By Jim Bisognani for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation ……
Whitman Coin & Collectibles Winter Baltimore Expo on Deck; Colonial Copper Caper
As we go to press the numismatic calendar reveals that we are one week away from the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Winter Expo, the last major venue for 2016. Wow, where did this year go? Just reading winter in the show’s description is a hard numismatic token to swallow. While leaves still cling tenaciously to tree limbs, frosty temperatures at night confirm that old man winter is setting his sights on us in New England. Reflecting on the 50 years I’ve been a collector, I have endured 43 of them here and had a wonderful respite of seven seasons in Southern California. Yet as I have written before, our hobby truly has no season and, if it did at one time, now courtesy of the Internet there is a 24-7 opportunity to quench thy coin cravings.
Collectors whom I have spoken to recently are still enjoying this multi-faceted hobby and many of the slightly older generation are encouraging their youngsters to get acquainted with our great pastime.
Harry, a long time Colonial and Early Federal copper collector hailing from neighboring Massachusetts, had a chat with me recently:
“I have been collecting Early Federal large cents and Colonials coins from my native Massachusetts as well as New Jersey and New York since I was 18. After college I was in an accident and laid up in rehab for a few months after some surgery. During my down time I was able to take my mind off of my recovery by delving into my early coppers. I became a student of pre-revolutionary America. I really, really enjoy the subject matter, and the early Colonial coins that I had begun to collect about five years earlier became even more significant to me as those worn pieces of copper are a tangible part of our historic fabric.”
I asked Harry if he has been able to pass on his collecting fervor and passion to his children:
“Well when I was 16 I was already a collector. True, I didn’t have a cell phone attached to my hip, but if I did I would have been researching and checking out online auctions as I do today. My son Tom who just turned 17 is as most of today’s younger generation fascinated by the luminous and hypnotic 4 x 6 display on his cell phone… I kid that he will have enormous thumbs one day. For him coins aren’t relevant as they were to me. I realize that virtually every purchase is made online via credit card. He doesn’t carry pockets full of change around.”
Yet as Harry went on to explain there has been more than a glimmer of numismatic hope here:
“My Tom is a political history nut and when I took him to a regional coin show last year he was taken in by political campaign tokens, buttons, ribbons and inaugural medals. He picked up a few Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt campaign buttons and I helped him purchase a President Garfield campaign token from 1880 in gold. The thing was about the size of a California fractional gold half dollar. It was DeWitt-JG-1880-16 in a NGC slab graded AU 58. I have seen these before but most had either been polished or had been holed or both.”
(1880) Campaign 10 mm Dewitt-JG-1880-16, Gold. NGC AU 58. Image courtesy NGC.
I told Harry that it is so apropos that the tiny 10mm Garfield campaign medal token was struck in gold as President Garfield despised paper currency with a passion and desperately wanted the US to be on the gold standard. One of Garfield’s memorable quotes, “Any party which commits itself to paper money will go down amid the general disaster, covered with the curses of a ruined people.” Gee, I wonder what he really thought about it.
Harry went on to say that Tom has become a fan of the presidential dollar series and began to put together a set in NGC PF 70 Ultra Cameo:
“I told him to always buy the best graded coin he can afford and most can be bought for around $15-$25. He also finds the current politics incredible and even though he is not yet legal voting age he feels that our 2016 presidential election will be historic in every way and is so glad to be a part of it, at least in dialog. For me I can’t wait until it’s over.”
Like the father and son from the Bay state I, too, share their passion for early copper, political memorabilia and related Ephemera. When I can afford to I love to pick up a few well-worn and historic Colonial coppers. I relish those well circulated ones.
The first Colonial coin in my personal collection was part of a thrilling summer adventure. I was 12 and my family was picnicking in Stratham, New Hampshire, in late July. After lunching on charcoal grilled burgers and mom’s aromatic apple pie, my two brothers and I took a walk around and beyond the picnic grounds and ventured off into the surrounding woods. I recall that the mosquitoes were thick and all three of us were busy swatting at the blighters when we literally and figuratively stumbled upon what appeared to be part of an old foundation. The irregular stones were overrun by brush and bramble yet you could still make out the rudimentary floor plan. We scoped out what we could and then went back to tell mom and dad what we had found. Dad went to the car and opened the trunk and pulled out a small garden shovel, pry bar, hammer, a small bucket and a few pairs of work gloves.
We all returned to the site. Dad and I cleared out the brush on the front while my two brothers cleared a path in the rear. Dad took out the small shovel and soon unearthed a few medicine bottles and found what appeared to be a child’s spoon. My brothers found a few large solid colored glass marbles next to the chimney. I felt a bit left out so dad gave me the shovel and suggested I dig around in the front near what would have been the entry. As I was digging I found beetles, spiders and after about 15 minutes and a hole which was nearly knee deep I found a coin! It was nearly the size of a half dollar but brown. I clung to my treasure as I took it over to my parents. Dad took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the coin off. Still couldn’t see much. I began to wipe it with my t-shirt and I could make out a shield and surrounding it read E Pluribus Unum.
I put the coin in my pocket and when we got home I gave her a long overdue bath in the sink; Ivory soap and my old toothbrush removed most of the dirt and residue. After I toweled her dry the outline of a horse and plow came into view and the date 1788 emerged! I was thrilled! I knew that I had seen that coin in my Red Book and I quickly retrieved my outdated volume from 1965 and leafed through the pages and on page 34 there it was: the 1788 New Jersey Cent, horse’s head facing right, valued in good at $7.50 and fine at $17.50! The obverse, though fully complete, was well-worn yet the reverse, the shield and the motto were quite strong. When I gave the news to my mom and dad they congratulated me and asked me if I was going to sell it. I quickly responded no way. I still have that lovely New Jersey copper in my collection. I viewed it again today and held her in my hands and the magic of that summer outing with the family vividly came back to life.
As 2016 rapidly comes to a close, buy a Red Book. Visit the NGC website and explore the wonderful narrative and images. Give tangible history a place on your holiday gift list. Knowledge is your primary ally in this hobby. Share insights and experiences with the seasoned collector or soon to be numismatist in your family or friend. It will be the beginning of a lifelong adventure and hobby where history, collectibility and enjoyment never grow old.
Until next time, happy collecting!
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Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst having previously served for many years as an analyst and writer for another major price guide. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.
Early American Copper Coins Currently Available on eBay