|GOLD COINS ARE ALWAYS POPULAR
The fabulous gold collection formed by Harry W. Bass, Jr. is on exhibit at the American
Numismatic association museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is something you must not
miss when you are in the area. The ANA is hosting a special viewing of the collection
after the Denver World's Fair of Money in August, and the event promises to be
spectacular. The pieces displayed are but a part of the more than 7,000 coins that Mr.
Bass accumulated in an effort to assemble the finest possible collection of every date,
mint and variety of United States gold coins.
Viewing this exhibit should be high on everyone's list of numismatic things to do.
State of the art technology has been used to make studying the material easy and
enjoyable. The display is a tribute to what can be accomplished if one has unlimited funds
and time to devote to the hobby.
Few people will come close to achieving what Mr. Bass has done, but that should not
prevent anyone from the enjoyment of owning at least a few choice gold coins. You do not
have to collect them by date and mint to have a respectable set. Even the most advanced
numismatists usually collect by type rather than going for complete series.
In the case of $2.50 and $5.00 gold coins, the challenge is easy. One specimen of each
denomination is good enough for some collectors, and the coins are relatively easy to
obtain, and not outrageously expensive. If your taste goes beyond that, you will want at
least one specimen each of the Liberty Head type, and one of the Indian Head type for both
the quarter-eagle ($2.50) and half-eagle ($5.00) coins. The designs are the same for both
denominations throughout the entire range of dates, so you will likely want to go for
matching types of whatever you collect.
On a limited budget, it is possible to select from a number of inexpensive coins in the
EF to Uncirculated range, and if you want to go beyond that, you can treat yourself to
pieces in the MS-64 to MS-66 category at prices that reflect their scarcity, but are not
Although the Liberty and Indian pieces form the basis of most collections, there are
older types that can be added to expand your set. The Classic Head series of $2.50 and
$5.00 coins made from 1834 to 1838 are only slightly more expensive than the later types.
If you have an eye on any of those beautiful Capped Head pieces that were issued from 1795
to 1833, you had better be prepared for sticker-shock. They are not only rare, but are
highly sought by advanced collectors.
Very few people attempt to collect more than an occasional specimen of any of the early
date gold coins. They are all scarce in any grade of condition, and almost unobtainable in
choice Uncirculated. The reason for their scarcity is that they contained slightly more
gold than the pieces made after 1834. People of that time were quick to notice the
difference, and melted all available pieces for the small profit they could gain.
Collectors who move beyond gold type set collecting often try to assemble a date set of
Indian Head quarter-eagles. The only seriously difficult piece in that set is the rare
1911-D, which is rather costly. Half-eagles are more of a challenge to save by date, but
an interesting alternative set can be put together by saving one piece from each of the
eight different U.S. mints that made them. You will have to add one of the modern
commemorative $5 gold coins made at West Point to complete this set, but it will be unique
because this denomination is the only one in the entire U.S. series that was struck at
each of the mints.
Type coins give the collector a sense of knowing what other coins in the same series
look like and a feeling of having achieved completeness in an otherwise unobtainable run
of dates and mints. They make owning classic gold coins both affordable and enjoyable.
|UNITED STATES DIMES
United States dimes were first minted for circulation in 1796, and have been made
nearly every year from then to the present. They were a relative latecomer to American
coinage because copper, gold and other silver pieces had been in production for one to
three years prior to when the Mint got around to coining dimes. Even the tiny half-dime
had been rolling off the Mint's presses since 1794, along with dollars and half-dollars.
Once production started for dimes, they proved to be very popular and necessary for
commerce through good times and bad.
Designs used for the early dimes closely follow those of the half-dimes until the
1870's, but the date spans of some of those coins were different. Dimes with the Draped
Bust obverse and Small Eagle reverse were coined in 1796 and 1797, followed by the same
obverse combined with a Heraldic Eagle reverse from 1798 to 1807.
Mint engraver John Reich designed a Capped Bust motif that made its debut on the
half-dollar of 1807. It was first used in the dime series in 1809, but after that coinage
was intermittent through the 1820's. In 1828, Chief Engraver William Kneass modified
Reich's design somewhat and the diameter of the dime was made slightly smaller.
The Liberty Seated dimes, adapted from Christian Gobrecht's beautiful silver dollar of
1836, were produced continuously from 1838 through 1891 with several significant design
modifications along the way. The New Orleans Mint struck Liberty Seated dimes from 1838 to
1891, San Francisco from 1856 to 1891, and the Carson City Mint from 1871 through 1878.
These, of course, were in addition to the basic series of Seated dimes produced in
Philadelphia, making this a relatively long series for collectors.
All of the proof coins made at that time were also produced at the Philadelphia Mint.
They were sold to collectors at least as early as 1858, and those were the coins generally
saved by numismatists. Collectors who were more interested in acquiring one coin from each
date generally ignored mint-marked coins. As a result, many coins with an O, S, or CC
mintmark can be relatively available in worn grade but in Uncirculated condition they may
be great rarities. The same is also true about the Philadelphia production where
Uncirculated coins are often more valuable than Proofs.
Barber or Liberty Head dimes were minted continuously from 1892 to 1916 in
Philadelphia, with others issued from time to time from New Orleans, San Francisco, and
beginning in 1906, Denver. Then followed the "Mercury" dimes from 1916 to 1945,
and Roosevelt dimes from 1946 onward. In the later series of dimes there are very few
variations to add to the series. The only major change was the conversion from silver to
the copper-nickel clad "sandwich" coins in 1965.
The size, weight and reeded edge on all dimes have remained fairly consistent over the
years and it would probably not be difficult to pass an early version of the dime in
change today. Some of the old Seated Liberty coins were reported to have been seen in
circulation as late as 1945. The relatively large number of dates and mintmark varieties
in this series has made them more popular as type coins, rather than something to be saved
as complete sets. On the other hand, the number of different types that have been issued
from 1796 to the present, makes saving nice condition type coins a very rewarding
|THE GOLD STELLA
In retrospect, we have to wonder why a $4 coin was ever considered for circulation.
After all, at the time one was proposed there was already a $2.50 coin, a $3 coin and a $5
coin. Sure, we can muse now and think that it would have been wonderful to receive such a
rare and valuable coin in change but in 1879 when there was talk of making the $4 coin it
must have seemed like a strange and unneeded addition to the coinage system.
The idea of the $4 gold coin, now called the Stella, from the star design on the
reverse, arose in 1879 when John Kasson, American minister to Austria, suggested that such
a denomination would fit more closely into the monetary systems of Europe. He pointed out
that most similar gold coins there were of less value than the American $5 denomination,
and that the smaller coin would facilitate trade.
The committee on coinage favored the recommendation and suggested that a proper name
suitable for the four-dollar coin would be "One Stella", because other gold
coins were named "Eagles" and the eagle and star were both national emblems. In
retrospect that was a brilliant suggestion and one that would have made an ideal addition
to the colorful names applied to any nation's coins.
When the plan for a $4 coin was turned over to the Mint, they invited Charles E. Barber
to create some pattern pieces with an appropriate design. This was done, by Charles Barber
who copied designs made earlier by his father William Barber for a pattern Flowing Hair $5
gold coin dated 1878. Then George Morgan, assistant engraver at the Mint, entered the
scene and prepared a different motif, the Coiled Hair style, which was eventually used to
produce about a dozen pattern pieces dated 1879 and 1880.
In the meantime, the 1879 Flowing Hair pattern coins had become a subject of popular
interest in Congress, and approximately 400 additional coins were then made to meet the
demands of officials who wanted them for souvenirs. Today we know that many of those coins
ended up in jewelry, or found their way into circulation. Apparently they were given as
favors for special friends. It was even rumored at the time that many of them turned up in
Washington brothels. The remaining few pieces that are still known in choice condition
have often sold for prices above $100,000.
Although the denomination was originally rejected in 1879, one proponent, Dr. Hubbell,
later renewed his attempt at convincing the government that they needed a metric coinage,
and in 1880 a few additional gold pattern pieces were made at the Mint using the designs
of both Barber and Morgan. An estimated 10 to 15 of each were made, but the movement died
for lack of action and the idea was then abandoned forever.
Did America really need a four-dollar gold coin? We will never know. It was true that
many European nations used a denomination that was approximately the weight and size of
the proposed $4 coin, but over time most of those pieces were abandoned in favor of other
sizes. The one outstanding piece that did survive was the English gold sovereign that is
still being made today, but only as a numismatic piece or bullion coin. Economic
considerations all seem to have been overcome, and the strength of the American dollar
never suffered in any way from not joining the other countries in a unified coinage
One thing is certain, collectors today all agree that the $4 Stella was one of the most
beautiful and intriguing coins ever proposed for U.S. coinage, and everyone would enjoy
owning a specimen if there were enough to go around.
|THE FIRST LADY LIBERTY
The next time you see an eighteenth century United States silver dollar, half-dollar or
copper cent, look carefully at the features of that stately lady that was put there to
represent the high ideals of our newly formed nation. She was pretty special way back then
and remains so today. Lady Liberty expresses our nation's belief in individual freedom and
opportunity in a land safe from oppression. It is a concept that is as cherished now as
Nearly all collectors agree that the head of Liberty shown on numerous early issues of
American coins is a classic in every way. It has stood the test of time and is still seen
as an example of artistry and beauty equal to that of any nation. Until recently most
students of American coinage believed the female head shown on those coins was only an
idealistic image of Liberty and not an actual person. There was very little reason to
think otherwise, but new evidence now shows that Lady Liberty was not only very real, but
she was also an ideal individual to grace our national coinage.
That familiar "Draped Bust" design of Lady Liberty was the creation of Mint
Designer Robert Scott, and was first used on United States coin in 1795. It was later used
on all denominations from the copper half-cent through the silver dollar, and the same
image continued in use until 1807 when it was replaced by a different rendition made by
U.S. Mint Engraver John Reich.
The woman who posed for the original coin portrait was Anne Willing Bingham, the
daughter of a successful Philadelphia family well known for its prominence and involvement
in politics. Anne's great grandfather, Edward Shippen, was Mayor of Philadelphia. His son,
Joseph, produced a famous family including his grandson, Edward Shippen, the Chief Justice
of Pennsylvania, and Edward's daughter, Peggy, who in 1779 married a popular young
American general named Benedict Arnold. One of Peggy's sisters married Aaron Burr. Anne,
nicknamed Nancy, grew up in an opulent household, and was given a thorough education in
English, music, foreign languages, and other accomplishments considered suitable for young
ladies of her day. She became acquainted with many of the most remarkable people in town
(some of whom were her relatives), and during the Revolutionary War, George Washington
made his headquarters for a time in the house next door, where young Anne was a familiar
In 1780 Anne Willing married 28-yer old William Bingham. She was only sixteen at the
time and men and women alike agreed that she was the "most beautiful young woman in
Philadelphia" and often remarked on her charm. After their marriage, the couple made
an extended trip to Europe and enjoyed the social life in both Paris and London. While
visiting the latter city in 1785 they made the acquaintance of portraitist Gilbert Stuart.
A portrait of Anne was begun by the talented artist but for unknown reasons it was never
finished. The initial sketch by Stuart is the only known portrait of the woman who was
later made immortal by her image on America's first coins.
When the Liberty coins were made in 1795, Anne was by then some ten years older than
when her portrait was drawn and beginning to show a more mature look, and perhaps a little
additional weight. Still, the hair, nose and mouth are remarkable similar and capture the
beauty and eloquence of this extraordinary woman. Her numismatic portraits show a
shoulder-length representation that is best seen on one of the larger denominations, but
is quite recognizable on even the tiny half-dime coins of 1796 to 1805.
|TODAY'S SILVER DOLLARS
Most people realize that silver dollars were once used in this country right along with
paper money. There are very few, however, that know production did not end with the last
of the Piece dollars that were made in 1935. The odd metallic dollar coins that have been
made since 1971 do not qualify as 'silver dollars' because they no longer contain a
dollar's worth of silver. Besides that, they are so infrequently seen in circulation that
they hardly seem like real coins.
What many Americans do not realize is that in addition to the coins in our pockets, or
dresser drawers, there is another kind of very real money that they never get in change.
That money is part of a parallel universe where there are enough silver dollars, and gold
and platinum coins for all who can afford them. In addition, those coins are available in
Uncirculated and Proof condition because they never get into circulation despite the fact
that they are true United States legal tender coins.
Surprising as it seems the U.S. Mint is still cranking out perfectly genuine silver
dollars to the delight of collectors, investors, and anyone else who wants to own these
special coins. They are called "bullion" coins, and they trade at a substantial
premium over face value because they contain far more than a dollars worth of silver. Each
bullion silver dollar has exactly one ounce of pure silver in it, and is always worth
whatever the daily spot price of silver is traded for on the open market.
These little-known bullion coins are called silver Eagles or one-ounce rounds. They are
sold to the public at the price of bullion plus a small charge for fabrication and
processing. They are not available through normal banking channels, but can be purchased
easily from almost any coin dealer. With silver trading at around $9.50 per ounce, one of
the current date bullion dollar coins can usually be purchased for about $12 at retail.
Proof specimens cost a bit more, but they are of exceptional quality and beauty.
When the government began making bullion silver dollars back in 1986 their intention
was to make it easy for investors to acquire silver at a reasonable price, and in a form
that would be convenient, easy to recognize and hard to counterfeit. Prior to that, a
number of private sources were supplying the market with one-ounce bullion bars, and some
of them were of questionable weight or fineness. Eagles made by the U.S. Mint all carry
the backing of the government and an assurance that these are official coins.
The design used for this new generation of silver dollars is an adaptation of the
famous Walking Liberty scene that was originally modeled by the American artist Adolph A.
Weinman for use on United States half-dollar coins that were minted from 1916 through
1947. It is a classic pose showing Liberty striding towards the dawn of a new day carrying
an olive branch of peace and draped in a flowing striped gown, with the American flag in
the background. Many commentators consider this one of the most beautiful designs ever
used on any American coin.
Now that silver Eagles have been made every year from 1986 to the present they are
beginning to gain a following by collectors who want to form sets of each date and mint
mark in both Uncirculated and Proof. Some of the twenty years are considered scarcer than
others, and early dates are becoming difficult to locate. Most of the Uncirculated coins
trade for less than double bullion value, and may some day look like a real bargain when
they become a true American collectible in their own right as a recognized U.S. type coin
|THE PEACE DOLLAR
Every collector of United States coins eventually acquires at least one Peace dollar.
Chances are that the first one a new collector gets will be dated 1922 or 1923. Those are
the most common dates, and they are easy to locate in any grade of condition. Yet, because
they are common does not mean that they are any less significant or interesting than other
silver dollars. In fact, they have quite an exciting history.
More silver dollars were struck in 1922 than in any other year. Some 84,275,000 pieces
were made at the mints in San Francisco, Denver and Philadelphia. Nearly 52 million of
those were made in Philadelphia for a record production that lasted until the advent of
copper-nickel Eisenhower dollars in 1971. The Peace dollars made in 1923 are nearly as
plentiful, with a total of over 56.6 million pieces made at the three mints.
The story behind the Peace dollar takes us back to 1918 and the end of World War I. At
that time, millions of silver dollars were being held in Treasury vaults. Most of them
were of the type designed by George T. Morgan, and perhaps a few of the older Liberty
Seated type coins. Storing large quantities of silver dollars seemed necessary as backing
for U.S. paper currency at that time, but silver was critically needed to prop up and
stabilize India's sagging currency and Americans were asked to remedy the situation.
India was a colony of our British ally, and after lengthy discussion legislation known
as the Pittman Act of 1918 was passed authorizing the melting of more than 270 million
U.S. silver dollars. The bullion recovered from this melting was shipped directly to
India. Replacements were then authorized for the melted dollars, despite the fact that the
coins did not circulate much and were almost never seen in the eastern part of the
country. In theory they were to be made to serve as backing for $270 million in Silver
Certificates, which had been called in when their backing disappeared.
It was not until 1921 that any replacement silver dollars were made. The first of these
were the old Morgan dollars, but later in the year some were made using the modernistic
new design by Anthony De Francisci. These were the famous Peace dollars that commemorated
the ending of the war and our nation's hopes for peace. Coinage of the new coins in 1921
was limited to only about one million pieces because of problems the mint was having
striking the design in high relief.
By 1922 those problems were resolved by lowering the relief, and production soared to
record quantities. It was the beginning of a serious effort to replace the millions of
dollars that had been melted previously. Striking continued annually until 1928, the year
in which enough new dollars were made to replace all of the melted coins. The last two
years of Peace dollars were struck under new legal authority as part of President Franklin
Roosevelt's efforts to get the economy to recover from the Great Depression.
When the first Peace dollars were released into circulation, they were met with
enthusiasm by the general public. The pieces dated 1921 were all made in December of that
year and not sent to the banks until January 1922. Coinage for that year soon followed and
most people got their first glimpse of the new design on coins dated 1922. Few of them
actually circulated, although many were saved as mementos. The bulk of them, and the coins
that followed, went into storage and remained there for the next thirty years. Most Peace
dollars are still relatively common today, but those who own even one know that they hold
a piece of history unlike any other in numismatic annals.
|GOLD DOUBLOONS AND PIECES OF EIGHT
Everyone who has ever read tales of pirates, plunder and intrigue is familiar with the
legendary gold doubloons and silver pieces-of-eight. Those were the coins that were used
throughout the world for over 200 years (from about 1600 to 1800) in international trade
and as a storehouse of wealth in bullion form. The doubloon was a large gold coin that
contained nearly a full ounce of gold, and the eight reales coin, or piece-or-eight, was
its counterpart that contained approximately one ounce of silver. It is not just
coinsidental that those same weights are still familiar to us as units for trading
precious metals in bullion form.
The doubloons and pieces-of-eight were large in comparison to other coins of the
sixteenth and seventeenth century. They were popular around the world because they
contained a reliable amount of high-grade gold and silver. They were the coins authorized
by the Spanish kings for use in their American possessions, for international trade, and
as a convenient means of transporting precious metals from their mines in the new world.
Millions of dollars worth of these coins were transported back an forth across the
Atlantic, enriching the Spanish coffers.
The pieces-of-eight, in particular, were well accepted everywhere, and were
particularly popular in Colonial America where they were known as Pillar Dollars. In
several other countries a similar size and weight were used for their national coins where
they were known as talers, rijksdaalders, talleros, and talars. All of them were
"decendants" from the original joachimstalers of Bohemia.
When the first United States coins were contemplated in 1786, the founding fathers
decided to use the exact size and weight of the Spanish-American dollar as a basis for
their new coinage system. Many coin collectors consider the Pillar Dollar to be the
grandfather of all American coins, and strive to include at least one specimen in their
collection. The eight-real coins, and their fractions of one-half, one-quarter and
one-eight were used extensively throughout early America, and served as legal tender in
this country until 1857.
Throughout the early days of this country, the use of Spanish coins was so much a part
of the American economy that terms associated with them continued to be used up to the
present. The most common expressions referred to the U.S. half-dollar and quarter as
"four bits" or "two bits" because the fractional parts of the
piece-of-eight were originally called "bits." Similarly, the stock market quotes
continued to price commodities in one-eights of a dollar up until the most recent times.
The early American familiarity with Spanish coins was also responsible for the
quarter-dollar denomination being chosen over a twenty-cent piece, which is a true decimal
division. The Spanish-American two-reales coins (one-quarter of the piece-of-eight) were
so popular and convenient that the first United States coins adopted that size and
denomination to make their new coins familiar, traditional, and easy to compute. The
quarter has continued to be Americas most widely used coin in circulation today, while the
single experiment with making a twenty-cent coin was a failure that lasted only from 1875
Gold doubloons were rarely seen by the average worker in Colonial America. The value,
about $16 at that time, was equal to a month's sustinance. The bulk of those coins was
used for international trade, large purchases, a storehouse of wealth or, as least in
legend and lore, as pirate treasure. Fortunately, many of these coins have survived and
are still available to collectors today. The thought of owning such coins is still
tantalizing to all of us who cherish the history they hold.
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