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All Posts Tagged With: "Original Coins"

Coin Collecting: Thoughts on Originality?

By Doug Winter –

“Originality.” It’s one of the most overused terms in all of numismatics. And it’s one of the most misunderstood as well. Given the choice, I believe that most people would rather own an “original” coin instead of one that has clearly had its appearance changed in recent years. With the help of some good quality images, I’d like to show some of the characteristics that I equate with “originality” and offer some suggestions on how to judge if a coin is original or not.

1844-D Quarter eagleThe first coin that we are going to look at is an 1844-D quarter eagle graded AU55 by NGC. (Disclosure: this coin is currently in my inventory and it is currently for sale. I am not using this coin as an example in the hope that someone will buy it as I am certain someone will and I don’t need to go to this much trouble to sell it. I am using it to illustrate this report because I believe it represents what I believe is complete originality.)

One other quick topic before we review this 1844-D quarter eagle. My definition of an “original” coin is one that appears to have never been cleaned, lightened or in any way altered. I would be quick to point out that the flaw in this definition is that, of course, there is no way to make such a comment without having had access to this particular coin at all times since 1844.

There is always the possibility that, in the 1850’s or the 1860’s (or even the 1960’s), it may have been lightly cleaned. But there are some things to look for on a coin that I think gives a reasonably good assurance that it hasn’t been messed with. The most obvious is hairlines. If a coin has been improperly cleaned at one time, it is going to show hairlines. These may range from subtle to very obvious. If a coin has nice seemingly “original” color but it shows noticeable hairlines, this probably means that it was cleaned years ago and has subsequently retoned. Such a coin may have a natural appearance but, from the standpoint of semantics, it can’t truly be called “original.” You can also look for areas of cloudiness or haze. If a coin has these, the chances are good that something has been applied to the surfaces at one time.

In looking at this coin, there are a few points to note. The first is its depth of coloration. Take a look at the color on the obverse and the reverse and note how the hues in the fields are richer than in the protected areas. On coins with natural color this is generally going to be the case. On a coin that may have been dipped at one time, you are going to see the opposite; the color tends to be lighter at the centers and deeper at the peripheries. Also, note how on this 1844-D quarter eagle there is color present even on the high spots and relief detail. A coin that has been cleaned or dipped typically lacks color on these areas as they are the first places that the original color is lost. Finally, note the depth and intensity of the color. On natural coins, the color is “sharp” in hue and depth. On dipped or cleaned coins, the color tends to be “fuzzier” and less intense. (more…)

Luster on US Gold Coins

By Doug Winter –

Gold coins basically come with three types of luster: satiny, frosty and prooflike. In this blog, I’m going to discuss these three “looks” and the pros/cons of each. I’ll also add an illustration of each look. And away we go…

Frosty Luster

Example of Frosty Luster on Gold CoinThe most common luster seen on United States gold coins, especially those from the 19th century, is frosty in texture. Frosty luster can be extremely attractive. I would describe it to the new collector as having a “hard” look and it is most associated, in my experience, with coins produced at the Philadelphia and San Francisco mints.

Frosty luster is considered a “plus” by most collectors. Unfortunately, this sort of luster is becoming harder to find as more and more gold coins are chemically treated. Coins with original frosty luster have what I call a “wagon wheel” effect where the luster flows clockwise and appears to almost radiate out from the center of the coin.

Some of the series that are famous for having above-average frosty luster include the Fat Head quarter eagles and half eagles from the 1820’s and 1830’s, Classic Head gold, No Motto Philadelphia issues and Three Dollar gold pieces.

Satiny Luster

Example of Satiny LusterAnother type of luster seen on United States gold coins is satiny in texture. Satiny luster tends to be less attractive than frosty luster but it can be very appealing. I would describe it to the new collector as having a “soft” look and it is often seen on branch mint coins from the 19th century and on San Francisco issues from the 20th century.

For the new collector, satiny luster is more difficult to understand and appreciate than frosty luster. This is due to the fact that it is more subtle in its appearance. As an example, the luster on the coin shown above is excellent in-hand and shows very few breaks in the fields. But most collectors would think this coin has a considerable amount of wear; due to its subtle luster and, obviously, the weakness of strike at the centers.

In my experience, satiny luster is more often seen on New Orleans issues, Civil War era gold and some of the Reconstruction era Philadelphia issues. (more…)

The Basis for Collecting and Appreciating Naturally Toned Coins, Part 1

By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

In the history of coin collecting in the U.S., most of the greatest all-time collections were characterized by many coins with attractive, natural toning, especially including many coins that had never been cleaned, dipped or otherwise deliberately modified. I have personally and carefully inspected a substantial percentage of the coins in the Eliasberg, Norweb, and Pittman collections. Further, I have seen a significant number of the naturally toned coins that were previously in the Garrett family and James A. Stack collections. Most of the very scarce or moderately rare coins from these collections that brought surprisingly high prices at auction, and generated the most enthusiasm among collectors, are those that have (or then had) natural toning and/or mostly original surfaces. Over a period of more than 125 years, sophisticated collectors in the U.S. have tended to strongly prefer naturally toned coins.

jay_brahinCurrently, three of the most sophisticated collectors who are widely recognized are Dr. Steven Duckor, Stewart Blay and Jay Brahin. Considerable information regarding their collecting accomplishments is found in the PCGS registry. While Jay is more of a specialist in early 20th century gold coins, Blay and Dr. Duckor have built phenomenal collections in several areas. Not all of their coins are listed in the PCGS registry. Most sophisticated, advanced collectors have similar sentiments and a preference for natural toning. Many of them, however, wish to remain anonymous and thus will not be mentioned. Duckor, Blay and Brahin are all very much willing to share their knowledge with the coin collecting community.

Mark Hagen is another collector who is willing to share with the collecting community. He has been collecting coins for over forty years. I have seen him at many auctions. Further, he reports that he attended the Norweb, Eliasberg and Pittman auctions and ALL of the FUN and ANA Platinum night sales. Indeed, Mark has “been to over one hundred major auctions over the past twenty-five years” and he has “seen most of the classic rarities and gem type coins that have sold at public auction over that period.”

Hagen observes that “there are a lot of artificially toned coins on the market.” Further, Mark laments that “in addition to those that have been recolored, thousands of rare coins have been dipped; the number of original coins is getting smaller every year.” On this issue, Jay Brahin agrees with Hagen.

“To the eye of a true collector, originality is more important than shiny,” declares Brahin. “Natural toning is a testament to the age and natural process that the coin has gone through. What makes antiques appealing is their antiqueness, a normal aging process of the items. The natural aging of a relic attests to its authenticity. If you saw an 18th century original document that was a bright manila white, you would realize that something is wrong with it. You would expect an old document to show natural signs of aging. If you see an 18th century silver coin that is bright white, it is suspect; or if it has bright purple toning, it means something is wrong.”

What Does An Original Early Gold Coin Look Like?

By Doug Winter –

As you no doubt know, I am pretty obsessive when it comes to “original” gold coins. I like coins that have an appearance that suggests that they haven’t been fooled with. I recently bought and sold an early gold coin that, in my opinion, was the epitome of an original piece and I’d like to share a photo and some descriptive information. The coin in question was an 1814/3 half eagle graded MS62 by NGC and later approved by CAC.

1814-4_half_eagle_original_color_comparisonThere are a few things about the color of this coin that are a give-away for its originality. The first is the glow that this particular hue of coppery-orange shows. It is the result of over a century’s worth of toning and mellowing of the surfaces. This sort of color just can’t be reproduced by artificial means. When chemicals are applied to gold coins in an attempt to recapture a reddish-orange hue, the result is usually a shade that I refer to as “Cheeto Orange.” In other words, the orange is just too intense to look real and there is no gradiation or seperation of the hues.

You may also note that the coloration is different in hue in terms of configuration and intensity on the obverse and reverse. On this early half eagle, there are areas in the obverse fields that are dark and somewhat discolored. I’m not exactly certain what caused this but if I had to guess it would be contact with another source like a coin album or some other sort of sulphur-impregated display. Most recolored coins look similar on the obverse and reverse.

Another thing that I have noticed on original early gold coins is that the color seems to become deeper towards the edges. This isn’t always the case but this color scheme is hard to reproduce and many of the coin doctors who play with early gold are not sophisticated enough to know that this is the sort of color that develops of a long period of storage in an album. If you pay particular attention to the reverse of this coin, you will note that the golden-orange hue at the center changes to a deeper reddish-orange at the border. If you experienced at looking at early gold you will recognize this pattern as being “right.” (more…)