Charles E. Barber, the sixth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, set out to design a set of coinage consisting of a new dime, quarter and half dollar. While the coins would ultimately carry his name (“Barber coins”) he decided to invite artists to submit designs for the new pieces. Artists were asked to submit models in low relief for judging. Barber’s guidelines were more stringent than those of previous competitions. He required that each submission feature the lettering to be included on each piece so that he and others could get a sense of the final look of the complete piece.
While the competition was open to the public, Andrew Mason, the superintendent of the New York Assay Office, specifically called on ten artists to submit entries. The list included renowned sculptures and painters like Daniel Chester French, remembered for his 1920 statue of President Lincoln, and Kenyon Cox, known for his multi-disciplinary talents ranging from sketch work to poetry. The winner would receive a $500 cash prize. However, soon after initiating the competition problems surfaced.
The artists invited to compete responded with a list of amendments to the guidelines. They asked that each artist be paid for their submitted work. They also asked that the work be judged by their peers and that each coin would be designed by a single artist to ensure a consistent style within each piece. Finally, the artists requested more time to complete their work. Officials declined these terms. They cited limited funds explaining that they only had enough money to pay one winner.
In the meantime, the judges began receiving entries from the general public. After reviewing each they determined that none were suitable. Officials were disappointed by what they perceived as a lack of artistic talent displayed by the various attempts. Soon after, Barber took it upon himself to complete the design work.
Barber turned to French coinage for inspiration. Following these initial designs, Barber and Mint Director Edward O. Leech had several long communications with each other as they contentiously debated the best look for the coins.
The final design of each denomination shows the head of Liberty with a crown of olive branches. The reverse side of the quarter shows a heraldic eagle with a scroll inscribed with “E Pluribus Unum.” Gripped in the right claw is an olive branch and in the left is a bundle of thirteen arrows. Upon minting, the designs received mixed reviews. In time, changes were necessary, but not as a response to those who were critical of the design. Instead, the design adjustments were for a more practical reason; people complained that the coins would not stack properly.
As a result of the alteration, there is a “Type I” coin and a “Type II” version of the 1892 quarter. In 1900, Barber made additional changes to the quarter resulting in a thinner piece allowing for 21 coins to stack in the space of 20 of the previous version. Barber’s design was used from 1892 to 1916 with the 1901-S quarter remaining a considerable rarity, along with the 1896-S and the 1913-S.
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If you collect rare coins, you are probably familiar with the Winged Liberty Head Dime, popularly known as the “Mercury” Dime.
The U.S. mint struck this beloved coin from 1916 until 1945. This is one of the most popular and iconic coins that numismatists acquire for sets. Easy availability of most of the years is one reason that even beginning collector will reach the satisfying goal of owning a Mercury Dime set.
Within the Mercury Dime series, there are only a few absolute rarities and there is only one that is hard to find.
The 1916-D is the scarcest major key date and rarity within the Mercury Dime series. Only 264,000 were struck and we have one. You can see it here. A numismatic collector paid a record $207,000 for the 1916-D back in 2010 for a MS67 specimen.
Why did the 1916-D Mercury Dimes have such a low mintage of only 264,000?
Production of this coin was halted after the U.S. Treasury department entered an urgent order late in the year for 4 million quarter dollars.
Collectors seek to add 1916-D Mercury dimes to their collections due, in part, to its low mintage and because of their unique status as first ‘year-of-issue’ type coins. Some type collectors only acquire first-year coins.
Renowned sculptor Adolph A. Weinman designed this highly sought after coin. Even during its years of production, collectors clamored to own these coins for their collections.
Some Americans confused the depiction on the reverse of the coin of a young Liberty with the Roman god Mercury, which is how it’s popular name caught on. The coin’s design received positive reviews within the artistic community. However, some modifications were required as the coin did not perform well in vending machines.
The Mercury dime is struck with 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper and the coin contains just over .072 troy ounces of silver.
Have you embarked on the journey of collecting sets? We’d love to hear about your experiences in a comment below! Many collectors find that their enjoyment of this hobby and investment increases exponentially when you set goals and acquire sets. From a financial perspective, one of the best way to invest in rare coins is to acquire sets. In fact, many collections have been sold as a whole for more than the total value of the individual coins. If you have any questions about the types of sets that could be a good fit for your interests and financial goals, give Blanchard a call today!
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Many numismatists acquire rare coins for their rich history, exquisite beauty and absolute uniqueness. Owning early U.S. American gold and silver coins opens a window to a bygone era in history and invites exploration of the exciting years as our nation developed. Once you begin learning about rare coins, the interest, love and appreciation for this unique asset class grows stronger.
Beyond the pure aesthetics of rare coin ownership, there is proven historical research that reveals just how powerful an allocation to numismatics can be for your long-term portfolio growth.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is upending traditional monetary and fiscal policy, the case for acquiring rare coins right now is at its strongest in a decade. Let’s look first at three elements that investors desire in any asset class: liquidity, safety and yield, and consider how rare coins stack up (no pun intended).
Rare coins are liquid. The definition of a liquid investment is how quickly and easily you can access your cash if you need to sell. Rare coins, especially those highly prized by numismatics like $20 gold Saint-Gaudens are one of the most liquid assets you can find. Not only do these rare coins offer intrinsic value (the gold content of the coin), they offer increased value over bullion due to their rarity. This is one of the most easily recognizable rare coins and offers the ultimate security of liquidity if you ever need to sell fast.
Rare coins are safe. Investments in rare coins are safe when you consider the return of your money. Over the past 20 years U.S. rare coin values have more than quadrupled and the asset class remains in a rising uptrend. Given the intrinsic and rarity value of numismatics, this investment offers you a safe-haven asset that will protect your future purchasing power and assure the return of your money.
Rare coins offer yield. Best of all, rare coins offer the opportunity for dramatic price appreciation. In fact, rare coins of all types returned an average annual 10% yield from 1979-2019. That is an incredible double-digit return over four decades.
Gold Is Money
Why rare coins right now? Gold bullion has outperformed every G-10 currency so far in 2020 and also did so last year. The same trend is unfolding in emerging market currencies, where gold is outpacing all major emerging market fiat currencies in 2019 and 2020.
The coronavirus will leave a significant hangover for the U.S. economy long after the lock-down orders have been lifted. The U.S. government will be saddled with a legacy of higher debt and an overinflated fiat currency. Looking ahead, interest rates in the United States and major G-10 economies will be at zero or negative for a long period ahead. The International Monetary Fund says the global economy is facing the worst recession in 90 years. In this environment of money printing and fiat currency degradation, gold is returning to the forefront as the only true store of value for one’s assets.
Rare coin values tend to outpace gains of the underlying metal (gold, silver) during periods of economic weakness, inflation and bear markets in stocks. Bank of America now forecasts gold to rise to $3,000 an ounce over the next 18-months. Saxo Bank targets gains in gold to $4,000 an ounce. Bank of America also upped its silver forecast projecting gains to $20 an ounce over the next year.
If you’d like to leverage the bull market in metals to the maximum, investments in rare coins offer you an opportunity of a generation right now. Digging deeper, Saint-Gaudens are the rare coins that most often mimic the movements of gold bullion. The $20 Saint-Gaudens series are rare gold coins minted from 1907 to 1933 and were minted with .96750 ounce pure gold.
While Saints do mimic gold price movements, once gold starts a significant run – like it is doing right now, Saints can significantly outperform gold prices. That means with gold in a major bull market, Saint-Gaudens have the potential to increase even more in the years ahead.
The California Gold Rush changed the firmament of American life. Nearly 300,000 people came to the state seeking to stake their claim and pull new found wealth from the ground. However, this adventurous spirit precipitated some serious problems. Many indigenous populations were forced off their lands by opportunistic “forty-niners,” a reference to those flocking to California during the peak of the gold rush in 1849.
In fact, the gold rush was so momentous that its effects extended all the way to Congress where people like James Iver McKay began to notice that the gold supply in the country was increasing markedly. Eventually, he drafted legislation calling for the issuance of the Liberty Head double eagle coin. The piece was originally intended to facilitate the transfer of large sums between parties.
After considerable collaboration the final design settled on an obverse depicting the head of Liberty. She has thirteen stars surrounding her as a representation of the original US states. The reverse side featured a heraldic eagle with a double ribbon reading “E Pluribus Unum.” As the case with nearly any new coin issuance, the piece was initially met with some dissatisfaction. The Journal of Commerce, for example suggested that the coin should include an image of George Washington and that the eagle should be designed “standing out as if it were not ashamed of itself.” Few hold these opinions today as the double eagle design remains popular with collectors.
The 1873 version of the coin was part of the “Type II” issuance which were minted between 1866 and 1876. During this period of upheaval in the stemming from the Civil War Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase responded for calls to imbue the coin with a reference to faith. Therefore, he and others decided to inscribe the coin, and nearly all other coins, with “In God We Trust.” To accomplish this change the designer enlarged the circle of stars on the reverse placing the new text within the stars.
By the end of 1872 another change, this one more practical, was requested. Chief Coiner A. Loudon Snowden indicated that the “3” appearing in the date of the coin could be easily mistaken for an “8.” This change is what led to the two versions we have today, an “Open 3,” and a “Closed 3” design.
On the Closed 3 design the knobs of the “3” are identical in size and shape. In contrast, the Open 3 design features a slightly smaller upper knob. The Open 3 version is estimated to be approximately three times more rare than the Closed 3 variety.
This detail is what gives the 1873-S $20 Open 3 its charm. It is a minor, but noticeable change that has come to represent the nuanced appeal that compels coin enthusiasts to seek out the unusual and obscure. In fact, almost none of the pieces struck at the Carson City Mint in Nevada and the San Francisco Mint include the Open 3 design.
Today, the coin enjoys a unique reputation among collectors who hold the piece in esteem for both its rarity and enduring record of US history.
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Soon after World War I ended, the US decided to commemorate the peace that followed with a dollar coin. When it came time to design the artwork officials had the idea to host a competition. Artists could submit designs and a winner would be selected and receive the honor of seeing their work on an approved piece of US currency consisting almost entirely of silver. Additionally, the winner would be awarded $1,500 in prize money. The coin was referred to as the Peace dollar.
Italian American sculptor Anthony de Francisci submitted a design which was unanimously selected by the official judges. The win was especially impressive given that de Francisci was the youngest of the artists to enter the competition. He was only 34. His wife Teresa served as the model for Liberty. It was, however, another characteristic of his work that sparked outrage.
To visually represent the theme of peace, de Francisci included imagery of an eagle perched on a broken sword. When the first written descriptions of the artwork were shared with the public many people admonished de Francisci and other officials by citing the work as emblematic of defeat. One editorial, printed in the New York Herald, remarked that “a broken sword carries with it only unpleasant associations.” The author continued, “it is regrettable that the artist should have made such an error in symbolism.”
It is likely that this sentiment was shared by others because not long after the printing of the editorial officials relented and decided to move the broken sword. They did so by hiring another artist to adjust other elements in the design in such a way as to cover the broken sword. To achieve this effect the artist made alterations to the eagle’s talons and the olive branches that were part of the original image. Accentuating these features obscured the parts of the original people believed to be defeatist.
Eventually, the design earned approval and in 1921 the US Mint struck over one million pieces. The coin was eventually released to the public in early January of 1922 with a composition of .900 silver and .100 copper. In time, the mint in Denver and in San Francisco issued additional pieces along with the Philadelphia mint. In 1922 alone, the total combined issuance of these three mints was 84 million pieces. By 1928 the mints ended their issuance of the Peace dollars.
However, in 1934 the US resumed minting the Peace dollar. This resurgence was the result of a newly passed Congressional act which mandated that the mint would purchase bulk quantities of silver which, at the time, could be bought at record low prices. As a result, between 1934 and 1935 the US mint struck approximately seven million additional Peace dollars.
Today this single coin represents so many aspects of American culture. It represents the ambitions of a young Italian American, a celebration of peace, and the ingenuity of the mints that were able to issue such vast quantities.
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It was the year 1835. Large quantities of gold were being shipped overland to the East, only to be waylaid by bandits en route. So the U.S. Congress, in a moment of wisdom, declared that branch mints be established in three southern cities, including the grand dame herself: New Orleans.
From its beginning, the New Orleans Mint was vitally important. One reason is New Orleans’ location at the mouth of the Mississippi River, which made it pivotal for trading throughout the Midwest. Additionally, more foreign trade was transacted in New Orleans at the time than in any other city in America. Vast quantities of gold and silver minted in Mexico and South America flowed into the city. And then there’s the fact that there was simply a woeful shortage of coins at the time. The Philadelphia Mint had been our nation’s only mint before 1838, the U.S. was rapidly growing, and—as we all know—paying for stuff in gold dust gets cumbersome after a while.
Things cranked along without great incident at the New Orleans Mint until, in 1861, the Confederate States of America seized the facility from the state of Louisiana, which had seceded from the Union. This was one of the South’s first acts of defiance (if you want to make an impact, hit ’em in the purse strings). The mint struck four half dollars with a Confederate design on one side, but all coin production quickly stopped, as the facility suffered from dwindling resources and increasing disarray.
After a little over a year of Confederate rule, the Union captured New Orleans and instituted a severe and unpopular period of martial law. The two-way hostility is perhaps best exemplified by this incident: a riverboat gambler climbed onto the roof of the mint, tore down the U.S. flag that hung there, and ripped the flag into shreds. The Union military governor of the city then had him hung—from a flagstaff projecting horizontally from the mint building.
The mint building served as an assay office for a while, until coin production resumed in 1879 with the Morgan Silver Dollar and continued until 1909. Today, the mint building houses a museum.
The US three-cent silver coin was one of the many repercussions of the California gold rush. The country experienced a surging supply of gold as new discoveries opened in the east. This development created an economic scenario in which the price of gold relative to silver dropped. Thus, silver could be traded for ever increasing amounts of gold. As a result, a shortage of silver developed in the country. This was the new setting in which the three-cent silver coins emerged.
To solve this problem of scarcity, New York Senator Daniel S. Dickinson, drafted legislation calling for a new coin. The piece would consist of .750 fine silver meaning that the composition would be three parts silver and one-part copper, making it the first American coin to contain metal valued significantly less than its face value. There were fractious debates over the legislation. However, the idea found momentum once Congress began considering dropping the postage rate from 5 cents to 3 cents. By 1851 the bill passed.
When it was time to design the piece, many considered simple images best. The reason: the coin was so small in size that it could only feature basic shapes, otherwise no one would be able to appreciate such small detail. For these reasons, it was decided that the obverse side of the coin would feature a star in reference to the national crest with the shield of the Union in the center, and the reverse side was an ornamental “C” with the Roman numeral “III” in the center. The perimeter featured a ring of thirteen stars.
Officials minted three types over the years. The bulk of the minting occurred in Philadelphia. At first, many recoiled from the uncommonly small size. Type I (1851-1853) was originally minted with 75% silver and 25% copper to discourage melting down of the coins for their silver content…and they quickly became dirty and discolored. This led to the nickname “fish scales” at the time. Type II (1854-1858) came as officials increased the portion of silver in the piece to .900. Other changes were aesthetic. The star featured a triple line around the perimeter, and an olive branch and bunch of arrows. Type III (1859-1873) included only minor changes to one side of the coin most likely to improve the striking process.
By 1870 President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Coinage Act of 1873. The direct result was the abolishment of two-cent, and three-cent pieces and other coins. This de-authorization meant that the US Treasury would need to withhold the piece they had already minted. Instead of circulating the currency they would melt the coins and use the metal for other pieces of currency.
Today, the 1851-O three cent silver remains one of the more sought-after versions of the coin because it was one of the few minted outside of Philadelphia. It is the only coin of this type struck at the New Orleans Mint. 720,000 pieces were issued. For most collectors the uncommon “O” mint mark is what makes the coin so collectable. Additionally, the coin represents an unusual period in US history in which the country was still finding its way and, in the case of the Type III coin, navigating the impending Civil War.
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This coin is heavy and large, and it has eight sides.
Its face value is $50.
One side doesn’t have a portrait, Lady Liberty, or anything else you might expect on a numismatic rarity. No, it has a pattern, created through a process called “engine turning.”
It’s an odd coin. You might even call it weird.
Take a look at the eagle. It’s a bit scrawnier than our modern numismatic eagle, and it’s holding a ribbon in its mouth.
This is an unusual coin indeed.
Often called a “slug,” the 1852 Assay Office $50 gold coin is a heavyweight in the world of American numismatics. Only 23,800 were minted, and they were minted when the Gold Rush was in full swing. When you hold this coin, you can almost imagine a gold miner, a buccaneer, or a cowboy slapping it down on a counter for a big purchase. This coin, in fact, would have been a week’s wages for a gold miner.
Few of these octagonal coins survive today, because many were minted down later, when the San Francisco Mint started operations.
This U.S. Assay coin was minted before there was a West Coast Mint at all. Thanks to the Assay Office, gold like this no longer had to be shipped to Philadelphia on dangerous, bandit-ridden journeys for minting.
These slugs were so popular and evoked such a romantic period in American history that facsimiles were later made for state expos and centennials.
1852 Historical Events Timeline
March – Uncle Tom’s Cabin Is Published
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel sells 300,000 copies in only three months and so informs public opinion that Abraham Lincoln reportedly says, upon meeting Stowe, “So this is the little lady who made this big war.” In 1863, when Lincoln announces the end of slavery, Stowe dances in the streets.
May – Calamity Jane Dies
Raised in a Gold Rush town, Calamity Jane had a fondness for menswear and adventure. A hard drinker and carouser, she attracted attention for stunts like riding a bull down the main street of town.
July – Congress Authorizes the San Francisco Mint
Congress approves legislation authorizing a second U.S. Mint, and the Treasury Secretary chooses San Francisco for the location. This allows gold from the California Gold Rush to be minted locally, rather than transported on dangerous journeys to the Philadelphia Mint.
December – Emma Snodgrass Is Arrested for Wearing Pants
Emma Snodgrass, 17, is the daughter of a New York City police officer. She shows up in Boston wearing pants, is arrested and sent home to her father, and does it again. And again. And again. Snodgrass becomes national news.
The 1776 Continental dollar coin represents, perhaps more than any other piece of US currency, the state of upheaval within the nation in 1776.
Consider, for example, that there is no known documentation authorizing the issuance or approval of this coin. Moreover, the word currency is misspelled on the obverse of one of the varieties of the coin suggesting that the design and minting was rushed. Under the circumstances, these errors are not surprising. After all, this was the first pattern coin struck for the United States.
After the American Revolutionary War began the US started releasing their own currency. Officials estimate that only 6,000 of these pieces were minted with the production likely occurring in New York. They were made from pewter and experts estimate that only 100 pieces remain today. The scarcity of the coin is not only due to its age. Many believe that this currency was melted and used as another resource in the war effort.
These characteristics make the coin especially collectible. Additionally, many collectors appreciate the piece’s close association with Benjamin Franklin who designed both sides. One side shows sun rays shining on a sundial with the Latin “Fugio” which translates to “I flee.” Next to this are the words, “Mind your business” making the complete message “time flies, so mind your business.”
The reverse shows thirteen chain links representing the thirteen original colonies. Their depiction as a chain is meant to encourage solidarity among the nation’s citizens. Imagery like this perfectly captures the mood underpinning the formative years of the country. It was a time when each citizen had to contribute and nothing was accomplished without hard work. In fact, even the coin itself was hand-punched. As a result, no two dies were the same.
The roughness of the minting can be best explained by the secrecy in which they were produced. In 1776, any efforts to mint a new coin would have been seen by the British as an attempt to counterfeit currency. Despite this secrecy, one variety includes the legend “EG FECIT” which is Latin for “EG made this.” Here, EG stands for Elisha Gallaudet who engraved the plates for the coin. There are seven die combinations comprised of four obverse dies, and two reverse dies. The misspelling occurs among these as either the word “curency,” or “currencey.”
Today, the piece remains one of the most sought after coins among US collectors. Some varieties are especially rare because they were struck in brass and silver rather than pewter. Numismatists estimate that approximately fifteen brass versions, and four silver versions still exist today.
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Or rather, “There’s millions in it!” (Doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it?)
This is a story about the 1858-D $1 Gold coin.
It turns out that “Thar’s gold in them thar hills!” is a Hollywood western invention, by way of Mark Twain.
But let’s rewind.
In 1829, the Georgia Gold Rush started. Thousands of miners flocked to the area—and Dahlonega, Georgia, quickly became a gold-rush boom town. But then in 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California, and the Georgia gold miners started pining yonder, since most of the easy gold was already gone from the Georgia rivers.
Dr. Matthew Stephenson wasn’t having it.
Stephenson, assayer of the Dahlonega Mint, climbed the courthouse steps one day and speechified thus:
“Boys,” he asked, “why go to California?” He pointed at a mountain. “In that mountain lies more wealth than you’ve ever dreamed possible, there’s millions in it!”
“There’s millions in it!” (The good doctor repeated.)
His saying became famous … because the miners took it to California with them. Anytime one of them was ready to give up in despair, the cry “There’s millions in it!” from a fellow forty-niner would revive him.
Mark Twain got wind of this while visiting a mining camp and used the phrase in one of his books. The phrase went viral nationwide and in about the 1930s, it morphed into a movie-ready “Thar’s gold in them thar hills!”
In any case, the gold in them thar Georgia hills was plentiful, and the Dahlonega Mint minted it.
The Confederate Congress closed the mint in June 1861, and the mint never resumed operations. In all, the mint was in operation for only 23 years. All of its coins are rare, and the NGC has recorded only seven MS63 1858-Dahlonega $1 gold coins.