Browsing Tag

politics

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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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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Nixon on Mt. Rushmore?

I enjoyed watching the Watchmen pilot on HBO last week. This little Easter egg caught my attention. Apparently, in the Watchmen universe, Watergate never happened and Nixon won the Vietnam War. As such, he was so beloved and successful that they repealed the 22nd Amendment so he could run for three more terms and then added his face to Mt. Rushmore during the 20-something year tenure of his successor: Robert Redford. No word on whether or not Nixon still served as public partner for a major Wall Street law firm in the Watchmen universe.

Fun fact: The firm that eventually became Nixon Mudge once had Charles Rushmore as a name partner – a man whose claim to fame was that he had been the namesake for the famous monument.

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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Nice Review from the Massachusetts Law Review

Got a nice review for Nixon in New York from the Massachusetts Bar Review. Thanks and glad you enjoyed it!

“Li’s unvarnished look at the man is painstakingly researched and well-crafted. It is also a balanced and sympathetic appraisal of one of the central figures of the 20th century as he worked from an ignominious defeat to the most powerful position in the world. In addition to the political perspective, the inside look at the world of the Wall Street law firm in the 1960s is particularly compelling. Today, in the age of the megafirm, while political discourse is at an all-time low, Li’s story is a solid look at an equally divisive time and an undeniably polarizing figure. There are lessons to be learned.” 

What’s Old is New Again: The 2001 Buffalo Dollar

Another one of my favorites (image via me).

One thing I’ve learned through my years of coin collecting is that truly popular designs never really go away – politicians and Treasury officials will always figure out ways to recycle them. 

For instance, in 1986 the U.S. Mint resurrected two of the most universally beloved and acclaimed coin designs, the Walking Liberty half dollar and the Saint Gauden’s double eagle, for its silver and gold eagles, respectively. Three decades later, the Mint re-used the Mercury dime obverse for its palladium eagles. After all, why waste perfectly good (and popular) designs. Especially if they help entice investors, collectors and doomsday preppers to part with their hard-earned money. 

So, when the government was coming up with ways to fund the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in 2000, one of the things it did was authorize a special commemorative silver dollar featuring one of the most iconic designs in American coinage history.

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A Penny By Any Other Name: The Controversial 1909 VDB Cent

Donald Trump likes to talk about how he puts his name on everything. Towers. Plazas. Defunct airlines. Mail order steaks. Made in China ties. Even the bottled water in his casinos and restaurants is branded with his name.

Trump’s branding instincts are so engrained that he even went so far as to chastise George Washington for not naming Mount Vernon, Mount Washington. 

“If he was smart, he would’ve put his name on it,” Trump said, according to Politico. “You’ve got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you.” Apparently, Trump, who currently resides in Washington, D.C. and sleeps a stone’s throw from the Washington Monument, thinks George Washington is about to be written out of the history books because he didn’t think to start selling Washington Axes after cutting down that cherry tree.

Then again, maybe his restraint was because that kind vanity used to be frowned upon.

Take Victor David Brenner.

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“Am I Not a Woman & a Sister”: A Hard Times Token That Foreshadowed Even Harder Times Ahead. (UPDATED)

Andrew Jackson has been in the news a lot over these last few years.

First it was the Obama Administration’s decision in 2016 to replace Old Hickory on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman.

Then came the 2016 election, when Donald Trump openly and repeatedly praised Jackson and expressed admiration for the controversial ex-President in a way that hasn’t been in vogue in decades. Trump has also gone out of his way to associate himself with Jackson, drawing parallels with his predecessor’s populism, combative nature, political inexperience and anti-establishment attitude. Trump has Jackson’s portrait in the Oval Office, has made a pilgrimage to the Hermitage and has even given Jackson credit for things that happened well after his death. Trump’s admiration for Jackson is such that his administration has refused to commit to replacing Jackson on the $20 with Tubman. 

And, like Jackson, Trump has had his problems with the country’s central bank.

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Arkansas Centennial Half Dollar (Joe Robinson Version): A Forgettable Coin for a Forgotten Senate Giant

When we think of the most powerful Senate Majority Leaders in U.S. history, we tend to think of people like Lyndon Johnson, Robert Taft, Howard Baker, Bob Dole, or even modern Senators like Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid.

Joseph T. Robinson of Arkansas, however, has largely been forgotten about.

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