Friday, February 12, 2016

The Story of the Iconic John F. Kennedy Half Dollar

Just 69 days after President John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963, the first Kennedy Half Dollar was struck. This coin is among the most collected worldwide, by a generation of people who are not coin collectors, but who admired the American leader.

On November 25, 1963, Mint Director Eva B. Adams telephoned Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts of the Philadelphia Mint to advise him of a movement to commemorate the slain president and to place his portrait on a US coin, but the denomination was not yet known.

A mere 3 days later, Roberts and Frank Gasparro did the impossible. The first dies were completed and the trial strikes were hand-carried to the Mint director's office. This record-breaking pace was made possible by the fact that the Mint's Original models for the president's medal were available in the die shop at the Philadelphia Mint.

In a recorded January 1964 interview, Gasparro, then an assistant engraver at the Mint with more than 20 years service (and later chief engraver himself) reflected on the difficulties. He said - "The reverse of the half dollar was hard to strike up at first. I had to make a deeper dish and reduce the basin in the galvano for the half dollar. I did this so that the obverse would be the first thing to come up."

If this hadn't been done, the Kennedy portrait would have been soft and the hair details would simply have melded into a single blob...

Roberts later wrote that Mrs. Kennedy asked for changes to the late president's hair, which Roberts said could be accomplished in the short time remaining. He went back to Philadelphia, where he made the part in the hair on the portrait less pronounced and more accents were added.

Within 10 days, Roberts was en route to West Palm Beach, with the final trial strikes, which Jacqueline Kennedy approved on Dec 27, 1963.

There remained minor technical glitches in the production of the new coin, but by January 30, 1964 (a mere 69 days after the assassination), production began at the Denver Mint. During the following week, Philadelphia Mint production commenced and on Feb 11, 1964 the formal ceremonies were conducted at the Philadelphia and Denver Mints to mark the issuance of the new coin. The legacy of the Kennedy half dollar had begun.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Story of the 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle $20 Gold Piece

The 1933 $20 Saint Gaudens Gold Piece has a unique place in collecting history. Designed by famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens from a design approved by President Theodore Roosevelt, the 1933 $20's celebrated story starts with an FDR and New Deal effort to control the national gold supply as a means of ending the Great Depression.

When FDR banned private gold ownership, the 1933 Double Eagle had already been struck at the Mint, but not generally released into circulation. The Mint melted over 400,000 Saints with a 1933 date and no mint mark. A few escaped the dustbin of history and the melting heaps, purchased by private collectors for as much as $2000 at the time.

The government began seizing them in 1944 and the coins went into hiding. In all, the Mint seized at least 19 specimens, but a number of coins continued to be traded on the sly, often at relatively high prices. However, some well known collectors turned them in voluntarily.

The beginning of the end came when one example appeared as lot 1681 in the Col. John W. Flanagan sale and sold by Stack's on March 25, 1944. The coin was seized by the secret service, no compensation was ever offered and the coin was reputedly melted. At the time of its proposed sale, Stack's claimed in the auction catalog to know of 8 or 10 pieces that had been sold privately. They underestimated the number...

In 2003 the family of Israel Switt discovered 10, 1933 Double Eagles in a safe deposit box and sent them to the U.S. Mint for authentication. The Mint said they were genuine and declined to return them, claiming they were stolen government property.

The Mint had stored its 10 coins in Fort Knox, but periodically removed them for an impressive public display using armed guards. In December 2006, Switt's descendants brought suit to regain possession in a federal court case that lasted for nearly 9 years. Finally, in 2015 they won and were awarded the rights to the 10 rare gold coins - said to be worth around $80 million...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Buried Treasure: Couple Out For Walk - Finds $10 Million in Rare U.S. Gold Coins Buried Along California Trail

The Story of the 1943 Copper Lincoln Wheat Cent

The United States was at war, fighting to preserve our national way of life. Congress had already been asked to take copper out of the nickel to help the munitions industry. As the war progressed, it became necessary to remove copper from the cent as well. The War Powers act of 1942 even allowed for a new three cent piece, called a "Paddy" to be struck. The familiar bronze cent alloy had been unchanged since 1864, but copper was removed and replaced starting in 1943 with a steel cent that was zinc plated to prevent rust.

In 1940, the U.S. Mint produced about 800 million cents; the following year, about a billion. In 1943, 1.2 billion steel cents were produced. So were about 24 copper cents with the 1943 date and mint mark. This mint error, probably done with leftover blanks that were put into the hopper and fed unwittingly to the coinage presses, created a major rarity that reminds us, even today, of the trying times of that era.

Other similar coins include 1944 steel cents (also presumably made from from erroneously used blanks) and off-metal strikes of blanks intended for foreign coins that the Mint was contracted to produce. There even was a 1946 war nickel found in pocket change several years ago and worth thousands of dollars. The 1944 steel cent has a $75,000 to $100,000 price range, depending on condition. The 1943 copper cent - multiples of that level...