How Much Silver is in a Silver Dollar?


Romance and mystery surround America’s big silver dollars: The cowboy sliding one across the bar in the western movie, a shiny holiday gift from Grandpa, a magician pulling one from behind your ear. Collectors love these historic treasures both for their collectible value as well as their silver content.  Continue reading

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The Lincoln Cent: The Perfect Collectible Coin


The Lincoln cent may be the most collected coin in U.S. history. Millions of Americans have at one time or another amassed Lincoln pennies. For many, the lowly one cent coin was their entry into the hobby.

Today the Lincoln cent remains a mainstay of the numismatic world and is still a wonderful way for new collectors to enter the fascinating world of coin collecting.

In fact, not only do our current pennies have a new “Shield” reverse engraving, but just recently a surprise issue was released.

Without fanfare, a very important numismatic treasure entered circulation in 2017. The 2017-P Lincoln cent is the very first U.S. penny to bear Philadelphia’s “P” mintmark. Since 1793, cents produced in Philadelphia have carried no mintmark. This unique, one-year-only type was quietly output in recognition of the principal Mint’s 225th anniversary.

Why Lincoln Cents are the Perfect Collectible:

In its over 100 year run, the Lincoln cent has had a number of design changes making the series especially interesting for numismatists. And since all four of the reverse engravings can be found, at least occasionally in pocket change, it makes for an easy collection for beginners.

On the Lincoln penny’s 50th anniversary in 1959, the Lincoln Memorial reverse replaced the long-standing “Wheatie” design. In 2009, to celebrate the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth and 100 years of the Lincoln cent, four one-year-only engravings were released to honor the famous president’s birthplace, formative years, professional life and presidency. Since 2010, the Lincoln penny has featured a “Shield” reverse design.

Although you can’t find too many early dates in circulation, there are still a wonderful variety of affordable coins to get new collectors started.

Collectible From the Very First Issue:

Continuously minted since 1909, the Lincoln cent is the oldest type of U.S. currency still in everyday use. Introduced on the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, it is the first circulating U.S. coin to bear the portrait of a president.

While the Lincoln image won universal acclaim, there were strenuous objections to the designer’s initials appearing too prominently on the reverse (or back) side. It was a long-standing tradition for the designer’s initials to appear on coins, but most were inconspicuous. However, the “VDB” was as visible as a mintmark, appearing in the open space below the wheat sheaves of the reverse. Three days after the Lincoln cent’s triumphant release, the Secretary of the Treasury insisted that new dies be made without the initials. The Philadelphia Mint had already released 27 million “VDB” pennies and the San Francisco Mint an incredibly small number of 484,000.

Ever since, the 1909-S VDB issue has remained the key rarity in the circulation Lincoln penny series.

Where to Go From Here:

You can start your Lincoln cent collection right now! I’ll bet you have a penny or two in your pocket, your desk drawer or under your couch cushions. Start with those and work toward a full collection. Penny folders are a great help to keep you organized.

Watch your change and continually replace pieces when you find the same issue in better condition. You’ll want to be sure to watch for mintmarks as well as dates. The mintmark is below the date on the obverse (or front) of the coin. This tells you what U.S. minting facility produced the coin. A complete collection will include not just one coin from each year of issue, but one from each mint that produced coins that year.

Once you’ve gone through your own penny stash you can ask friends to exchange their pennies for paper money or you can go to a local bank and ask for rolls of pennies to search. Once you get started you’ll never look at a penny the same way again!

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The Most Beautiful Coin: Walking Liberty Half Dollar


The Walking Liberty half dollar is one of my very favorite coins and I am not alone. Everyone seems to love this striking and patriotic 90% silver U.S. issue. If you aren’t already familiar with the beloved and historic half dollar you should take the time to learn a bit about the series.

She’s a Beauty:

Issued from the World War I era right through the post-World War II period, the magnificent half dollar is often regarded as America’s most beautiful classic silver coin. Even today, the coin designer A.A. Weinman’s flag-draped Liberty and indomitable Eagle engravings remain enormously popular. (In fact, the obverse design is so beloved that it was adapted for the U.S. American Eagle silver dollar introduced in 1986.)

And She’s Popular:

Collectors flock to the series to enjoy the combination of numismatic and silver value. The Walking Liberty half dollar is probably the second most collected U.S. silver series — after the famous Morgan dollar. But, far fewer “Walkers” were minted, and they tended to get much more use in commerce. (Many of the famous Morgan dollars were stored in bank vaults and never entered commerce.) So today a far smaller proportion of Walker half dollars survive in collectible quality grades.

She Aged Well:

The Walking Liberty half dollar became eligible for retirement in 1942, after 25 years of service. But the wonderfully patriotic coin continued to be minted through World War II and the immediate postwar period. It wasn’t replaced by the Franklin half dollar until 1948.

It’s the most unabashedly patriotic coin in U.S. history: Liberty is garbed in the American flag, striding towards the dawn of a new era. She wears the traditional Phrygian freedman’s cap of the ancient world, symbolic of hard-won freedom and carries laurel and oak branches, representing civil and military attainments.

On the reverse, a vigilant eagle stands on guard for American freedoms. Introduced when World War I was raging in Europe, the eagle does not hold the traditional peace branch and arrows of war. Instead, his right talon rests on a pine sapling. Like Liberty, the eagle exudes a confident power.

She’s Affordable:

Most Walking Liberty issues are wonderfully affordable in circulated grades. A few issues are scarce and pricey but the majority are easily attainable. This is a wonderful coin for the new collector, as these half dollar are available, affordable, and beautiful.

Where to Go From Here:

Although you won’t see Walking Liberty half dollars in circulation, they should be available anywhere you find other collectible coins. Coin shops, coin shows, antique shops and flea markets are a great place to start. Online sources ( and catalogs will also carry a wonderful selection.

Happy coin hunting!

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By Richard Thurston, ICC President

It’s spring here in Vermont. The days are getting longer and warmer, the snow is melting, mud season is arriving and most importantly of all it’s sugaring season.

For those of you that have no idea what I’m talking about, “sugaring” is the process of making maple syrup, a time-honored tradition here in the northeast and one that I look forward to participating in each year. Having been raised here in Vermont, I was taught the importance of tradition, of respecting those that came before us and the struggles they endured to make our lives better.

Coin collecting is another time-honored tradition that I have had the privilege of being involved with during my 39 years here at ICC. I see many similarities between the art of making maple syrup and the hobby of coin collecting. Both honor the legacy of our ancestors and the traditions that they represent.

As I watch the steam rising out of the evaporator in the sugar house, or as I hold one of the many coins in the inventory vault of our company, I am taken back to a simpler time. I think back to those who have made maple syrup before me, or to the many people who have held the same coin that I hold today and I can’t help but respect the importance of tradition.

Coins have always been more than a means of exchange. Each is a small piece of art telling the story of its country’s history, values and traditions. Coins often bring back fond memories (spending that mercury dime in a dime store) or invoke glories of the past (the Kennedy half dollar reminding us of the short-lived days of Camelot).

Some coin collectors pursue the hobby for the investment potential, others for the thrill of the chase or in appreciation of the coin’s artistic merit. But the true value of a coin collection is in preserving history for future generations.

One of my favorite coins is the 2001 Vermont issue from the very popular Statehood quarter series. Commemorative quarters from the series honor the history and traditions of U.S. states with one-year-only designs. The Vermont coin has a wonderful engraving of a farmer trudging through the spring snow to harvest sap that will be boiled into maple syrup — the tradition of “sugaring” preserved forever through the tradition of coin collecting.

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A Government Blunder Created the Swindler’s Nickel


The Coin that Sparked One of the Most Notorious Con Games in American History:

In 1883, a handsome new 5 cent nickel entered American commerce. It was the first coin designed by the young Chief Engraver at the U.S. Mint, Charles E. Barber.

After experimenting with the position of the denomination “5 cents” on the coin’s reverse, Barber decided to simply display the Roman numeral “V” for the 5 cent denomination. After all, it was obviously a nickel coin and everyone would know its 5 cent value.

But Barber and other Mint officials failed to take into account the new coin’s fatal resemblance to the then-current U.S. $5 Liberty gold coin. The coins were virtually identical in size; and even the Liberty engravings and surrounding 13 stars were remarkably similar.

A band of swindlers quickly perceived an opportunity for ill-gotten gains. They began to gold-plate many of the new 1883 “no cents” nickels and pass them off on unsuspecting merchants as $5 gold pieces. Some con men filed the edges of the coin to assure an even closer resemblance to the $5 gold piece.

The hustler making a purchase would hand a gold-plated nickel to a merchant, without identifying its value. The “V” on the reverse seemed to confirm the assumed $5 value.

The most famous case involved a deaf mute named Josh Tatum, who passed off many “alchemized” nickels as $5 gold pieces before being apprehended. His lawyer got him off by claiming his client was unable to inform the merchants that it was merely a nickel. That’s when the expression, “I was only joshing you” entered the language!

The Coin that Ended the Scam:

After bitter complaints reached the Mint, the “no cents” nickel was quickly recalled (but not before citizens saved some as amusing emblems of government foul-up). The new coin type moved the diminished motto “E PLURIBUS UNUM” above the “V” and added a large “CENTS” below the Roman numeral.

By that time, almost every newspaper reader in America was aware of the “Racketeer Nickel” scam. But the new 1883 “Cents” nickel assured that there would be no doubt of its humble value.

Where to Go From Here:

Minting of these “V” nickels ended in 1913 when the Buffalo engraving was introduced. Although rarely seen today, “V” nickels can be affordable additions to your collection. Both the “No Cent” and the “Cent” versions are available in a wide variety of grades. These coins make a wonderful gift to budding collectors as the story they tell is quite irresistible.

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 housed 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 for 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 a number of 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.

From 1983 to 1997 the mint also issued 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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The Perfect Christmas Tree


As we approach another holiday season, I can’t help but take a stroll down memory lane to a time when the holidays were simpler and seemed to be far more meaningful.

As our own marketing team here at ICC does their very best to increase our revenue during this busy time, I reminisce about past Christmas seasons and how we may have lost sight of the simple pleasures of this wonderful time of year.

In my youth we did not go to the mall to buy our Christmas tree. My brother and I took a walk in the woods of our rural Vermont town and found what we estimated to be the perfect tree. We would cut it down and drag it home as proud as could be. I’m certain the trees of my childhood would pale in comparison to the perfectly groomed specimens that we expect today, however the pride we felt in our accomplishment far outweighs the perfection of the Christmas tree that sits in my own living room today.

As we all scour the world of Amazon, Walmart and all of the other massive retailers searching for that perfect gift, we need to all take a moment and think about a time when often the gift was time spent with loved ones without cell phones and social media clouding up this joyous season.

However you may celebrate I hope you will take a moment to reminisce of days gone by, spend a little extra time with family and enjoy this special time of year.

From all of us here at ICC, thank you for your past business, for helping us preserve the history and memories of the past. May this holiday season be very special to all of you.

Rick Thurston
President, ICC Inc.

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