Did George T. Morgan Know How Many Feathers Were on an Eagle’s Tail?


The most famous of U.S. silver dollars, the Morgan dollar immediately sparked a controversy when it was released in 1878. The issue was quickly resolved but did lead to three fascinating varieties for collectors.

Creating the Engraving:

The talented young engraver George T. Morgan was hired by the Philadelphia Mint to create the silver dollar that would become the world’s most collected. In designing the eagle reverse, Morgan used the Mint’s stuffed bald eagle as a model and carefully researched anatomy elsewhere.

His first prototype displayed seven tailfeathers on the eagle, but the Mint Director suggested a fuller look and Morgan obliged with an added feather. Thus the first Morgan silver dollar, released exclusively by the principal Philadelphia Mint in March of 1878, showed EIGHT tailfeathers on the eagle reverse.

Outcry at Release:

The new American silver dollar was generally praised for its classical proportions and artful detailing. But an ornithologist objected that bald eagles invariably have an odd number of feathers — so eight would be inaccurate. The Mint Director stopped the presses and ordered a SEVEN-tailfeather design.

Merely 750,000 eight-tailfeather 1878 Morgans had been issued up to that point. That eight-tailfeather type amounted to just 3% of all 1878 first-year Morgans! And a large proportion was eventually lost in government melts making it a desirable variety for collectors.

Correction and More Correction:

Later in 1878 the Philadelphia and two branch mints (San Francisco and Denver) produced a total of 9.8 million “corrected” seven-tailfeather Morgans in two varieties.

Morgan had quickly prepared master dies with SEVEN tailfeathers, corresponding to his original conception. But the first seven-tailfeather type was actually short-lived — because its “flat-breast” eagle was quickly changed to an 1878 “convex- breast” eagle, which became the standard in the series.

Mint Error Adds to the Varieties:

When the original eight-tailfeather eagle Morgan dollar type ceased to be minted, a limited number of dies were filed down in that area and overprinted with seven tailfeathers. But in some cases the eight-tailfeather design could still be partially seen beneath the new version, creating the first overlapping die error in the series, the “seven over eight” variety.

How Many Feathers Do Eagles Really Have?

Today it’s disputed whether the eight-tailfeather Morgan silver dollar should have been changed to seven tailfeathers. Experts say that most birds in the eagle family actually have an even number of tailfeathers — generally ten or twelve! Whether done right or wrong, the 1878 varieties are among the most popular and coveted in all of American numismatics.

Where to Go From Here:

A big part of the fun of collecting is learning the background of a coin series. These Morgan dollar tailfeather varieties are a wonderful addition to any Morgan collection. Be sure to get out your magnifier and see the differences for yourself!

Happy coin hunting!

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Why Do Collectible Coins Cost So Much?


I’ve been involved in numismatics for well over 20 years. In that time, prices have risen drastically and not just because of general inflation. There are many varied reasons for this change and many of those explanations will continue to affect the industry in the future.

Silver and Gold:

Precious metal markets are a huge influence on the cost of collectible coins. Many historic issues have intrinsic silver and gold value that is tied to those markets. As with numerous other consumer purchases, coin prices go up easier than they come down. Each time there is a spike in the precious metals market the cost of collectible coins rises more than it falls when things stabilize.

Fewer Remain Each Year:

The availability of collectible coins is also always in decline. No more historic coins will ever be produced, the number of pieces minted in the past is never going to rise. And the total number of historic coins that exist decreases every year due to melts and attrition.

And due to the law of supply and demand, the fewer coins remaining, the higher the value of those that have survived.

Everyone Loves Coins:

Rising population and worldwide interest have also greatly expanded the coin market. There are many more collectors today to compete for the dwindling number of historic coins available in the marketplace.

The internet has had a drastic influence on this transformation. Information and coin knowledge are much more widely available now than at any time in the past.

Investment Diversity:

Another pressure on the numismatic market is the fact that financial planners often suggest having a wide diversity of investments. Collectible coins are often considered as a way to balance out a portfolio of stock offerings, which adds to their popularity.

Where to Go From Here:

Although it is difficult to see prices rise in the numismatic marketplace, the demands on the industry make the changes understandable. As we collectors adjust to higher prices, we need to be sure to appreciate the fact that coins in our collections have probably risen in value due to the same conditions.

Happy coin hunting.

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The Advantages of Silver Bullion Coins from Around the World


Everyone loves silver! That makes the many silver bullion coins from around the world popular with collectors and investors alike. (see our “Coin Collecting: Investment or Hobby? blog) These coins have advantages over silver rounds or bars in that they are official legal tender and universally recognized. The weight, content and purity of each issue is government authorized and guaranteed.

There are many wonderful world bullion coins to choose from as well. Here’s a nice selection of some of our favorite 1-oz. investment grade silver coins from around the globe.

U.S. Silver Eagle Dollar: This largest silver dollar in U.S. history, originally issued in 1986, contains a full troy ounce of .999 fine silver. Its magnificent “Walking Liberty” design first appeared on the 1916 U.S. half dollar during World War I — regarded as the finest U.S. silver engraving, it’s much larger in this silver dollar form. The Presidential Seal reverse is a distinctive version of a design that’s appeared in various forms on U.S. coins since the beginning of the 19th century.

Canada Maple Leaf: Struck by the award-winning Royal Canadian Mint, this is one of the world’s most popular silver coins. In the past few years, two anti-counterfeit features have been incorporated. Small radial lines create a pattern across the coin and a leaf shape micro security mark has been added. The distinctive minting includes a unique proof-like reverse as well as raised engravings, mirror effects and a satin-finish background. Minted in purest 99.99% fine silver, each contains precisely 1-oz. of pure silver.

China Panda: The long-standing Panda coin series is a favorite for collectors and investors alike. Different from other 1-oz. silver series around the world, these coins feature a fresh engraving of the amazingly cute panda bear each year. The two-tone frosted and mirror finish gives a spectacular proof-like appearance to the Brilliant Uncirculated silver dollar. Beijing’s historic Temple of Heavenly Peace appears on the obverse. Starting in 2015, these 1-oz. .999 fine silver bullion coins will be produced without the silver content inscribed on the coin.

Australia Koala and Kookaburra: Australia’s renowned Perth Mint produces two highly collectible silver series that highlight Australia’s unique wildlife. The Koala and the Kookaburra are iconic creatures from “Down Under” and both 1-0z. silver coins feature a unique design each year. Everyone loves impressive issues which feature Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse. Each Brilliant Uncirculated one dollar coin contains a full troy ounce of .999 pure silver and is a sovereign coin backed by the Australian government.

Mexico Libertad: The Mexican silver dollar tradition is the oldest in the Americas and this 1-oz. .999 silver BU evokes its heroic past. Shown is a graceful Libertad  or “Winged Liberty” celebrating Mexico’s independence and the age-old “O over M” mintmark of the Mexico City Mint, which has the longest continuing history on the continent. The obverse depicts the famous Mexican Eagle in 11 different forms from historic coins. The eagle is symbolic as an Aztec legend claims that Mexico City, the capitol, was founded where an eagle killed a snake on a cactus.

Great Britain Britannia: Since 1997, the 1-oz. silver Britannia issues have been very popular with collectors. Starting in 2013, they have been produced with .999 pure silver. These big, impressive coins have a face value of 2 pounds and feature the beautiful Britannia, a female personification of the island and the ancient term for the nation. She is shown holding a trident and shield, ready for battle in a classic toga and a war helmet. Around the edges of the sizeable coin are the weight, purity, country of origin and mintage year. Queen Elizabeth II graces the obverse.

Where to Go From Here:

If collecting bullion coins is in your future you’ll want to consider the options above. Many collectors like the great variety available and choose to own some of each type.

Happy coin hunting!

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What’s the Difference Between U.S. Proof and U.S. Mint Sets?

Proof mint set differences

Today’s collectors love U.S. proof and mint sets as they combine all the year’s circulation coins, specially minted and packaged all in one contained package. But not everyone is clear on the differences between the two sets, which are both official products of the U.S. Mint.

U.S. Proof Sets:

These popular sets contain one exquisite proof specimen of each denominations of the date, cent through dollar. Historically these sets included 5 or 6 coins, but more recently, with commemorative quarters and dollars, they have been comprised of 14 to 18 coins. Since 1968 the proof specimens have been packaged in hard plastic cases, with current sets featuring three separate cases.

Proofs are the finest-quality coins produced by the U.S. Mint. They’re painstakingly created from highly polished, immaculately clean dies, which are again carefully cleaned and polished after as few as 15 strikes and soon replaced before the slightest imperfection can appear.

Proof coin blanks are also individually polished to attain a stunning mirror-like finish. Each is then hand-fed into the minting press and struck at least two times to produce far more relief and sharpness than regular circulation coins. Today’s U.S. proof dies have been treated with special chemicals to give engravings an elegant frosted effect, which contrasts beautifully with the blazing mirror look of backgrounds.

In 1983 the mint also began to issue lower-mintage Prestige proof sets that included commemorative proofs for the date, in addition to regular coins. The U.S. Mint added silver sets in 1992, reviving the tradition of 90% silver coins that had ended decades before.

U.S. Mint Sets:

Another option for collectors are the much larger U.S. mint sets. Twice the size of proof sets, they contain perfect Brilliant Uncirculated specimens of every circulation issue for the year (each coin denomination struck by the “P” Philadelphia Mint, “D” Denver Mint and sometimes “S” San Francisco Mint).

Until 1999, U.S mint sets contained between 10 and 13 coins. But the addition of Statehood quarters and other special circulation issues has expanded the recent sets to 18-28 coins each. The coins are generally specially minted with improved strike and finish qualities in comparison with regular business-strike issues. And since 2005, U.S. mint set coins have boasted a special satin finish rather than the former BU look.

In the past the coins were protectively contained in see-through plastic packs, with the issuing mint’s medal included. The 2007 set introduced impressive new protective U.S. Mint packaging that allows edge lettering to be viewed. The blue and red folders show both sides of each coin and protect them from damage.

Where to Go From Here:

Most collectors buy their sets yearly and to keep their collections current (the aftermarket for these sets can be volatile). Some past sets can be very affordable, while others are tough to find. Building a complete collection of U.S. proof and/or mint sets is a wonderful challenge!

Happy coin hunting!

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Did You Know there are Two Types of Buffalo Nickel?


Everyone loves the Buffalo nickel, the last circulating U.S. coin with a Wild West look. But comparatively few collectors are aware that there were actually two varieties of the historic coin.

Stackable Art:

The Buffalo nickel was created by one of America’s most illustrious sculptors, James E. Fraser. He had trained under the great Augustus Saint-Gaudens, creator of the magnificent 1907-1933 “Standing Liberty” $20 gold piece.

As a sculptor, Saint-Gaudens wanted his coins to have some of the chiseled “raised relief” effect of statues that was seen on classical coins. But in the modern age, banks wanted coins to be easily stackable, which significant high relief would make difficult.

Hence, after complaints from banks, the original 1907 high-relief Saint-Gaudens $20 gold piece was recalled by the U.S. Mint Director. A new Type II quickly emerged with flattened relief, which became the standard. (Elusive 1907 Type I Saints today command about ten times as much as Type II’s.)

Similarly, Fraser designed his original Buffalo nickel with some raised relief — most prominently in the ground on which the buffalo stands. But after the acclaimed release of the 1913 first Buffalo nickels, banks again objected that stacking was adversely affected. And the Mint Director prevailed on Fraser to flatten that area of the coin — the Type II planed down the raised mound with a simple flat line.

Naturally, Fraser felt disappointment that his original conception was modified due to practical considerations. But at least his artistic intentions were realized in the first issue.

Availability Issues:

Scarce “Raised mound” 1913 Type I Buffalo nickels comprised just 3% of the later 1913-1938 Type II mintages. And after recall from banks in 1913, a large proportion of the Type I mintage was lost in government melts.

That would lead you to believe those original issues would be more expensive to acquire. But when compared to 1913 Type II coins minted later in the year with the new design, the original 1913 Type I coins are more available and therefore can be more affordable.

Where to Go From Here:

Coin varieties like these are part of what makes collecting so enjoyable and are an important part of a complete set. As you work on your Buffalo nickel series collection you’ll want to be sure to include both 1913 Type I and Type II issues.

Happy coin hunting!

Posted in Buffalo nickel type 1 and type 2, Buffalo nickel type I and type II, Buffalo nickel types, Flat line buffalo nickel, Raised Mound Buffalo nickel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How Do You Feel About “Our Choice of Date” Coin Offers?


Online and catalog coin buyers often see offers prefaced with “our choice of date.” Many customers find such deals a frustration, as they are looking for a very particular coin for their collection.

As a coin buyer myself, I feel your pain concerning “our choice of date” offers. As a coin seller I understand the reasoning behind these offers and appreciate the value they can bring to a collector.

No More Will Ever Be Minted:

Collectible coins are not a manufactured item. When our stock of a certain coin gets low, we can’t order more from the supplier or factory. The quantity of coins from a certain year can never increase and supplies actually decline each year due to attrition and melts. And the number of remaining coins for any particular year has a huge affect on the value of those issues.

With most coin series there are a number of “key date” coins that are valued over the majority of other year’s issues, these coins sell for a premium in comparison.

Why “Our Choice of Date”:

Coin dealers often find themselves with a selection of common dates from a certain coin series. These issues will not all be dated the same and are not the “key date” coins that are more marketable. These issues are not in enough demand to justify selling them each separately by date and therefore are added to “our choice of date” offerings.

Generally, “our choice of date” offers are priced specially to appeal to beginning collectors. These deals are a wonderful way to start or add to a new collection affordably. Once you have your common date coins, you’ll need to add the “key date” issues through other deals.

Where to Go From Here:

As a coin buyer you know there are a plethora of options for making your purchases. And you know that coins vary greatly in value based on their date. Only take advantage of “our choice of date” offerings when they fit your needs. When you see those deals keep in mind that the coins will be common date issues and are generally priced accordingly. You’re “key date” coins will need to be purchased separately and will be valued according to their scarcity.

Happy coin hunting!

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Are They “Liberty Head” or are They “Barber” Coins?


Liberty Head vs. Barber:

Did you know that Liberty Head and Barber coins are actually the very same thing? Coin collectors, when they first take up the hobby, quickly become familiar with the ubiquitous Liberty Head coins. U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber designed them for use in the late 19th and early 20th century. A hundred years and more ago, the design appeared on the dime, quarter and half dollar.

Today these coins are known by both their engraving, “Liberty Head” and by their designer, “Barber.” The expressions are interchangeable in numismatic terms.

Competition Gone Wrong:

When congress authorized coin redesigns in 1891, the U.S. Mint created a competition and sought out famous artists for entries. But surprisingly, all of the artists cooperated and refused to submit designs because the Mint was only prepared to award a prize for the winning design. All the others who had submitted entries would have put in many hours of work and effort with no payback. After that setback the Mint opened the competition to the public. That contest was boycotted by qualified artists for the same reasons and very few entries were deemed remotely acceptable.

After the competition failure, the Mint went to Chief Engraver Charles Barber, whom they commissioned to design a new dime, quarter and half dollar coin. Barber must have been pleased with this outcome as he was known for his opposition to outside designers.

Masterpiece or Disaster:

Charles Barber had a long and successful career as the U.S. Mint Chief Engraver and was responsible for designing many of the coins used during his tenure. The “Liberty Head” design is considered his masterpiece as he had spent five years preparing the engraving.

During the coin’s initial introduction reviews were mixed on Barber’s new design. Some collectors regarded it as the most “perfect” classical U.S. coin design while others found the work mediocre at best. Complaints include criticism that the portrait was reminiscent of the Morgan dollar and very masculine, as well as disapproval of the fact that the reverse design was much too similar to earlier works.

As tastes have changed over the years Barber’s design has not gained much more of a following. (It often lands on lists of “ugly” coins!) But the coin continues to be very popular as a numismatic collectible representing an important part of U.S. heritage.

Where to Go From Here:

Love them or hate them, “Liberty Head” coins are a huge part of U.S. numismatic history. It was the last U.S. coin engraving to appear on three separate denominations. Every serious collector of American coinage will want to own a few of these historic issues. You’ll find plenty in well-circulated grades but higher quality specimens can be well worth the cost to see the contentious design in its best light.

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