First Read, a continuing series of essays about classic and contemporary works of numismatic literature…
By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek….
In this edition of First Read, we take a look at two self-published works in the field of modern numismatics.
Photographs of Thomas Jefferson Nickels: Die Varieties and Minting Errors by Richard Bousquet
Richard Bousquet has dedicated more than 60 years of his life to collecting and studying Jefferson nickels–a seemingly straightforward series. Scratch under the surface, however, and it reveals itself as one of the modern era’s more challenging numismatic undertakings.
Bousquet’s 107-page self-published book Photographs of Thomas Jefferson Nickels: Die Varieties and Minting Errors sets out to provide a roadmap to a more sophisticated understanding of the series. It does this through the use of more than 300 large and easy-to-discern photographs detailing scores of collectible die varieties from the Breen and Fivaz-Stanton catalogues.
Breen varieties trace their origins back to the publication of Walter Breen’s long out-of-print and somewhat out-of-favor magnum opus The Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins (1988, Doubleday). The Fivaz-Stanton catalogue system has been popularized by Whitman’s long-running Cherrypicker’s Guide (fifth edition published in two volumes, 2008 and 2011).
While not exhaustive (minutia and ultra-rare specimens, such as Breen’s World War II-related off-metal #2693 and #2703 are not discussed), Bousquet gives the adventurous nickel searcher more than enough to chew on, and does a good job illustrating some of the trickier aspects of collecting Jefferson nickels. The included photographic guide to collecting nickels by steps is nicely done, and even though full step counts of four and under carry no premiums in the market, their inclusion here makes identifying those full step varieties with real value so much more intuitive (five and six step nickels, if properly attributed, can carry significant premiums if their appearance is rare in a given issue). Also helpful is a photographic essay of the most commonly-collected nickel mint errors.
For those collectors who think they’ve seen it all when it comes to Jefferson nickels, Bousquet offers two images that we’d categorize as attention-getters.
The first is a uniface copper-nickel die trial, thought to be unique, showing Monticello with resplendent rays beaming up from behind in the style of Saint-Gaudens’ eponymous double eagle. The piece was unknown to numismatists for more 60 years until it appeared at an estate sale in 2003. Later that year, Las Vegas, Nevada-based dealer and mint error expert Mike Byers offered the coin for sale for the reported price of $100,000.
The second is a real head scratcher, as it is depicts a 2009-S Jefferson nickel Proof with a well-defined curved die scratch that runs from the D of UNITED through STATES OF and up to the first serif in the A of AMERICA.
That such a distinct die characteristic exists on a proof coin that passed through the U.S. Mint’s quality control is only somewhat surprising. The real shocker is that graders at PCGS called it a PR70DCAM.
A perfect coin? Eh, maybe not. A perfect find for a cherry-picker? Most certainly.
Those looking for pricing guidance will have to check their expectations at the door. Bousquet’s treatment is merely meant to be a teaching guide and a handy reference.
Books like this are labors of love, written by lifelong collectors hoping to carry the flame forward. If you have an interest in Jefferson nickels and would like to add this volume to your library, Photographs of Thomas Jefferson Nickels can be purchased directly from the author on his website.
Photographs of Thomas Jefferson Nickels: Die Varieties and Minting Errors
107 Pages. Spiral-Bound Softcover. 300 color photographs.
Rick’s Legacy: Pedigree & Hoard / Coins & Currency by Rick Bretz
It has long been our contention that the last 40 years or so is one of the most complex and interesting eras of our nation’s numismatic history.
In regards to the coin industry and the numismatic marketplace, they’ve been downright transformative, taking what was once an esoteric arena of specialized interest and turning it into a multi-billion dollar business, minting a number of multi-millionaire coin dealers in the process.
The Internet had a lot to do with it, but so too did the proliferation of cable TV, telemarketing, and the advent of third party grading.
And while most of what’s written about numismatics deals with the coins themselves, few volumes exist that deal explicitly with the current state of the hobby and the means by which the collecting and mainstream publics get sold on collectible coins.
Enter Rick Bretz.
For the past several years, collector Rick Bretz has carved out a fascinating niche for himself, that of studying and collecting certified pedigree and hoard coins.
Circumspect about the industry’s reliance on marketing gimmicks, Bretz approaches the topic with equal parts fascination and skepticism.
For years, he has shared his collection and insights on the Registry Set section of NGC’s website. There, Bretz’s work has been well-received by collectors, many of whom share his fascination.
At the end of 2013, Bretz closed down his page and launched a blog to expand upon his work. It’s essential reading for those with an interest in the topic.
In his self-published book Rick’s Legacy: Pedigree & Hoard / Coins & Currency, Bretz selects a number of interesting pedigrees and hoard coins from his collection and presents them in an oversized coffee-table book.
It’s not a definitive reference, true, but it is an illustrated snapshot of a collection at the center of this field of study. Besides, what Bretz has done–and continues to do online–is a great start for a possible formal reference catalog on the subject.
If such a reference were put together, it’s doubtful that the grading services would be of much help. As Bretz reveals, many of the pedigrees and hoards are fictional constructs made up of everyday coins, meant to aid certain dealers in the sale of material that might otherwise not be worth submitting.
Such is the case with many of the lesser coins from the Binion, Redfield, and Continental Bank Hoards–but at least the release of these coins were well-publicized events. Pedigree or hoard labels applied to other coins stretch credulity, such as the Rive d’Or Collection, the Golden Gate Collection, the Apple Valley Collection and the Baltimore Hoard, to name a few.
More than 50 unique collections and hoards are detailed herein. We know of the existence of a significant number of additional labels, including Treasury Vault gold, Guttag Brothers silver commemoratives, the well-publicized Newman sales and coins from the Norweb and Eliasberg Collections to name a few.
But the book whets the appetite, and some of what’s presented is new even to us. Like one well-circulated $100 Federal Reserve Bank Note, certified by PCGS Currency and attributed to the “Wall of Greed” Hoard.
Forget irony. We live in an age of camp.
Rick’s Legacy: Pedigree & Hoard / Coins & Currency by Rick Bretz
68 Pages. Hardback.