By Louis Golino, special to CoinWeek …..
Harry “Hernando” Bodine of Florida inherited from his late father both his coin collection and his love of numismatics, which began when Harry was a teenager. His father instilled in him the importance of completing a coin series and exposed him early on to what would become his favorite coins and the series that would become his specialty – the Mexican Libertad issued in silver since 1982 and in gold since 1981.
I recently had a conversation with Harry – whom I have known for several years mainly as a result of our shared interest in these coins – on his journey from collector of to dealer in Libertads, in which he shared many insightful tips for collectors of this ever-popular modern coin series that another Libertad collector I know says today has an “almost cult-like following” with demand continuing to outstrip supply.
The appeal of Libertad coins for Harry derives not just from the Libertad motif itself – the widely admired Angel of Independence, or Winged Liberty as collectors call it, on the coin’s reverse that is based on the gilded statue in Mexico City that rests at the top of the pilar-shaped monument to the country’s independence from Spain.
It also comes from his own interest and that of his wife in angels and especially in Jophiel – the angel or archangel of beauty, wisdom, and understanding that is found in Anglican and Episcopalian traditions and in other religions. And their interest in angels is connected to Harry’s belief in the importance of strong female role models.
Harry also enjoys coins with unicorn motifs, including those from the Royal Mint’s very successful Queen’s Beasts series issued from 2016 to 2021. He noted that he is also very interested to see the new UK coins with the recently revealed effigy of King Charles III and plans to collect the Tudor Beast coins that debuted last year and are the successor to the Queen’s Beasts.
Before his father passed away in 2000, Harry made what for many would be the discovery of a lifetime when he was going through his father’s collection of Libertads. In the space in the Libertad album for the 1999 1oz silver coin his father obtained for $27 was not a regular example of that issue but instead a very rare Libertad mule. Upon further research, he found that the coin was the ninth-known example of a mule that combined the reverse of a 1999 coin with the new obverse design that would be introduced the following year. Eventually, it was graded by NGC, which gave it an MS66 grade, consigned to Heritage Auctions and sold for an impressive $2,650. The first example of that coin sold in 2015 for $7,000.
One would think that a find like that would be impossible to follow with another, but Harry managed to discover a second major error this year. He found a struck-through example of the key date 1998 1oz Libertad, which NGC gave a grade of MS67, and which is the only known error of this type for that issue. Struck throughs, as NGC explains, are “caused when tiny pieces of dust or other nearly microscopic particles are inadvertently struck into a coin.”
He paid several hundred dollars for the coin and sold it on eBay in October for $3,850. With this amazing track record, Harry likes to call himself the “Indiana Jones” of Libertad specialists. He adds that his ability to find coins like those errors might have something to do with the fact that he is colorblind and perhaps sees what others do not.
Libertads: Tips for Collectors
Asked how he made the shift from Libertad collector and specialist to a dealer in these coins, Harry said it all began by “developing a network with collectors.” In the beginning, it was not so much the desire to sell the coins that interested him but rather his role as an advisor for his wife, who is his business partner in Hernando Legacy Coins.
His focus within the partnership is mainly to source quality examples of the coins, which include all types of Libertads beyond the widely collected one-ounce Mint State coins such as Proofs, fractionals, gold, etc. He also worked with individual collectors to improve their NGC Registry rankings.
In Harry’s experience, collectors looking for the best quality examples of Libertads, especially of the rarer dates and issues, should consider sellers in Germany, which has been his main source for such coins over the years. German collectors are known for their attention to detail and quality, which is why bullion Libertads sold through mail-order companies have long been housed in their own capsules even though they are sold in tubes by the mint.
The really nice coins are getting much harder to find, Harry noted, but with effort, they can still be found. And keep in mind that many of those German sellers do not sell on eBay.
Our discussion then turned to the Mexican Mint and recent unconfirmed reports that this will be the final year for the silver Reverse Proof coin program that began in 2015 with the one-ounce coin of that type and has since expanded to include annual offerings in 1-,2-, and 5oz sizes.
The Mexican Mint Clarifies
But when I contacted a representative of the Banco de México that oversees the Mexican Mint, Pamela Elizalde, she stated that that is not correct: “We inform you that the silver Reverse Proof coins were produced in 2022 and will continue to be produced.”
Asked if she could provide any information on possible 40th anniversary Libertad coins or sets, she said: “On another hand, we inform you that Banco de México will not be releasing special coins or set of the Anniversary of the silver Libertad, there will be a silver Bar, but Banco de México only sold the coins to produce them.”
Those 40th anniversary coin and bar sets are already being sold by some world coin dealers.
As for another Libertad type, the gold coins, Harry noted that buyers are likely to find better prices for them in Germany than from U.S. sellers.
He added that last year there was a real frenzy to obtain the coins because there were rumors the mintages would be very low, likely because of the impact of COVID-19 on mint production, which drove prices up. But this year, things are very different. With the economy around the world facing major pressures from inflation to rising interest rates and sluggish growth, there are fewer buyers with the means to purchase the gold coins.
He expects mintages for 2022–which, based on past practice, should be made available toward the end of the year–to be very low across the board due to the ongoing shortage of silver planchets that mints around the world continue to face.
Another issue this year, which surprised Harry since he has not seen it in recent years, is that something appears to be causing some of this year’s coins to have environmental damage to them, including the presence of milk spots. I, myself, have recently noticed several eBay sellers offering examples of silver Reverse Proof coins that have spots, which I had not seen before.
Reflecting on the Libertad market today, Harry concluded that things have “reached a fever pitch.” He attributes this to the rise of the middle class in Mexico and to what he calls “the slow dissolution of the border between the U.S. and Mexico,” as buyers in the U.S. travel back and forth to Mexico to obtain Libertads to sell. Harry ended with a very interesting prediction, which is that “coinage from most Latin American countries is cheap now, but that could be the next horizon for world coins in the U.S. market.”
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