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In the July 6th (2009)  issue of Coin World Steve Roach wrote an interesting article entitled, “Is Old better than new? Age of slabs plays pricing role“.  This is a very informative article which suggests that in some cases because of the more conservative grading practices at PCGS and NGC in the early days, that coins in their old holders might be under-graded by subsequent market standards and thus would be a prime target for a nice profitable upgrade.  Over the years this has happened numerous times to be sure.  Steve gives several examples in his article (p. 46).


An Example of one of the early PCGS Holders

There are a couple of aspects about these “old slabs” that need a comment or two that were not mentioned in Steve’s article.

It is common knowledge that this has always been a  hot area for the crack-out artist. There have been a lot of these early graded coins which have been cracked out, received an upgrade, and thus brought more money.  But just as likely, there were probably coins that were over-graded!  What happened to those coins?

In spite of this earlier point in time, let’s be realistic.  Considering the bull market we have seen in rare coins during recent years, it is probably better to face reality and realize that most of those coins in the “vintage” holders have likely been inspected by the crack-out artist who are expert graders working for the larger dealers (who see such a huge volume of coins that the average collector can’t even comprehend) and auction houses.  Therefore, if you come across one of these old holders you need to ask the question, why is it still in that old holder!  Was it because no one thought it would upgrade, or was it over graded to begin with while grading standards were being established?  Likely, there is a very good reason the coin in that older holder is in its “final resting place” (the vintage holder).  You must realize that the day after they started slabbing coins, someone starting cracking them out and resubmitting them hoping for better grades; essentially taking advantage of the subjective nature of grading.  And as we all know, that crack-out process continues to this day and we don’t have to limit the crack-outs just to old PCGS or NGC  holders.

The bottom line remains, you have to be able to grade the coin and not make a judgment about grade on whether it is in an old holder.  Certainly, don’t draw any firm conclusions about whether it has been under-graded  just because of the holder and when the coin was graded.  All this despite the changes in grading standards we have incurred over the last 20 or so years.

NGC Holders with Black Inserts ARE VERY COLLECTIBLE!

Now, there is another aspect to these old holders, particularly early NGC holders, that one must consider, i.e., the collectability of some of these very early holders.  For example, NGC started out on day one putting their coins in holders with a black background…..that only lasted about three days before it was discontinued probably due to negative market feed back and the fact, the holder simply didn’t have nice eye appeal, particularly for copper coins.  Thus, NGC coins (see below) in these old black holders are quite collectible and often can be valued at multiples of the coins they contain.










The above photos came from the following link which gives a great deal of information regarding these collectible NGC slabs.  Thanks to Lane Brunner for pointing this area of collecting out to Gammill Numismatics, LLC. http://forums.collectors.com/messageview.cfm?catid=26&threadid=727096 


Conclusion:  It’s still the same old advice…..buy the coin, not the holder…..unless you have found an old NGC “collectible holder“. 

This is probably new information to many collectors, but none the less, gives you something else to be on the lookout for when looking in dealers’ showcases or someone’s personal collection.  You may be able to tell a fellow collector that the coin in that old holder isn’t of any great value but the holder, well,  is worth a lot!

I guess a green CAC sticker on one of these early black NGC holders would really be a keeper for a collection.

Think thrice: is the coin under-graded, over-graded or is it in a collectible slab (holder).

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As the economy continues to struggle with rising unemployment numbers (heading toward 10%), tight credit for small businesses, bankruptcies and housing foreclosures increasing 15% in the first half of 2009, it should be no surprise that we are also seeing the activity of the coin collecting community shift their priorities.  With less disposable income we are seeing a drop in attendance and purchases by collectors at both the local and national level at both shows and auctions. Additionally, this economic down turn has hit collectors at all financial levels.  These are certainly not surprising results, but the question a lot of dealers and collectors alike are asking is: how long will it last? 

Many dealers are traveling less (particularly between coasts) due to slow retail and wholesale sales which are primarily due to the factors mentioned above, as well as, the lack of fresh material and the presence of what are referred to as “C” and “D” quality coins on the floor.  Or, to say it another way, too much of what everyone has already seen time and time again.  Dealers are relying more and more on internet transactions to get rid of these less than desirable coins while looking for the more desirable “A” and “B” coins, and in particular those coins that have the new little green “CAC” (Certified Acceptance Corporation) sticker affixed.  

Note, the “C” and “D” coins that are selling for discounts are not good collector or investor coins for your portfolio!    If dealers and collectors are trying to get rid of this material now, they will be trying to do the same thing in twenty years.  Quality (often referred to as eye appeal) is the leading factor that dominates market value!  

It is not surprising that a number of collectors out there have slowed down, or at least put things on hold for a while.  There are also a number of collectors and dealers that are either being forced to sell their collections to make ends meet; or, they are just becoming disillusioned by the current rare coin market, jittery economy and few positive signs of a timely recovery. 

There is also a strong desire by everyone in this collectible/ investment space to establish the value of their numismatic portfolios.  Of course value is always based on quality, availability and demand, and in a down market, the inferior examples in a specific grade are just going to sit and sit and sit!  In this market, only the top tier coins, i.e. the “A” and “B” examples in any given grade are going to be the coins that will move, and probably move at a premium independent of tier price.  Likewise the more common issues are going to be less desirable and will suffer due to the lack of demand for such ordinary items.  Add to this the overall movement of the world economy and this becomes a complex issue unless you are holding bullion (for which there are daily prices, and liquidation is efficient and has a well defined mechanism).

For some collectors who have been able to put themselves in a strong cash position, this is an excellent time to purchase coins if the right gems emerge.  For example, the recent sell of the Adams-Carter Class III 1804 dollar brought half a million dollars less than it would have reportedly brought a year ago due to the current recession.  This rarity sold several months ago at the CSNS show in Cincinnati.  It sold for $2.3 million (including the buyer’s premium) and was considered by the buyer at that time to be a bargain.  Time will tell, but my best guess is that this coin will recover nicely from the current down turn simply because it is a “true rarity“.  A true rarity is important for everyone to understand vs.  series rarities such as the 1909 S VDB.

In the early part of this recession, it seemed as though the casual (new) collectors began to disappear as the economy tightened up.  However, at this point, with the continuing problems on Wall Street, Main Street, General Motors going in and out of Chapter 11, CIT on the brink of insolvency, credit card debt, real estate debt and increased home foreclosures, we find that a lot of people who thought they were insulated from a fragile economy simply are not.  Of course Bernie Madoff made us all acutely aware of the criminal nature of some people and how cautious we all should be in the current environment with all financial investments.  Thus, there seems to be a slow methodical breather being taken by the collector base, as well as investors, until things become a little more upbeat, i.e. employment numbers dramatically improve for starters.

Remember, it started with the causal collector, then moved to the more dedicated collector and finally to the financially capable and steadfast collector.  Caution rules the moment for most.  At present, the biggest buyers of coins are coin dealers! 

Another important realization is that a price correction is taking place in the numismatic marketplace just as it has in so many other parts of our economy.  Of course we have the same problem as the other markets and that is, we don’t yet know where or when we will (or have) reach the bottom, what the recovery will look like and finally the time line of that recovery.

There are areas in this market that are doing better than others.  For example, early copper collectors seem to be holding up their area of collecting, while Morgan Dollars (particularly the common dates) and some of the more common early commemoratives are weakening.  Indian Head Cents and Lincoln Cents are somewhat slow.  Early Type (“A” and “B” coins) seem to be holding their own due mainly to their rarity due to scarcity.  This of course provides a nice buying opportunity if these are areas of interest to you and cash is available.  So, what do you buy now with confidence that your investment is sound in this down market?  You buy “A” and “B” coins that are rare due to scarcity and are always, for these reasons, in high demand.  Look for that “CAC” sticker or work closely with an experienced rare coin dealer to help you make these decisions.

The collectible and rare coin market has maintained its strength longer than most investment vehicles.  At first, it looked like rare coins were the ideal hedge against what was happening in the stock market.  However, sooner or later, just as with all bubbles, it has been forced to give back some of that rapid growth seen in the past three to five years.  There has been a lot said about foreign vs US money coming in from all over the world to purchase rare coins.  Now we see the effect of that world economy and realize the reality and consequences of what is now a world market in rare US coins, controlled by an impartial and slashing world economy.  

How long will it last?  It will last until we start seeing positive job reports at the end of every week for starts!  Look for that first and then formulate the next question!

When will collectors/investors from all positions and skill levels feel comfortable enough to re-enter the coin market once the economy begins to gain positive momentum?

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There are reportedly a hundred mints in China rapidly producing counterfeit United States coins that are  infiltrating our borders hoping to find a home with some unsuspecting  US collector.  Most of these coins are coming from the two southern Chinese provinces of Fujian and Guangdong.  This problem has been going at an ever increasing rate since the end of 2007 and earlier.  However, now that the Chinese have technology and minting presses from the US,  this problem will force us to a “New Educational Level” to prevent and protect collectors and dealers from buying these worthless reproductions of our historic numismatic past. 

The Chinese are busy making everything from Colonials, Half Cents, Large Cents, Indian Head Cents, Buffalo Nickels, Standing Liberty Quarters, Morgan, Peace and Trade Dollars, all dominations of Gold coins and paper money.  Their technology is rapidly is improving rapidly improving as well as mastering the color of our early copper coins. 

One of their newest entries is the production of “error coins”,  an area in which they know very well the passion US collectors have for these unique items.   And to be honest, they are getting better and better at producing these counterfeits.  The machinery they are using is becoming, if not already, state of the art.  Their dies are improving, the strikes are improving and with copper coins, they are moving rapidly to getting the color right.

To make life a little more complicated, the Chinese have now introduced counterfeit PCGS and NGC holders into our marketplace.  At present, it appears that these counterfeit holders, as you would expect, contain counterfeit coins, however, that is likely to change in the near future if it hasn’t already.  At some point they will be putting authentic over-graded coins in these holders.  For example, an AU-50 1909 S VDB in a PCGS or NGC holder graded MS 63.  Or just as easily it could be a Fine 1877 Indian Head Cent graded EF 40 or EF 45.  The point is that there is a lot of money to be made by using this combination of authentic coin and counterfeit holder.  Grade inflation is already a major problem as we continue to evolve within the arena of market grading.

I guess these events reminds us all that it wise to buy the coin and not the holder…..buy the book,  then the coin.  In this case, buy a good book on  detecting counterfeit coins (see book list below).  Our best protection regarding these commonly counterfeit rarities is to know the die characteristic of the  authentic coin and not worry so much about what the counterfeit coin looks like.  If you are looking at a 1909 S VDB Lincoln and the “S” mint mark does not have the characteristics of the authentic “S”…..you most likely have a bad coin.  There are exceptions.  Some counterfeiters have been able to duplicate the “S” mint mark on the 1909 S VDB Lincoln so secondary characteristics of the die are required.  Don’t depend on one particular die characteristic but look at two or three to be conclusive.   Know what the real coin looks like  and have a good reference library and you will be able to discard as many counterfeits as they through your way.   Just remember, a second opinion is always important when dealing with counterfeits.  Fine a dealer you can work with and that you have confidence in to help you. 

The best people to help you are people that have had extensive interactions (on site classes) with the ANA (Colorado Springs), the ANS (New York City), Professional Numismatic Guild (PNG), NLG (Numismatic Literary Guild), professional grading services such as PCGS, NGC and ANACS.  These are the people with the greatest amount of experience that can help you the most.

Upcoming educational events on the topic of Chinese Counterfeit coins.

Facing the Chinese Counterfeiting Threat – August 4, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; August 5, 1-5 p.m. Counterfeit coins and slabs made in the People’s Republic of China are pouring into the marketplace in unprecedented numbers. Access to Western technology means that the counterfeiters are able to produce high-quality fakes. In this two-day seminar, learn to protect yourself by becoming a smart online customer, and learn how to use simple, inexpensive tools to authenticate your own coins. Instructors: Susan Headley, numismatic journalist and counterfeit expert; Beth Deisher, editor, Coin World; and Dr. Gregory Dubay, noted Chinese counterfeit expert.
ANA Member Price: $149 through July 1; $169 after.

Links to Coin World articles describing the Chinese Counterfeit activity can be found on the Web through Google. 


 1.  Fivaz, Bill; United States Gold.  Counterfeit Detection Guide.     Whitman Publishing , LLC, 3101 Clairmont Road, Suite C, Atlanta, GA  30329. (2005)

2.  Official Guide to Coin Grading and Counterfeit Detection. Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) Staff.  Second Edition.  (2004)

3.  Larson, Charles M.; Numismatic Forgery.  (2004)

4.  Fivaz, Bill; Counterfeit Detection Guide.  (2001)

5.  Counterfeit Detection: A Reprint from the Numismatist, Vol I.  American Numismatic Association, Box 2366,  Colorado Springs, CO 80901. (1983)

6.  Counterfeit Detection: A Reprint from the Numismatist, Vol II.  American Numismatic Association, 818 North Cascade Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO 80903. (1988)

7.  Hancock, Virgil; Spanbauer, Larry; Standard Catalog of Counterfeit and Altered United States Coins. Sanford J. Durst, Numismatic Publications, New York, N.Y. (1979)

8.  Devine, John; Detecting Counterfeit Gold Coins, Book II; Heigh-Ho Printing Co., 3477 Old Conejo Road C-7, Newbury Park, CA 91320. (1977; Sixteenth Printing in 1980)

9.  Taxay, Don; Counterfeit & Unofficial Misstruck U.S. Coins.  (1976)

10. Devine, John; Detecting Counterfeit Coins, Book I; Heigh-Ho Printing Co., 3477 Old Conejo Road, Newbury Park, CA 91320. (1975)

11. Dieffenbacher, Alfred; Counterfeit Gold Coins, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Fully Illustrated); Dieffenbackher Coin BTD.  Montreal, Canada.  (1963)

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As you know, it’s hard to know what you might find when looking into a dealers showcase these days.  Recently I found two beautifully toned Milled Bust Pillar Dollars, both from the Mexico City Mint.  One from 1808 and the second from 1820.  While often referred to as a Pillar Dollar these coins are more accurately called Milled Bust Spanish Dollars.  The obverse of the 1808 example illustrates the bust of Charles IV while the reverse has the Pillars of Hercules, so familiar from the earlier Cobs.

There were a total of  twelve colonial mints located in; Mexico City, Santo Domingo, Lima, La Plata, Potosi, Panama City, Cartegena, Bogota, Cuzco, Guatemala, Santiago and Popayan.  These twelve mints produced a total of five different types of silver reales.  They were, pillar, shield, pillar and waves, milled pillar and milled bust (above 1808).  These were produced during Spain’s amazing 300 years of colonial rule.

The milled bust coins, also referred to as bust or portrait dollars,  were minted at the Mexico City mint from 1772 until 1821, when Mexico won its independence from Spain.  Like the milled pillar dollar, bust dollars circulated throughout the world, even serving as legal currency in the United States until 1857.   Mexico City coins are easily identified by their mintmark, an M with a small o above.

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The Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) Selected 

Roger W. Burdette’s

Renaissance of American Coinage, 1905-1908 

as the single work having the greatest potential impact on Numismatics published in 2007.


This year the Clemy Award went to Gene Hessler.


There were also a series of awards listed as “BEST SPECIALIZED BOOKs”, which covered topics such as: United States Coins; World Coins; US Paper Money: Obsolete Paper Money; World Paper Money; Tokens and Medals; Numismatic Investments as well as several others worthy topics.  The winners in these catagories are certainly names most numismatist and certainly bibliophiles would recognize.

Below we list a few of many favorites, they are all great. 

 “Current Cabinet Activities,” Robert W. Hoge, ANS Magazine

 Coin Chemistry, by Weimar W. White        

“The Joys Of Collecting,” Q. David Bowers, Coin World








Cindy Brake, Coin World



John Andrew, Coin World

 “A Time-Honoured Burden”




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The Meyer Selected Rarities Sale opens for preview on July 29 and 30 at the Baltimore convention center in Baltimore at Sheridan Downey’s bourse tables 931-933 during normal bourse floor hours of PNG day (July 29) and the American Numismatic Association Convention on July 30.  This is a mail and sealed bid sale and closing is Wednesday July 30, 2008.


There are 44 lots listed in Sheridan’s catalogue and it is loaded with rarities, finest know examples (1814 Single Leaf, PCGS MS 63), UNIQUE issues (1806 O.128), plate coins (1832 O. 123, Overton Plate Coin, 1 of 5) and on and on.  This is a tremendous opportunity for the true connoisseur.  The pedigrees are simply historical in numismatics and finally; the catalogue itself is an immediate collectible for the early half dollar collectors.


To view lots please use this Link.


Very Well Done Sheridan, Very Well Done Indead.

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Civil War Tokens



Collecting Civil War tokens is an interesting pursuit just loaded with history of the Great War between the States.  Regular issues of US coinage was hoarded during the Civil War and this dramatically restricted merchants ability to make small change.  In response to this situation, many of the  merchants had tokens made to give out as change in their stores.  If you ordered the least expensive tokens you would receive a combination of two existing dies, usually of a Patriotic nature or similar to a US cent.  We refer to these tokens as  Patriotic Civil War Tokens


If on the other hand you had more to spend for tokens you could have custom dies prepared with specific information relating to your business (i.e. location, occupation, specialties, etc.) these are referred to as Civil War Store Cards.  These tokens are often refered to as Tradesmen Tokens.


Given the above information, it is not surprising that collectors in general classify Civil War tokens as either Patriotic or Store Cards (there are others we will cover later).  Now get ready; there were some 50,000,000 or more of these tokens issued!  Approximately 10,000 different varieties have been recorded! This area of numismatics represents an abundance of affordable small pieces of copper that represent a very important part of the fabric that makes this country what it is today.  There are almost endless ways of assembling Civil War Tokens (CWT) by variety or topic for the collector.   Want a history lesson of the early 1860’s…..this is a wonderful place to begin.


Patriotic tokens are anonymous, as mentioned above, struck from stock dies for general circulation. These tokens have patriotic themes – ARMY & NAVY, THE FLAG OF OUR UNION, LIBERTY AND NO SLAVERY, etc. – but some “Copperhead” tokens were issued with designs critical of the war, such as MILLIONS FOR CONTRACTORS/NOT ONE CENT FOR THE WIDOWS.


Store cards were made with their issuers and generally carry an advertisement for the issuers business.  One of my favors are the tokens bearing a mortar and pestle, relating to medicinal agents of the time.  However, other items like trunks, stoves, a stein of beer, animals and many more were used.  On the other hand, many show simply a stock die such as an Indian head, eagle, or patriotic theme.


In reality, cent-size copper tokens were first issued before the Civil War.  There are examples of issues as early as 1858 and 1861,  These pre-Civil War tokens are usually collected together with the genuine article due to the difficulty of confidently separating them and the long exiting collecting tradition. Some of the more recent catalogues do identify many of them as “non- contemporary” issues.


Now with that background for those not familiar Civil War Token collecting, lets get on to the main subject of this article, the “Rattlesnake Token”.   This token is appealing for several reasons but formost is its symbolism as far back as colonial times in this country( i.e. at least 1750 or so).  The rattlesnake was the favorite animal emblem of the Americans even before the Revolution.  Moreover, no one can misinterpret either the partial or full phrase,  “LIBERTY OR DEATH: DONT TRED ON ME”, found of the flags of 1775 along with either coiled, or full length rattlers decorating the sacred hand woven material this all resided on.









On the Obverse: The Union Must and Shall Be Preserved.


On the Reverse: “Beware”, shown above the snake with the date 1863 beneath.

This die marriage is 136/397.


The rattlesnake has been a favorite symbol of independence throughout America’s history. It was first adopted as a uniquely American ICON by early patriots such as Benjamin Franklin. The rattlesnake represented American unity. For example, individually, its rattles have no sound, but united, they can be heard by all. Moreover, while it does not strike unless threatened, once provoked, the deadly rattlesnake will never surrenders. 

Opponents of the Civil War were also known as “Copperheads”) and criticized Lincoln for refusing to compromise on the slavery issue.


The Civil War Token we are interested in falls into “Patriotic” series. The firebrand design of the Gadsden Flag serves as a reminder of the birth of our nation and the spirit that carried it to freedom. The bright yellow banner bears an ominous coiled rattlesnake with the warning “Don’t Tread on Me.”


Confederate iron rattlesnake waist belt buckle very similar to the one in Mullinax’s Confederate Belt Buckles & Plates book, expanded edition, page 114, plate 201.




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