Monthly Archives: March 2013

1826 Poltina

This Russian piece is one of the coins in the banner at the top of this site, hiding a bit left of the center on the bottom.  You’ll note it’s in pretty decent shape, a prooflike AU.   (Full disclosure, I no longer own this coin.)

This is a silver half-ruble, or poltina (from the prefix pol- or half-) of 1826.  It’s the first year this particular “wings down” design was used, and it only ran to 1831.

0469o 1826 SPB NG poltina wings down small

The top reads “Poltina Coin,” the bottom is the date.  НГ is the initials of the mintmaster, Nikolai Grachev.  The eagle itself bears a shield with St. George on it, the traditional symbol of Muscovy.

0469r 1826 SPB NG poltina wings down small

The inscription reads, “Of pure silver, 2 Zolotniks, 10 1/2 Dolei” (which works out to almost precisely nine grams of pure silver), and the mintmark for St. Petersburg.

R. W. Julian (yes, that R. W. Julian) has done a lot of work on Russian coinage and has written a book covering silver coinage for the period from 1797-1917.  There is a short section near the front of this book where he lists ten particularly tough types for a collector to find (if they are assembling a type set, which I was), and this coin, plus the wings down 25 kopeks (quarter ruble) were among them.  Which is why I jumped on this coin when it showed up; it’s not only one of the toughies, it’s in fantastic condition.

Apparently a very small number of these were struck in platinum in 1826, and exactly one in 1827) as a test run for the later platinum coinage.  I am certain this coin wasn’t one of those, because a platinum piece would be twice as heavy as it “should” be.  (Also the platinum pieces have no edge lettering.)

This coin came in handy for another reason.  When building my Russian Coins Of Conquest exhibit, I needed a warlike graphic, as a sort of “logo” to tie the exhibit together and add visual interest.  Quick searches of the internet turned up nothing that wasn’t cheesy or just not what I had in mind.  Then it dawned on my that I had literally hundreds of scanned in images of Russian Imperial Eagles, and I settled on this particular coin because of its superior condition.  I chose the wings down eagle because it’s the only style the Russians used where the eagle is clutching arrows and a wreath, indicating war and peace–surely appropriate for an exhibit about occupation and regional coinage.

So first I had to laboriously mask out everything that wasn’t eagle; this took quite a bit of time because I didn’t want the edges of the eagle to look jagged.  I used Picture Publisher 7.0, an obsolete bit of software much easier to use than Photoshop.  (Today it has to be run on an XP virtual machine, which is a pain–but back in 2007 this was not much of a problem.)

wings down 0

I could almost imagine a stamped metal eagle like this gracing the cap of an officer in the Russian Army or police in the 1820s or 1830s.   (Would he be a full bird colonel?)  I’ve seen this eagle motif on at least some of the shoulder patches of today’s Russian military (with the crown, even though it’s a republic today).

But for an exhibit color is needed, so I started by making the eagle gilt:

wings down 1

Of course the shield ought to be red, as indicated by the vertical lines (that’s the convention for indicating “red” on uncolored sculpture, or relief, or engraving).  So I masked the shield and changed it to red:

wings down 2

And St. George should be white or silver, so some more masking:

wings down 3

Voila, one graphic suitable for use in an exhibit.


Few who have seen this exhibit (and I still have the coins for it and will often display it non-competitively) realize that the decorative eagle graphic was really a picture of a coin!  But if you go to an ANA show, there’s a good chance you will see this exhibit, and you will know.


I Am Running For The ANA Board Of Governors

I have decided to toss my hat in the ring and run for the ANA Board of Governors.

In 2007 I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I saw that the membership of the ANA wanted a change, and I was pleased to see the next three Boards do an excellent job of giving us that change. We now have a financially and organizationally stable Association whereas before we had one teetering on the brink of disaster. Now is the time to decide where we go from here and who will lead the ANA as it prepares for the future.  I believe I have much to offer in that regard.

You probably have two questions uppermost in your mind as your read this: Who am I, and what do I plan to do if elected? I’ll take them in the opposite order, starting with my plans.

Preserve the gains of the last six years.  Many of the leaders who pulled us back from the brink are no longer serving on the Board and many incumbents have chosen to stand down this year. They have done fabulous work under trying circumstances fixing the ANA, and they have earned a rest. They–and you–also deserve to know that their successors intend to preserve what they have done, and I am committed to doing so. If I am elected to the Board I will do my utmost to ensure that the ANA stays fixed. One thing I bring to the table that will help is that I live near the ANA headquarters, and can serve as the Board’s “man on the spot” should it ever be necessary.

Many challenges ahead.  The ANA needs to stay fixed because it must now face up to the future from a position of strength. Our hobby is undergoing many challenges right now, and many of them will only get worse.

Preparing for a (nearly) cashless society.  Cash is used less and less frequently and many claim it’s going to become irrelevant in much the same way we are watching happen to stamps, the other great government-produced collectible. I don’t believe cash will ever disappear but usage might decline precipitously, so that we will have low mintages even in good economic years. We will have to make extra efforts to inspire an interest in coins and paper money, and of course that will involve education, the core mission of the ANA.

Education must move to the internet.  The education itself will have to take forms new to many of us born before the age of the internet. The ANA is making great strides with its website, and the current envisioned upgrades to it will probably be completed in the upcoming term. But that will not mean the job is done; the internet–and people’s expectations of it–is constantly evolving. The actual task of upgrading the website will never be complete because the target is moving. And we should put more and more of our informational resources on the internet, including the library and museum.

The increasing threat of fakes.  Another challenge we face as numismatists is the increasing number and quality of fakes. Now you cannot even take a third party holder (“slab”) as assurance that a coin is genuine, as the holders are also being faked. The monthly column in The Numismatist is an important tool but it is not nearly enough. We should be putting far more information about these fakes online, both common techniques for making fakes, and the diagnostics for specific fakes, searchable by date and denomination.  This too is an effort that won’t ever be completed—in fact it will be difficult not to fall further behind–because the fakers continue to produce more fakes.

It is fortunate we have a healthy organization that can now apply itself to these and other challenges of the future, because there is a lot of work to be done.

Now on to who I am. I started collecting at the age of 6, taking cents out of circulation and pressing them into those blue folders. I graduated to larger denominations and foreign coins, and started buying coins to fill holes. I attended the first ANA spring show in 1978, held in an ice rink complete with the ice. (Many of the coins had frosty luster.) I went through the common period of disinterest in coin collecting going through college and the first years of my software engineering career, but then I returned to the hobby with a vengeance, collecting 20th century US and then Russian Imperial (1700-1917) coinage. I also served as president of both of the local clubs, and secretary of one of them, and did many years of work with the Colorado Springs coin show.

ANA Involvement.  Eventually I focused exclusively on Russian Imperial, and began exhibiting at ANA shows in 1998, racking up ten class wins, three bronze medals as second runner up for Best of Show, and finally three Howland Wood Best of Show awards in a row at World’s Fair of Money shows (2005-07) and additional awards at National Money Shows, all with Russian Imperial coinage, before retiring from “hard core” exhibiting in 2007. My collecting focus began to change back towards US Type and ancient coins at this time. I started judging exhibits in 2006, and have served as assistant chief judge once. In 2007 I joined the ANA’s Exhibits and Awards advisory committee. In 2009 I was appointed chair of that committee and have served in that capacity since. I am still judging and setting up the occasional exhibit, usually non-competitively, as one way of contributing to the ANA’s educational mission.

I’ve also endowed the National Money Show’s Best of Show award–quite a turn for the youngster who attended the first of those shows, agog at the cornucopia of coins and paper money, while shivering from the cold of an operating ice rink. Little did he know that someday his name would be on the top exhibit award for that show.

1800 Half Dime

This one has been a long time coming; it has been on layaway for months.

Early half dimes were struck on very thin planchets, and as a result most have been bent.  The almost inevitable half-joking comment was that if you sneezed on them they’d fold in half.  Bent coins don’t get encapsulated.  So the mere fact that this is not bent, and has been encapsulated makes it an unusual specimen!

One thing these photographs don’t convey is that this coin still has some luster to it, under dark yellow toning in the fields.  Justice has not been done here.

1800 half dime obverse - small

1800 half dime reverse-small

Capped Bust Dime

I recently purchased this 1811/09 Capped Bust dime for my type set; it lets me check off the open collar subtype for this denomination.  Of course this is not really an ideal type coin (though it is a good coin), it’s much too expensive a date for that.

When I started putting together the set, I made a surprising discovery.  These earlier types (draped bust and capped bust) in many ways reminded my of my time in Russian Imperial numismatics.  And that’s because back then minting was  still bleeding edge technology.  It was difficult to make two coins identical, because of everything from uneven and laminated planchets, to dies that weren’t identical, either because full hubbing wasn’t in use yet or because dies got used even after they cracked or got worn.  That plus the fact that most specimens from nearly two centuries ago are long gone, means no two coins in today’s marketplace are alike, even after you account for condition. I could look at two rubles from the same year and they were very individual, just as I can do with the US coinage from the same time.  It adds to the challenge of the hunt.



Why the ANA–And Its Leadership–Matters

In my previous post, I made the case that the most important group of people in numismatics is the collectors.  Dealers, grading services, publishers, scholars and researchers, etc. are all there because of the collectors, and they make their living by adding value to collectors’ pursuit of the hobby.

It’s important to remember that the groups are not distinct.  Many of us will fulfill more than one of these roles in our lives.  And even the most hard core collector has a little bit of the scholar, the dealer, and the investor in him.  The reverse is true too.  Most dealers collect something or even many different somethings, and I know a number who also have written books.

Many dealers, in fact, are primarily collectors, and they still have the collector mindset.  They are the sort who would make you say “he’s a very successful dealer, but he is still a collector at heart.”  [And I’ve come to conclude that that situation is rarely a coincidence.]  I think of these worthies as collector-dealers.

So with that necessary clarification out of the way, let’s talk a bit about organizations.

The ANA–the American Numismatic Association–is important because it is the national organization that focuses on the collector.  There are organizations out there that serve the dealers and the scholars, and they are definitely worthwhile organizations.  But the ANA is for us.

And since it is for us, we collectors need to play a very large role in running the ANA.

I used to take the stance that the ANA should be run entirely by pure collectors, and I was suspicious of dealers running for the Board of Governors.  I know now this was a mistake, because the ANA functions in many ways like a large business, and at least some of the people on the board need to know how to manage one.  An all-collector, no dealer board can be an invitation to disaster.  Fortunately we have a ready-made stock of trained businessmen in numismatics.  But I still insist that they have that collector orientation.  In other words, I want to see collector-dealers as I described them above, making up a large proportion of the ANA Board of Governors.

It’s easy, by the way, to tell that someone is a dealer–unless they are utter fools or have an extremely selective clientele they will go out of their way to publicize it.  It’s harder to tell if they are really collector-dealers.  That’s a “read” best made if you know the individual really well; you can tell whether they are more enthusiastic about the material they handle, or the deals they make.

But by that logic, shouldn’t the entire board be collector-dealers?  No.  I said the ANA functions in many ways like a large business.  But there are many ways that it does not, and should not.  It’s a non-profit and it is here to serve collectors and help the hobby grow.  So sometimes it needs to spend money on things that don’t have a good rate of return.  And it should pass up some money making opportunities for the opposite reason, refusing to grub for money in ways that demean or undercut itself, the hobby, its benefactors, its members, and so on.

The long-time treasurer of the ANA, the late Adna Wilde (whose big interest that I know of was Lesher Referendum Dollars–yes he was definitely one of us) would often admonish the ANA board to “remember the member.”  I’d go so far as to say that really means “remember the collector” though that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so well.

I think we want a balanced mix.  We want able people, all of them collectors, some of them scholars, and some of them successful businessmen, and all of them dedicated to the success of the ANA and the hobby, on the ANA Board of Governors.

The Core of Numismatics

The numismatic world–and all the related things like paper money, tokens, medals, and things that are even more exonumia than that–is pretty big, actually; not only does it span the world, but it’s big business, too.  There are investors, third party grading services, services that will check the third party grading service and tell you they agree with it, dealers, auction houses, publishing–oh lots of publishing, to the point where there are rare book dealers who specialize in numismatic books, and people talk in awe of others’ numismatic libraries!  I’ve seen no estimates but there just isn’t any way this is not a multi-billion-dollar “industry”–except it’s not an industry, it’s a hobby–in the United States alone.  And I am not including the part of it that’s actually dealing with precious metals that have no added numismatic (or “collector”) value.

All of it–all of it— depends on the collector.  The kid pushing quarters into a 50 State Quarters folder.  And the multimillionaire who bought the 1794 dollar that–many claim–is the very first US silver dollar ever made.  Without collectors who care about a grade, third party grading services would not exist.  The dealers would have no one to buy their stock, or for that matter, to sell them stock either.  Auction houses would have no bidders.  And few would care enough to buy the book before not buying the coin.  So that would wipe out the rare coin book dealers too.

That covers everything in my laundry list except the investor.  Surely the investors would still be out there, buying material and waiting for it to go up in price?  Well, maybe they would for a little while, if all the true collectors vanished.  But an investor is in it primarily to turn around and sell it for a profit later (nothing wrong with that), and for that he needs a buyer.  Now that buyer might be another investor.  Or it could be a collector.  But ultimately, why is the coin valuable?  Because some collector wants it, and wants it badly enough to part with big bucks to purchase a coin that has a face value of fifty cents and maybe ten dollars worth of silver in it.  The collector is the end user of the item, and without an end user, it has no market value. Were it not for us, no investor would care that the dime says 1894 on one side and “S” on the other.  So if we disappeared, the investors would eventually realize that they are now in a bubble… and that very realization would make it burst.

Again, a rare coin’s ultimate value to an investor lies in the fact that a collector wants it.  That having been said, investors entering a market can certainly increase demand that is already there; we’ve all see speculative bubbles, and I’ve been burned by one or two myself.  (The collector that has never made a mistake probably pulls everything out of circulation.  Which could itself be considered a mistake.)

All of those other parts of the hobby are nothing without us collectors.

Does that make them parasites?  Are they exploiting us?  Given the individuals involved are honest, and most are, absolutely not.  (Fraud, on the other hand is always bad.)  You see, we collectors would be almost nothing without them.  We could still collect, but we would be doing it from circulation, with no dealers.  Our collections would be pathetic.  We’d all be at the level of the kid with his coin folder–except we wouldn’t even have the folder, so we’d be wondering what years have “S” mint marks and what ones don’t.  (And if by chance we actually did stumble on something rare, we’d never know it.)  We’d have no idea what was out there, without the books–so the good news, I suppose, would be we’d have no idea how pathetic our collections were.  So yes we need the dealers and writers and publishers almost as badly as they need us.  And third party grading and certification is quite useful (yes! Though we sure like to gripe about them).  And auctions are, bar none, the best way to get your money out of your expensive and eclectic items when that time comes and your collection needs to be offloaded.

All these people make money off of us, but they are worth it.  Of course they are; if they weren’t would we spend our money on them instead of the next coin?  If we woke up one day and decided (for example) “you know these third party grading services are utterly worthless, that coin isn’t worth any more in the slab than out of it,” then suddenly the sounds of cracking slabs would reverberate across the land.  And that would be the end of them–slabs and graders both.  (Of course the fact that the slab really does add value does not mean you should buy the slabbed coin for its label!)

But it must be remembered that even though these individuals greatly enhance our enjoyment of the hobby, we collectors are the core.

Next:  Why the ANA–And Its Leadership–Matters