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Numismatic Housekeeping: Winter Edition

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek….
The end of the Mayan Long Count is upon us. So you know what that means… Time for another round of numismatic housekeeping! We like to revisit our work from time to time and keep it up to date with new information. And making connections between the hobby and the world at-large is one of our primary goals.

For this edition, we check back in on Congress, respond to CladKing’s comments regarding our assessment of common-date gold, and offer up one more YouTube video that‘s… hilariously bad™. We also head to the movies to catch Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

Updates from the 112th Congress

(Article Published Oct. 2, 2012)

Of the four bills in our “Likely” category, two have been signed by the president and a third is sitting on his desk.

The Lions Clubs International Century of Service Commemorative Coin Act (H.R. 2139) passed on Oct. 5, 2012, not long after the original article was published. This was par for the course. We wrote the first version of the article in late July, but quickly found the pace of legislation to be faster than we thought it would be. A bill with 20 co-sponsors one day would have 200 the next. Commemoratives that were going nowhere all of a sudden had traction. And the National Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative, the most radical design of the bunch – and surely an easy target for the sound money crowd – was the first coin to get signed (August 3rd) after we submitted the piece.

The Lions Clubs Commemorative had 293 co-sponsors in the House at the time of signing. You’ll start seeing these coins come 2017.

The Mark Twain Commemorative Coin Act (H.R. 2453) became law on December 4, 2012, with a final tally of 298 co-sponsors. Look for silver dollars and $5 gold varieties come January 1, 2016.

The March of Dimes Commemorative Coin Act (H.R. 3187, or S. 1935) passed the Senate on December 10th. It awaits the president’s signature, and will undoubtedly get it. Production of this commemorative would start January 1, 2015, and not 2014 as we originally said.

Two of the coins in our “Long Shot” category saw slight movement, which we assume means enactment is a little more likely. The National Park Service 100th Anniversary Commemorative (H.R. 5840) has a total of 65 co-sponsors, and the Marine Corps Aviation Centennial Commemorative (H.R. 1621) now has 61.

There’s even a new proposal before Congress. The Korean Immigration Commemorative Coin Act (H.R. 6571) was introduced to the House on October 12th. It’s actually a reintroduction of H.R. 1717 from the 109th Congress (2005), which itself was a reintroduction of bills from 2003 and 2002. Those bills died in committee. This time around, the bill calls for the issuance of $5 gold and $1 silver coins. All previous versions authorized silver dollars only.

With such a track record, it might be safe to label this a long shot. Still, persistence counts in the world of politics, and we’ve been wrong before.

But before we leave the subject, we’d like to point you directly to the source. is a wonderful clearinghouse for all sorts of information on current and recent legislation. We encourage you to visit and look around, not only for coin-related news but also for any issue that concerns you. Democracy doesn‘t work if you‘re not paying attention, and makes it easy to know what Congress is up to.

The Rising “Cost” of Bullion

(Article Published Oct. 29, 2012)

There are 1,700[1] reasons why gold bullion prices have doomed common-date, common-grade gold coins. And if pricing trends continue, the number of reasons is bound to increase. I spent quite a bit of time trying to sell the 1903 Liberty $5 coin that I got by trading up, first taking it to local coin shops and finally shopping it around to various dealers at the 2012 Whitman Expo in Baltimore.

The offers I got ranged from $500 to $570 for an attractive PCGS-graded MS-63. One dealer didn’t even make an offer, saying that all he could give for it was melt and he didn’t want to insult me.

The melt value of the coin is $423 with gold at $1751 an ounce. PCGS has the price at $1,000 in MS-63, but believe me, you won’t get anywhere near that on the market, and the last three public auctions they list on CoinFacts have the coin selling at $690, $588, and $748. MS-64 or better is a different story. There are just 63 coins holdered, and those trade infrequently.

Still, some people disagreed with us. Our friend CladKing  felt that there’s still some benefit to buying the best gold coins for the money, because if the price of bullion goes down, then numismatic value comes back into play and keeps you from losing all of your investment[2]. While we agree that having the best coins for the money is the right idea, we see no model where a gold coin’s numismatic value will hold back the tide if bullion prices drop substantially.

The key to numismatic value is collector activity, and based on the prices we see being paid for common-date classic gold and what these coins generate at auction, we continue to believe that the market just isn’t big enough to prop them up. We feel that current price guide listings are way off and misleading.

Then again, what price guide could reflect, in a timely manner, the fluctuations in the price of gold?

CladKing goes on to say something that I hear all throughout the hobby: better values exist for modern foreign gold (even classic foreign gold if you know which series to look for). Many of these coins have low mintages as well, but due to a lack of widespread knowledge about them in the United States, competition for these coins is light.[3]
Not Quite What I Was Hoping for

Hubert and I like books on numismatics (to say the least), and especially old ones. So, like always, I was excited to find another classic – The American Numismatic Association’s Dictionary of Numismatic Terms, 2nd Edition (1970) – on eBay.  That is, until it actually arrived, and I discovered that it was a 20-page pamphlet masquerading as a book. The $1.00 price on the cover should have been a dead giveaway.

(Other websites do call it a pamphlet, so in that regard – mea culpa)

Still, we’re continuously confused and disappointed by what passes for a “basic” numismatic dictionary. Time and time again, they seem to be an unbalanced mix of the germane and the obscure, while at the same time omitting terms that are arguably fundamental to an understanding of the hobby.

For example:

Our favorite term in the ANA‘s dictionary? Bungtown (for obvious reasons). Noticeably absent?: luster (ouch!).

Which makes us wonder: what topics should a good, solid beginner’s numismatic dictionary cover? If anyone has any recommendations out there, we‘re all ears.

Coin Videos Posted to YouTube, Hilarity Ensues

(Article Published Oct. 15, 2012)

One of the hardest pieces for us to write this year was Five Hilariously Bad YouTube Coin Videos. We kicked it around for almost two months, which is way too long to devote to such a topic. But we finally churned it out, and it seems that we weren’t the only ones thinking about going there. The Numismatic Bibliomania Society’s Wayne Homren, editor of the E-Sylum e-Newsletter, mentioned it in the October 21 issue, saying “That’s something I’ve wanted to write for some time but could never bring myself to waste the time necessary.”[4]

Well Mr. Homren, here’s to wasting more time:

Spouse Nagging You About Your Collecting? – Coinpicker

A coin video with no coins? That’s what we have here when YouTube user Coinpicker has a few minutes to spare while waiting to pick his kids up from school. You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you are having a heart-to-heart talk with yourself in the front seat of your car about how coin collecting is ruining your marriage and your family’s finances. Even worse when you film it and post it to YouTube.

Coinpicker’s typical fare has him looking over coin purchases (fair enough), and they’re not altogether bad, but this video screams for intervention.

Numismatic Gaffe in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln

As depicted in the film, in the days before the House votes to ratify the 13th Amendment, William Bilbo, one of three men Secretary of State Seward hired to corral much-needed Democratic support, says that in order not to reveal that they’re working on behalf of the President, they were told not to use fifty cent pieces because they bear his likeness. The first fifty cent coin to feature Abraham Lincoln was a commemorative coin honoring Illinois. It wasn’t minted until 1918.

The filmmakers, however, were probably referring to fractional currency; but the fifty cent note didn’t feature Lincoln until the fourth series in 1869.

Maybe you care about this kind of thing, maybe you don‘t – but we thought we‘d share. The car in the background doesn’t ruin The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) for us, though we smile every time we see it (skip to about 1:27:30, by the way).


American Numismatic Association, The Dictionary of Numismatic Terms, 2nd Edition. Colorado Springs: American Numismatic Association, 1970. Print.



The Boy Scouts Commemorative dollar (2010) celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the Boy Scouts. Curiously, however, one of the three figures on the obverse is a girl. Do you know why? She is a Venturer, a young adult member of the Boy Scouts of America’s co-ed Venturing program, which developed as an outgrowth of the Boy Scouts’ Explorers program. The Venturing program accepts young men and women, ages 14 through 21, and prepares them to become “responsible and caring adults“[5].

In a Single Bound! (Almost): When Superman sprang to life in Action Comics #1 (June, 1938), the cost of a comic was 10 cents (one silver Winged Liberty dime). Amazingly, this price held for 24 years until the economics of comic book production dictated an increase. So, in late 1961, DC and Marvel comics raised the price two pennies to twelve cents (a silver Roosevelt dime and two Lincoln Memorial cents). This lasted until the end of the decade, when another price increase put the cost for a comic book at 15 cents (a clad Roosevelt dime and Jefferson nickel). Current cost of a new issue of Superman? $3.99.

Gone so soon?: Congress, seeking to maintain the continuity of American coin design, passed the Law of September 26, 1890, prohibiting changes to a denomination’s design without Congressional action unless the designs were more than 25 years old. The Franklin half dollar is one of a handful of coins that were changed before the statutory 25-year window. Can you name any others?



Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker have been contributing authors on CoinWeek since 2012. They also wrote the monthly "Market Whimsy" column and various feature articles for The Numismatist and the book 100 Greatest Modern World Coins (2020) for Whitman Publishing.

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  1. It never fails to amaze me how controversial that female Venturer on the Boy Scouts coin is. It’s almost impossible to find any online discussion of that coin or the upcoming Girl Scouts coin without some male collector attacking the presence of the Venturer. Remember also that females trying to establish their own scouting group marched to help create the Boy Scouts. Can’t we all just get along?

  2. I think that the “outcry” over the venturer is the kind of knee-jerk non-thinking criticism people come up with when they have nothing of substance to talk about. Sure, it’s easy to perpetuate the culture wars and say, “see- even the Boy Scouts have become PC” and get all outraged about it.

    I, for one, do not see the Girl Scouts coin being all that popular with the numismatic crowd- but then again, most modern commemoratives are little more than stores of bullion- and those that rise above that fall into two categories- a) dealer inflated or b) popular and desired.

    • Well, hold on there. I guess the coin presents the BSA with a PR opportunity… but I wonder how much impact it would have on the American public. Maybe it’s some incredibly forward-thinking PR, so future archaeologists don’t think the Boy Scouts were a backwards, bigoted organization? Seriously though, the coin is awfully PC, but then do any really great designs stand a chance of showing up on gov’t issue? The reverse is predictable in the extreme and if it weren’t for the salute the obverse could represent any number of organizations.


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