By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for CoinWeek.com ……
Let’s face it – the year 2016 kept the news media industry busy. International terrorism, the mosquito-borne Zika virus, and a string of high-profile celebrity deaths stole the headlines in 2016. Meanwhile, a hotly contested presidential election in the United States pitted former First Lady and senator Hillary Rodham Clinton against real estate mogul Donald Trump, the latter becoming our nation’s 45th commander-in-chief. Meanwhile, Britons in the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to exit the European Union, and athletes from around the world came together in peace to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics, which were held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The year in coins was equally eclectic, with many significant events unfolding in all areas of the numismatic realm, including several notable auctions and new United States Mint gold commemorative coins honoring three classic American coins. Further keeping collectors on their toes was the indecisive bullion market, which has affected the prices of countless classic silver and gold coins.
Here’s a look at the numismatic year that was: 2016.
Precious Metals Prices & Bullion Sales
The bullion price roller coaster screamed full tilt throughout 2016. Historically, the bullion market has been a secondary player in the course of numismatics. But as silver and gold prices have experienced greater highs and lows over a long course of time, bullion market updates have become increasingly important to collectors who buy silver and gold coins.
The year kicked off with gold trading at US$1,060.54 per ounce using the London opening price, and by July 8 reached the top of a relatively steady march upward toward $1,370. Gold prices bounced between the $1,300 and $1,365 marks for the rest of the summer before taking a jaunt downward well into the lower $1,100’s in the early winter following the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates 0.25 percent for only the second time in a decade. Silver, meanwhile opened the year at $13.85 per ounce, dipping to $13.75 on January 12 before rebounding to $20.62 on August 2; silver prices settled below $17 before the end of the year.
Both silver and gold reacted sharply to the U.S. presidential election results, which kept much of America awake well into the evening of November 8. Virtually all pundits and pollsters predicted Clinton would win the election by a landslide. Yet, in a stunning late-night twist, Trump pulled ahead with wins in states that had not voted for a Republican president since the 1980s.
Trump’s surprise win, which roiled some nerves overseas, took bullion prices on a wild 10-hour ride during the late evening, with gold jumping at one point almost 5% to $1,337.40 as results from battleground states started pointing to a Trump win. The stock market also responded sharply on Election Night, dropping 750 points for a short period during the evening. By the close of November 9, gold had resettled to below $1,280, roughly the closing price just before election results started pouring in on the previous day.
Market speculators invested heavily in bullion coins throughout the year, bringing total sales of 2016-dated American Silver Eagles to more than 37.7 million before Christmas and the cumulative sales of Gold American Eagles to nearly 2 million during that same period.
Even diehard coin collectors embraced bullion-based products, including proof gold and silver American Eagles, world gold and silver .9999-fine coins, and private-issue rounds.
U.S. Mint Products
The United States Mint stayed busy throughout 2016, juggling the releases of several numismatic products, including the National Park Service Centennial and Mark Twain commemorative coin programs, 2016 Liberty Centennial gold coins, the last Presidential $1 coins, and more America the Beautiful quarters, among other releases.
The most highly anticipated coin initiatives of these were the three-piece 2016 Liberty Centennial .9999-fine 24-karat gold coins, which faithfully replicate the three circulating silver coins – the dime, quarter, and half dollar – that were redesigned in 1916. These include the Winged Liberty Head (“Mercury”) dime and Walking Liberty half dollar designs by Adolph A. Weinman and the Standing Liberty quarter motif by Hermon A. MacNeil. The classic dime, quarter, and half dollar designs, which originated during the great “coinage renaissance” inspired by President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1904 call for more beautiful U.S. coinage, are replicated–with only minor modifications–on the one-tenth-, quarter-, and half-ounce gold coins, respectively.
Buyers quickly snapped up the 2016 Gold Mercury dime, which the Mint offered to the public for $205 beginning at 12 Noon Eastern on April 21. The coin was on back order status within 15 minutes and by April 24 had sold 122,510 pieces out of an entire mintage of 125,000 coins.
The pricier Standing Liberty quarter and Walking Liberty half dollar gold coins didn’t inspire nearly as much fervor among buyers. As of late November, the Standing Liberty quarter, which was released on September 8 with an issue price of $485 and a total mintage of 100,000, has sold less than 85,000 coins. Meanwhile, the Walking Liberty half dollar was released on November 17 for $865. On its first day of release, the Walking Liberty half dollar gold coin sold 43,728 pieces, or 62 percent of its 70,000-unit mintage. Despite promising first-day sales figures, less than 60,000 were sold by mid-December.
The 30th Anniversary American Silver Eagle Proof coin was released on September 16. Notably, 2016 Proof silver eagles feature edge lettering with the inscription 30th ANNIVERSARY and are the first American Silver Eagles not to carry edge reeding. These coins, produced with no mintage limits, were issued for $53.95.
Also keeping collectors busy were two U.S. Mint commemorative coin programs. These include the Mark Twain silver dollar and $5 gold coin as well as the National Park Service centennial commemorative coins, which entail a clad half dollar, a silver dollar, and a $5 gold coin. The America the Beautiful quarters program continued into its seventh year, honoring Shawnee National Park in Illinois, the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky, West Virginia’s Harpers Ferry, Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota, and Fort Moultrie in South Carolina.
While the America the Beautiful Quarters maintain their stride around the midway point for that series, the Presidential $1 coin program concluded with three final issues, including dollar coins honoring Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan. The series, commemorating deceased former U.S. presidents, launched in 2007 with the George Washington dollar and ended with the Reagan dollar. $10 gold coins were released on the same intervals as the dollar coins depicting the First Spouses of each dollar coin honoree. The Nancy Reagan $10 gold coin, released on July 1, was the final First Spouse gold coin and was launched only weeks after the former first lady passed away on March 6, 2016.
Collectors and other members of the public who wanted to try their hands at designing U.S. coins had their chance at least twice in 2016. On February 29, the Mint opened a public competition seeking designs for its 2018 World War I American Veterans Centennial silver dollar. Five months later, on August 1, the Mint opened a similar design contest for its 2018 Breast Cancer Awareness series.
A lengthy court battle centering on the only 1974-D aluminum Lincoln cent known to exist ended on March 17, 2016. That’s when the coin’s owner, real estate agent Randall Lawrence, and La Jolla, California coin dealer Michael McConnell settled a lawsuit by surrendering the coin to the U.S. Mint.
The numismatic saga began unfolding in January 2014, when Lawrence discovered the coin, which belonged to Lawrence’s father, Harry Edmond Lawrence. The elder Lawrence served as a deputy superintendent at the Denver Mint and retired in 1974. The younger Lawrence claims the coin was given to his dad by Mint authorities as a retirement gift. The coin’s heir and McConnell planned to bring the coin, worth an estimated $250,000-plus, on a nationwide tour before selling it at the 2014 Heritage auction at the Central States Numismatic Society (CSNS) show. Lawrence and McConnell planned to split the profits.
Needless to say, that didn’t pan out.
The U.S. Mint stepped in, claiming the coin was government property never authorized for official production or distribution. The 1974-D cent was subsequently withdrawn from the auction and became the shining star of a headlining legal drama. The two-year-long court battle ended when McConnell and Lawrence relented their possession of the coin, which U.S. Mint Principal Deputy Director Rhett Jeppson says is “an important Mint heritage asset” and would be displayed before the public at some point. “This agreement is not only good for the integrity of the coin-collecting hobby, but for the integrity of the government property and rule of law,” said Jeppson in the days following the decision. Whether the 1974-D aluminum cent will be exhibited in Denver, Washington, D.C., or elsewhere is not presently known.
While the 1974-D aluminum cent saga appears to be over, an even lengthier numismatic drama continued in the nation’s courtrooms throughout 2016, and this one concerns a far more notorious subject: the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle. Actually, it involves 10 of them.
The family of Great Depression-era Philadelphia jeweler Isreal Switt says that 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagles they inherited are legally theirs. Joan Switt Langbord, who claimed ownership of the coins, voluntarily handed them to the Secret Service in 2004. They were authenticated by the United States Mint in 2005. The family, which says Switt acquired the coins during a short period of time in March 1933 when one could have legally obtained the coins, is fighting government officials who insist the 1933 double eagles were never legally issued and are government property.
A series of alternating appeals hinging on legal technicalities landed the Langbords and opposing United States attorneys in a 13-judge en banc Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in October 2015 and ruled on August 1, 2016 that the coins belong to the United States government. The Langbords now vow to appeal the case before the Supreme Court.
Coin Shows & Auction Results
Bidding was fervent at the Heritage Auctions event held in conjunction with the Florida United Numismatists (FUN) Annual Convention in Tampa, Florida. The auction, spanning January 6-11, kicked the year off with a landmark, seven-figure transaction. A Proof-66 1894-S Barber Dime certified by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and stickered by the Certified Acceptance Corporation (CAC) topped sales at the event, selling for $1,997,500 USD, including a 17.5 percent buyer’s premium.
Also trading hands at the show were a PCGS-graded AU-55 1804 Capped Bust 13 Stars Reverse quarter eagle that hammered at $505,250 and a 1943 bronze Lincoln cent graded AU-58 by PCGS, which traded hand for $305,500.
The FUN show drew large crowds at the Tampa Convention Center, which, according to show chair Cindy Wibker, welcomed some 10,700 people, including 2,000 dealers. The 2016 FUN convention in Tampa saw some of the best attendance figures of any coin show in the country in recent times.
The 77th Annual Central States Numismatic Society (CSNS) convention was held at the Schaumburg Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center from April 27-30. There were nearly 300 dealer booths and some 750 dealers on hand. All told, more than 3,500 individuals were on the bourse over the event’s four days.
“We’ve seen the number of dealer booths increase by 30 since moving to the Schaumburg Convention Center,” says Central States Numismatic Society General Chairman Kevin Foley. “We’re now at floor capacity in the convention center.”
Heritage’s CSNS coin auction saw several high-profile classics cross the block, including a 1792 disme graded AU-50 by PCGS, which commanded a princely $998,750. A pewter CURRENCY Continental Dollar with a PCGS grade of MS-65 was bought for $235,000, and an octagonal 1915-S $50 gold Panama-Pacific grading MS-65 in a PCGS slab sold for $205,625.
The American Numismatic Association’s (ANA) National Money Show and World’s Fair of Money attracted collectors and dealers throughout the United States.
The National Money Show, held at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas brought 2,585 people over the three-day event held from March 3-5. Heritage Auctions brought in more than $8 million during the show, with an 1802 Narrow Date Draped Bust silver dollar graded MS-64 by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation realizing $58,892.18, representing the sale’s highest-priced lot.
The World’s Fair of Money, held in Anaheim, California, was the ANA’s larger draw for the year, luring a total of 8,192 people. A 1792 Birch Cent, Judd-5, Pollock-6 variety graded MS-61 Brown by NGC drummed up the top bid of the sale at $517,000. Also drawing high bids was a 1907 Rolled Rim Indian Head $10 Eagle with an NGC grade of MS-66+, which took $346,625. Also delighting buyers was an NGC-graded MS-65 1652 Oak Tree Shilling, which realized $117,500.
While Heritage Auctions serves as the official auctioneer for several major coin shows, Stack’s Bowers Galleries also made headlines. The California-based auction firm hosted the third and fourth installments of the historic D. Brent Pogue Collection auction series, which began in May 2015. Leading the third sale, held in New York City at Sotheby’s headquarters on February 9, was a PCGS-certified Garrett specimen 1793 Chain cent graded Red-Brown MS-65 that sold for $998,750. An extremely rare, PCGS-graded MS-65 1815 Capped Bust half eagle crossed the block for $822,500.
The fourth installment of the Pogue sale was also held at Sotheby’s, taking place on May 24. The auction inspired headlines not so much for what did sell there, but what didn’t. Grading Proof 68, the Sultan of Muscat-Watters-Brand-Childs 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar, the finest-known example, failed to sell after Stack’s Bowers reported a bid totaling $10,575,000, including 17.5% percent buyer’s fee – a figure that would have made the coin the most expensive ever sold at auction. Reportedly, the reserve was not met and the bid was subsequently passed.
Also going back home that evening was the 1822 Capped Bust half eagle. The only example in private hands (the remaining two are located at the Smithsonian), the 1822 half eagle last hit the auction block a generation ago, in 1982. Back then, it sold for $687,500 as a Very Fine-30 specimen but now resides in a PCGS slab with the grade of AU-50. The coin was insured for $8 million, but none of the bidders met the consignor’s reserve price. Like its hallmark evening counterpart, the 1804 Draped Bust dollar, the 1822 half eagle was a “pass” that evening following a reported phone bid of $7.29 million bid that, if realized, would’ve made it one of the most expensive gold coins in the world.
Paper currency fared well at the 2016 Memphis International Paper Money Show, which drew crowds to Cook Convention Center from June 2-5.
“It was a sellout for the bourse,” said event organizer Lyn Knight in a 2016 CoinWeek interview. “Our attendance was up from 2015, and the auction saw a larger amount of international participation versus last year.”
Lyn Knight Auctions ran the event’s sale, which was led by a Series 1863 FR 167A $100 grading Choice AU-55 Premium Quality Paper for $270,250. A Series 1861 FR $20 bill that sold for $117,500 was another Civil War-era piece that stole the spotlight.
In other paper currency news, a growing social movement known as Women on 20s claimed victory in April when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew vowed to replace the portrait of President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with that of slavery abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Emboldened by enthusiastic support in an online petition, Women on 20s sought to remove Jackson because of his association with the Indian Removal policies of the 1830s that pushed thousands of Native Americans west of the Mississippi River in a forced migration known as the Trail of Tears. Lew also promised women associated with the suffragette movement and civil rights would appear in vignettes on the reverses of the $5 and $10 bills, which will still maintain obverse portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton, respectively.
Perhaps following in the footsteps of the United States, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in March that his nation will begin featuring non-royal women on paper currency beginning in 2018. The design was chosen in an online poll, and in early December the Bank of Canada announced Canadian civil rights leader Viola Desmond would appear on the $10 bill beginning sometime in late 2018.
While dead presidents continue their term on U.S. paper currency, President-Elect Trump, during his presidential candidacy early in 2016, appeared on private-issue rounds that proved popular with his campaign supporters. So-called “Trump Dollar” rounds, issued by the private minting firm known as Congressional Mint, were unveiled at Trump Tower in New York City on April 27. The rounds were designed by Bernard von NotHaus, who earlier found himself trumped by the U.S. government when he was found guilty in 2011 of “making, possessing, and selling his own currency” with his private-issue gold and silver Liberty Dollars.
Trump Dollars were issued as one-ounce bullion rounds consisting of copper, silver and gold, bearing “face values” of $5, $25, and $2,000, respectively. The coins, which are not legal tender, saw increased popularity after the election and were suspended from sale after funding channels failed to keep up with the demand.
While von Nothaus drummed up business with his Trump Dollar rounds, an error-variety of legal-tender gold bullion coins piqued the interest of collectors, who early in 2016 discovered a high-relief version of the one-ounce 2016 Gold American Eagle. Tom Jurkowsky of the United States Mint estimated as many as 63,000 specimens may have been struck.
“Consider the anomaly to be a variant and not an error,” he said.
In May, the Royal Mint of Belgium featured the young face of a two-year-old who went missing in 1996 and remains unfound today. The circulating 2 Euro commemorative coin was issued on May 25, International Children’s Day, as part of the Coins of Hope program. The missing child coin has a two-fold mission: to help bring home Liam Vanden Branden, the young boy featured on the coin, and to symbolically honor all children who are missing.
South Korea, meanwhile, announced plans to abolish circulating coins altogether by 2020. The Asian nation, which has a growing elderly population, has an audacious plan to become a “coinless society” over the next few years and implement a fully electronic monetary system.
The long-running United States Mint Mutilated Coin Redemption Program was on hiatus during 2016 due to a major international controversy involving Wealthy Max Limited. The Chinese-based firm was accused of submitting millions of counterfeit coins for redemption benefits amounting to $20 per pound, or the scrap metal value of the mutilated coins.
Wealthy Max claims the coins, which include 13 tons of dimes and quarters dated between 1965 and 2013, were recovered from cars being shipped from the United States to China for scrapping. However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lakshmi Srinivasan Herman contends the claim is malarkey.
“There would have to be approximately $900 in coins in every vehicle ever exported to China as scrap metal in order to account for the total amount of waste coins imported from China for redemption,” he said.
United States officials are concerned about certain unusual trace elements, such as silicone, that were found within the coins. Wealthy Max continues to fight the U.S. government for the $5.5 million it says that they are owed for coins that were seized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and officials from other Federal offices over the past few years. As the courtroom battle waged on throughout 2016, the American public waits for United States Mint officials to reinstitute the redemption program that has been in place since 1911.
They say deaths occur in threes, and the numismatic community lost three luminaries who helped shape the hobby in modern times. Among them was Chester “Chet” Krause, who died on June 25, 2016 at the age of 92. Krause was 28 years old when he founded Numismatic News in 1952.
From a one-page circular grew a hobby publishing giant in Iola, Wisconsin, known as Krause Publications. Hundreds of titles have been published under Krause Publications, including Coins and World Coin News magazines, the popular annual periodical known as the Standard Catalog of World Coins, and U.S. Coin Digest. Krause Publications also offers titles covering other hobby pursuits, including antique cars, dolls, records, and even collectible LEGO Minifigure toys.
Through the various coin publications they released over the years, Krause and his longtime colleague Clifford Mishler instituted the use of the now widely used Krause-Mishler numbers, shorthanded as KM numbers, to standardize the cataloging of coin issues. Krause’s legacy also includes the restoration of mintmarks on U.S. coins, which he helped fight for on the behalf of fellow numismatists after the Mint removed mintmarks in 1965 in an attempt to suppress coin collecting activities following a coin shortage in the early 1960s caused by silver hoarders. 
Walter Perschke, a coin dealer who served as a hobby expert and was perhaps best known for making international headlines when he bought the finest-known 1787 Brasher Doubloon in 1979 for the world-record price of $430,000, died on May 20 at the age of 77.
“I felt that of any American coin, it probably has the most romans and the most enthusiastic interest among collectors,” said Perschke during a 1987 Chicago Sun-Times interview. “It had the history. It had the pizzazz. It had marketability.”
Eugene Herr Gardner became one of the most celebrated coin collectors of all time when he amassed his $52-million assemblage of more than 3,000 classic United States coins, with an emphasis on Bust and Seated Liberty coinage. Many of the coins in his collection were pedigreed to the likes of Louis E. Eliasberg, Eric P. Newman, and Jimmy Hayes. Six years before dying at the age of 80 on July 16, Gardner learned he had multiple myeloma. Over 2014 and ’15, he sold a collection through Heritage Auctions that included a PCGS-graded MS-66 1796 Draped Bust dime that sold on June 23, 2014 for $881,250 and a business-strike Seated Liberty half dollar collection Heritage Auctions once called the “all-time greatest.”
Banquets & Forums
The American Numismatic Society (ANS) held an annual dinner gala in New York City on January 7 at the Waldorf-Astoria on Park Avenue. Fortune magazine aptly called the lavish event the “Golden Globes” of numismatics. The fundraiser, for which tickets cost $600, drew top numismatic luminaries, including Dave Bowers and Harvey Stack. It was the last ANS gala held at the iconic Waldorf-Astoria, which was soon closing for its conversion to condominiums.
CoinWeek won a record nine Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) awards during the organization’s annual NLG Bash, held in Anaheim, California on August 11 during the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money. CoinWeek won awards in diverse prize categories, including Best Online News Website, Best Online Spot News Story, Best Website Coin Article, Best Web Site Column, Best All-Around Portfolio, Best Non-Broadcast Audio Report, Best Non-Commercial Video, and the James L. Miller Memorial Award.
The future of coin collecting was the focus of a major daylong forum held at the United States Mint on October 13. The event was attended by lead personnel from the United States Mint and several major players in the hobby, including CoinWeek editor Charles Morgan. In all more than 80 people took part in presentations, group surveys, and other initiatives aimed at shoring up the collector base and reinvigorating a love for the hobby in the general public and specifically among the nation’s youth.
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With oscillating bullion prices, a plethora of U.S. and world mint commemorative issues, and a stream of headlines from the numismatic auction scene and other areas of the hobby, 2016 is sure to be remembered as a busy year in the numismatic world. 2017 could prove just as eventful, with the 225th anniversary of the United States Mint, new U.S. commemoratives series, and ever-increasing offerings from the world’s various mints on tap for the new year.
It should be an exciting period for coin collectors, so stay tuned.
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