If I Had A Nickel…

… For every time I wrote about powerful individuals who played outsized roles in numismatic history, I’d have, like, a few nickels. Hey, I’ve only been doing The Coin Blog for a year or so.

We’ve seen how interest groups, U.S. Mint officials, Representatives, Senators (lots and lots and lots of Senators), and even a guy who wanted a paid vacation have willed certain coins into existence.

When it came to the creation of the nickel, we have a rich industrialist who had lots of powerful friends in Congress and wasn’t afraid to use his influence.

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(Re)-Strike it Up: The Continental Dollar Restrike

The Continental Dollar is one of the most significant coins in American history. Bearing brilliant and beautiful designs from one of the most accomplished and respected Founding Fathers, as well as the long-held belief that the 1776-minted coin was the first proposed national currency, the Continental Dollar is exceedingly rare and extremely valuable.

And way out of my price range.

Luckily for me, the restrike is much more affordable.

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The Class of 1916: The Standing Liberty Quarter, Mercury Dime and Walking Liberty Half Dollar

Theodore Roosevelt has long had a reputation as one of toughest, most badass Americans to ever serve as President. The guy who gave us “speak softly and carry a big stick,” Roosevelt epitomized the kind of alpha male mentality that so many Americans aspire to. Always on the look for action, the youngest man to ever become President fought in wars for fun, shrugged off assassination attempts with aplomb and even changed the rules of football for the better.

You’d think a guy like that would be the last person to complain about the lack of aesthetic beauty in our nation’s coinage and then do something about it.

You’d be wrong. And thanks to him, we ended up with some of the best looking coins in our nation’s history.

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One Man’s Crusade: The Twenty Cent Coin

One theme that’s been well-covered here on the blog has been the ability of influential politicians to get bills passed authorizing various types of coins. Whether it’s for fiscal reasons, to commemorate important people in American history, or because someone really, really liked a particular design, politicians have been able to get all sorts of coins authorized, minted and circulated.

There’s also plain old self-interest.

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One of a Kind: The 2005 John Marshall Commemorative Silver Dollar

It seems hard to believe that, in the entirety of American history, only one Supreme Court justice (who wasn’t previously President of the United States) has ever been on a government-issued coin.

Given his outsized judicial legacy, it’s only appropriate that said justice was John Marshall.

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The Folly of Collecting Chinese Coins

The phrase “buyer beware” may not have been invented for people shopping in China, but it might as well have been.

After all, China is infamous for its pirated products. Whether its movies, software, watches, luxury goods, or toys (and at one point, music – but that seems to be changing – although that’s only because they haven’t figured out how to pirate Pandora or Spotify yet), Chinese counterfeiters make fake versions of almost any consumer good imaginable. In fact, some enterprising Chinese pirates have moved on from the consumer goods market, setting up things like fake Ikeas and Apple stores, and even fake law firms. Thanks to lax copyright law enforcement, pretty much the only thing in China that hasn’t been illegally copied and then passed off as the real thing has been the Great Wall (and give them time – someone will probably figure out how to do it). That’s why, when a hoax story about fake pork buns with cardboard inside made the rounds on the Internet a few years ago, everyone believed it.

All of this is just a roundabout way of saying: “Don’t buy coins from China – because they’re probably fake.”

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All About the Benjamins

This was my gateway coin.

I was in middle school when I happened to see it in an old bowl of change in my parents’ room and was immediately intrigued. I had seen half dollars before, but only ones with John F. Kennedy on them. I had never seen one with Benjamin Franklin’s face on it. Yet, here it was, forgotten about and collecting dust in a bowl so dirty that the amount of effort it would take to make it suitable for food consumption again wouldn’t have been worth it.

Nevertheless, I was fascinated (by the coin, not the bowl) and asked my mom if I could have it. “Sure,” she said with a shrug – never imagining that it would lead to a lifetime of coin collecting on my part. Or maybe she was just happy I was interested in something besides baseball cards or Garbage Pail Kids. After all, coin collecting is the hobby of kings. Literally.

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The 1982 George Washington Half Dollar: Commemorative Coins Make a Comeback

By the time 1981 rolled around, the following things were dead:

And so were commemorative coins. In fact, compared to those aforementioned deceased things, commemorative coins had been in the ground the longest, thanks to a glut of offerings with limited appeal that killed the market for much of the preceding three decades.

Everything changed when it came time to honor the 250th anniversary of the birth of the father of our country.

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The Great Compromiser: Henry Clay Tokens (UPDATED)

It may not be in vogue anymore, but there have been several well-respected figures in American history who have lost a Presidential election as a major party nominee, only to come back and win the White House. Thomas Jefferson lost a razor-thin contest in 1796 and won four years later. Andrew Jackson prevailed in 1828, four years after he lost in a contingent election before the House of Representatives. Grover Cleveland attained his status as a trivia question by serving his two nonconsecutive terms between a losing effort in 1888. Heck, I wrote an entire book about how Richard Nixon survived losing the 1960 race to JFK only to prevail in 1968.

Of course, not everyone managed to pull off successful comebacks. Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan in 1896, 1900, and 1908 and he lost all three times. Democrats also trotted out Adlai Stevenson twice, losing two lopsided contests to Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956. Republican Thomas Dewey looked set to win in 1948, four years after he lost to FDR, only to famously not defeat Harry Truman. And, during the days when Presidential elections were more regional in nature, men like Charles Pinckney, George Clinton, John Jay, Rufus King and others found themselves on the short end of multiple general election ballots, although their level of interest or involvement varied.

Then there’s Henry Clay.

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Vindicated by History: The 1893 Queen Isabella Commemorative Quarter.

A few things I’ve picked up from researching early commemorative coins:

  • The people behind them always hope they can raise a ton of money for a pet project or monument or expo. They rarely do.
  • The designs usually get denigrated by the numismatic press – oftentimes with a venom critics reserve for Limp Bizkit albums or Michael Bay movies.
  • The mint melts down the excess/unsold coins. As a result, the ones that did sell end up becoming valuable decades later – screwing over collectors on a budget like yours truly.

Those issues were all in play for the 1893 Isabella Quarter.

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My Trip to the 2019 ANA World’s Fair of Money – Part I

My first trip to a coin conference did nothing to prepare me for the 2019 World’s Fair of Money. Sponsored by the American Numismatic Association, this year’s event, held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill., boasted auctions, seminars, exhibits of historic rare coins and currency, and a bourse so large that it made the one from the show I went to in Schaumburg back in April look like a garage sale. Indeed, if the Schaumburg show was like Comic-Con, then this show was like being in the Battle of Wakanda scene in Avengers: Infinity War.

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