To my mother-in-law? Almost, but not quite! Instead, one of the most beloved coins of all times was introduced 100 years ago—the buffalo nickel! (No connection implied between a buffalo and my mother-in-law! Any resemblance is purely coincidental, I swear.)
Designed by James Earl Fraser, these coins were introduced in 1913 and were produced through 1938. While worn examples are fairly attractive, those examples that are “mint fresh” are absolutely beautiful!
His initial design, though, was quickly changed. Underneath the buffalo, “Five Cents” sat too high on the coin and was quickly worn off. These original 1913 coins are called “type 1” or “bison standing on mound.” The corrected coin was the “bison standing on plain.” The “five cents” was cut into, or incused, so that it wouldn’t wear away so quickly. When you run across dateless buffalo nickels, you can tell which are the 1913 version by the ground the buffalo is standing on! The 1913 Type 2 coins have more value than the Type 1s.
Fraser admitted using three real Native Americans as models. Two of them were on the winning side at the Little Big Horn! These two were Iron Tail, an Oglala chief, and Two Moons, a Cheyenne chief. The third was Big Tree, a Kiowa. These men had been in Washington DC to visit Teddy Roosevelt when Fraser had the opportunity to study and photograph them.
Have you just finished your complete collection of Mercury dimes or Indian Head cents and are wondering what to do next? I have a suggestion for a collection that is not too extensive and is not too expensive—the Franklin half dollar.
Franklin halves were introduced in 1948 and were minted through 1963. They had a relatively short run as a coin because of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The half dollar introduced in 1964 to honor him cut short old Ben’s run on the half dollar coin.
Why would this set be fairly easy to put together?
First, it only ran for 16 years. A complete set of all dates and mint marks runs only 35 coins. Proof coins would add only 14 more coins to your set. Circulated Franklins can be had at just about the silver melt price. That means many of these can be found for only ten to twelve dollars or so.
Second, there were many of these minted. Even of the rarest date, there were still over three million minted. Many dates and mintmarks had 5 to 25 million made. Only in 1962 and 1963 were there mintage numbers of 10 to 67 million. (1963’s production was dwarfed by the 1964 Kennedy half, with over 400 million minted!)
Third, for a little more challenge to your endeavor, to collect these in “mint state” grades is not super expensive. Many of these can be found in top-tier grading services holders for as little as $30 to $40 for Mint State 64 coins. Very few would top $100 in that grade. The proof coins are the same way. Except for the 1950-1953 proof coins, which would totalabout $750 plus, the other ten would average $20 to $40.
One of the funniest lines I remember from “Cheers” was from Norm. He walked into the club and someone asked him how he was doing. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and I’m wearing Milk-Bone underwear.”
If you are a coin collector or someone who likes to invest in precious metals, there are less-than-ethical, even dishonest, sellers of coins and precious metals out there. My goal in this article is to make sure you’re not wearing Milk-Bone underwear while you’re enjoying your hobby or spending bucks on gold and silver.
In national publications, and the Sunday newspaper Parade
supplement is a perfect example of this, there are often some of these types of ads. One of them features “mint” bags of perhaps walking liberty half dollars or buffalo nickels. I haven’t seen one of these personally, but my first red flag is that these look awfully small to me! A mint bag of half dollars small enough to hold only ten is not nearly as valuable as one that will hold a thousand! These coins are readily obtainable from many dealers for $9 to $12 all day long, with no shipping charges; so watch what the quantity inside these bags actually is. Be careful of contents listed in pounds or ounces—this just confuses the issue! Buffalo nickels are also available for $25-$40 per roll of 40. The same logic applies to these coins and mint bags, too.
Imagine finding three grams of treasure in your pocket worth $40,000. Would this be platinum? Weapons-grade plutonium? An invisibility serum?
How about a copper penny, found in change? Impossible, right? Wrong! A couple of years ago, collectors from the Brown County Coin Club were in Ft. Worth at the American Numismatic Association’s national coin show, an event that rarely comes to Texas. While there, a couple of the guys overheard the following true tale.
A fellow brings up a 1969 S (S for San Francisco mint) cent, with doubling, to the ANACS representative who takes in coins for authentication. He immediately takes the coins to one of his graders, for a quick opinion on what was presented to them. “Yes,” the grader said, “This is an authentic 1969 S Lincoln cent with doubling, in a grade of Mint State 65.” From there, the ANACS rep took the penny and its owner, to a dealer whom he knew dealt in these kinds of coins. The dealer offered the owner $40,000 for it, but was turned down because the book value on it was $85,000! Can you believe a value of $85,000 for a penny found in pocket change!
As my readers may know, I have opened a coin shop and metal detector store in Early. In some respects, this seems to be an odd pairing of unrelated ventures. However, let me explain the solid connection between the two hobbies.
First of all, this area of Texas has two kinds of treasure tales that one hears fairly often.
The earliest treasures are those that were “lost” by the Spaniards that explored much of the Southwest. If you’ll remember, the Spanish’s main goal, after converting the natives to Christianity, was to find all the gold they could find. There are stories of old Spanish mines, old Spanish smelters for melting gold and silver, and reports of both gold and silver bars, all found if not in Brown County, then within the surrounding counties. For example, the legendary lost San Saba mine, near Menard, is not more than a hundred miles from here. The legend of Jim Bowie’s mine says that hismine wasn’t very far from Brown County.
These Spanish treasure caches, supposedly, were caused when the Comanche Indians got too close to the Spanish expeditions. They were hidden to prevent them from being stolen. Then, the caches were lost or forgotten to be searched for centuries later.Nearly a hundred years ago, Texas historian J. Frank Dobie wrote Legends of Texas in two short volumes that record many of these stories.
Last month I wrote an article about coin collecting in today’s economy. I thought I would follow that up with an update on buying coins safely on eBay and how I have seen eBay evolve. There has been a significant shift in the way many sellers are doing business.
First of all, and not that long ago, most coin sales on eBay were of the auction format. Coins started at a lower price, and bidders bid on them until time ran out and the high bidder won the coin. Many times, good, desirable coins sold for just about what the retail value was. What I have observed, though, is now most coins are listed in a “buy it now” format, with high to extremely high prices. The bargains are much fewer and much further between these days, but they are still there.
There are several ways to search for coins on eBay. For example, if you are searching for a good deal on whatever coin comes up, you would go to your category, let’s say all “U.S. Coins,” and you would select the “ending soonest” sorting function. If you needed one last key coin for your set of Mercury dimes,you might sort Mercury dimes by “newly listed” to get an early shot at any of the newest additions to the venue. Suppose you needed an item quickly for crazy Uncle Bill’s birthday. You might choose the “buy it now” format so that you won’t have to wait for several days of auction to run.
As with any coin, you need to do your homework. Recently I saw a certified 1972 doubled die Lincoln cent for a “Buy it Now” of $150. That particular date has about a dozen doubled dies, with two or three of them worth up to $500 each. The rest are worth from $5 to $50. Since I would love to have one of these better DDO’s, I pulled out my Cherrypicker’s Guide to Rare Die Varieties
. I soon learned that this coin was one that was valued at $15 so I didn’t bother to bid on it.
As I write this, I see that gold is trading at $1568 an ounce, while silver is barely over $27. If you follow these markets at all, you might recall that not too long ago, gold was nearly $2,000 while silver was pushing $50.
If you attend coin shows, you have observed that many, if not most dealers are reporting that about all that any one is wanting is silver and gold bullion items. This would include American Silver and Gold Eagle coins as well as “junk” silver coins. Junk silver coins are common date coins from before 1965 that were made of 90% silver. Because hundreds of millions of these were minted, most are not rare and have little collectible value, so they are saved for their silver content and they represent a great way to invest in silver. What does this have to do with coin collecting? Plenty, if you are true coin collector!
This means that the feeding frenzy for silver and gold has actually lowered the demand somewhat for truly collectible coins—the coins produced in a lower mintage and that are necessary to complete a set.
It’s amusing how information on the internet can take on a life of its own. Just the other day, on Facebook, someone reposted a warning that first appeared in 2007 to all God-fearing Americans, when the first “gold” presidential dollars appeared. When these coins were legislated into existence, it was decreed that the motto of “In God We Trust,” the date, and the mintmark should all appear on the edge of the coins. (Get your reading glasses!) Most folks weren’t aware of this—how dare they take this off of our coins! This was so that more detail of the presidents’ mug shots could be shown. (A side note: they never imagined how ugly and Chucky Cheese token-like these almost non-circulating coins would be!)
This article will not focus on these coins, but rather on some background on “In God We Trust” found on our coins. The first coin to ever have this sentiment on it was the 2c coin, first minted in 1864. Perhaps this was added to the coin because of the trials and tribulations of the Civil War, and God was looked to more during these crisis years. Two cent coins were short lived; they were only minted from 1864 to 1873. Very nice examples can be bought for $20-$35 or so.
Several other coin series included this motto, mostly off and on through the mid-1800s. Its use on the Lincoln cent has been uninterrupted since its inception in 1909. Then, when the Jefferson nickel debuted in 1938, all of our coins included “In God We Trust” on them.