Browsing Tag

Augustus Saint-Gaudens

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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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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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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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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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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