outside the lines
In early 1883, a new design was released for the five cent denomination, commonly referred to as the nickel. In fact, the denomination itself was still relatively new as up until 1873, the so-called half dime also with a value of five cents was also being struck for circulation.
The Liberty Head Nickel was designed by Charles E. Barber and incorporated the iconic figure and many agricultural elements. The front of the coin pictured the head of Liberty wearing a crown, with sprigs of wheat and cotton placed in her hair. The reverse featured a large Roman numeral V surrounded by a wreath of corn, wheat, and cotton. Important to note, the denomination was only expressed with the large “V” and nothing more.
Immediately some began to take advantage of the ambiguity. They took newly minted Liberty Nickels, gave them a thin coating of gold, and passed them off as $5 gold pieces!
Once the problem became apparent, there were rumors of a recall of the new coins, although this never took place. What did happen was a slight redesign of the reverse. The word “CENTS” was added immediately below the wreath. Presumably this solved the problem, as the coins continued to be minted in this design without further modification until 1912.
More unscrupulous action would eventually lead to the creation of the 1913 Liberty Nickel. It is believed that five examples of this coin that was not supposed to exist were secretly minted and removed from the Mint. Years later when they were publicized, they became valuable rarities. Despite their checkered history, the coins now reside in collections and are valued in millions of dollars!
The dollar denomination of the United States has had a long, ever changing history. While many pieces had been struck, there were long intervals between the different series, and whole generations would not see a dollar coin in denomination. Following the dollar bills that were introduced in 1862, the majority of citizens preferred those, and when production of the peace dollar, the last of the silver dollar denomination was discontinued, few people bothered. Silver dollars remained in use in the casinos in Nevada, but in most other places dollar bills served the need.
During the 1970s the situation had remained the same, and the introduction of the Eisenhower dollars did not help much. Not containing any silver, but of the same size as the old silver dollars, the people considered the new dollars to be too big and unusable in circulation. As a solution, a new, lighter and thinner, dollar piece was proposed and experiments to create planchets were made, both by the Mint and private companies. These are all very scarce, although relatively affordable due to lack of collectors interest. Among the proposed metals was titanium, with test pieces produced by Gould & Co. which was based in Cleveland, OH. None of these would make it to the coinage.
Eventually a small sized dollar coin was authorized under Public Law Number: 95-447. This was viewed as a solution to the problems cited for the large sized dollars. The coins would have a diamter 26.5 mm, a little bit bigger than a quarter, and would be struck from a composition of copper nickel clad. The Susan B. Anthony Dollar was first minted in 1979. Unfortunately, the solution to the problems viewed for the last design, became new problems. The small size dollar coin was clumsy in circulation since it could easily be mistaken for a quarter! After three years, the coins stopped being minted and it would be many years before the small sized dollar would get another chance.
The longest running series in the history of United States coinage prepares for yet another make over in 2010. The Lincoln Cent was first created to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln in 1909. Since that date, the design has been changed to mark two other anniversaries in 1959 and 2009.
The 1909 Lincoln Cent was designed by Victor D. Brenner. He was a Lithuaniun born immigrant to the United States who had prepared a bust of Lincoln a few years prior, which would become the basis for his penny design. The reverse of the coin was also his design and features a pair of wheat stalks, paying homage to the United States agrarian roots. The coin was released for the 100th anniversary or centennial of Lincoln’s birth.
Fifty years later to celebrate the sesquicentennial or 150th anniversary, a new reverse design was created by Frank Gasparro. This design featured the Lincoln Memorial building. The original Lincoln Cents obverse or “heads” design was retained and paired with the new reverse.
One hundred years after the release of the first coin in the series, another reverse redesign was authorized. This celebrated the bicentennial or 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. With a hat tip to the success of the 50 State Quarters series, the new reverse design was not one, but four designs which would be released at intervals throughout the year. These designs featured the different aspects of Lincoln’s life.
One year later, a final and permanent new reverse design will be featured on the 2010 Lincoln Cent. For the first time, this does not mark any particular anniversary, simply the year after an anniversary. The new design will be representative of Lincoln’s preservation of the Union.
The United States has offered gold and silver bullion coins since 1986. The highly successful American Eagle programs allowed the public to have a government sanctioned vehicle for the investment in precious metals. Gold coins were sold in one ounce and several fractional ounce sizes. Silver coins were sold in one ounce sizes. A decade after the program began it was expanded to include platinum, which is more of an industrial metal than classic precious metal.
The American Platinum Eagle made its debut in 1997. Similar to the gold bullion coins, it was offered in one ounce and several fractional ounce sizes. This accomodated different levels of investment. In the inaugural year for the fledgling series, the US Mint marked 73,350 ounces of platinum sales. At the time the price of platinum was under $400 per ounce.
As the years went on, platinum entered a series of year over year gains, which brought the metal to heights few would have expected. Sales of platinum bullion peaked early in the series in the year 1998 at 175,650 ounces. These high sales were experienced basically at the beginning of platinum’s run which would bring the metal over $2,000.
In the ensuing years, the price of the metal kept rising, as the number of Platinum Eagles kept falling. When platinum was hitting its peak in the year 2007, sales had fallen to a mere 9,050 ounces for the entire year. During 2008, platinum reached a brand new high and then collapsed. The falling price brought some speculation back up to the plate and saw sales of 33,700 ounces.
How will platinum prices and sales do in the coming years? The unusual volatility impacted the supply of bullion blanks needed to strike the coins. This necessitated the delay of production for the coins, which are still on hiatus half way through 2009.
The latest attempt for the United States Mint to produce a series of dollar coins that actually circulate began in 2007. The previous attempts had included a large sized clad dollar coin with the Ike Dollar from 1971 to 1978, a small sized dollar featuring Susie B. from 1979 to 1981, and a small sized golden dollar featured Sacagawea from 2000, that still prattles on.
The 2007 attempt was designed after the State Quarter series and provided for rotating designs, which would make the coins more collectible and more exciting. The series known as Presidential Dollars, featured each of the Presidents in the order that they served the country. Starting from George Washington, the series for 2007 was rounded out with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.
The composition of the dollar coins was the unique alloy developed for the prior Sacagawea Dollars. This consisted of a mixture of 88.5% copper, 6% zinc, 3.5% manganese, and 2% nickel. This is configured as a core of pure copper, with a manganese brass outer layer. The color is golden, but the coins don’t seem to weather circulation very well, often becoming discolored from fingerprints alone.
To coincide the the series of the Presidents, a separate bullion program was also enstated to honor their wives. This series of First Spouse Coins was done in pure (24 karat) gold. Each First Lady would have her own uniquely designed coin, featuring her likeness and something representative of her life or influence. For 2007, the honorees included Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison.
These series both have a long way to go, towards honoring all of the Presidents and spouses. So far, it has ranged towards the mid-19th century with the latest releases for John Tyler and his first and second wives, Letitia Tyler and Julia Tyler.