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This week’s letters (01/24/12)

 

2011 a ‘strange and wonderful’ collecting year
What a strange and wonderful trip numismatics has been in 2011. All the highs and lows of searching for the last few elusive coins I needed to finish my Buffalo nickel collection and to start my new collection of Seated Liberty quarters.
I would like to pass along my heart-felt thanks to a person who has helped me find nice coins for my collection, and has shared a tiny piece of his vast knowledge of numismatics.
All the history and stories about coins keeps this the most interesting hobby in the world to me.
Happy coin hunting in 2012.
D. W.
Jackson, Mich.

 
Grading services, not just Mint, deserve collectors’ ire
I want to apologize from the outset, but I will be going into a tirade. Not against the editors or the publication of course, but at the hobby in general. If you can even call it a hobby anymore.
This has to do with the 25th anniversary Eagle sets (so what else is new?). Lately, I have been reading with interest about all the anger leveled at the Mint for their handling of the Eagle set issue.
Frankly, I see much of it as whining and complaining. And why not? The Mint is an arm of the government, and what has it done right lately? Truthfully, however, the Mint is a business like any other business, and its objective is to make money (no pun intended). And like any other business, it will produce what it believes will sell to the masses, rather than cater to a relatively few “real” collectors.
The best example of this, of course, was the 2009 silver Eagle proof issue, or non-issue as it were. This shows without a doubt that the Mint does not care for us little guys, but rather where the most money can be made. If I were to agree with any of the complaints against the Mint for the current 25th anniversary set situation, it would simply be that the ordering limit should have been one and not five.
My point in all of the above, is that while I have heard many a complaint about the Mint and its practices, I have not seen or heard one word about the grading companies, and how they are taking us all for a ride. Well, maybe not all of us, just us little guys again. The dealers and the bulk submitters are always taken care of. But I am ahead of myself.
Let’s start with the special labels for the sets. I will not be addressing First Strikes or Early Releases here because I would not make it home for Thanksgiving if I got into that fiasco. The single word that gives the special label its uniqueness is the word “set.”
As you know, in 2011 there have already been three silver Eagle coins issued, and all grading companies have graded them with the 25th anniversary pedigree. And why not? It’s 2011, it’s been 25 years, let’s celebrate with a 25th anniversary label. These coins do not have the word “set” on the label, because they did not come in a set.
Fast forward to the 25th anniversary set. There are five coins, three of which have already been issued throughout the year as noted above, and two that are unique to the set. Along come the grading companies, and say that if you submit these sets in open boxes, the best they can do is give the three non-unique coins the same 25th anniversary labels they have been using throughout the year, and give the two unique coins the very special label that has the word “set.”
So everyone now must jump through the grading companies’ hoops, and make sure that they submit Mint-sealed boxes. As the grading companies will tell you, this is the only way to prevent tampering with sets in open boxes. The million dollar question is, of course, tampering to what end?
Well, imagine the following scenario. Use as an example one of the three non-unique coins in the set, say the 2011 Mint State. Are they saying that the Mint struck an additional 100,000 of these and the other two non-uniques to specifically insert into the sets? Probably not. More than likely, they took 100,000 out of their regular stock to insert into the sets. Either way, the coins are identical in every way.
If Mr. Collector receives a 25th anniversary set, opens it up, and much to his dismay, finds that the 2011 Mint State coin has a large scratch on the obverse in the empty field to the right of Miss Liberty.
He then goes to his cabinet, and pulls out a 2011 Mint State without a scratch, or worse yet, a previously graded MS-70, which he either purchased already graded, or had the coin graded himself, and breaks it out of the holder, exchanges it for the one with the scratch from the set and sends the set off to be graded. Lo and behold, the entire set comes back graded MS-70. This collector then either keeps the set for himself as a showpiece, or sells it on the open market.
The bottom line question to the grading companies is who has he cheated, who has he wronged and who has he defrauded? I personally cannot think of any situation where any illegality or misrepresentation would enter into the tampering scenario. Can you?
I will be honest with you. As a collector, I would like to have a complete set of 25th anniversary Eagle coins issued throughout the year to commemorate this occasion. Do I care whether or not the label has the word “set” on it? Should I care? The grading companies say I should.
Think that’s it, do you? Well, think again. The grading company follies are just getting started. It has been reported that the grading companies did not receive any sets for grading before Nov. 9. If you surf eBay today, you will find scores of auctions many of which began Nov. 16 for graded sets by the major grading companies. Many of the auctions are by totally recognizable dealers.
You do not even need to go to eBay. Several online coin companies had graded sets for sale shortly after the sellout. Taking into consideration transit time to the graders, grading time itself, and transit time from the graders, you will soon realize, as I did, that this is a mathematical impossibility. This brings back very bad memories of the 2010 5-ounce America The Beautiful coin sets, where dealers had hundreds of coins graded before collectors received coin number one.
Do the grading companies favor the dealers and the bulk submitters? Well, you decide. But I will tell you that my five sets (okay, yes, in sealed Mint packaging) were received by a major grading company on Nov. 10, and, to its credit, the coins were scheduled for grading almost immediately. And? There they sit while a brisk business in graded sets is being done by dealers all over the internet, and passing me by.
Joe Rosenberg
Bloomfield, N.J.
Dec. 10 letter holds some truth, tempered by reality
This is a response to a Dec. 10 letter to the editor, “BEP deserves criticism for attitude toward collector” from Steve Gregory.
To some degree, Gregory is correct. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing could do more for collectors. However there are parameters. Unlike the U.S. Mint, the BEP is a commercial company. Its major customer is the Federal Reserve. Each year, the Federal Reserve sends an order to the Comptroller of the Currency for bank notes to be printed by denomination. The Comptroller in turn, sends the order to the Director of the BEP. Once the currency sheets are printed and the date, serial numbers and signatures of the Secretary and Treasurer are affixed, the notes belong to the Federal Reserve. In fact, these completed bank notes are moved to what is called the Federal Reserve Vault. They await pickup by the Fed. Once picked up, the notes are generally immediately transported to various Federal Reserve Banks.
The U.S. Mint, on the other hand, is also a Treasury agency, but it does not manufacture and distribute coins on orders from the Federal Reserve. Further, many of the coins produced are by Congressional legislation.
The BEP Director may not take low numbered notes, bricks, etc., and put them for sale to the public. The BEP can purchase from the Fed certain sheets of currency and put these up for sale. This is an agreement with Fed officials dating back at least 35 years.
The Secretary of the Treasury and  United States Treasurer are able to purchase from the Fed several hundred notes with extremely low serial numbers with their signatures, generally of low denominations. However, having been in a position to make such a request at disparate times for a new Secretary and a new Treasurer, I found the officials at the Fed to be reluctant to satisfy the request.
Where is Art Kagin? That lovable gentleman might be able to aid us. When I was the BEP director at a banquet of the FUN show in Tampa, Fla., Art had me against the wall for at least 25 minutes stressing how I could help currency collectors like Gregory. At long last Kagin’s wife looked up and said, “Arthur, please let the gentleman go so he can finish his dinner.” I need absolution, as I confess I never did much. The problem was I too had a collection of currency and this would appear to be a conflict of interest.
Robert J. Leuver
Tinley Park, Ill.
After Eagle fiasco, Mint and collectors should re-assess
Should we be cutting the Mint some slack? No, we should instead dial up the rhetoric concerning the U.S. Mint. It needs all the encouragement we can provide to get its priorities straight. I realize that many will consider my comments to be inflammatory and just the musings of a disgruntled old man. They are right.
Yet, I have been a serious collector of coins and paper money for many years, since 1948. I have studied numismatics in detail, have completed the American Numismatic Association program in numismatics, taught merit badge courses, worked as a volunteer numismatist for a national level organization, and built a relatively modest personal collection of U.S. and foreign coins and paper money. I too, have made numerous mistakes: purchased over-priced, mis-graded coins and paper money, paid far too much for something I wanted, and not obtained something I really wanted when I could have. Yet, I persevere.
Recently, I was among the many individuals who were greatly disappointed by the U.S. Mint and the fiasco concerning the 25th anniversary silver Eagle set. First, I already had a complete silver Eagle proof and uncirculated coin set, including the 1995-W. I must have been star-struck as I was unable to get through to the Mint until late at night. We all know the results of that. My initial reaction at rejection was anger, and I phoned a few people to ask what I could do. We all know the response to that too.
Then, I sat and re-evaluated my situation. Long ago, I became a collector of coins due to the actions of my local grocer who presented me, an 8-year-old, with a Buffalo nickel. I was hooked and have been ever since. In spite of the U.S. Mint and what I consider to be its failings, I continue to be a coin collector. In my reflections, I realized that I had become trapped by the prevalent marketing of items that are passed off as coins. I am convinced that all of the bullion type materials are at best silver and gold rounds foisted on a public enraptured by glitter and captured by the calling of snake-oil barkers. These materials are never intended to be coinage but sure appear to make money for some. Even though the government pretends legitimacy by placing a value on these materials and calling them coins, they rarely circulate (except recently as publicity stunts) and are not intended for circulation.
This has become very much like what several foreign governments have gone through with their so called “commemoratives.” I refer to it as the Marshall Islanding of U.S. coinage. The U.S. Mint appears to have lost track of what they are supposed to be about. They have become, by design and with the approval of Congress, a giant coin dealer with a lock on their segment of the market and highly over-priced materials. Originally, the Mint was to provide coins for the public to use in commerce. They did early on, with interesting effects, provide for coinage of special quality for collectors; thus, the industry was born. In the past several years, the Mint added phrases like “to make a profit” to its goals statements: so began the dealership.
After reflecting for a while, I called a coin dealer whom I believe to be honest. We talked a bit with the end result being my divestment of all of my silver and gold Eagles and other U.S. Mint non-coins. I returned home from my visit to the dealer, reviewed my subscriptions at the U.S. Mint website and canceled my subscriptions to non-real coin items. Yes, until they screw that up too, I continue to subscribe to proof and uncirculated coin items from the Mint.
I continue to examine coinage from the official mints of Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Austria and the New Zealand Post. Those locations, firstly, want my business, secondly, produce circulating materials that are of the highest quality, thirdly, have websites that are navigable, and lastly, respond promptly to my inquiries. I continue to attend coin auctions and dealer tables at the numerous coin shows in my area.
Enough already. You are tired of the diatribe and I am tired of the telling. A New Year’s resolution for your consideration: I will make every attempt to purchase my coins from sources other than the U.S. Mint. They have done nothing to warrant my loyalty, my confidence, or my patronage.
I will seek out dealers, locally and at reputable show bourses, and venues who show knowledge and honesty in their dealings with me. I will not be knowingly rude to the others, I will just not frequent their establishments or tables. I will attempt to be a knowledgeable collector by continuing my numismatic education and by minimizing my mistakes.
Collecting is exciting, even after all these many years. The beauty of a well produced high quality Flying Eagle cent, Standing Liberty quarter, Walking Liberty half dollar or $2.50 gold coin can be exciting. Owning one of those coins is very satisfying. Please join a movement to bring excitement back into coin collecting.
A. E. “Rusty” Crawford, Ph.D.
Address withheld

Chickasaw ATB quarter has collector’s approval
Just a few lines to say that I have received the new Chickasaw National Park America the Beautiful quarters. They are really neat. I love collecting.
Virgil Griffith
Camden, N.C.

‘First Strike’ designation on Eagle set is confusing
I did not get my sets from the Mint as I was lead to believe I would. The ship date never changed and the reply I received became a “sorry we are out of stock” email. So I entered the frenzy and purchased my sets on the secondary market.
As I was loading my set into my computer program, I realized that they were marked as “First Strike.” But my question is that with a mintage of 100,000 coins, are they not all “First Strike?” Or would there be a different standard for a lower mintage?
That said, if the two new American silver Eagle coins are unique to this set, and that there is no difference in the other three coins to the set, how can they be marked as “First Strike,” since they most likely were pulled out of existing stock and put into the boxes. Or did the Mint stop production to produce the already released coins in a special run just for the set? I really doubt that scenario, so if I am right, the only coins that really could be “First Strike” are the two rarities in the set.
Will the grading companies tell the public how they are assured the designation on the slab?
Alan Hepler
Laytonsville, Md.
Dec. 27 explanation of holed coins seems unlikely
In Alan Herbert’s Dec. 27 “Coin Clinic” column, he gave a reply to a question about holed early dollars, saying that one explanation was that the coins were used as teethers. While that is certainly possible (although all explanations are merely conjecture), I don’t believe it explains the large number of holed coins found today.
First, as Herbert mentions, a dollar was a lot of money in the early 18th century, often a day’s wage for unskilled labor (and hence our saying of “another day, another dollar”). Some rich people may have used dollar coins for this purpose, but another explanation seems much more likely to me.
The use of banks was not at all widespread in those times, and the average person kept coins hidden at home. If a man needed to travel from one area to another, he would need to carry his money with him – no credit cards or ATMs back then.Travel was often a dangerous activity, with many an unscrupulous opportunist waiting to relieve a traveler of his cash along the way.
One common way to deal with such thieves was to sew money into the lining of clothing, typically a coat heavy enough to mask the additional weight of coins. The easy way would be merely to open the lining and sew all the coins inside, but this would allow the coins to jingle when they bumped together, which might give away their hiding spot.
Therefore, people would drill holes in their coins and sew them individually into the lining. This was easily accomplished with a few quick stitches. The traveler could cut out the coins as he needed them along his journey.
This also could explain why such drilled coins continued to circulate with no apparent problem, despite the loss of metal.  Because the holes were so useful to so many, such coins may actually have been preferred in some cases. To me, this explanation is far more likely to account for the large number of holed coins, dollars or otherwise, that we come across today.
James Sparks
San Francisco, Calif.

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