgeable dealers are primarily wholesalers who do not have the personality or available time to work with collectors. These are not going to be good people to work with due to their inaccessibility and lack of enthusiasm. But don’t totally rule out one of these wholesale specialists as their knowledge tends to be far greater than the “typical” retailer.
5. Does the dealer own his inventory or broker it? I have nothing against the concept of brokering coins. In fact, there are times when I wish I could take the considerable amount of money I have tied up in my inventory, place it in a money market account, collect interest and sell other people’s coins. But I am a firm believer in putting my money where my mouth is. Every coin that is in my inventory has first been sold to a very strict set of eyes: mine. People who are coin brokers have often never seen the coins that they are selling. In addition, since they do not have their own money and/or time invested in the coins, they tend to be less concerned with their appearance.
6. Will you have too much competition for the coins the dealer buys? Let’s say that you are a Charlotte quarter eagle collector who wants to put together a world-class set. You should ask a potential dealer if there are other existing collectors in this dealer’s base who collect the same coins. Will there be situations when the dealer will have to make hard decisions about which collector gets which coin? If so, how will the dealer make these decision? As a rule, truly choice and/or rare coins are scarcer than the collectors who want them. Will you be able to get first shot at the coins that mean the most to you?
7. Does the dealer make a two way market? The best coin dealers are those who make strong two way markets in the areas they specialize in. They will be anxious to repurchase the coins they have sold you and will tend to be stronger buyers than non-specialists. It’s easy to find dealers who only want to sell you coins. It’s much harder to find dealers who want to buy them from you.
8. Does the dealer offer “post-sale service?” Good coin dealers don’t disassociate themselves from a collector after they’ve made a sale. Services that many dealers offer include giving advice on when to buy, sell or hold, upgrading coins or crossing them from one service’s holder to another, letting you know if someone else is interested in a coin you own and getting you a discounted seller’s commission should you decide to place your coins in an auction.
9. Is the dealer someone you like and trust? This is an especially important question, in my opinion. If you are going to spend a lot of money with someone, you had better trust them. And if you are going to have a mutually beneficial long-term relationship, you’d better like them. If a certain dealer “gives you the willies” every time you speak to him, then you probably shouldn’t consider giving him your business; no knowledgeable or well-connected he is. Conversely, if you really like someone and they give you a warm, fuzzy glow when you speak with them, they might be a better dealer for you than someone who is more knowledgeable and better connected.
In summary, you should ask the following questions to any dealer that you are thinking of doing a significant amount of business with:
Do you really know the series that I collect? How long have you been in business? How many years have you been at your current address? Do you attend shows and auctions? Have you written articles or books about coins? Do you belong to the PNG? Are you a retail or wholesale dealer? Do you own your inventory or broker other peoples coins? How many other important collections have you built? Will you be as anxious to buy my coins as you are to sell them to me? What will you do for me after you’ve sold me coins? What can you do to earn my trust?
The following are red flags that might make you think twice about doing business with a dealer:
He has worked for numerous companies in a short period of time He has been in the coin business for a shorter period of time than you’ve been a collector (nearly all of the really great coin dealers have been in the coin business since they were teenagers) He goes to fewer than three to five coins shows per year He has never bought and sold coins in the series that you collect He has no inventory of his own His level of knowledge does not seem much greater than your own
Provided courtesy: www.raregoldcoins.com. This site is a Gold Coin site and among the best on the internet.
by Doug Winter Copyright © January 2000
If you do not learn how to become a good coin collector, you will not enjoy this hobby. This will become quickly apparent; especially the first time you have your rash, uninformed purchases looked at (and, probably, summarily dismissed) by a knowledgeable dealer or collector. There are a number of rules that all coin collectors should remember every time they make a purchase. Here are ten that I feel are especially important.
I. Education: The most successful coin collectors take time to learn as much as they can about numismatics. They not only study coins but the dynamics of the market as well. To learn about coins, I strongly suggest that you buy and read as many books as possible. You can supplement these books with specific catalogs that relate to your chosen field of specialization. A serious collector might even go as far as creating a database of prices that relate to his specialty. Other suggestions for new collectors include subscribing to periodicals such as Coin World and Numismatic News. You should join the American Numismatic Association and use their library (they will send books by mail to members). Become friendly with other collectors and communicate with them by phone or e-mail. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.
II. Specialization: It is too hard to begin a coin collection without having goals and boundaries. I have always been a strong believer that it is better to view numismatics with a “micro” perspective as opposed to a “macro” perspective. As an example, if you start by collecting Charlotte gold coinage, your “world of focus” becomes 52 specific issues. It is realistic to assume that an intelligent individual who is willing to commit time to this area of study could become relatively knowledgeable within a year or two. To become similarly knowledgeable in a larger field of study (such as all branch mint US gold coins produced between 1838 and 1907) requires many more years. Becoming a well-versed specialist will allow you to level the playing field between you and dealers and it should enable you to make better purchases.
III. Patience: We live in an era of immediate gratification. New collectors often have the urge to jump in very quickly and complete their sets as fast as they can. The best coin collections are built over the course of many years. Sometimes, it is possible to purchase a number of great coins in a very short period of time. But most times, the opportunities to purchase great coins are few and far between. The new collector should avoid the temptation to buy the “wrong coin” just because he needs it for his set and he does not want to wait. Impetuous decisions are invariably incorrect and usually prove costly over the course of time.
IV. Connections: It amazes me how many serious collectors get their “meatiest” information on topics such as pricing, market conditions and future trends from such third-hand sources as newsletters, coin magazines and coin brokers. This information is almost always well out of date and totally biased. (Remember that most newsletters which recommend specific coins are written by dealers who have taken a position in what they are touting). The only way to get real information about the coin market is from a dealer or collector who regularly attends shows and auctions. This discounts most coin brokers/salesmen as they get diluted information from their superiors and then pass on these half-baked “truths” to the masses. I personally view it as my duty to pass on accurate information to good clients. Conversely, I will not willing pass this information onto “tire kickers.” The best way to get good information is to establish a good working relationship with a well-connected, reliable dealer.
V. Thinking Like A Collector: Anyone who approaches numismatics with a dispassionate attitude is a virtual certainty to lose money. Conversely, most pure collectors make money; often times in spite of themselves. This is because they buy coins for the right reason: they love them. They what interests them and they carefully research their purchases. They know for example, that a coin similar to one they just purchased sold for 10% more at a major auction. They know that they are not buying overhyped coins at the height of a promotional period. They are not buying coins just because a voice at the other end of the phone told them to and they are not buying them because this person told them their new coins would “increase in value 50-75% over the next three years.” Remember this rule because it may be the most important one of the ten listed here: learn to think and act like a true collector and you will have more fun now and have a better chance to expect a reasonable profit on your purchases over the course of time.
VI. Connoisseurship: I define connoissuership as the ability to discern true quality in a specific field. In numismatics, the connoisseur is able to determine which coins have the most aesthetic eye appeal and which, literally, stand apart from the “typical” piece. A numismatic connoisseur, for instance, is able to appreciate a truly original gold coin with rich, “crusty” coloration. He is able to innately sense that 150 year old coins do not have to be big and bright in order to be desirable. Connoisseurship is a natural ability. You either are able to naturally determine the “best” or you are not. If you are not a born connoisseur (and very few people are) then you should find a dealer who has this ability to assist you with your purchases. I would estimate that less than 5% of all coin collections are “connoisseur quality” and those that are typically the ones that show the greatest financial appreciation over the course of time.
VII. Learning to Grade: I have seen people spend millions of dollars on rare coins without having the slightest idea how to grade. They put their complete trust in dealers and in third-party grading. Frankly, this attitude leaves me baffled. If I do not feel very comfortable grading a specific type of coin, I do not buy it. As an example, I think Indian Head half eagles are extremely hard to grade. To be totally honest, I can’t grade the damn things. My solution? I don’t buy them. By the same token, I feel that I am a world-class grader of Liberty Head half eagles. So I buy a lot of them. There are some simple rules when it comes to grading. First–and foremost–you need to view as many coins as possible. I would recommend that you attend shows and auctions and carefully look at coins. Secondly, I would take one of the grading classes offered by the American Numismatic Association at their annual Summer Seminars. Thirdly, I would make the decision to specialize, so that you have fewer types of coins to learn to grade. Fourthly, I would try to learn grading tips from the dealer(s) that I buy the majority of my coins from. Finally, I would always remember that while third-party grading is a great safety net for the beginner, there is nothing like your own knowledge.
VIII. Thinking Long Term: Coins are a terrible short-term investment. Even if you buy coins at a fair “retail” mark-up, you are still paying at least 10-20% over typical wholesale prices. This means that any coins that you purchase has to go up at least 10-20% for you to break even. When coins were heavily touted as investments in the 1980’s, the common logic was that you needed to hold at least three to five years. I would suggest that you should plan to hold your coins at least ten years and preferably more. The greatest collections (Eliasberg, Pittman, Norweb, etc.) were built over the course of fifty+ years.
IX. Quality Not Quantity: Let’s say that you have a coin budget of $20,000 per year. I would suggest that you purchase four or five really nice $4000-$5000 coins each year than twenty $1000 pieces. The coin market of the future will be even more predicated on quality than it already is. High quality coins will become harder to find and, consequently, more expensive. The decision to purchase the best coins you can afford will prove to be very intelligent over the course of time. A few years ago, another dealer had an advertising campaign that basically said that your entire collection should be able to fit into a PCGS shipping box (i.e., it would be twenty coins). While this never really caught on, I think his idea actually has some merit. If you have decided to be more of a “generalist” buyer than a “specialist,” I like the concept of having a small collection of great coins instead of a large collection of nondescript coins.
X. Buying the Best You Can: Understand If you are new to coin collecting and you know next to nothing about coins and the coin market, you have no business purchasing $10,000+ items. I would strongly suggest that you start small and take at least three to six months to study the market. Once you feel more comfortable, you can take a bigger plunge into the coin market.
Conclusion: The regimen that I have discussed above is not easy to follow. Most people are not willing (or able) to follow this approach as it requires considerable discipline and a major commitment of time. If some of these steps seem practical to you and others do not, then I suggest you follow what you can and keep the other steps in the back of your mind as you become better acquainted with numismatics.
Provided courtesy: www.raregoldcoins.com. This site is a Gold Coin site and among the best on the internet.
by Doug Winter Copyright © September 2001
Almost every new collector makes mistakes, no matter what hobby he participates in. After many years of working with collectors, there are a number of common errors that I often see. Assuming that a collector is truly interested in correcting them (some people continue to make these basic mistakes, believing that they are “too smart” to receive constructive criticism), most can be rectified with a combination of time, money, patience, and the desire to learn to collect the “right” way.
Mistake #1: A new collector pays too much for coins. “Paying too much” is a relative term. There is a big difference between paying 5-10% too much for very nice, genuinely desirable coins and paying 50% too much for poor quality, unpopular coins. In the first instance, the passing of time will overcome a slight overpayment as will the fact that truly nice coins always sell for a bit too much money. In the second instance, the collector needs to learn how much nice coins really sell for and where to buy them.
Determining the true market value for coins is not easy. Many collectors (and even some dealers) feel that Greysheet bid or Coin World Trends is the ultimate guide for coin pricing. These guides do not take a number of factors into consideration. As an example, nice quality early type coins generally sell for numbers well in excess of CDN “bid.” Conversely, certain gold issues, like high-priced San Francisco half eagles, sell for large discounts relative to Trends.
Correction: Learn what the true market value for coins is. This can be done by studying auction prices realized, looking at what dealers are offering to sell (and buy) coins for and what other collectors you know have paid for their coins. You should also learn which coins sell for levels over published price guides and which sell for levels under these prices.
Do not be afraid to stretch for truly rare and/or desirable coins. As an example, if you pay 20% over Greysheet bid for a truly choice early gold coin, the chances are good that this “stretch” will be repaid when you go to sell your collection.
Mistake #2: A new collector buys his coins second (or even third) hand. Many (if not most) new collectors buy coins from brokers. In numismatics, a broker is defined as someone offering a coin for sale which is not from his inventory. There is nothing wrong with coin brokers. But often times buying coins from the dealer who owns them will save a collector from 10 to 30%.
Correction: The solution for this problem is relatively easy. Buy coins from the people who actually own them. Ask your dealer if he owns the coin(s) he is offering you or if it is from other sources. As you become more involved in numismatics, you’ll learn how to see if the dealer you ask this question to is telling you the truth. If, for example, he cannot accurately describe a coin, the chances are good that he has not seen it (and does not own it).
There are circumstances when it is acceptable to buy coins from a dealer who does not own them. A dealer may act as your agent at an auction and bid on coins that are not his. Or, a dealer might call you from a show to let you know he’s found a piece on your want list that is from another dealer. In this case, there is nothing wrong in using the dealer as a broker, provided his markup is reasonable. In such a transaction, a dealer generally makes a small (5-10%) profit. Since he does not own the coin and will have no downside risk in sending it to you on approval, he does not merit as large a profit as if he owned the coin and had downside risk.
Mistake #3: A new collector decides he doesn’t need a seasoned professional to help him. Every week I speak with a new collector who tells me how he has spent thousands (or even tens of thousands) of dollars with no professional guidance. Unless he is remarkably lucky, the chances are good that such a person has lost at least 50 cents on the dollar.
Buying rare coins is not easy. If you do not have someone to help you pick the right coins at the right prices, you are likely to be taken advantage of. The solution is easy: choose a reputable, knowledgeable dealer and establish a good rapport with him.
Correction: Other than the small handful of truly expert collectors who can compete with dealers, it is important to admit that you need sound professional guidance. Few collectors have the time or ability to become experts. It is not a sign of weakness to admit this.
How do you select the “right” dealer? The most important factors to consider are the dealer’s professional qualifications and reputation. Choose someone who deals in the area you specialize in. Ask for the names of some of his satisfied customers and speak with them about the dealer. Once you have found the right dealer, reward him with your loyalty. Speaking as a dealer, I can tell you it is hard for me to be loyal to a client who has his want list out with six other dealers and who mostly wants to pick my brain for free information.
Another qualification that, in my opinion, demonstrates the character and level of professionalism that you should be looking for in a dealer includes membership in the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG). The 300+ members are the PNG represent the upper echelon of coin dealers and I would suggest you stay away from any dealer who is not in this organization.
Mistake #4: A new collector buys unencapsulated coins or third-party graded coins from less-than-reputable services. With very few exceptions, coins that have not been graded by PCGS or NGC are graded on a standard that is too liberal. Many new collectors do not learn about the pitfalls of buying non-PCGS or NGC coins until after they buy “inferior” third-party graded coins. Not all second-tier encapsulated coins are second rate. There are some that might only be a point off. In such a case, I would suggest that these coins be removed from their current holders and sent to NGC or PCGS.
Another mistake new collectors make is to buy expensive unencapsulated coins. At this point in time, the market for encapsulated coins is so pervasive that any item that is worth more than $500 but not in a PCGS or NGC holder must be viewed with suspicion. Coin World is full of ads offering seemingly remarkable values on “raw” coins. In my experience, nearly all of these are either overgraded or, even worse, cleaned, retoned or damaged.
Correction: Again, the solution to this problem is relatively easy. Buy coins that have been graded by PCGS and/or NGC and avoid coins graded by other “second tier” services. Purchasing unencapsulated coins, whether through advertisements or auction sales, is best left to experts. If you see raw coins listed in auction catalogs that are of interest, have a reputable dealer view them for you. If this dealer likes the coin, hire him as your agent.
Mistake #5: A new collector does not take time to learn about coins and the coin market. I have long believed that in numismatics, education is a collector’s number one ally. It never ceases to amaze me how many collectors will spend tens of thousands of dollars on coins but not one cent on coin books. At this point in time, there is more good information available to collectors than at any other time in numismatic history. There are well-written guidebooks on almost every major series of American coin and there are dozens of excellent educational websites on the Internet that provide unbiased information. If you have already spent a considerable sum of money on coins but do not own any coin books, spend $500 on a basic library of general and specialized books.
Correction: Buy a core group of coins books and, more importantly, read them. If you collect gold coins, you should buy my series of books on branch mint issues. If you collect other types of coins, there are many good books available and I would be happy to suggest them to you. For pricing information, I would suggest you refer to Coin World Trends Online (www.coinworld.com). For rarity information, the PCGS Online Population Report is an excellent source (www.collectorsuniverse.com). For excellent photos and information on all United States issues, try www.coinresource.com or www.coinfacts.com.
All beginning collectors make mistakes. Some of these mistakes are costly, some are not. Hopefully, reading this article will make new collectors step back and analyze their numismatic behavior. If you are making one (or more) of these mistakes, do not despair. Instead, think what you can do to correct them and move forward.
If you have any questions or comments regarding the points made in this article, please feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Provided courtesy: www.raregoldcoins.com. This site is a Gold Coin site and among the best on the internet.
By David Morgan Precious Metals Analyst
“We are completely dependent on the commercial banks. Someone has to borrow every dollar we have in circulation, cash or credit. If the banks create ample synthetic money, we are prosperous; if not, we starve. We are absolutely without a permanent money system. When one gets a complete grasp of the picture, the tragic absurdity of our hopeless position is almost incredible, but there it is. It is the most important subject intelligent persons can investigate and reflect upon. It is so important that our present civilization may collapse unless it becomes widely understood and the defects remedied soon.” — Robert H. Hemphill, Credit Manager of the Federal Reserve Bank, Atlanta, GA
This article is about silver’s monetary role throughout history, though it should be read as an overview since much more complete works exist on this subject. It is truly impossible to discuss silver as money without mentioning gold’s role as well. At times countries have been on a gold standard or a silver standard or a dual standard. My aim with this piece is to encourage readers to consider the role they believe silver has in today’s economy. Is silver a monetary metal? Is it an industrial commodity? Is it both?
In this brief preface, two ideas are pertinent to all. First, the above quote from Robert Hemphill will be meaningful to you only if YOU give it meaning. To wit, only when you are able to prove to your own satisfaction that a debt-based monetary system poses no threat to your financial well being and will be able to endure through your children’s lifetime will you feel secure. Second, consider how you might protect yourself if you turn out to be wrong. In other words, if you were to allocate a mere 5% of your investment portfolio to silver, just how badly could you be hurt? Sure, if silver were to go to zero, you’d lose 5% of your total investment base – but, were silver to reach its former highs, your small allocation might prove a highly welcome asset in a not-so-certain world. With this background let us begin.
Economists seem as a whole to be totally perplexed by money. Even free market economists usually insist that some sort of government control is needed for money. These same economists seldom consider that government control of money is interference in the free market! Historically, money was one of the first things controlled by government. In my opinion, however, the free market is best at determining money.
Gold and Silver are Assets, Not Liabilities
An argument often mentioned about gold is that it is the only asset that is not simultaneously someone else’s liability. This is fiction not fact. Silver, copper, iron, or even cotton, tobacco, or cornmeal would be able to perform the same function. In other words, nearly any commodity that is totally owned by someone is an asset and not a liability.
Many different goods have been used as money throughout history. Throughout centuries, only two commodities, gold and silver, have emerged as money in the free competition of the market, and have displaced the other commodities. In a free market, the medium of exchange is developed by people and their economic interactions. This is what establishes what money is. It is not established by a government calling bits of paper “money.” A most important truth is thus established, MONEY IS A COMMODITY! “Learning this simple lesson is one of the world’s most important tasks. So often have people talked about money as something much more or less than this. Money is not an abstract unit of account, divorceable from a concrete good; it is not a useless token only good for exchanging; it is not a ‘claim on society’’; it is not a guarantee of a fixed price level. It is simply a commodity. It differs from other commodities in being demanded mainly as a medium of exchange.” 1
The shape of the money unit makes no difference. If copper is the money for example, then all copper is money, whether it is a pipe, chunk, bar, coin, or picture frame. This is not to say that some shapes are not more convenient than others. The free market will determine if a coin is to carry a premium over another form of the same metal.
Another area that can be simplified is the money supply question. It cannot be estimated how much effort and nonsense has been written on this subject. The question is really how much money does the world need? Can the free market determine the correct amount of money? For this illustration let us use one commodity established by the free market as money. For this example I will use silver. The first point is that the money supply is the total weight of silver existing. Changes in the money supply would be determined by the same factors as other goods. Increases would come from increased mine supply and decreases from being used up by wear and tear, industry, or loss. So, what should the money supply be? Only a few have suggested the obvious, let the market itself decide.
Money Is Different
Money differs from all other commodities and this difference must be fully understood. When the supply of any other good increases, this is beneficial as more goods mean an increased standard of living. Consumer goods are used up, capital goods are used up, but money is not used up. Its function remains and it is still available for further transactions. Let us suppose for example that we were able to double the money supply (amount of silver), would we be twice as rich? Absolutely not. What makes one rich is an abundance of goods. What limits that abundance is a scarcity of land, labor, or capital. Thus, an increase in the supply of silver only dilutes the worth of each ounce, whereas a fall in supply raises the power of each silver ounce to do its work. “We come to the startling truth that is does not matter what the supply of money is. Any supply will do as well as any other supply.”2 The free market will simply adjust by changing the purchasing power or effectiveness of the silver unit.
Gold is mentioned first in the Bible. The first reference I could find to money was in Genesis 44:8 – “Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks’ mouths, we brought again unto thee out of the land of Canaan: how then should we steal out of thy lord’s house silver or gold?” The first monetary transaction recorded in the Bible is also in Genesis. Abraham weighs 400 shekels of silver to pay for his wife’s burial. This is the same Abraham all three major religions of the world express as a link to the God in which they believe. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all refer to the “God of Abraham.” This reference to silver in Genesis applies universally, across cultures, and throughout the ages.
Silver has had a monetary function far longer than gold, being used as the most common medium of exchange in everyday commerce since well before the time of Christ. In this article, my aim is promote an understanding that silver retains a vital monetary purpose and is, in fact, more crucial to mankind than ever before. This is true both financially and socially – financially because of the problems associated with a fiat money system and socially because silver is crucial to our modern way of life.
Three metals have a history of monetary usage – gold, silver and copper. Silver has been most useful because gold is simply too rare for common daily transactions. Gold has been reserved primarily for final payment in large bank-to-bank or nation-to-nation dealings. Copper has been used mainly as a medium for very small exchanges. (As an interesting sidelight, note that even copper is debased out of the currency system in periods of extreme inflation. The U.S. government now makes the penny with a zinc alloy because it was losing money on the minting of copper pennies.)
Silver IS Money
After my first article about silver’s role as money [link], I received many letters verifying my contention. Indeed, silver’s monetary role has been so universally recognized throughout history that the very word for silver is money in many languages. In Italian, Spanish and French the words for “money” and “silver” can be interchanged. In Hebrew, the word kesepph means both silver and money. Even in early American slang, the word silver was often used to signify payment: “Grease my palm with silver!” To be precise, among more than 250 million people in 51 countries, the word for money is identical to the word for silver. Many Africans and Asians refer to both silver and money as “argent,” while Spanish-speaking people the world over use “plata” to mean silver, money or both.
Before moving ahead, it might be interesting to look back for a moment. The following was written over two decades ago, but still deserves careful contemplation. “Most of the gold that has been mined from the ground is now stored in the ground – in bank vaults. Industrial demand for gold today, even though it is growing, is small compared to existing stocks. Consequently, within our lifetime – and possibly within this decade –silver could become more valuable ounce-for-ounce than gold. Of course, both will become more valuable in terms of paper money by a large multiple because of the accelerating and uncontrollable worldwide paper-money inflation that lies ahead.”3
As I’ve noted before, this is beyond what I expect. However, the current relative values for gold and silver should definitely favor silver in the long term.
A Brief Review of Silver’s Recent Monetary History
Silver was the primary commercial money for most of the world’s people from earliest recorded history until the past century. Silver’s price for most of the 19th century was fixed at the coinage value of $1.29 per troy ounce. During the great silver boom of the 1860s, which vastly expanded the silver supply, the world became flooded with silver coinage. Silver simply became overabundant relative to gold and, as a result, almost all European nations abandoned a bi-metallic standard, officially adopting a gold standard.
Another key point in silver’s monetary history came during the deflation, devaluation and Depression of the 1930s. Silver’s price fell lower and lower, finally bottoming at 25 cents in 1933. However, the Thomas Act of 1933 allowed foreign debtors to pay the U.S. in silver coin at 50 cents per ounce, twice the unofficial price, and silver soon strengthened worldwide. The price rallied to 44 cents by the end of 1933, a 75% increase above the Depression low, but it could still be said that silver was clearly in a state of monetary confusion. (The Thomas Act also authorized a reduction in the gold content of the U.S. dollar. At the request of insolvent bankers, all banks were closed, an embargo was put on gold sales and the dollar was allowed to float.)
The next major monetary adjustment for silver resulted from another political action. The Silver Purchase Act of 1934 directed the Secretary of the Treasury to purchase silver both at home and abroad until the market price reached the official monetary price of $1.29 per ounce. This political action quickly inspired still another political action. The U.S. Treasury issued an edict that taxed domestic silver transactions at 50 percent in order “to capture the windfall profits created by the Treasury.” Over the next four years, the U.S. acquired 3.2 billion ounces of silver – including the physical confiscation of so much actual silver stock that it became impossible for the Commodity Exchange of New York (Comex) to function.
From 1934 until 1955, the Treasury support price for silver remained above the actual market price. After 1955, however, the market price began exceeding the Treasury price, with silver users (largely in the photographic and electronics fields) buying silver from both domestic mines and the Treasury.
Faced with dwindling supplies and increasing market prices for silver, the Coinage Act of 1965 moved through Congress, boosted by a letter dated June 3, 1965, from President Lyndon Johnson, which declared his support for the elimination of silver from coinage in the United States. “There is no dependable or likely prospect that new, economically workable sources of silver may be found that could appreciably narrow the gap between silver supply and demand,” Johnson wrote. “The optimistic outlook is for an increase of about 20 percent over the next four years. This would be of little help. Further, because silver is produced chiefly as a by-product of the mining of copper, lead and zinc, even a very large increase in the price of silver would not stimulate silver production sufficiently to change the outlook.”4
Significant Points About Real Money and Silver
First, silver again lasted longer than gold as a medium of exchange (real money), surviving until 1965, whereas gold ceased to circulate among the people in 1933, being reserved for balance-of-trade payments until the gold window was closed in 1971.
Second, to properly understand what President Johnson did, you need to know something about the rule of law. A contract is sacred and cannot be broken – but Johnson essentially urged Congress to break the contract with the American people that’s printed on all silver certificates. Some Americans, aware of what was really going on, saved every 90%-silver coin they could get their hands on.
Third, it is a total fallacy that there is too little gold or silver left for it to be used as money. This is something I hear over and over – and it is completely erroneous. The correct observation is that too many paper claims have been issued against the currently existing amount of real money.
Finally, in a true gold standard, many financial planners would be out of business. As absurd as this sounds, follow the logic. If the monetary system were based on honest weights and measures, you would know, when you first entered the work force at, say, 20 years of age, exactly how much you would need to save by age 65 for retirement. Why? Because your purchasing power would remain constant. Under an honest monetary system, interest rates are stable and long-range planning is simplified. In a true gold standard, purchasing power actually increases slightly over time so that an ounce of gold would buy slightly more after 35 years than it did when you originally entered the work force.
Obviously, a true gold standard is not perfect, and there are still the problems associated with human interaction. However, it is the most just of all recognized monetary systems. And, the potential buying power of gold has importance for determining silver’s usage as money. For example, if gold reaches a price in U.S. dollars of $2,000 per ounce, then the smallest practical coins, being the one-tenth ounce pieces, would have a value of roughly $200. This is far too large for a great many daily transactions – e.g., buying bread, milk or gasoline. If coins were to be used in commerce, they would have to be made of something less valuable than gold.
In consideration of silver’s monetary role, we need to examine historic ratios between the values of gold and silver. Historically, silver was valued at approximately 1/16th the price of gold. Only in recent history has the gold/silver ratio risen above the “classic” 16:1. If we use the classic ratio, then one troy ounce of silver would be worth $125. A silver dime is 7/100th of an ounce, so a dime would have the purchasing power of about nine paper “dollars.” This seems crazy, but it actually is normal from a historic point of view. A menu in the 1850s might offer a meal for 5 cents. If you worked as a miner during the great silver rush in Virginia City (Comstock Lode), you were paid two silver dollars per day as wages. The five cents would be 1/40th of a day’s wage. Taking that to the present time, a person making $5.00 an hour ($40 a day) is able to buy a 99-cent hamburger at several fast food outlets. This is equivalent to the 1/40th comparison.
Under a 100%-reserve gold standard, the monetary role of silver might be so great that silver coin and bullion would constitute as much as one third of the overall supply of money. This estimate is consistent with the fact that today, paper currency in denominations of $100 and less, together with subsidiary coin, constitutes on the order of a third of the overall quantity of money, while checking balances constitute the rest. Under a 100%-reserve gold standard, silver coins would take the place of most of today’s paper currency and would have a buying power ranging from today’s $10 bills up through today’s $100 bills.
Moving back to the theme of synthetic (fiat) money, problems compound one upon another. Holders of the U.S. debt become restless and irritable being forced to pile up dollars that are now starting to lose value relative to their currency. As the purchasing power of dollar falls, they become increasingly unwanted by foreign governments. But they are locked into a system that offers little in the way of relief. The long run problem (we have almost finished the race) is that these other countries will not sit by forever and watch their currencies become more expensive and their exports hurt for the benefit of America. As the dollar depreciates further, there will be competition. This will lead to exchange controls, currency blocs, and all types of economic warfare. In a strategic move during the current global tensions, it is even conceivable that a country could throw in the towel and exchange U.S. debt for gold. This would in my view have more of an effect upon America than nearly anything else. Certainly, if this takes place during a time when the “war on terrorism” is in full fervor, it will be blamed on our enemies.
It’s Time for Re-Evaluation
In conclusion, I must agree that money is the most important subject intelligent persons can investigate and reflect upon. Our civilization stands at a very important point. Many are looking at the leadership in America not only on the political front, but also on the corporate level. Scandals are daily news, the dollar has come under attack, and “money” has disappeared from many investor portfolios. As important as money is to the lifeblood of a modern society, it appears to me that something more important has been lost. Integrity and honesty are in extremely short supply today. As I have stated before, when you can lie about money, you can lie about anything.
All of monetary history teaches us that a dishonest money system leads to the very problems we are witnessing today, yet we fail to look at the root cause. The root cause is accepting anything other than gold and/or silver as money. Plain and simple. The history of money teaches us that civilizations fail for this lack of knowledge. The Roman Empire fell as a result of debasement of the money supply. Marie Antoinette lost her head because of debasement. Following a paper money failure, Napoleon came to power and immediately installed a metal standard. In the last century, Hitler came to power after the paper money debacle in Germany.
It is time to be honest with yourself. Is the crumbling financial system due to improper accounting methods? Greed? Lies? Perhaps the unit of account itself is at fault. Is a dollar really a dollar? What we consider to be money, is it really money? This begs the question, if the basic unit of account is merely a fiction, is not the entire structure unstable?
Is your monetary future based on facts, mere faith – or total fiction? – David Morgan
A final note on investing in precious metals:
It is well understood that the most important investment to be made in either silver or gold is in the actual metal itself. This point has been made several times, but it bears repeating. There have been many times in the monetary history of the world when only the real metal is of any practical value. For example, when the “boat people” were leaving Viet Nam, gold coins could buy passage – but those who tried signing the back of their stock certificates as a means of payment are still waiting for the boat. Most investors know that, in order to build a well-structured metals portfolio, you need a hierarchy. First, real metal, bought and paid for; secondly, the shares of top-tier mining companies; and, lastly, investments with extreme leverage, but only for those with adequate risk capital.
1 Rothbard, Murray, What Has Government Done To Our Money, Praxeology Press, Auburn, Alabama, 1990, p.19. 2 Ibid., p.30-31. 3 Smith, Jerome, Silver Profits in The Eighties, ERC Publishing, New York, NY, 1982, p.xvi. 4 Johnson, President Lyndon, Letter to The Congress, June 3, 1965.
© 2002 David Morgan July 12, 2002
Originally published in Financial Sense Online
David Morgan has been a private economist for over two decades. His background in engineering with an advanced degree in Economics/Finance gives a unique perspective to the financial markets that pure business majors often miss. He applies the discipline of logic to verify the basics of economic law. Mr. Morgan has been published in The Herald Tribune, Gold Newsletter, Resource Consultants, Contact, News Gurus Magazine, Common Ground, and The Idaho Observer.
His work has appeared on the internet at Silver-Investor.com, 321Gold, Le Metropole Cafe, Goldseek, Gold-Eagle, and Silicon Investor. He has been interviewed on Don McAlvany’s radio talk show, Financial Sense Newshour, Hard Money Watch, Truth Radio and appeared on television. He hosts a weekly precious metals wrap-up on internet radio every Saturday with Jim Puplava. Mr. Morgan was published in the global investor regarding ten rules of silver investing. Currently, he is speaking with a publisher regarding a book on silver.
His private email newsletter is $78 U.S. by email. It includes 12 issues per year, plus email updates as required at no additional charge.
U.S. coins have changed many times since the Coinage Act of 1792, which adopted the dollar as the standard monetary unit.
Silver dollars have been minted and issued at various times since 1794. Dollar coins were discontinued in 1935, then resumed in 1971 with the introduction of the silverless Eisenhower dollar. The silverless Susan B. Anthony coin, honoring the famed women’s suffrage advocate, replaced the Eisenhower dollar in 1979. A new dollar coin authorized in 1997 replaced the Susan B. Anthony coins in 2000. The new coin depicts Sacagawea, the Native American woman whose presence was essential to the success of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The coin has a copper core clad in an alloy of copper, zinc, manganese, and nickel, which gives the coin a golden color.
Half-dollars virtually disappeared from circulation following the introduction, in 1964, of the Kennedy half-dollar. Despite the fact that huge quantities were produced, the half-dollar remained scarce in general circulation through 1970. Silverless halves first appeared in 1971.
Other coin denominations in common use today are the 25-cent, 10-cent, five-cent, and one-cent pieces, familiarly known as the quarter, dime, nickel, and penny.
The composition of U.S. coins has changed considerably over the past few decades. Because of a growing worldwide silver shortage, the Coinage Act of 1965 authorized a change in the composition of dimes, quarters, and half-dollars, which had been 90 percent silver. Silver was eliminated from the dime and the quarter. The half-dollar’s silver content was reduced to 40 percent and, after 1970, was eliminated altogether.
In 1981 Congress authorized a change in the penny’s composition, abandoning the 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc alloy used for decades. The one-cent piece is now copper-plated zinc—97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper. The old and new pennies look virtually identical, but the new coin is about 19 percent lighter.
U.S. coin denominations used in the past were the half-cent, two-cent, three-cent, and 20-cent pieces, as well as a small silver coin called a half-dime. Gold coins in denominations of $1, $2.50 (“Quarter Eagle”), $3, $5 (“Half Eagle”), $10 (“Eagle”), and $20 (“Double Eagle”) were used from 1795 until 1933.
The U.S. Mint, which makes all U.S. coins, was established by Congress in 1792 and became an operating bureau of the Treasury Department in 1873.
The Philadelphia Mint has been in continuous operation since 1792. The Denver Mint began its coinage operations in 1906. The West Point, New York, and San Francisco Mints gained official Mint status in 1988. Originally an assay office, the San Francisco Mint is the primary production facility for proof coins. The West Point Mint, once used exclusively as a bullion depository, is now the Mint’s chief producer of gold coins.
U.S. coins typically bear a mint mark showing which mint produced them. Coins minted in Philadelphia bear a P or no mint mark; those minted in Denver, a D; in San Francisco, an S; and in West Point, a W. Although the Coinage Act of 1965 specified that no mint marks would be used for five years, Congress authorized in late 1967 that mint marks be resumed. The marks reappeared on regular coinage in 1968.
Several branch mints are no longer in operation. These mints were located in Carson City, Nevada (mint mark, CC); Charlotte, North Carolina (C); Dahlonega, Georgia (D); and New Orleans, Louisiana (O).
The Director of the Mint selects designs for U.S. coins with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, although Congress may prescribe a coin design. A design may not be changed more often than every 25 years unless Congress determines otherwise.
Emblems All of the U.S. coins currently minted portray past U.S. Presidents. They are the Lincoln one-cent piece, adopted in 1909; the 25-cent piece portraying Washington, first minted in 1932; the five-cent piece honoring Jefferson, adopted in 1938; the Franklin D. Roosevelt dime, introduced in 1946; and the Kennedy half-dollar, which appeared in 1964.
The 50 States Quarters Program Act of 1997 provides for the redesign of the reverse side of quarters to depict emblems of each of the 50 states. Each year from 1999 through 2008, coins commemorating five states, with designs created by the states, will be issued in the order in which the states signed the Constitution or joined the Union. These quarters will be in general circulation, but the Mint will also sell sets of collector edition proof, uncirculated, and silver proof coins.
“In God We Trust” The phrase was first used on the U.S. two-cent coin in 1864. It appeared on the nickel, quarter, half-dollar, and silver dollar and on the $5, $10, and $20 gold pieces in 1866, on the penny in 1909, and on the dime in 1916. Dropped from the nickel in 1883, the phrase reappeared on the nickel in 1938. All U.S. coins now issued bear the motto.
The Minting Process
The first step in minting coins is the production of strips of metal in the proper thickness. (The U.S. Mint buys these strips, for all coins except pennies, from commercial suppliers.) Strips for pennies are zinc. Strips for nickels are an alloy of 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel. Clad dimes, quarters, half-dollars, and dollars are produced from three layers of metal fused together; the outer layers are the same alloy used for nickels, and the core is copper.
The metal strips are fed into blanking presses, which cut round blanks (planchets) the approximate size of the finished coin. (The blanks for pennies, made of zinc, are coated with copper before going on to the next step. Commercial companies provide the planchets for pennies to the Mint.) The blanks are run through annealing furnaces to soften them and then through tumbling barrels, rotating cylinders that contain chemical solutions to clean and burnish the metal. Next, the blanks are washed and put into drying machines. Then the blanks go through milling or “upsetting” machines, which produce the raised (upset) rim.
Blanks next proceed to the stamping or coining press. The blank is held in place by a ring, or collar, as it is struck under tremendous pressure. Pennies require about 40 tons of pressure, and the larger coins require proportionately more. Upper and lower dies stamp the design on both sides of the coin at the same time. Grooves inside the ring holding the blank form the “reeding” or ridges on the rim of finished coins, except for pennies and nickels, which have smooth rims.
Coins to commemorate American people, places, events, and institutions are authorized by special acts of Congress and manufactured in limited quantities. Commemorative coins, which may be gold, silver, or clad, usually sell at a premium, so they seldom circulate as regular coin.
Legislation specifies that commemorative coin programs must operate at no net cost to taxpayers. Surcharges raised from the sale of commemorative coins are designated for a specific purpose or for reducing the national debt.
The first commemorative coin was minted in 1892 to help finance the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Since that time many other commemorative coins have been issued.
Recent commemorative coins have included 1996 Centennial Olympic coins as well as coins honoring Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jackie Robinson in 1997; Robert F. Kennedy and Crispus Attucks, an African-American Revolutionary War patriot, in 1998; and Dolley Madison in 1999.
Used by permission of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.