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All Posts Tagged With: "Harlan Berk"

What is an “Eagle” Coin?

Gold Eagle Reverse 1795What is an Eagle? According to my 1975 Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, it is a diurnal bird of prey noted for its strength, size, gracefulness, keenness of vision and powers of flight; the silver insignia of rank for an Army colonel or a Navy captain; or a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. In golf, it is the completion of a hole in two strokes less than par. In gold, it is a coin!

Specifically, my Webster’s says it is a ten-dollar gold coin of the U.S. bearing an eagle on the reverse. My 1969 American Heritage Dictionary goes so far as to call it a “former” gold coin of the United States having a face value of ten dollars, without specifying if it was “formerly gold” since transmuted into base metal, “formerly a coin” but now demonetized, or something that has ceased in an Orwellian way to have ever existed at all.

However, either antiquated edition might as well have been set in type by Gutenberg, as they both predate the current American Eagle one ounce gold coin first struck in 1986 with a face value of $50. This new coin left us with two different legal tender “Eagles” of different weights, sizes, finenesses (usually) and denominations, and hardly a day goes by at Berk’s that we do not have to explain the difference to a would-be customer.

Thomas Jefferson, oil portrait by Rembrandt Peale (1805)How did the first Eagle come to be? The path is long and twisted. It began with the Articles of Confederation, approved by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777, but not ratified by the states until March 1, 1781, which reserved for the newly-named “United States in Congress Assembled” the sole right to regulate the values, compositions and alloys of coins struck by itself or by the various states.

A central authority was certainly needed, as the paper money of the 13 states and the Republic of Vermont, which was generally based upon a promise to pay the bearer Spanish Milled Dollars or fractions thereof, valued the “Dollar” at anywhere from 4-1/2 to 8 state shillings per 8 Reales coin, and the money of one state was not easily convertible into the money of its neighbor.

On January 15, 1782, Robert Morris, then Superintendent of Finance, presented to Congress a plan to establish a Mint and a monetary system based upon the Spanish Dollar, that would be compatible with most of the paper money in circulation and could circulate alongside it.

Morris’ plan, prepared in large part by his unrelated namesake and assistant Gouverneur Morris in anticipation of a Congressional request for same, divided the Dollar into 1,440 parts or units, this figure being the approximate number of one-quarter grains of pure silver in an 8 Reales, and a number more or less evenly divisible by the units of account used by the different states (except for South Carolina, where inflation had pushed the Dollar to 32-1/2 shillings). (more…)

Ten Most Significant U.S. Commemoratives Coins

By Thomas K. DeLorey – Copyright – Reprinted with permission. Harlan J Berk

Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries

When asked to write an article on the ten most significant U.S. commemorative coins for this issue, I chortled and thought to myself what an easy assignment this was going to be! I had just that day finished reading galleys for the commemorative coin section of the Coin World “Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins” edited by David T. Alexander and myself, and all of the material was fresh in my mind.

However, when I went back over the listings with a consideration in mind of their national importance rather than a straightforward documentation of them, I suddenly realized how hard it was going to be to find ten pieces that were truly significant! After weeding out the 14 state commemoratives and most of the town, county, island, mountain, trail, bridge and music center commemoratives, there were scarcely ten pieces left that were both national and significant. Here’s what I came up with, though you might disagree.

Number one on my list is the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition half dollar of 1892 and 1893, in part because the fact that Columbus landed in what we now call “the Americas” in 1492 was one of the major historical events of the last millennium, and in part because it was the first U.S. commemorative and set the stage for all that followed, good or bad.

The Phantom Silver Dollars Of 1895

By Tom Delorey – Harlan J Berk Ltd.

The Morgan Dollar has long been one of the most popular American coin series, apparently second only to the Lincoln cent in the number of people who collect it in some manner, and the 1895-P dollar has long been called “The King of Morgan Dollars.”

1895 Morgan DollarHowever, for an equally long time it has been one of the more frustrating series to the collector who seeks completeness in his sets, as no numismatist has ever been able to fill the 1895-P hole in his Whitman album or Capital plastic holder with a genuine business strike specimen, despite a reported mintage of exactly 12,000 coins.

Wealthy collectors have usually been able to fill that hole with one of the 880 Proofs struck in that year, always available at a healthy price several times what a Proof from a “common” year would bring, and I have even seen a few sets where an 1895-P gold Double Eagle rattled about the dollar-sized hole.

Perhaps a hundred of the Proofs are currently known in various circulated conditions at slightly more reasonable prices, having been spent over the years by hard-up collectors during the Great Depression, children buying candy without their Father’s knowledge and garden-variety thieves, and it is not impossible that another fifty or so have been permanently lost due to lengthy circulation and/or melting. Many hundreds of 1895-O&S dollars also exist with their mint marks removed, though most of those so altered were mutilated many years ago before the branch mint coins of this year became expensive, (in part because so many of them were altered!)

Conventional wisdom has long held that the 12,000 business strikes must have been melted down in accordance with the Pittman Act of 1918, when the U.S. government reduced some 270,000,000 silver dollars to bar form and shipped the bars to India. There the British government, bankrupted by the war in Europe but desperately in need of the war materiels provided by its colonial empire, converted the silver into Rupees to pay the workers producing these goods. It is hard to say if the colonial subjects would have felt enough loyalty to a foreign monarch to have continued to work for free, but the monarch probably slept better knowing he did not have to test this loyalty. (more…)