Helpful Numismatic Thoughts

From time to time I jot down various thoughts that relate to numismatics that I like to share with others whom I feel might be interested. Below are a few of those thoughts.

In the “sleeper coin” category, please consider the 1940-S Walking Liberty half dollar.
  • Generally speaking, if you can read and assimilate images, on grades from Poor to Extra Fine, you can grade! With all the excellent sources available (grading reference books, on-line images, etc.), you should be able to determine with a high degree of accuracy, these circulated grades. The difficulty arises when you step into the About
    Uncirculated and Mint State arena. Experience, based upon learning the intricacies of these grades and looking at a lot of coins is the best teacher. As my good friend Ken Bressett so eloquently states: “Grading is really very simple. All you need are four things: 1) A good loupe, 2) a good light, 3) a good memory, and 4) 20 years experience.”
  • The rim and the edge of a coin are two different things, and should not be confused with each other. The rim is a part of both the obverse and reverse die, and surrounds the design on both sides of the coin. The edge is the oft-called “third side” of a coin and is that portion that is sometimes flat, sometimes reeded, or sometimes with a design of some sort. Folks often confuse these two terms when talking about identifying areas on a coin.
  • When considering the purchase of a raw (non-encapsulated) key or even a semi-key date coin, especially in a high grade, the first thing a savvy collector should ask him/herself is “Why is this coin not in a slab?!” There are instances, of course, when a coin has just emerged from an old collection and hasn’t had time to get “entombed”, but by-and-large, one expects coins of higher value to have been professionally graded. In some cases, maybe they were, but received a “no grade” for one reason or another. A raw coin like this should be a red flag as to “what’s wrong with this piece?”.
  • When trying to determine a doubled die from strike or mechanical doubling, always look for “notching” on the serifs of the numbers and/or letters. Make sure the images are raised and rounded (die doubling) and not flat, shelf like and close to the field (strike doubling). Too, on most strike doubled coins, especially the mint state and Proof specimens, that “doubling” is shiny where the metal was actually sheared off the letters, etc. at the time of the strike when the loose die twisted and caused damage in those areas.
  • Don’t pooh-pooh those undated Buffalo nickels! You may have a gold mine looking at you that you don’t recognize. The most valuable Buffalo nickel is the 1916-P Doubled Die Obverse variety, and you can identify it as such on a dateless coin! The easiest way to do so is to look closely at the long feather at the back of the Indian’s neck. If you see the right side of that feather is doubled, hoot ‘n holler and make plans to take your wife to the fanciest restaurant in town, because you’ve just hit the jackpot – you’ve found the 1916-P DDO! The other two smaller feathers are also doubled, but it’s easier to pick it up on the longest one. The grading services will grade this dateless variety, and even in Fair condition, it’s a $1,000+ coin. You’re welcome!
  • Keeping with my favorite series, the Buffalo nickel, on well circulated pieces that you think might be the 1918/7-D overdate, look closely to see if the upper right and the lower left loops of the “8” are filled and see if you can make out a flatness across the top of the 8 from the upper bar of the 7. There is also a diagnostic die crack from the right top of the tie on the Indian’s braid down to the southeast into the cheek. This may not be visible on lower grade specimens.
  • On the 1937-D 3-Leg Buffalo, one of the diagnostics that is almost always pointed out is the “roughness” (die erosion) at the back of the Indian’s neck. To be sure, it is there on all legitimate 3-Leggers, but it very often appears on many regular 1937-D coins as well, so do not rely on this alone.
  • When grading Buffalo nickels and Walking Liberty half dollars, I grade them 90% from the reverse. I find it much easier to pick up the first evidence of wear by examining the hip bone and the flank underneath it on the Buffalo and the breast feathers immediately under the eagle’s neck feathers on the Walker. First wear will manifest itself by a lighter color, which is the loss of the original luster in these areas.
  • If you see a difference in color on the high point(s) of a coin, make sure that color is not shiny. If it is, it is likely the result of coin-to-coin contact, either in a roll or in a bag, and will have a completely different look. This alone does not make it a non-mint state coin.
  • Very many of the Morgan dollars from the New Orleans mint during the early 1880s are weakly struck and show little or no detail in the hair over Liberty’s ear or on the eagle’s breast. Trying to determine whether this is wear or a weak strike is sometimes challenging. What you should look for is that change in color, sometimes lighter, sometimes darker, in these areas which denotes wear. If those portions show a “frosty” appearance, that is the original planchet frost from not having been struck out by the design (a weak strike).
  • There is another phenomenon that is associated with many Morgan dollars during this era and that is coins showing what I refer to as planchet striations. These are light, parallel “grooves” in a coin in the areas of high relief such as the hair over the ear, the breast feathers etc., which occur on the planchet before the coin is struck. Until recently, in order to reduce the thick ingots for the various denominations down to the proper thickness, they went through a series of rollers for this process. Once the proper thickness was achieved, the strip went through a final pass of large knife blades to scrape any impurities off the top and bottom of these strips. If those blades had any nicks or imperfections, the blades would impart long parallel scratches in the strip. These scratches would remain on the strip through the blanking process when planchets were created, and if deep enough, would not be struck out at the time they were struck by the dies. The grading companies know this, and unless very severe, they usually do not impact the grade/value of the coin.
  • On any 1910-P or S Lincoln cent, it might be a good idea to check the lower reverse where the “V.D.B.” might appear. I sold a Proof 1910 many years ago with just a vestige of those letters by the rim and speculation has been for years that some left over 1909 reverse dies with the V.D.B. might have been polished down to remove these letters and used for 1910 striking’s. I’ve seen quite a few 1910 coins with heavy die polishing marks in this area which leads me to believe that there is some truth to this rumor.
  • An easy way to tell the 1970-S Small Date is to check the last two letters in LIBERTY. On the Small Date those letters, especially the “Y” are very weak.
  • For some unknown reason, most higher grade 1879-O, 1880-O and 1881-O Morgan dollars are either very lightly circulated or have a great many contact marks. Finding a clean cheek and field on the obverse of one of these dates is tough! Incidentally, although “bag marks” is used universally, the correct term is “contact marks”.. Bags don’t make marks – other coins do.
  • To spot a “whizzed” coin which is usually created by using a high speed wire brush, note that the overall appearance of the coin looks the same, with no color changes or reflection. The false “luster” is all-encompassing and the surfaces usually appear to be “wavy” under high magnification. Also, you may look for a buildup of metal (like a ridge) on the edges of the letters, numbers and devices.
  • “Milk spots” on coins such as many Peace dollars are there for good, so don’t try to remove them. They are probably the result of the planchet being improperly dried from the cleansing bath before being struck and the solution on the planchet was struck into the coin, never to be gone.
  • In the “sleeper coin” category, please consider the 1940-S Walking Liberty half dollar. The next year’s 1941-S has received all the hype about being a weakly struck date, but I have found that by far the earlier 1940-S is much, much tougher to find with even a decent strike. No one seems to have woken up to this fact yet as the 1941-S is priced in the grey sheet at $350.00 in MS-65 while the 1940-S stands at $220.00. I’ve seen infinitely more 1941-S Walkers in MS-65 with a decent strike than I have 1940-Ss, and for the past 5-6 years I’ve been latching onto any 1940-S graded MS-65 (or 66) I can find with anywhere near good details.
  • An easy way to tell if you have a 1916 Standing Liberty quarter if it’s a coin with the T-1 reverse and no date is to check Miss Liberty’s hair behind her cap. The 1916 only has one strand of hair while the 1917 T-1) has two. Also check the lower gown near the foot. On the 1916 it goes over to the foot, and on the 1917 (T-1) it curves upward toward the ankle.
  • On the 1942/41-P Mercury 10c, the bottom of the “4” is doubled on the right side of the vertical while the bottom leg of the “4” on the 1942/41-D is doubled on the left.