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Three ways to collect gold coins

NEW YORK – Gold shows off its attractive properties well in jewelry and watches. It’s also a key metal in medicine, electronics, science and even used in space exploration as reflective shielding because gold is malleable, noncorrosive, reflects heat well and it won’t rust or decay.

But gold is relatively scarce. In fact, all the gold mined in recorded history would reach only a third of the way up the Washington Monument, about 186,700 tons. That makes it a precious metal, enough for governments to buy and trade large ingots as part of a stable national economic policy. You can own gold for your own security, too, but because it has one of the heavier atomic weight of all precious metals, it must be acquired in smaller, more portable ways such as coins.

A 1-ounce gold Krugerrand gold coin sold for near spot price for $1,275 on July 21, but a 25 percent buyer’s premium placed it just over the spot price of $1,425. Image courtesy Antique Finders Service and LiveAuctioneers

Gold coins are classified in three categories: bullion, numismatic and commemorative.

Bullion Gold Coins

There is a reason why all the gold heists you see in the movies requires heavy equipment. Gold has an atomic weight of 79, one of the heavier of precious metals. A standard gold ingot weighs about 27 pounds or 400 troy ounces with a value of about $500,000, give or take. That’s fine for Fort Knox; not so great for your safety deposit box.

But because government central banks own most of the gold (the United States owns the most of any country at about 8,000 tons), they are able to mint national gold coins in stable weights that are certifiable and secure.

You can own gold ingots in smaller troy ounce sizes for portability or you can opt for the artistic design elements of brilliant, uncirculated, government-issue gold coins from one-quarter troy ounce to as high as five troy ounces of between 90 and 99.99% pure gold. They can be bought directly from any national mint, but it is better to buy from authorized dealers designated by the U.S. Mint, for example, for a small percentage over the daily spot price or at auction.

Bullion coins don’t circulate and so are always considered to be at the highest condition and are common, so it is unnecessary to have them professionally graded, unlike numismatic gold coins. The value of bullion coins is set by market forces determined by the buying and selling of gold on the open market on a daily basis, usually by central banks, large institutions and individual investors.

This 1904-S Liberty Head $20 gold coin is valued based on its somewhat imperfect condition and rarity that sold for $1,200 or near the spot price of gold. Image courtesy: Seized Assets Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Numismatic Gold Coins

Gold coins have been in circulation since at least 560 B.C. under King Croesus of Lydia in Bronze Age Asia Minor. Since that time, each historic age has had their national gold coins minted with their history, heroes, monuments, conquerors and kings. Holding a numismatic gold coin is to feel the weight of history.

These gold coins, known as numismatic, usually trade higher than the spot price of gold for several reasons usually defined as rarity, condition, age and historic significance. All these factors affect its final value.

Numismatic gold coins aren’t regulated by the ups and downs of the spot market based on intrinsic weight (although it’s a starting point). Collectors instead value numismatic gold coins based on history. Unlike bullion gold coins, numismatic gold coins have been circulated over time and are generally uncommon the longer ago they were minted. That’s why it is generally sound advice to have a numismatic gold coin professionally graded for rarity, age, condition and overall available quantity so as to provide a regulated basis for future value, especially for auction where values are usually set.

A gold coin representing Kanishka, an early emperor of the Kushan Dynasty from circa A.D. 400 that sold in February 2016 for $2,050 based more on its history than its intrinsic value of .28 of an ounce or about $400 of gold. Image courtesy Ancient Art & Antiques and LiveAuctioneers

Grading is usually from 0 to 70, the highest being without flaws. The lower grades, though, can still command higher auction values simply because of its rarity without regard to condition. That is the wonder of collecting numismatic gold coins. Bullion gold coins are considered only for investment while numismatic gold coins tell a great story.

Commemorative Gold Coins

Remembering an historic event, whether ancient or modern, is easily commemorated in the form of a gold coin. The U.S. Mint, for example, routinely mints many commemorative gold coins such as the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing this year. Still, these gold coins are legal tender, usually uncirculated and, with some exceptions, are considered bullion despite its commemorative mint.

On the other hand, private mints produce commemorative gold coins in large volumes for special events such as a presidential inauguration. They are unregulated, are not legal tender and grading them is usually unnecessary as they are not considered numismatic. It is sometimes difficult to know whether the gold used is gold filled, gold plated or just an alloy with silver, perhaps. Yet, their cost is usually much higher than the cost of acquiring bullion gold coins and even higher than gold coins bought at auction.

When a privately minted commemorative gold coin is eventually sold out of a personal collection, the value would be in the intrinsic value of the gold it contains, not the commemorative event itself regardless of its original “limited edition” price paid for it. And that’s usually disappointing to the collector.

A proof set of three U.S. Bicentennial gold coins by the Franklin Mint that sold for $80, no doubt a fraction of its selling price in 1976. Notice that there is only 6 grams of 500/1000 gold. 
Image courtesy Midwest Auction Galleries Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Still, commemorating a special event in a gold coin that has special personal meaning makes a great memory, too. Just understand that their value over time is limited relative to bullion or numismatic gold coins.

Fakes, scams and forgeries

As long as gold coins have circulated, counterfeiters have had a field day trying to pass off lower levels of gold in a coin as the real thing. One way to accomplish this is by using tungsten as a base metal (the closest in density to gold), minting it into a recognizable coin, and adding a small layer of pure gold overall. The weight is similar to an authentic gold coin if not subjected to a higher level of professional scrutiny. Coins from the Middle East, China and North Korea, for example, account for some of the highest gold counterfeits circulating today.

One way to quickly detect a counterfeit gold coin is through its manufacture. If the details are somewhat uneven, incorrect in its original design or missing altogether, chances are the coin is a counterfeit. National mints pride themselves on the extremely high quality of their design and manufacture.

Collecting gold coins is great for investment, for history and even for personal memories. Just be sure to understand the complexities of each as your collection grows.

How to identify fake gold coins

NEW YORK – Ever since the first gold coins were produced in Lydia, in present day western Turkey, in the sixth century B.C., counterfeiters have been at work in what has been called the world’s second oldest profession.

The first gold coins were made from electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver found in the region’s rivers. The coins typically showed a picture of a lion or bull on the face and a punch mark or seal on the other side. They weighed from 17.2 grams (0.55 troy ounces) to as little as 0.2 grams (.006 troy ounces). The introduction of these coins to the masses is said to have been by the Lydian King Croesus (561-547 B.C.). Improvements in refining soon led to the distinct minting of gold coins.

The detail on this counterfeit 1877 $2.50 Liberty gold coin (left) shows limited sharpness throughout. It was identified and properly represented by the auctioneer as a counterfeit and sold for $190. An original 1877 $2.50 Liberty gold coin is pictured on the right and can sell for twice that amount. Image courtesy Affiliated Auctions, GovernmentAuction and LiveAuctioneers.com

Earlier coinage consisted of ingots of silver before base metal coins were introduced for wider circulation. Pure silver coins were reserved for higher denominations.

The common method for making counterfeit coins has changed little over the centuries. Take a base metal, cover it seamlessly with a precious metal – gold or silver – then die stamp it using a forged engraving of an authentic coin. Then use the debased coin, or fourrée (French for “stuffed”), at face value in regular commercial transactions.

The counterfeiter can also create fourrées by making a clay or ceramic mold of an original coin, then pour the alloy, create the coin, then cover with a thin veneer of precious metal using a “fire gilding” process that involves dissolving mercury to adhere the gold to the base metal. Early silver ingots were also counterfeited the same way.

An example of a counterfeit silver clad Roman coin for Emperor Domitian over a copper alloy, called a fourrée, French for ‘stuffed.’ Image courtesy: Wikipedia.com

While counterfeiting can be successful, the penalties for being caught were rather extreme. Besides disrupting trade in general, counterfeiting was considered to be a personal offense against the state and the emporer. During Roman times, for example, a counterfeiter could be sentenced to damnatio ad bestias, loosely translated as being fed to the lions during festival days. Death by hanging for counterfeiters was still common in 17th and 18th century Europe.

A third century A.D. clay mold for counterfeiting an early Roman coin. Image courtesy: By Geni and Wikipedia.com

Gold coins are still being counterfeited, according to of industry studies. A recent study of the 50 most commonly counterfeited U.S. coins by the Numismatic Guaranty Corp., an industry grading company, 43 are gold coins of different eras. And that’s a concern for collectors.

While detecting counterfeits is getting easier in the age of electronics, counterfeiting is still a game of numbers. In 2016, Deutsche Bundesbank, the central bank of the Federal Republic of Germany, reported finding 33,000 counterfeit Euro coins, but only 1,570 precious metal ones. This begs the question: How many others did they miss?

For gold coins it’s getting more difficult to know for sure. Counterfeiters have employed science to help. They have found a particular alloy that replicates a similar density of gold as an alloy in the center. They then cover this alloy with a respectable layer of gold and die stamps them with a counterfeit example of the original. The alloy of choice for gold coins is tungsten. Gold and tungsten are close in density. For that reason, a thin layer of pure gold over tungsten is the ideal combination for counterfeiters because the overall weight is very close. Tungsten has a face value of about one-third of gold per ounce, which makes producing a counterfeit cost effective.

So how do you determine if your gold coin is a counterfeit or not? Biting it won’t work. That was something early gold miners might have done to distinguish the soft gold from the hard pyrite, but otherwise has no relevance as a reliable test. After all, if you have a proof gold coin, for example, biting it, drilling into it, carving a piece out of it to examine, or otherwise removing it from its original plastic slab to test would devalue the coin. You could weigh it, but if the scale isn’t properly balanced or doesn’t weigh past two decimal places, it would be hard to detect if an alloy such as tungsten is being used.

The other, less intrusive way is to examine the coin details. Check that the date is consistent with official production records along with its official weight, diameter and thickness. Under magnification small details such as sloppy lettering, the use of a wrong typeface for numbers and letters, misspelled or missing words, unusual or missing design features, rim or edgings that are spaced incorrectly or missing altogether, and other obvious defects like foundry marks will show up clearly.

One of the ways to quickly determine a counterfeit is by its details, such as this obviously unskilled attempt to replicate the detail along the rim of a coin. Image courtesy: By Peterlewis and Wikipedia.com

Other more professional methods include a gravity balance test, the use of an x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy using ultraviolet light to measure the electrons, and a device that measures electrical conductivity consistent with gold and any other metals that might be present. All the tests are done with no harm to the coin and usually in their original packaging. Ask a respected local coin or bullion dealer for assistance.

Where are these counterfeit gold coins originating? According to several respected coin and bullion dealers, many of the counterfeit gold coins are being produced in China, among other places. One longtime dealer simply will not accept any gold coins from Iran, for example, knowing that most of their gold coins may be counterfeit. And yet, collecting obvious or suspected counterfeits is another collecting category that can be both a learning experience and an interesting look at the history of gold coinage, without the premium intrinsic value. Even the British Museum has a large collection of ancient and modern counterfeits in its official inventory.

The rule of thumb is to always associate with respected dealers and auction houses when adding gold coins or bullion to your collection. Once a counterfeit is verified, the coin is usually confiscated and destroyed with no recourse for the collector. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, cautious is as cautious does.

Collector’s guide to Morgan silver dollars

The Morgan Silver Dollar is considered the most widely collected and traded coin minted by the United States. Named for its British-born engraver, George T. Morgan (1845-1925), the Morgan Dollar was minted from 1878 to 1904 and once again in 1921. Total mintage was near 657 million. About half of all the Morgan Dollars have been melted down as silver bullion since 1918. Even with that taken into account, there are still approximately 275 million such coins in existence, so in terms of supply, there definitely isn’t a shortage.

The 1893S Morgan Dollar is known as the ‘King of the Morgan Dollar’ because of its rarity. Image courtesy: LiveAuctioneers and Silver Towne Auctions


  • Years minted: 1878 to 1904 and 1921
  • Measurements: 1.5 inches in diameter (38.1 mm); 2.4 mm thick
  • Composition: 90 percent silver, 10 percent copper
  • Weight: 26.73 grams
  • Obverse: half profile of “Liberty,” motto “E Pluribus Unum” above, seven six-pointed stars around the left edges to the date and six six-pointed stars around the edge after the date
  • Reverse: eagle with wings standing upright holding arrows and olive branches, motto “United States of America” around the top edge, olive branches stretching under each wing under the eagle, “One Dollar” around bottom edge with one six-pointed star separating the mottos.
  • Edging: Reeded edging
  • Mint Marks: None (Philadelphia Mint), CC (Carson City), D (Denver), O (New Orleans), S (San Francisco); placed on reverse between bottom of olive branch and motto “One Dollar”

The Most Common

Most Morgan Silver Dollars are considered to be common at an uncirculated grade or Grade 50 or less because of the high mintage, particularly the 1921 Morgan Dollar, those minted at the San Francisco Mint of 1880-1882 and those minted at the Carson City Mint of 1882-1884 in grades up to 66. New Orleans minted coins are known to have been minted indifferently, with generally poor strikes. The 1878 mintage was made with different dies.

The 1921 Morgan Silver Dollar is the most common U.S. silver dollar, with nearly 90 million minted at the Philadelphia, San Francisco and the Denver Mints. Image courtesy: LiveAuctioneers and Premier Auction House Inc.

The Most Scarce

Only one 1889-CC Morgan in its original GSA holder has been found to date. (The U.S. General Services Administration was responsible for sorting and marketing the U.S. Treasury’s hoard of silver dollars after the Treasury ceased issuing dollar coins. In a series of sales lasting from 1973 to 1980, this hoard of several million silver dollars, mostly Morgan Dollars minted at Carson City, was dispersed via auction and fixed prices in plastic holders with a black insert—today known as GSA holders.) The 1895 Morgan Dollar, “The King of the Morgan Dollar,” exists only as a proof. Only about 100,000 1893-S Morgan silver dollars were originally minted, with an unknown number in existence [post meltdowns].

What Collectors and Dealers Look For

When taking a coin to a dealer or collector, do not clean it with solvents or scrub it. Just remove obvious loose dirt or grime. The date should be as clear as possible, since that will be the first thing that needs to be checked.

If it is a precious metal coin (bullion), then the content will be tested and weighed to ensure it corresponds to the official percentage of metal as determined by the Mint and to ascertain whether the coin has a historical value or a melt value. If the coin is destined for melt value, each dealer will quote a percentage of the official spot price of the precious metal for that day, usually 90% or less.

Next, condition will determine whether it is a collectible coin that can easily be resold. Coloring, normal wear from circulation, toning, “bag marks,” scratches and large marks will detract from the final value. The better the condition, the better the chances of the coin being bought. A grade will be assigned to the coin based on condition from 1 (poor) to 70 (uncirculated).

The last step will be the mint mark, which indicates the U.S. Mint facility where the coin was minted. Certain mints are more collectible than others of the same type of coin, based on how many were minted in total from each mint. Any mint mark can add or detract from the final value.

While examining the coin, the dealer/collector will be looking for any error marks that were added by the Mint accidentally during the minting process or any parts of the design that appear to be missing. That could affect the final value.

The dealer will then look up how many were minted for circulation based on the mint mark and determine the demand for that particular coin from that particular mint.

The final value will be determined as a percentage from an industry publication called the Grey Sheet, which updates the values of coins on a consistent basis (individuals can review the Red Book to get a sense of recent value). Each dealer/collector has a different value for each coin they buy.

The 1895 Morgan Dollar is one of is one of the scarcer U.S. silver dollars, with only 862,000 minted at the Philadelphia (only 12,000 minted), New Orleans and San Francisco Mints as proofs. Image courtesy: LiveAuctioneers and Regency-Superior Ltd

Resources and Alphabetical Glossary

Condition: the overall quality of a coin as judged against others of its type. Key factors affecting condition include: the number of marks, abrasions, cuts and wear. The fewer the number of exceptions to condition, the higher the value is.

Demand: With any given coin, the more there are in circulation, the less interest there will be for collectors to add one to their collection or for dealers to add one to their inventory.

Error marks are generally design flaws such as double strikes, chips, missing designs, wrong obverse or reverse, missing date, and anything that doesn’t belong.

Grading: based on condition of the coin overall, grades are generally; 1 (P-poor), 2 (F-fair), 3 (AG-about good), 4-6 (G-good), 8-10 (VG-very good), 12-15 (F-fine), 20-35 (VF-very fine), 40-45 (XF of EF-extremely fine), 50-58 (AU-almost uncirculated), 60-70 (UNC-uncirculated). Commercial grading companies include Professional Coin Grading Service (www.pcgs.com) and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (www.ngccoin.com).

Grey Sheet (www.greysheet.com): an industry subscription service that updates coin values on a monthly basis.

Historical value: a coin whose value is more collectible than the metal it contains.

Melt value: For coins minted in precious metal such as silver, gold and platinum, it is possible that the mintage was so high that the value is more in the metal content than the historical value of the coin itself. This applies mostly to silver coins, but other precious-metal coins in poor condition might also qualify.

Mint mark: The exact same coin may have a higher value than another similar coin if a particular official government mint produced a smaller quantity of them for circulation.

Mintage: the official quantity of coins released into circulation or as commemoratives; the lower the number, the more valuable the coin is to collectors.

Obverse: the “heads” of the coin, usually is a profile of a historical figure or person.

Red Book: a consumer publication known as A Guide Book of United States Coins by Whitman’s Publishing LLC that updates coin values on a yearly basis.

Reeded edging: coin edging that has been ridged or milled when struck at this mint. Such features discourage slicing of edges to remove some of the precious metal.

Reverse: the “tails” of the coin, usually featuring an eagle or some other historical image

The US Dollar Coin: 500 Years in the Making

Liberty, Eagle, Morgan, Peace, Eisenhower and Sacagawea are a few of the better-known US dollar coins. Most are silver, but some are gold, while others are just “golden” in color. But to trace the origin of dollar coins, we must go back 500 years to a small town in Bohemia.

First, there was the Joachimsthaler …

By 1518, the Counts of Shlick in the town of Joachimsthal in the Kingdom of Bohemia were mining their own silver to create the Joachimsthaler, their own local silver coin. As the coin caught on elsewhere, it became known simply as a “thaler.” Over time,”‘thaler” was translated as “dollar,” which became the official currency adopted by the new United States and eventually by at least 20 other countries as far afield as Hong Kong, Australia and Liberia.

An early example of an original Dutch Thaler that stabilized the weight of silver, eventually becoming the dollar. Courtesy: LiveAuctioneers and Captain Ahab’s Antiques

Then, the ‘Piece of Eight’

Just as the US dollar is the most ubiquitous currency today, the Spanish dollar, or “piece of eight,” was the world’s currency beginning in 1598 and remained legal tender in the United States until 1857. It was equal to the thaler in size and weight but was more accessible. During the colonial era, England insisted that the colonies supply them with silver and reduced its silver coinage accordingly. The Spanish dollar filled the void until the Coinage Act of 1792 changed all that.

The United States adopts a currency

Once the US Constitution was adopted, the new Congress was able to provide more economic stability in the national economy through its standardized coinage. President George Washington signed the Coinage Act of 1792, which officially adopted the dollar as the national currency within a decimal system, making the United States the first country to do so.

Mint marks were added to coins to show which US Mint produced them. Initially, there were nine US Mints, beginning with Philadelphia (no mint mark until 1980 when P was used). Subsequent marks were: C for Charlotte, North Carolina; D for Dahlonega, Georgia (1838-1861); O for New Orleans; S for San Francisco; CC for Carson City, Nevada; D for Denver (1906-present); M for Manila, The Philippines; and W for West Point, New York.

Silver Dollars Were the First

A total of eight silver dollars have been issued by the US Mints since 1794, with the American Eagle being the most recent.

The first dollar minted after the Coinage Act of 1792, this Flowing Hair Dollar example sold for $1,800 in 2012. Courtesy: LiveAuctioneers and Kennedys Auction Service LLC

Flowing Hair Dollar (1794-1795; no mint mark)

The Flowing Hair Dollar was the first official dollar coin minted in the United States under the Coinage Act of 1792. It was intended to equal the Spanish Dollar in size and weight. It became known as the Flowing Hair Dollar in reference to Liberty’s long hair that flowed past her shoulders, as designed by Chief Engraver Robert Scot. The coin’s composition was 90% silver (more than the 89.2% was required per the Coinage Act of 1792) and 10% copper. Only 1,758 of these silver dollars were hand-pressed in 1794, with an additional 160,000 or so minted in 1795, the last year of production. There is no mint mark.

The Draped Bust Dollar (1795-1803; no mint mark)

Lady Liberty was featured on the obverse with flowing hair to the shoulders showing a more open bust draped with cloth, as was the fashion of the day. It’s said that the model was from a portrait, possibly by Gilbert Stuart, of socialite Ann Willing Bingham, but it is not certain. The reverse is characterized by a small eagle on coins that were minted from 1795 to 1798 and a more majestic heraldic eagle on those examples minted from 1798 through 1803. The composition returned to the original official composition of 89.2% silver and 10.8% copper authorized by the Coinage Act of 1792. There is no mint mark. Silver dollars were no longer minted after 1806. There was a Draped Bust Dollar with an 1804 mint date, but it was actually struck in 1835 and intended only for official overseas gifts as part of commemorative sets. None were circulated, and only six are known to exist.

Gobrecht Dollar (1836-1839; no mint mark)

Named for engraver Christian Gobrecht, the Gobrecht Dollar was the first silver coin to be reissued (in 1836) since the discontinuation of the Draped Bust Dollar in 1806. The design was a sitting Lady Liberty with a composition of 89.2% silver and 10.8% copper, as authorized by Congress in 1792. One of the rarest US dollars minted (about 1,000 may have been minted), the engraver’s name appeared prominently at first under Liberty, but later was reduced and finally eliminated altogether. It was discontinued in 1839, and is worthy of note that all Gobrecht Dollars struck in 1837 bore an 1836 date. There were restrikes in 1859 and 1860 that would show the eagle on the reverse flying straight rather than forward when tilted on its axis.

This design by Chief Engraver Christian Gobrecht shows Liberty seated for the first time. It was minted with two different reverses. The earlier version is shown here. Courtesy: Wikipedia, US Mint and Heritage Auctions

Seated Liberty Dollar (1840-1873; no mint mark, O)

In 1840 a new silver dollar was minted with a seated Liberty engraved by Christian Gobrecht. It’s composition returned to the 90% silver and 10% copper of the earlier Flowing Hair Dollar and were struck at the Philadelphia Mint until 1846 when production included the New Orleans Mint (O), the San Francisco Mint (S) and the Carson City Mint (CC) after 1858. In 1866, the motto “In God We Trust” was added to the Seated Liberty Dollar for the first time. Production ended in 1873.

Trade Dollar (1873-1885; no mint mark, CC, S)

The Coinage Act of 1873 stopped production of circulating silver dollars, putting the country firmly on the gold standard, where it would remain until 1971. A Trade Dollar was instead minted for use as currency, primarily for payment in trade to China and the Far East. It did circulate in the US as a coin for business transactions, but was unpopular because it traded for less than the $1 face value due to the low value of silver and was legal tender only up to $5. The circulation of Trade Dollars ended in 1878, with only proofs officially produced until 1883 (10 dated 1884 and 5 dated 1885 weren’t discovered until much later).

So named for Assistant Engraver George T. Morgan who, in 1878, designed the first circulating silver dollar since the Seated Liberty Dollar was discontinued in 1873. Courtesy: Wikipedia and Brandon Grossardt

Morgan Dollar (1878-1904, 1921; struck with no mint mark or with CC, S, O, or D)

Silver interests prevailed in returning the US to a silver coin with the Bland-Allison Act of 1878. It authorized the minting the first new legal tender silver coins for circulation since 1873. Assistant Engraver George T. Morgan designed a Liberty Head on the obverse from a profile of Anna Willess Williams of Philadelphia, and an eagle and olive branch design on the reverse. It remained in circulation through 1904 and was again minted in 1921. It was the longest-circulating of all US silver coins.

Peace Dollar (1921-1928; 1934-1935; struck with no mint mark or with D or S)

With the passage of the Pittman Act of 1918, silver interests again prompted government to strike a new silver dollar coin at a fixed price of $1 an ounce. About 270 million new silver coins were minted overall in the form of a Peace Dollar. So named for the word “Peace” under the bald eagle resting on a branch on the reverse, it symbolized the end of World War I in 1918. The coin’s designer, Anthony de Francisci used his wife, Teresa, as the model for Liberty on the obverse. Production was interrupted in 1928 until a new Congressional act allowed for additional coins, about 7 million, to be struck in 1934 and 1935, after which the dies were destroyed.

American Silver Eagle (1986-present; no mint mark for bullion, P, S, W for proof sets)

Although this new American Silver Eagle was minted at three US Mints (Philadelphia, San Francisco and West Point), no mint marks were added for the bullion strike (bullion coins were kept mostly for trade). Only the proof sets that were bought by collectors were struck with mint marks. From 2006 to 2008 and again in 2011, a series of uncirculated coins was struck with the W mint mark. Special Issues such as the “Philadelphia Set” of 1993, the “Legacies of Freedom” set of 2004 and 10 other different commemorative sets included the American Silver Eagle coin. A 2008 version was struck on a 2007 die and is considered a rare error coin.

1964-D Peace Dollar (1964-1965; D)

A reissue of the Peace Dollar in 1964 was intended as a new circulating dollar coin, but objections were raised that the coin was intended mostly for collectors and was therefore a waste of Mint resources if it didn’t circulate. About 316,000 of the new silver dollars were minted in Denver, but they were withdrawn and subsequently melted down. No known example is said to exist (a private mint later struck a base-metal commemorative one).

Dollar Coins Struck in Gold

Only three gold dollar coin designs were struck for circulation in the United States, and only between 1849 and 1889 (commemoratives were struck between 1909 and 1922, but never circulated). Each was minted in 90% gold (about .048 a troy oz) and 10% copper measuring only about a half-inch in diameter.

Liberty Head (1849-1854; struck with no mint mark or with C, D, O, or S)

After much debate through the years, a gold coin was finally struck in 1849. Called “Type 1,” it was designed by engraver James B. Longacre to show Liberty with a coronet facing to the left and surrounded by 13 six-pointed stars. On the reverse was an olive wreath (some minted open at the top; others closed), the year 1849 and the legend “United States of America” and “1 DOLLAR” in all caps. There are five different design variations, one with an “L” for Longacre on the obverse.

Liberty is engraved as a small Indian Princess with a coronet known as ‘Type 2’ and minted in 1854. Courtesy: Wikipedia and US Mint

Indian Head (1854-1859 small head; struck with no mint mark or with C, D, O, or S)

This coin, called “Type 2,” is similar in pattern to the Liberty Head, except the obverse shows a small head of an Indian princess with a feathered coronet on the obverse, with the legend “United States of America” along the rim instead of the 13 six-pointed stars. The reverse shows a larger wreath of cotton, corn, tobacco and wheat rather than the previous olive branches.

Indian Head (1859-1889 large head; struck with no mint mark or with C, D, O, or S)

Known as “Type 3,” the last gold dollar coin in circulation featured an Indian princess with a larger, more fully developed head with a fuller feathered coronet on the obverse (face). The reverse was very similar to the ‘Type 2’ design, both from Engraver James B. Longacre.

Dollar Coins Struck in Base Metal

There were four distinctive dollar coins struck in base metal, the Eisenhower Dollar, the Susan B. Anthony Dollar, and the two gold-colored ones known as the Sacagawea Dollar and the Presidential Dollar. None have circulated well and were discontinued after a relatively short time.

The first base-metal circulating dollar honored President Dwight Eisenhower, who died in 1970. It features the Apollo 11 moon landing on the reverse. Courtesy: Wikipedia and Brandon Grossardt

Eisenhower Dollar (1971-1978; 1975-1976 Bicentennial; struck with no mint mark or with D or S)

Newly authorized in 1970, a new circulating dollar coin featured a profile of President Dwight D. Eisenhower by engraver Frank Gasparro with the phrase “In God We Trust” on the obverse (a national motto adopted in 1956 during Eisenhower’s Administration).

On the reverse was a tribute to the Apollo 11 moon landing of 1969 (Eisenhower had created NASA in 1958). The design was based on the NASA mission patch depicting an eagle clutching an olive branch near the surface of the moon, except for the years 1975-1976 when a Liberty Bell design was substituted to celebrate the US Bicentennial.

The coin was a relatively large size at 1.5 inches and difficult for consumers and merchants to use. As a result, it was unpopular, except at casinos. There are silver and proof sets that collectors know as “blue Ike” (encased in a blue US Treasury presentation box) and “brown Ike” (encased in a brown presentation box with a silver Great Seal-type logo).

Susan B. Anthony Dollar (1979-1981, 1999; P, D, S)

A new dollar design was favored over the cumbersome Eisenhower Dollar with the image of 19th-century women’s rights advocate and anti-slavery activist Susan B. Anthony. Frank Gasparro was chosen to engrave her image on the new coin.

The new coin would be only about an inch in diameter, just a shade bigger than a circulating quarter, and thus was often confused by consumers. The reverse continued the Apollo 11 tribute from the previous Eisenhower Dollar, sparking criticism that it had no relevance to Susan B. Anthony at all. The coin had a unique 11-sided border. Overall, the coin was not well received and was used mostly by the post office, mass transit authorities and the vending machine industry.

The 1981 strike of this coin is more valuable because it was issued mostly for collectors. The 1999 proof series and some 1979 and 1981 mint marks are also of collector interest.

Sacagawea Dollar (2000-present; P, D, S, W)

It is nicknamed “the golden dollar” because of the shiny gold-colored manganese brass that covers the mostly copper coin. The obverse features a three-quarter profile of Sacagawea, the Shoshone scout for the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific in 1804, as designed by artist Glenna Goodacre.

The reverse was a flying eagle design with a wide spread-wing design by Thomas Rogers. This coin design (with a smooth edge) would be in circulation from 2000 to 2008. From 2009 to the present, the reverse would feature a new design each year depicting Native-American life by different artists with a lettered edge of stars, the motto “E Pluribus Unum” and the strike date.

As with the earlier base metal dollar coins, the Sacagawea Dollar was not popular in circulation even with a mass marketing program by the US Mint (even giving them away in boxes of cereal as prizes). However, they have proved useful for fare boxes and the vending machine industry.

Presidential $1 Coin Program (2007-2016; P, D)

Another “golden dollar” with a similar composition of manganese brass over mostly copper as the Sacagawea Dollar featured each of the presidents of the United States in order of election beginning with George Washington. The entire series lasted until the Ronald Reagan presidential coin was struck in 2016 (living persons are not featured on coins), after which the program was discontinued. Coins struck from 2012 (Chester A. Arthur) were minted only for collectors.

The reverse featured the State of Liberty by engraver Don Everhart with the motto “United States of America” and “$1.” Edging included the year, mint mark, 13 stars, and the legend “E Pluribus Unum” or “In God We Trust” from 2007-2009. Some Washington and John Adams dollars were missing the edging or had double edging, but there are relatively few, making them highly collectible.

Reading the Alphabet soup of US Mint marks

NEW YORK –The United States Mint is where our coins are made. But how do you know which branch made it? That’s where mint marks come in.

Before the United States Mint

During the years between the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the adoption of the Constitution on September 17, 1789, the Articles of Confederation was the prevailing system of government. States were mostly independent and there was little federal control and certainly no unified national coin or currency system. Great Britain held back its silver coinage insisting the Colonies send silver to them. To fill the void, barter was common while states created their own sets of coinage and fiat currency that were hard to understand for everyday exchange. The Spanish silver dollar known as the ‘piece of eight’ was the most common coin used throughout the Colonies, but with different exchange rates.

Once the Constitution was passed in 1789, the Coinage Act of 1792 changed all that by “…establishing a mint, and regulating the Coins of the United States.” It also created the United States dollar that would have “…the value of a Spanish milled dollar as the same is now current.” The Coinage Act also established decimal accounting where units are related to the power of 10, the first national coinage to do so. It also established the first official Mint in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at that time.

1792 One Cent Pattern coin with silver center, one of the first struck at the Philadelphia Mint. Courtesy: By Robert Birch (coin), National Numismatic Collection – National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History in the Public Domai

Philadelphia Mint (1792-present): Mint Mark, None until 1980 with exceptions

The first United States Mint was an agency of the Department of State with David Rittenhouse, surveyor, astronomer, clockmaker and member of the American Philosophical Society, appointed by President George Washington as its first director. The Philadelphia Mint was the first federal building constructed under the Constitution.

The day before, Rittenhouse hand-struck several pattern coins (test coins) called the Nova Constellatio to test the new equipment using silver melted down from flatware contributed by Martha Washington. Rittenhouse then gave these first pattern coins to President Washington. Other pattern coins, 1,500 half dimes and dimes (aka dismes), were struck which were eventually released into general circulation.

The Philadelphia Mint used no mint mark until 1980 when ‘P’ was added to all coins produced there. Exceptions were made by adding the mint mark ‘P’ to the Jefferson nickel minted in 1942-1945 to show that the nickel was exchanged for an alloy of copper, 35 percent silver and manganese and the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin minted from 1979-1981 and again in 1999.

1839-C $5 Gold Coin from the Charlotte Mint showing the ‘C’ mint mark. Courtesy: Newman Numismatic Portal and Wikipedia.com

Charlotte, North Carolina (1838-1861): Mint Mark ‘C’

Three branch offices of the United States Mint were opened in 1838 to include one in Charlotte, North Carolina. It primarily processed gold dust and gold nuggets mined at the Reed Gold Mine in Cabarrus County, 20 miles northeast of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Before the Charlotte Mint opened, all gold had to be transported to the Philadelphia Mint for assay and smelting into gold bars and coins making the 540-mile trip overland (about 30 days) through dangerous Cherokee Indian Territory. It took months for the raw gold to be minted into coins.

The Charlotte Mint operated until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 when it was closed as an official United States Mint. After the War ended it was reopened as an assay office only in 1867, but finally closed in 1913.

The gold coins minted at the Charlotte Mint include the $1, $2, $3 gold coins and the Liberty Head Half Eagle gold coins, among others.

1843-D $5 gold half-eagle from the Dahlonega Mint in Georgia showing the ‘D’ mint mark. Image courtesy of Steve Morgan and Wikipedia.com

Dahlonega, Georgia (1838-1861): Mint Mark ‘D’

The second branch Mint opened in 1838 was the Dahlonega Mint, located about 75 miles north of Atlanta. Gold was found in the Cherokee Indian Territory nearby in the 1800s, about the same time that gold was found near Charlotte. Prospecting turned to commercial gold mining and travel to Philadelphia became more dangerous through the mountains.

The Dahlonega Mint processed gold deposits into official legal tender gold coinage for the Southern states. Coins struck were the gold dollar, $2½ quarter eagle, $3 gold coin in 1854 only, and $5 gold Liberty Eagle gold coins with a mint mark of ‘D’. Because of the relatively few gold coins minted, less than 1 percent of the gold coins minted at the Dahlonega Mint have survived.

The Dahlonega Mint was seized by the Confederate States of America and produced a limited number of 1861 gold dollars and gold eagles, but without the ‘D’ mint mark until it was abandoned later that year.

1852-O $1 US Liberty Head Gold Coin from the New Orleans Mint showing the ‘O’ mint mark. Courtesy: The Coopers Collection and Wikipedia.com

New Orleans: (1838-1861, 1879-1909): Mint Mark ‘O’

Gold nuggets and gold dust mined in the Deep South and along the Western frontiers needed to be assayed and struck into legal tender coinage. For that, the United States Mint opened the third Mint branch in 1838 at the most strategic port in the Americas, New Orleans. Already handling all manner of domestic and foreign trade, the New Orleans Mint served as an official Mint from 1838 until 1861 when the State of Louisiana seceded from the United States.

During the first month of the takeover of the New Orleans Mint by the Confederate State of Louisiana, U.S. gold coins using the same dies continued to be produced for its treasury and later for the Confederate government. The gold ore ran out after the first month and the Mint remained under the Confederacy until it was recaptured by U.S. forces the following year.

The New Orleans Mint was back in operation from 1879 until it finally closed in 1909 producing $1 to $20 gold eagle coins and the silver Morgan dollar coins, among others.

2002-S Lincoln Penny featuring the ‘S’ mint mark of the San Francisco Mint. Public Domain image

San Francisco (1854-1954, 1968-present): Mint Mark ‘S’

Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California, was the site of a gold discovery by James Marshall in 1854 marking the beginning of the California Gold Rush that lasted until 1855. But with the large influx of prospectors during the period and the amount of gold entering the monetary system, a new branch Mint was established in San Francisco in 1854 to handle the large influx of gold.

The operation quickly outgrew the original building and a new building of granite and sandstone became the second Mint building in 1874. This was one of the few buildings that survived the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake virtually intact with about a third of the United States gold reserves undamaged.

Only proof and commemorative coins have been struck at the San Francisco Mint when minting resumed in 1968 with the exception of some circulating coins, the Susan B. Anthony dollar (with the ‘S’ mint mark) and some pennies during the 1980s (with no mint mark). In 1962 the Mint was officially downgraded to an assay office, but regained its official Mint status in 1988.

1877-CC Seated Liberty Quarter showing the ‘CC’ mint mark of the Carson City Mint. Courtesy: Christian Gobrecht, Image by Lost Dutchman Rare Coins and Wikipedia.com

Carson City, Nevada (1870-1886, 1888-1893): Mint Mark ‘CC’

While there was a gold rush elsewhere, silver ore was discovered in large quantities in 1859 at Virginia City, Nevada, not far from Reno, in the Sierra Mountains. It was named the ‘Comstock Lode’ for Henry Comstock who neither discovered nor profited from the discovery.

There was a call for an official Mint to process the silver and gold ore into legal tender coins as early as 1858, because the closest Mint was a dangerous 250-mile trip over mountains to San Francisco. By 1863 a new mint was finally authorized, but didn’t become operational until 1870 when it was located at Carson City, Nevada, about 32 miles south of Reno. The Mint operated until 1886 striking mostly silver coins from the Comstock Lode along with some gold coins as well. The Mint reopened in 1888 and closed in 1893.

Altogether, the Carson City Mint struck 50 issues of silver coins, including the seated Liberty dime, quarter, half-dollar and dollar, the Trade and Morgan dollars and a 20-cent piece along with 57 issues of gold coins including the $5 half eagle, the $10 gold eagle and the $20 double eagle, according to a Wikipedia entry, with many of the coins considered rare.

Bicentennial Washington Quarter showing the ‘D’ mint mark for the Denver Mint. Courtesy: Denver Mint and Wikipedia.com

Denver (1906-present): Mint Mark ‘D’

This may be the only time a private commercial mint became an official U.S. Mint. Clark, Gruber and Co. established a commercial brokerage in Leavenworth, Kansasm, in 1859 with a branch office in Denver opening a year later, mostly to assay the gold being found in the Pike’s Peak area near Colorado Springs, Colorado. The company struck its own $2.5, $5, $10 eagle and $20 double eagle gold coins with their company name on the reverse until the operation was bought by the U.S. government in 1863.

Although, it opened as the U.S Denver Mint in 1863, the facility was used only as an assay office to smelt gold into individual bars and returned to the miner. No coins were actually struck until a new facility was opened in February 1906. The $5 half eagle, $10 eagle and the $20 double eagle gold coins were the first coins with the ‘D’ mint mark. Some silver coins were also minted here for the first time.

The Denver Mint continues to produce coins in general circulation, mint sets and commemorative coin sets, all with the ‘D’ mint mark, and is considered the biggest producer of legal tender coins in the world, according to a US-Mint.info.

While the mint marks for the Dahlonega and Denver Mints are identical, neither was operating at the same period in time.

Manila, The Philippines (1920-1922, 1925-1941): Mint Mark ‘M’

Shortly after the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1898 ending the Spanish-American War, the United States took possession of several Spanish territories in the Pacific to include The Philippines. One of the properties was the Philippine Mint originally operated by the Spanish to produce local coinage. After U.S. possession, silver coins continued to be minted under U.S. supervision that were similar to the Spanish silver peso along with the one, ten, twenty and fifty centavo coins.

In 1903, the San Francisco Mint produced silver coins for the Philippines with a small ‘S’ mint mark, but by 1908 began minting all general circulation coins as well until 1920. In that year, the U.S. Mint created the Manila Mint, the only Mint outside the continental United States, to produce all coinage using the old Spanish Mint facilities until 1922 without a mint mark.

The Manila Mint produced no coinage from 1923 until it reopened in 1925, again producing its own currency, but this time adding an ‘M’ as its own mint mark. The Manila Mint was closed permanently after the Japanese occupation in 1941 during World War II.

West Point, NY (1988-present): Mint Mark ‘W’

Officially known as the West Point Mint Facility since 1988, the former West Point Bullion Depository began storing silver in 1937 near the West Point Military Academy with the nickname “The Fort Knox of Silver,” although some gold was stored in the facility as well. It is the only bullion depository to become an official U.S. Mint.

The 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games $10 gold commemorative coin was the first coin minted featuring the ‘M’ mint mark and the first official legal tender gold coin issued in the United States since 1933. Several other commemorative coins featuring the ‘W’ mint mark include the 1996 Roosevelt dime, the 2015 Roosevelt dime and $1 coin for the March of Dimes commemorative set, and the 2014 proof silver and gold Kennedy Half Dollar commemorative set.

The facility still stores mostly gold bullion, second only to Fort Knox. All American Eagle proof and uncirculated commemoratives in bullion are produced by the West Point Mint Facility along with the American Buffalo gold coins.

1792 Copper Pattern Dime (Disme) one of the first struck at the Philadelphia Mint. Courtesy:  National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History


Mint marks were suspended in 1965 through 1967 for all U.S. Mint coinage to preserve coin circulation during the time silver was being removed from coins overall. Beginning in 1968, all mint marks were struck on the obverse (the face or ‘heads’ of the coin).

Altogether there were nine official United States Mints since the Coinage Act of 1792. Of the nine, only four remain as active United States Mints. Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco strike all manner of legal tender circulating coins consisting of the penny, nickel, dime, quarter, half dollar and $1 coin, nearly 15 billion coins minted in 2017 worth nearly $963 million, not counting commemoratives from the West Point Mint Facility, the fourth operating Mint.

All that production is a far cry from the first strike of 11,178 copper and silver coins in 1793, all hand pressed at the time, and struck from borrowed silver.


Bucki, James, “The Coinage of the United States”  November 24, 2018, thesprucecrafts.com

Jordan, Louis,  “The Comparative Value of Money Between Britain and the Colonies”, University of Notre Dame, Department of Special Collections, coins.nd.edu.com, undated

Littleton’s Illustrated Guide, “Mint Marks on Regular-Issue U.S. Coins”, undated

Taylor, Sol, “The First Coins of the USA”, May 19 2007, SCVhistory.com

United States Mint, “Collecting Basics: Mint Marks”,  undated

US-Mint.info, “US Mint History Since 1792”,  undated

Wikipedia.com, “United States Mint”, undated

Online coin auction Nov. 6 to recall Russian Empire’s history

The ruble is one of Europe’s oldest currencies, dating back 800 years. The basic monetary unit of Russia, the ruble equal to 100 kopeks. The currency derives its namesake from the Russian word “rubit,” which means to chop or hack, and originally was made from fragmented pieces of silver wire. The attractive appearance, rarity and high commercial value make Russian coins popular among numismatic collectors. More than 200 lots of antique coins from the Russian Empire are offered in a Jasper52 online auction that will be held Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Nicholas II 25 kopeks 1896, uncirculated. Estimate: $350-$400. Jasper52 image

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Gold coins, bullion await bidders in online auction Sept. 19

Gold fever is defined as the obsession with seeking gold ore. But why go to the effort and expense of mining this precious metal when copious amounts are readily available in a refined form in a Jasper52 auction Wednesday, Sept 19? The online auction offers nearly 100 lots of gold coins and bullion.

Sealed gold bar, 50 grams, 999/1000, 24K, Istanbul Gold Refinery or Nadir Gold Refinery. Estimate: $3,000-$3,500. Jasper52 image

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Elongated Coins: Make Your Money Stretch

You don’t need to have an interest in coins to get started in coin collecting. An affordable alternative to traditional numismatics is the elongated cent. Just find a machine, plug in a penny and a couple of quarters (to pay the cost), crank the wheel to squash the penny and imprint a design, and you get a memento that will last forever.

Elongated coins (also known as elongated cents, stretchies, squashed cents, or rolled cents) are made by forcing a coin, token or metal blank between two steel rollers. The design engraved on one roller (die) is then transferred to the coin, turning what was just moments before legal tender into a memento valued to the maker at more than a penny.

Cindy’s cents machines at Natural Bridge, Virginia (6477 S. Lee Highway, Natural Bridge, Virginia). Courtesy of Cindy Calhoun/Cindy’s Cents

Speaking of legal, many people think it is illegal to alter U.S. coins by smashing them. However, it’s perfectly legal to roll pennies. U.S. Code Title 18, Chapter 17, Section 331 prohibits, among other things, fraudulent alteration and mutilation of coins. This statute does not, however, prohibit the mutilation of coins if done without fraudulent intent or if the mutilated coins are not used fraudulently.

These coin curios have been around for more than a century. The first elongated coins in the United States were made in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The enterprising individual(s) who brought a rolling machine to this world’s fair to press designs on coins created a whole new type of collectible, falling into the exonumia category of numismatics, which includes all things coin-related. Ever since that Chicago World’s Fair, entrepreneurs and collectors have taken a shine to pressing coins.

Elongateds fall into three general production classes: oldies, modern and contemporary. From the period 1893-1965 come the “oldies,” which were issued primarily at national and world expositions. Circa 1965-circa 1985 coins are considered “modern elongateds,” which were created primarily by private rollers. Contemporary elongateds, circa 1985-present, are made largely by commercial penny presses, such as those found in many zoos, parks and other amusement sites.

Custom coin designated by Cindy Calhoun commemorates the C&O Canal, DC to Cumberland, Maryland. Courtesy of Cindy Calhoun/Cindy’s Cents

Cindy’s Cents has specialized in custom elongated coins and penny machines since 2006. The business has about 30 public machines placed in West Virginia, Virginia and a few machines in Maryland. [Their website, www.elongatedpenny.net, lists the specific locations and offers elongated coins from those machines for 75 cents apiece.] The company is headed by Cindy Calhoun [TEC #3467] of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. She is also a squashed penny enthusiast and has thousands of elongated coins in her collection.

Calhoun says her collection started with elongateds from places she visited when she was growing up. “I didn’t consider myself a collector back then, I was just getting souvenirs,” she explains. “I became more involved with the hobby as an adult; then trip routes were planned around where the penny machines were located.”

Currently serving as president of the Elongated Collectors, Calhoun is also a private roller – someone who designs and rolls elongated coins for clients.

1915 Pan-Pacific International Expo in San Francisco PPIE elongated penny with Tower of Jewels, priced at $25. Courtesy eBay seller BJStamps

The Elongated Collector (www.tecnews.org) is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1966. The group’s official mission is to “educate, encourage and promote the study, acquisition and exhibition of elongated coins;” assisting new collectors and youth rank high on their priority list. Benefits of joining the group include being a part of an active collecting community that makes it easier to buy, sell and trade elongated coins; receiving informative quarterly newsletters filled with articles written by TEC members – plus at least two free elongated coins with each issue; and access to a wealth of information about elongated coin history and realistic and consistent values of elongates.

Modern and contemporary elongateds make up the lion’s share of the pressed coin population, but there are still plenty of oldies to pursue. Oldies tend to cost the most to acquire.

Calhoun explains, “The first known elongateds were at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. Surprisingly, these can still be found for a reasonable amount ($25-$40). Many key events in the U.S. have been commemorated on an elongated. The early elongateds were prominent at the world’s fairs, and many elongated collectors specialize in the coins from those events.”

1906 San Francisco Post Office elongated cent. Uncirculated 1906 Indian cent showing image of the San Francisco Post Office. Sold for $34. Courtesy Heritage Auctions

According to the TEC, “Prices of elongated coins vary depending on the number rolled, age, denomination, popularity of topic or event, even the condition of the coin.” Help with determining rarity comes from the book Yesterday’s Elongateds, which is a helpful resource for collectors of older elongated coins. It includes listings of oldies along with a rarity scale. As for condition, in addition to considering the state of the metal itself, elongated coins on which the design is completely visible are more desirable than those with the design cut off (rolled short) or those with long “tails.”

Calhoun shares helpful insights when considering value: “The older elongateds that were made in limited numbers sell higher than those from public machines. The most expensive elongated is the Pike; it’s pictured on the front of Yesterday’s Elongateds and last sold at auction for more than $4,000. However, most current elongateds can be purchased for less than a dollar, and the older elongateds vary depending on the host coin (one rolled on a gold coin will obviously be more), when it was made, and the number of that coin that are known to exist.”

Rare 1910 Grand Army of the Republic elongated cent. The host coin is an uncirculated 1910 Lincoln cent, $81. Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

While there are possibly hundreds of thousands of elongated cents to pursue, building a collection doesn’t have to be on a grand scale. Stretched penny fans can create a collection of any size that reflects their own personal interests. In fact, Calhoun recommends focusing a collection. “You can’t collect them all. Some people collect by location (i.e., all related to a particular city or state). Others have collections by theme (zoos, sports, events, Disney, Christmas, etc.), or by the engraver or roller,” she says. Modern and contemporary designer initials are often included in the design, usually in the border or at the edge of the design.

There are some aspects that most collectors agree on: Pre-1982 copper cents are best for rolling. According to the U.S. Mint [www.usmint.gov], the metallic composition of pennies has changed several times since 1792. As it relates to elongated pennies, from 1864 to 1962, the cent was composed of 95 percent copper and 5 percent tin and zinc (with the exception of 1943, when pennies were made of zinc-coated steel to conserve copper so it could be used in the war effort). In 1962, the tin content was removed from the alloy, making penny composition 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc. In 1982, the Mint transitioned the cent composition to 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper (copper-plated zinc). The post-1982 cents have a zinc core, which will show up after rolling the coin; and with time the zinc will turn black, and it greatly diminishes the look (and value) of the elongated coin.

Most elongated cent collectors also agree it’s best to use clean or even polished pennies for rolling.

Appealing to families because elongated coins make for affordable souvenirs, there is no limit to the variety of pressed pennies that are available. While it’s not guaranteed newly rolled pennies will ever be of significant monetary value, there are several things that are guaranteed:

The The pursuit of rolled cents is as affordable as collecting gets.

Collectors will never run out of elongated coins to chase.

A penny is just a penny, but when it’s elongated, it becomes a valued memento.



Sources: https://www.money.org/blog/the-start-of-a-new-collectible; Penny Collector, www.pennycollector.com; elongatedcoins.org; The Elongated Collectors, www.tecnews.org; ParkPennies.com; www.elongatedcoin.com

Our thanks to Antique Trader for sharing this article. Click to visit Antique Trader online.

Diverse antiquities offered in 3 Jasper52 auctions Nov. 4-5

Jasper52 delves into ancient history this weekend with three online-only auctions featuring rarely encountered antiquities. Standouts in the auction catalogs include works of art, jewelry and coins, all sourced from long-standing collections.

Byzantine gold and garnet cross, circa 11th-12th century, 1½in. high. Estimate: $1,400-$2,500.

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The Origin of Money: From Cowrie Shells to Bitcoin

Before there were organized monetary systems, there was barter and trade. Some sources report evidence of compensation exchange in cultures dating back as far as 10,000 years ago. People with the ability to fish would connect with those who cultivated and harvested crops to exchange commodities. While this form of trade was useful for many societies, it wasn’t without challenges. One of those challenges was finding a consistent party with whom to barter and trade the materials a person was capable of bringing to the table. Another challenge was the amount of time it could take to complete an exchange of goods – especially if one side of the exchange was dependent on crops that required many months to reach the point of harvest. Also, there was the question of how to value the commodities on both sides so there could be a fair exchange.

Long strand of chain link probably used as a form of currency, Roman Empire, circa 2nd-4th century AD. Measures 36 inches long x 1 inch wide. Sold by Artemis Gallery for $450 in September 2017. LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Artemis Gallery image

People living near the sea – the Pacific and Indian Oceans, primarily – took a different approach, implementing cowrie shells from sea snails as an accepted form of currency. It’s believed that the brightly patterned cowrie shell is one of the longest-tenured forms of currency anywhere. The first indication of its use dates to 1,200 BC. Even after the introduction of gold coins as a form of currency, some civilizations opted to continue using cowrie shells.

Restrung Viking necklace of assorted green glass beads with two cowrie-shell pendants and three silver coins on loops, circa 9th-12th century AD, sold for $237 at TimeLine Auctions’ September 2016 sale. TimeLine Auctions, Ltd. image

The leap from cowrie shells to metal monies first took place in China. Archeological discoveries have uncovered various specimens of primitive coins. This evolution within early Chinese culture is said to have been inspired by people initially exchanging tools and weapons. This led to the inventive idea of creating small replicas of these items for a safer and easier method of exchange. Ultimately, the small replicas, some with sharp edges, were cast aside in favor of circular discs, often made of copper and bronze. Sometimes a hole was bored into the coins, to allow them to be placed together on a chain. This was the earliest identifiable example of what is considered early coinage. However, it was in Lydia (modern-day Turkey) that the gold-and-silver allow electrum, along with a process of stamping, turned out the first batch of precious metal coins.

Ancient copper sestertius (Roman coin) of Emperor Antoninus Pius, scarce and occasionally issued during the Roman Empire. Offered with $200-$350 estimate in Jasper52 Sept. 30 Ancient Roman Coins Auction. LiveAuctioneers.com and Jasper52 image

Although it was at King Alyattes of Lydia’s direction that such coins were produced in the late 7th century, it was Greece that capitalized on the innovation. As Wayne G. Sayles states in the book Ancient Coin Collecting, “… the rise of Greek culture and the development of coinage as a form of artistic and political expression go hand in hand. The study of numismatics, from the 7th to the 3rd centuries BC, is really an exploration of Greek civilization.”

Two plaques containing examples of shell wampum and trade beads; part of a 5-piece lot of Native American beadwork objects that was sold by Cordier Auctions for $100 in February 2016. Cordier Auctions & Appraisals image

While the Greeks, followed by the Romans, were focusing their attention on producing coins made of silver, bronze, and gold, 7th-century China was changing things by developing paper money. Early on, these notes would be exchanged for coins. A trusted source would issue the person transferring the coins a note indication the amount of coins that were deposited, and at a later date, the holder of the note could redeem their currency. While paper banknotes were used within the Chinese culture for more than 500 years, the excess production of notes prompted a decline in value and a rise in inflation. This led to the beginning of the end of paper-money use in China, in 1455. It would be another three centuries before paper currency would return to the Chinese market. As is often the case, everything old becomes new again if you wait long enough. Such was the case with shell currency. Wampum – strings of beads made from clamshells and used as both a form of adornment and a form of currency – was used by Native American peoples. There is evidence of wampum’s use in the mid-16th century, and perhaps earlier.

Another unique example of currency could be found in late 17th-century French colonies in Canada. French soldiers were presented with playing cards bearing various denominations and the signature of a governor to be used as currency in lieu of coins.

1815 $20 TN-12 Remainder note, PCGS New 62PPQ, rarer than similar $5 and $10 notes, sold for $18,800 in a Heritage auction held in April 2015. Heritage Auctions image

Money continues its evolution today, with governments around the world minting and printing coins and currency daily. In addition, the 21st century has also seen increasing use of electronic transactions and digital currency. And at the same time, the cycle seems to have come full circle, as there are examples of a new generation utilizing the ancient principles of barter and trade.