Archive for April, 2013

April 16, 2013

Once-Maligned Coin Nears Its Big Payday

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New York Times

By MATTHEW HEALEY

Published: April 14, 2013   http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/15/us/1913-liberty-head-nickel-is-expected-to-fetch-millions.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

On the rainy night of March 9, 1962, a head-on car crash scattered a quarter-million dollars’ worth of coins across a North Carolina highway,
and the life story of a solitary collector named George O. Walton came to an end. But another story began — one of expert blunders, abiding
family loyalty and long-awaited redemption.

Lying on the wet asphalt that night, in a custom holder that Mr. Walton
had had made for it, was the object that connected those two stories: a 1913 Liberty head nickel, a coin that was never meant to be, with its own enduring tale as one of America’s greatest rarities.

The year after Mr. Walton died, his heirs were given shocking news: experts in New York had decreed the nickel a worthless fake. Mr. Walton’s sister put it away in her closet, but the family never lost faith in their Uncle George’s legacy.

On April 25, at an auction in Chicago, that loyalty is expected to be rewarded. Now recognized as authentic, Mr. Walton’s nickel is expected to fetch $2 million to $5 million.

Mr. Walton’s nephew, Ryan Givens, of Roanoke, Va., described his uncle as a bluntly forthright Southerner who was largely self-educated.

“He was not a bragger, but he enjoyed talking to people about his coins. He liked matching wits with others and trading,” said Mr. Givens, who last saw his uncle at a family gathering a few weeks before the car crash. Though intensely private, Mr. Walton was “good at finding things,” learned quickly from mistakes and enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow collectors.

Mr. Walton had an odd knack for collecting coins.

His grandfather had encouraged him to collect the nickels he earned tending horses. As a teenager, Mr. Walton bet a group of schoolmates a coonskin against their gold dollar that he could beat them in wrestling. He won, and his appetite for gold was whetted.

Later on, his prized possessions included a set of early gold coins minted in the Carolinas by the Bechtlers, a family of 19th century metallurgists.

According to Mr. Givens, his uncle was also an astute trader. In the mid-1940s, he swapped another collector $3,750 worth of collectible gold coins for the 1913 Liberty head nickel, which was already legendary.

Mr. Walton was never a rich man, but his work as an estate appraiser often allowed him to get first crack at collectibles. His collecting passion extended to stamps, books, jewelry, Civil War memorabilia and guns. He accumulated so many vintage firearms that he had to buy another house just to store them, Mr. Givens said, and would often use his collections as collateral for bank loans to acquire more.

Though he owned several houses, Mr. Walton lacked a fixed abode. “Nobody knew where he was at any given time,” Mr. Givens said.

Instead, Mr. Walton kept his coins in safe deposit boxes, lived mostly in hotels, and traveled about in his 1956 Ford station wagon, visiting favorite dealers and showing up at coin exhibits and weekend bourses. He was on his way to a collector event in Wilson, N.C., to show his famous nickel on the night he died.       NICKEL-3-articleInline

The nickel’s story began in 1912. That year, United States five-cent pieces with a Roman numeral V and a woman’s head representing Liberty (she gave the coin its name) went out of production. In early 1913, that coin was replaced by a new design with an American Indian on the obverse, or front, and a buffalo on the reverse.

Controversy began in 1920, when Samuel Brown, a coin dealer, stepped forward with an anomaly: five nickels of the old V design, yet clearly dated 1913. Though he was evasive about their provenance, Mr. Brown sold all five nickels and they wound up together in the hands of Col. Edward H. R. Green, a famous collector with an insatiable appetite for all things unusual.

After Colonel Green died, a young collector named Eric P. Newman teamed up with a dealer in 1941 to buy many of Colonel Green’s coins, including the five 1913 Liberty head nickels. In an e-mail, Mr. Newman said that later that same year, he resold the coin that would eventually come into Mr. Walton’s collection.

Besides Mr. Walton’s heirs, “I believe that I am the only survivor of its various owners,” wrote Mr. Newman, now 101. “I am so lucky to have lived so long.”

It was Mr. Newman’s research that led to the discovery that Mr. Brown had been a mint employee in 1913, and might have illicitly produced the instant rarities himself. Mint records show no such coin was ever officially made.

Two of the five nickels are now in museums, leaving only Mr. Walton’s and two others in the hands of collectors.

After Mr. Walton died, his coins were auctioned in New York for $850,000 — a record sum for a coin collection in 1963.

“He had a major collection with great rarities,” said Douglas Mudd, curator of the American Numismatic Association’s Money Museum in Colorado Springs.

But in a stunning twist, the auction house rejected Mr. Walton’s nickel and sent it back to the family marked “no value.”

“For years, everybody scoffed at Walton because his nickel was called a fake,” said Mark Borckardt, a senior numismatic cataloger with Heritage Auctions in Dallas, which is selling the coin now. “They said he didn’t know what he was doing.”

Mr. Walton’s sister Melva, the mother of Mr. Givens, kept the nickel. “She thought a lot of Uncle George,” Mr. Givens said. “And 1913 was the year of her birth.”

After his mother died in 1992, Mr. Givens put the nickel in his bedside table. Meanwhile, numismatists wondered where the fifth nickel had gone.

Then in 2003, to promote a Baltimore coin event where the remaining four nickels would be shown together for the first time in 60 years, a group of coin mavens offered a reward for the missing one: $10,000 just to see it, $1 million if it were authenticated and sold on the spot.

Until then, “nobody had thought to call the Walton heirs,” said David Hall, one of those involved. Mr. Hall is a founder of Professional Coin Grading Service, which issued a certificate of authenticity for the coin, labeling it Proof-63, close to the top of the numismatic scale of 1-70.

But a newspaper reporter in Roanoke had done some sleuthing and encouraged Mr. Givens to step forward. Mr. Givens brought the coin to the Baltimore event, where a group of top coin experts examined the nickel and reached a unanimous verdict.

“The second I saw it, I knew it was real,” Mr. Hall said.

If the authenticity of Mr. Walton’s nickel was so clear in 2003, how could experts 40 years earlier have been so wrong?

“Any one of us would have had the same opinion in 1963,” Mr. Borckardt said. A half-century ago, he said, numismatic know-how “was in its infancy.” And those who discredited the nickel then might have never seen another 1913 Liberty head.

Since its rehabilitation, the Walton nickel has been exhibited at the Money Museum and around the country. Mr. Givens said he enjoyed seeing people talk about the coin, and does not look forward to selling it.

“I dread it,” he said. “But I’m told it’s a good time to sell.” He has considered using the money to set up something in his uncle’s memory to benefit the hobby.

Mr. Borckardt, who has grown friendly with Mr. Givens and his siblings, summed up. “The rediscovery and authentication of the nickel validated the life of George Walton,” he said, “and that to them was more important than the money.”

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April 10, 2013

Arizona Passes Law Making Gold And Silver Legal Tender

DailyMailNews April 9th

States are now rushing to push bills through allowing for gold and silver to be recognized as legal tender as politicians fear that the U.S. economy is going to collapse.
The push from states like Arizona, which passed through their House of Representatives on Monday allowing gold and silver to be considered legal tender, comes as conservatives fear that the Federal Reserve is running the country’s economy into a deep hole.

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Lawmakers say the global economy is on the precipice of financial ruin and the U.S. dollar could soon be worth less than the paper used to make it.
These doomsayers are pushing forward legislation that would declare privately minted gold and silver coins legal tender, no different under state law than the U.S. dollar printed by the federal Department of Treasury.
Arizona is one of more than a dozen states to incorporate similar laws into their roster, as many conservatives are harboring a growing distrust in government-backed money.
‘This is the type of currency we have had over the history of mankind,’ Republican state Representative Steve Smith said of the Arizona law.

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In 2011, Utah became the first state in the country to legalize gold and silver coins as currency.
Lawmakers in Minnesota, North Carolina, Idaho, South Carolina, Colorado and other states have debated similar laws in recent years.
Many investors have invested their money in precious metals in recent years as a hedge against the declining value of the dollar. When the value of the dollar declines, gold prices rise.
Gold rose $12, nearly 1 per cent, to $1,604.60 per ounce on Monday with news of Europe’s bailout plan for cash-strapped Cyprus. Silver inched slightly higher, up 2.3 cents to $28.874 per ounce.
The dollar was up against the euro, the currency used by 17 European countries, as well as the Japanese yen and the Canadian dollar in February.
The Arizona bill, which advanced in a 4-2 vote by a House committee Monday, states that gold and silver should be legal currency not subject to tax or regulation as property.
The Republican-led Senate gave the bill its blessing in February in a 17-11 partisan vote.
Proponents of the switch to gold and silver argue paper money is too vulnerable to government manipulations.

When central banks boost the amount of currency in circulation to drive down interest rates, the value of that currency relative to others can decline.
Gold-backed money fell out of favor during World War I because the U.S. and many other countries needed to print more cash to pay for the war.
In 1971, President Richard Nixon formally abandoned the gold standard. Now Republicans are pushing for it to come back as they do not trust President Obama and the economic policies put into place by Ben Bernanke during his time as the chairman of the federal reserve.

April 5, 2013

WW II Walking Liberty Half Dollars

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In 1941 The United States entered World War II by declaring war on Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th.  Collectors and investors have been pursuing a representation of Walking Liberty Half Dollars produced during the war years. The “Walker”, as it is affectionately called in the market, was the largest denomination coin minted at the time. They also represent an opportunity to invest in an undervalued area of the rare coin market! A 15 coin set of Walkers from all three mints (Philadelphia, Denver & San Fransisco) represent all the years the United States were involved in WWII. Many collectors also include the two years prior to Pearl Harbor. In 2016, the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor will be commemorated. Most expect the attention such an anniversary will draw to significantly increase the demand and value of these important issues.

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1941:  December 7th Attack on Pearl Harbor

1942:  First American Forces Arrive in Africa; Battle of

           Midway in the Pacific

1943:  U.S. invades Sicily and Italy

1944:  Operation Overlord (D-Day) liberates France &

           weakens Nazi hold on Europe

1945:  May 8th Germany surrenders; Atomic bomb dropped

           on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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Thomas Woodrow Wilson narrowly won re-election as 28th president of the United States, campaigning on the slogan, “He kept us out of war!” Within a few months, American troops would be heading for Europe after all. Mack Sennett’s Keystone Kops were making millions laugh in the nation’s movie houses, while New York’s Wally Pipp was home-run king in baseball’s American League.
Walking-Liberty-Half-Dollar-Uncirculated The year was 1916, and America was a nation in ferment. It was a time of transition: from horse and buggy to horseless carriage … farms to cities … domestic tranquility to foreign entanglement … peace to war.
Major changes were taking place in United States coinage, too. Within the previous decade, exciting new designs had debuted on six different U.S. coins, supplanting the serene, sedate 19th-century portraits that preceded them. And now, in 1916, three more old-style coins—the Barber silver coins—were heading for the sidelines as well.

Outside artists not on the staff of the U.S. Mint had furnished new designs for the six previous changes, and Mint Director Robert W. Woolley showed his satisfaction by going outside again. In 1915, he invited three noted sculptors—Hermon A. MacNeil, Albin Polasek and Adolph A. Weinman, all of New York City—to prepare designs for the three silver coins, apparently with the intention of awarding a different coin to each artist.

The Mint may not have planned it this way, but Weinman ended up getting two of the three coins, the dime and half dollar, with MacNeil getting the quarter and Polasek being shut out. It’s hard to imagine how Polasek or anyone else could have improved on the winning entries, though, for all three of the new coins—the Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter and Walking Liberty half dollar—are magnificent coinage artworks.
A. A. Weinman was born in Germany but came to the United States at the age of ten in 1880. He honed his skills as a student of the famed Augustus Saint-Gaudens and, by 1915, he was widely acclaimed as one of the nation’s finest sculptors.

For the obverse of his design, Weinman chose a full-length figure of Liberty striding toward the dawn of a new day, clad in the Stars and Stripes and carrying branches of laurel and oak symbolizing civil and military glory. The reverse depicts a majestic eagle perched on a mountain crag, wings unfolded in a pose suggesting power, with a sapling of mountain pine—symbolic of America—springing from a rift in the rock. These strongly patriotic themes resonated perfectly across a nation then preparing to enter World War I, ironically against the land of Weinman’s birth. Weinman placed his initials (AW) directly under the eagle’s tail feathers.

Unlike the other two Barber coins, the Barber half dollar wasn’t produced in 1916. Even so, the Mint delayed release of the new Walking Liberty coin until late November. It drew immediate praise. The New York Sun, for instance, pronounced it a “lively” coin, typifying “hustle,” while the Boston Herald said it had a “forward look on its face.”

First-year coins from the branch mints in Denver and San Francisco carry the “D” or “S” mintmark on the obverse, below IN GOD WE TRUST, as do some pieces minted the following year. Partway through production in 1917, the mintmarks’ location was moved to the lower left of the reverse, just below the sapling, and that’s where it remained until the series ended in 1947.
Over 485 million Walking Liberty halves were made between 1916 and 1947, but they were issued only sporadically during the 1920s and early ‘30s, none being minted in 1922, 1924-26 and 1930-32. These were coins with substantial buying power, enough to buy a loaf of bread, a quart of milk and a dozen eggs in the early ‘30s, so it didn’t take huge quantities to fill Americans’ needs, especially after the Wall Street crash plunged the nation into the Great Depression.

Mintages were particularly low in 1921, and the P, D and S half dollars from that year all rank among the major keys of the series. Other scarce issues include the 1916, 1916-S, 1917-D and S (with the mintmarks on the obverse) and 1938-D. Brilliant proofs were minted from 1936 to 1942, totaling 74,400 pieces, and a very few satin-finish proofs were struck in 1916 and ‘17.

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“Walkers,” as they’re frequently called, are large, precious metal coins with a much-admired design. As a result, they hold great appeal not only for traditional hobbyists but also for non-collectors. Many exist in grades up to Mint State-65. Even above that level, significant numbers exist for certain dates, particularly the later years. Most dates, however, come weakly struck, particularly on Liberty’s left hand and leg, head and skirt lines and on the eagle’s breast and leg feathers. Sharply struck coins often command substantial premiums. In an attempt to improve the striking characteristics of the design, some minor modifications were made by Chief Engraver George T. Morgan in 1918 and 1921 and again by Assistant Engraver John R. Sinnock in 1937 and 1938. None of the revisions seemed to help, as even later issues are often weak in the central parts of the design. Places to check for wear include Liberty’s head, breast, arms and left leg and the breast, leg and forward wing of the eagle.

A full set consists of 65 different date-and-mint combinations but is attempted and completed by many collectors. Although Walkers were not saved in any quantity by the public, particularly in the Depression years, professional numismatists like Wayte Raymond and others put away many early rolls during the ‘30s. Uncirculated specimens of certain dates in the 1910s and ‘20s are probably only available today due to the foresight of these astute dealers. Later-date Walkers also have a strong following: many collectors assemble “short sets” from 1934 to 1947 or 1941 to ‘47. Type collectors just seek a single, high-grade example.

The Franklin half dollar succeeded the Walker in 1948. But 38 years later, in 1986, Uncle Sam dusted off the Weinman design for the obverse of the one ounce American Eagle silver bullion coin, which has been minted annually ever since.