Category Archives: May 2011

Managing Your Collection — Buying, Selling, Holding

There is a responsibility attached to owning a valuable coin collection. Whether it is a carefully formed collection that you put together over many years, a casual accumulation of pieces taken from circulation, or something that has been bequeathed, you have a very real duty to carefully conserve and provide for the future of those treasures.

Protecting a valuable coin collection from physical damage or harm is but one aspect of taking care of your numismatic holdings. At some time or other you will have to make a decision about the future of those coins. Are they to be held and made part of your estate? Should they be donated to a museum? Do you want to continue adding to the collection? Or is it time to sell some or all of your coin holdings?

The easiest course of action is to do nothing…. but that usually is the most costly decision. No decision is actually a decision to hold on for a bit longer. In the end everyone must make a commitment to Buy, Sell or Hold. It is inevitable. The question, then, is what is the best course of action for each individual to meet his or her objectives and needs.

Professional coin dealers are trained to help customers with just such decisions. They fully understand current market conditions and the advantages of buying, selling or holding rare coins. They can provide advice about where and how to liquidate a collection. They understand about auction sales, donations, storage and care of all kinds of coins and paper money. If you have such questions, it could pay to call on the services of a professional to provide reliable answers.

Oak Display Box

Oak Display Box

The most critical aspect of holding on to a collection of rare coins is paying heed to proper storage. Despite their tough metallic appearance, coins can be easily damaged by careless handling or improper storage. Entire collections have been left worthless because they were not cared for or protected from needless damage. Obviously, coins should not be handled, cleaned or jostled around in any way that would mark, scratch or rub the surface. That can be prevented by normal care and storage in individual envelopes or holders. Then some careful thought must be given to where the coins are being stored.

If your coins are not stored in a bank vault you are going to have to find some very special place for them where they will be safe and secure not only from theft, but from heat and humidity. A coin lost or damaged from any of these threats can never be fully restored. The time to protect your coins is before anything happens to them. Maintaining your collection, and its value, is a responsibility that needs constant attention. Providing for the future of your investment is something that is just as important. Passing a treasured heirloom set of coins on to family members should be a joyous event, not to be spoiled by a caretaker who forgot the rules of Buying, Selling or Holding.

Posted in May 2011 | Leave a comment

Can You Multiply in Roman Numerals?

Roman NumeralsCome along with me on a mental trip back in time to the days of ancient Rome. Let’s stop in at Antonio’s for a pizza and something cold to drink. It will be my treat because I have a toga-bag full of old coppers that will more than pay for the meal. Your part can be to add up the bill and figure in the tip.

Are you ready? The pizzas cost XIV coppers each, your drink was VII and mine was VI, the bread sticks were IX. We should leave at least a 15% tip. What? You say you can’t compute in Roman numerals. Well don’t feel bad. Very few people could add large sums even back in Roman days. Multiplication was even worse. Just how much is MDLIX times MCMLXIV? If you ever though that “new math” was a problem, you should have been around for some of the “old math.” That was really a nightmare.

There was no easy alternative for anyone who couldn’t figure sums in Roman numerals. The basic problem was that there is no “zero” in that system. To make matters worse paper, as we know it today, was not yet invented and the ancients had to scratch their writing into whatever flat surface they had at hand. No one could have envisioned the modern calculator in his or her wildest dreams. The scholars who did work with numbers back in those dark days had to do math the hard way, and yet somehow the system survived for hundreds of years.

No one knows how long Roman numerals were used to compute sums of numbers. Surely a change, however gradual, must have begun as soon as people realized that some systems used by other countries were far superior and more convenient than anything known to the Greeks and Romans. Arabic numbers had a “zero” or “cipher” as it was called, and when used in conjunction with their other numbers made computations a snap. That is why we all still use Arabic numbers today throughout the world.

Rechentisch/Counting board

Rechentisch/Counting board

In England and Central Europe, right up to the 17th century, people who had to work with numbers and money often resorted to using what was called a “counting board” to figure sums. The counting board was nothing more than a design scratched on a tabletop, or flat board with squares measured off in segments. Three or more rows were arranged horizontally and several more vertically, like a chessboard. Depending on sums to be calculated, the rows could be designated as units, tens, hundreds and thousands, or even pennies and pounds. Calculations were made by moving a series of markers to the appropriate squares in a method similar to using an abacus.

Together, the counting board and the abacus formed the basis for all computations that were not based on Arabic numbers. Counting board markings on tables in stores were so common in England that they gave rise to our word “counter” as a place for doing business and paying for merchandise. The title Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to a government official who was skilled at using the checkerboard counter to verify accounts.

The general method of reckoning sums on the board was to pile coins in the appropriate spots to represent various sums, and then shift them around to add or even multiply the total by other sums. The final configuration was an accurate computation of the total. One problem however was that there were often not enough coins available to fill the necessary squares. In time special markers in the shape and appearance of coins were made for use as substitutes for real money.

Jeton, Dordrecht 1588, the invincible Armada destroyed

Jeton, Dordrecht 1588, the invincible Armada destroyed

In England, France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, from about 1300 to 1600, pieces know as casting counters, jetons or rechenpfennig were made as substitutes for coins to be used on their counting boards.

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Many of these are elaborately engraved with charming designs, and are just as attractive as real coins. Some have an alphabet inscribed on one side as a teaching aid. All are now avidly collected as part of the numismatic history of that bygone era that was so vastly different from all we know today. In a sense computing jetons were the calculators of four hundred years ago and they should be treasured and appreciated as such.

Posted in May 2011 | Leave a comment

Ben Franklin – Numismatician

Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin

We all know Benjamin Franklin’s famous saying “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Of course he was not thinking about coin collecting when he wrote those words of wisdom, but during his life he did have a very profound influence on the money used in this country, and he can rightly be cited as one of the earliest key figures in American numismatics.

Franklin had an abiding interest in coins and paper money. As a prominent printer in Philadelphia it was logical that he would be selected to print some of this nation’s first paper currency. When asked to do so by the legislature of New Jersey in 1728 he happily obliged. Not only did he print their notes, he cut and cast ornaments to decorate the bills, built the presses, and designed the lay-outs for each of nine different denominations. Unfortunately for us, not a single specimen of this early paper money has survived the ravages of time.

The very next year, in June of 1729, Franklin entered into a printing contract with a Philadelphia shopkeeper to print small change bills for him. These bills are mentioned in Franklin’s account book and he accepted some of the notes in payment for his work. Then in April of 1731, Franklin began printing official paper money for Pennsylvania under an arrangement that lasted until 1746.

During that same period Franklin also printed paper money for Delaware from 1734 to 1746, and New Jersey from 1737 to 1746. After that time he went in to partnership with D. Hall and formed a printing company known as Franklin and Hall which continued to print money from 1749 through 1764. That company later became Hall and Sellers, and continued to print the bulk of all Colonial and Continental currency until 1780.

Benjamin Franklin nature printed 55 dollar back 1779

Ben Franklin 1779 Nature Printing Currency


The money that Franklin designed and printed for New Jersey in 1737 marked a unique advancement in technology. In an effort to prevent counterfeiting, a special form of “nature printing” was used. This consisted of making a lead casting of an actual single leaf, and using this as part of the design on the printed note. The outline and veins of each leaf were unique, and thus could not be duplicated by any other printer.
Franklin’s nature printing was so successful that it was used on numerous issues of State and Continental paper currency until 1780.

The first notes made for the United Colonies and the United States also got a lift from Ben Franklin. He supplied a series of design elements and mottoes that were very popular and distinctive. One of the most endearing of these showed a sundial with the inscription FUGIO (I flee) and MIND YOUR BUSINESS. A modern interpretation of that would be “Time flies, so tend to your work.” The design proved so popular that it was used on the first copper coins authorized by the federal government in 1787.

Franklin’s association with numismatics continued on late in his life. A quantity of marbled paper that he purchased, and intended to use in printing obligations for French loans was brought to America when Franklin returned, and used by his grandson in the making of paper money for the Bank of North America in 1789.

When Franklin was chosen to be shown on the United States half-dollar coins minted from 1948 to 1963, it was a fitting tribute to the man who so strongly influenced the nature of our country’s money in the formative years. It was an honor he

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richly deserved.

Posted in May 2011 | Leave a comment

Creation Of The Kennedy Half Dollar

Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts

Gilroy Roberts

Gilroy Roberts (March 11, 1905, Philadelphia – January 26, 1992) was a sculptor, gemstone carver, and the ninth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint between 1948 and 1964. He designed the obverse of the United States Kennedy half dollar, which was first issued in 1964. After he retired from the U.S. Mint, he became chairman of the Franklin Mint, where he continued to use his engraving talents. He served in this position until 1971. The following is the text of his remembrances of creating the Kennedy Half Dollar.

“Shortly after the tragedy of President Kennedy’s death, November 22, 1963, Miss Eva Adams, the Director of the Mint, telephoned me here at the Philadelphia Mint and explained that serious consideration was being given to placing President Kennedy’s portrait on a new design U. S. silver coin and that the Quarter Dollar, Half Dollar or the One Dollar were under discussion. For the design, they were weighing the merits of either a front view or a profile for the obverse and the possibility of using the President’s Seal of Office for the reverse. From the standpoint of good composition and elegance of design the profile is much superior to any other view for the presentation of a portrait in bas-relief on a circular medal or coin. This is almost a universally held opinion among designers and artists and it was strongly recommended here that a profile be used.

A day or so later, about November 27th, Miss Adams called again and informed me that the Half dollar had been chosen for the new design; that Mrs. Kennedy did not want to replace Washington’s portrait on the Quarter Dollar. Also it had been decided to use the profile portrait that appears on our Mint list medal for President Kennedy and the President’s Seal that had been used on the reverse of this and other Mint medals.

Since the Franklin Half Dollar had not been issued for the statutory twenty-five year period, new legislative authority would be required. However, we were to begin immediately because they wanted to start striking the new Half Dollar in January, 1964, only about four weeks away. This seemed almost an impossibility, but the fact that we had, on hand, large models for both sides made the problem less insurmountable. There was still a great amount of work to be done, all stops were out. Mr. Gasparro tackled the reverse and the obverse became my problem.

Starting back with the original plastilene model of President Kennedy’s portrait, which he had approved, the coat was deleted, the periphery was changed to bring the head nearer center and to decrease the size of the circle in relation to the portrait. The background was reshaped to provide the required depressed field necessary for proper coinage, the inscription and date required by law were established.

On December 10th, White House press releases were issued by President Johnson stating the reasons and the steps required to establish the new coin.

Work on the processing to the die stage continued. An intermediate reduction was made, approximately five inches in diameter, drastically reducing the relief and from this intermediate, preliminary trial dies with further reduction in relief were made. On December 13th, trial strikes were produced and these were immediately delivered to Miss Adams in Washington.

The following week, December 15th, Miss Adams requested my presence in Washington to discuss the new Half Dollar with her and with other Treasury Department officials.

Both sides of the trial strikes received very favorable comment; however, Secretary of the Treasury Dillon wished to have Mrs. Kennedy’s opinion and wanted me to accompany him at that time. On December 17th, we met Mrs. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Mrs. Kennedy was favorably impressed with the design on both sides of the coin but felt it would be an improvement if the part in the hair, on the portrait, was less pronounced and more accents were added. They also had in mind a design showing a full figure or half figure of the late President. There was simply not enough time to create new designs and medals, get approvals, etc. and have the new coin in production by January, 1964. I strongly advocated the simplicity and directness of a profile portrait as being the best possible arrangement for a handsome, outstanding coin whose beauty would endure and there could be no doubt as to the identity of the subject.

1964 Kennedy Half Dollar

1964 Kennedy Half Dollar

Mrs. Kennedy’s suggestions were carried out on the intermediate size and another trial die was made for the obverse. New trial strikes were prepared. Secretary of the Treasury Dillon wanted to see this second trial piece and on December 27th, I flew to West Palm Beach where the Secretary and Mrs. Dillon inspected the strikes. They both felt that Mrs. Kennedy’s wishes had been complied with and in their opinion, the coin was very handsome. It was decided to proceed with tooling up for production. The Congressional Act authorizing the Kennedy Half Dollar was approved December 30, 1963.

Time was fast running out and if we did not have working dies for Proof Half Dollars, the coiner would be unable to start Proof coin production which meant that up until the time dies were available some thirty or fifty employees would be without work. Extreme pressure was exerted to push this program through and by January 2, 1964, Kennedy Half Dollar Proof dies were delivered and our tremendous Proof coin production could get started. Some minor problems still had to be ironed out for regular production but by January 30, 1964, Denver had started production of regular Half Dollar coinage using the new design. Sometime during the following week, the Philadelphia Mint started striking regular Half Dollar coinage.

On February 11, 1964, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Robert Wallace, Director of the Mint Eva Adams, Assistant Director of the Mint Fred Tate, Superintendent of the Mint Michael Sura and other Treasury and Mint officials held ceremonies concurrently at the Denver and Philadelphia Mints to commemorate the striking of the new U.S. Half Dollar bearing the late President’s portrait and issued by a sorrowing nation as a fitting and enduring memorial honoring our former President, John F. Kennedy.

On March 5, 1964, an initial delivery of some twenty-six million of the new Kennedy Half Dollars was made to the Federal Reserve banks for eventual issue to the local banks and to the people of our country.”

Posted in May 2011 | 3 Comments

Fascinating Coin Fact

Gold NuggetsGold has been treasured for its value through the world ever since it was first used as jewelry around 2,000 B.C. Peoples of all nations and cultures recognize gold as a storehouse of value and object of beauty and usefulness. Demand for gold jewelry and ornaments are as widespread today as it was centuries ago, but available supplies have changed very little.

Posted in May 2011 | 1 Comment