Browsing Tag

history

When Mitchell Met Nixon (Book Excerpt)

In honor of the premiere of Gaslit, the Watergate-era drama starring Julia Roberts and Sean Penn as Martha and John Mitchell, enjoy an excerpt from Nixon in New York looking at the origins of what was, arguably a far more consequential relationship for John.

At first glance, John Newton Mitchell wasn’t an obvious choice for campaign manager. The bald-headed, gruff-mannered, perpetually pipe-smoking bond lawyer had never even worked on a political campaign before, let alone run one. Unlike many of Nixon’s political intimates, Mitchell had no longstanding relationship with the former vice president—they had met, briefly, during Nixon’s congressional days but didn’t get to know each other until after Nixon moved to New York.

It wasn’t even clear what Mitchell’s political ideology was, let alone whether it was consistent with Nixon’s. In a 1973 profile of Mitchell in the New York Post, one longtime associate couldn’t recall ever having a single political conversation with him. In fact, he could have easily gone to work for the Democrats. Mitchell’s former press secretary, Jack Landau, would reveal in 1993, five years after his old boss’s death, that Mitchell had been offered an interesting opportunity in 1960: helping run Jack Kennedy’s campaign. According to Landau, Bobby Kennedy had met with Mitchell and tried to convince his fellow future attorney general to join the team. Mitchell demurred, but years later, after everything that had happened with Nixon, he seemed to have second thoughts. “If I had it all over to do,” Mitchell said with a smile on his face, “I’d run Jack Kennedy’s campaign.”

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The Big 2-5-0

America’s semiquincentennial is coming up. Or is it a sestercentennial? Or bicentennial-and-a-quarter?

Whatever you want to call it, it’s America’s 250th birthday. Planning commissions are already meeting to figure how to properly commemorate the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. If history is any guide, commemorative coins will be part of those plans.

Will it be like 1876, when the U.S. Mint produced an official centennial medal? Or will it be like 1926, when it produced a sesquicentennial commemorative half dollar? Or 1976, when it produced new bicentennial reverse designs for circulating quarters, half-dollars and dollar coins?

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Why Isn’t There a Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Coin?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has his own holiday (although some states have combined it with holidays recognizing people who were antithetical to his beliefs and teachings).

He has his own postage stamps.

He has schools, monuments, songs and in most cities, he has his own street — although those roadways don’t always have the best rep. (As Chris Rock once said: “Martin Luther King stood for non-violence. Now what’s Martin Luther King? A street. And I don’t care where you live in America. If you’re on Martin Luther King Blvd, there’s some violence going down!”)

One thing he doesn’t have is a U.S. Mint-issued coin. Why is that?

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The Olympics: A Great Excuse for Commemorative Coins

Here are some things that are almost always true of the modern Olympic Games:

  • They’re really expensive and end up costing the host city a fortune.
  • For two weeks, the Olympic Village turns into a scene from Caligula.
  • The host country will always issue commemorative coins.

As the 2020(1) Summer games wind down, I thought I’d show off some of my Olympic coins:

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To Err is Human — And Sometimes Lucrative

As someone who collected baseball cards during the late 80s/early 90s, there were a few players who were always in demand. Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Ken Griffey Jr. Bo Jackson. Todd Van Poppel (no, seriously — one of my friends had a 1991 Upper Deck rookie card for the overhyped prospect who ended up with a career record of 40-52 and a 5.58 ERA and we all thought he had won Powerball).

But the guy everyone wanted a piece of was Gregg Jeffries. A can’t miss prospect for the New York Mets, Jeffries was the first player to win the Minor League Player of the Year Award from Baseball America twice (other players to have won the award include Dwight Gooden, Canseco, Frank Thomas, Derek Jeter, Mike Trout and the only other 2x winner: Andruw Jones). With his versatility in the field and undeniable talent at the plate, Jeffries started his pro career in 1987 with a bang and made an instant impact for the defending champion Mets. The hype train went into overdrive and his rookie cards became the hottest thing since Prometheus brought fire to the people.

So when I got the above Donruss card and noticed the coloring error, I thought I had hit the jackpot. Error cards can be extremely rare and valuable, so the fact that I had one for a player in such demand as Jeffries meant I’d never have to work a day in my life, right?

Obviously, things didn’t work out that way (for me or Gregg, who had a fine 14-year career, including some excellent seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals in the mid-90s, but will never be voted into the Hall of Fame). The value of error cards, and baseball cards as a whole, depend on supply and demand. And once it was clear that Jeffries wasn’t the second coming, demand plummeted and everyone moved on to the next can’t miss kid (Jeter, Chipper Jones, A-Rod… there’s always someone).

Error coins are the same way. Whether or not you have a Griffey Jr. or a Jeffries depends on supply and demand. Here are a few of the error coins I’ve collected over the years:

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Barber Coins: Were They Really ‘Beneath Contempt’?

When an 1891 contest to determine new designs for the dime, quarter and half-dollar went bust, it played right into Charles Barber’s hands. The Chief Engraver for the U.S. Mint had wanted to design the coins himself, and when the contest failed to yield any worthy designs, he got his wish.

Unfortunately for Barber, his victory would prove to be Pyrrhic. Be careful what you wish for.

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George Washington Colonial Coins (UPDATED)

This won’t be one of my normal Coin Blog posts. I wanted to show off these coins but didn’t have too much to add that hasn’t already been written by others.

Anyway, I really like these George Washington colonial coins and I’m glad I made the investment in them. Understandably, Washington was a rock star after the successful conclusion of the Revolutionary War, and there was a huge demand for merchandise bearing his image — think Notorious RBG (R.I.P.) but for the 18th and 19th centuries.

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Bush v. Gore: The Coin

In general, I try to avoid coins issued by private mints. They tend to have very little numismatic value and can even be of dubious legality. In fact, they aren’t legally “coins” since they aren’t issued by a government. Instead, they are often marketed as “rounds.”

But when the private Washington Mint released this silver round in 2000 amidst the uncertainty over who won that year’s Presidential election, I jumped at the chance to buy it. For one thing, I’ve always been a sucker for political-themed exonumia – especially Hard Times Tokens.

For another, this unique two-headed coin with a bust of Al Gore on one side and George W. Bush on the other with each man named as the 43rd President of the United States really captures just how bizarre that entire period was. Between the retracted concessions, hanging chads, organized “riots,” court battles and hand recounts, it seemed like every day provided a new twist and turn as we tried to determine just who had actually won Florida – and therefore the election.

Apparently, the Washington Mint had already been working on an inauguration medallion and had prepared busts of both Gore and Bush. Not knowing which one they would get to use, and inspired by a Tonight Show sketch shortly after Election Day about ways to determine the winner, the Mint got the idea to make the two-headed coin. They even sent two coins on Nov. 13 to Jay Leno to use for a possible skit. Ultimately, after another month, Gore conceded following the Supreme Court’s decision stopping Florida’s recount.

I figured the coin was relevant now since this is the first time since 2000 where one major-party candidate challenged the outcome of a Presidential race. This time, however, enough states have certified their returns to give one candidate a clear majority in the Electoral College, and there have been multiple lawsuits filed in several states instead of just Florida. Those lawsuits aren’t going well, though, which probably explains why there haven’t been any two-headed Joe Biden/Donald Trump coins.

Good as Gold

When it comes to numismatics, one of my biggest regrets is not buying more gold coins in the early 2000s.

Counterpoint: For most of that time I was either a poor post-undergrad, a poor law student, or a poor post-JD. Buying gold probably wouldn’t have been a good use of my money — at least not compared to rent, utilities and food.

The price of gold tends to move inversely to the overall health of the economy — going up when the economy is poor as investors like to use it as a hedge against falling stock prices, weakened dollars, inflation, and all sorts of other economic markers, and going down when those markers are strong. Thanks to the 1990s economic boom, gold prices were low throughout most of that decade leading into the early 2000s. In fact, things were so great that the price of gold had cratered to around $253 per ounce in mid-July 1999 — the lowest it had been since 1979 (a year later, I nearly bought a beautiful Saint-Gaudens double eagle for $300, but decided I couldn’t spare it). But like any sustained period of economic euphoria, you never see the crash coming until it’s too late.

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Silver (Dollar) Anniversary

UPDATE (12/17/2020): The House bill was passed via unanimous consent in the Senate. Assuming the President signs it, looks like we’ll be getting those new Morgan and Peace Dollars after all.

UPDATE (01/05/2020): The President signed the bill into law.

I attended two coin conventions in 2019, and one thing they both had in common was that there was no shortage of Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars available from the many vendors on the bourse. There was such an abundance that Scrooge McDuck could have bought every single silver dollar with whatever pocket change he happened to have (assuming he wears pants – Donald doesn’t, so why should he?), loaded them into a wading pool and gone for a dip.

By this time next year, there could be even more Morgan and Peace dollars hitting the market — provided that Congress can get its act together.

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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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