Saturday, December 29, 2012

Coin Photography - Part One, USB Microscope

USB Microscope
I've been experimenting with coin photography for the last few months. I bought the book, Numismatic Photography by Mark Goodman, which is very useful and highly recommended.  However, a book about photography without a camera tends to sit on the shelf.  Not wanting to invest too much money, I came across this USB microscope with LED lights. This scope lets me see the image on my PC, make adjustments to get the image right and save it to disk. It's even powered by the PC via the USB cable.

Copy Stand
While the scope does work well as advertised, I found it difficult to position the scope vertically over the coin. This was especially true for larger coins when I needed to put some distance between the coin and the scope. After setting the scope on a stack of books I knew there had to be a better way, and there was. A copy stand with adjustable height that will accommodate my scope! Now I was taking pictures of coins.

As you can see the next challenge was to get the color right. It turns out those eight LEDs on the scope that I bought were too bright and too white for my needs. On this scope they are all on or all off. While the details of the red Lincoln cent I was photographing were great, the color wasn't right.  There is an excellent discussion about USB microscopes for coin photography at and they have several suggestions for alternate lighting to correct the color.

I will definitely be using this scope for photographing details like repunched mintmarks. This setup also works great as a magnifier. It's much easier to view a coin on a full screen than to squint into a handheld loupe.

In Part Two of this series, Christmas brings an Olympus FE 3000 point and shoot digital camera - still on budget.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What is the Ideal Coin Collecting Storage System?

Intercept Shield
Intercept Shield?
Coin collections are stored in everything from cardboard boxes to elaborate, well-lit museum quality cabinets and everything in between. With few exceptions, albums and folders for US coins are designed to hold one denomination with one opening for each date and mint-mark. That works for most collectors but leaves out the myriad other way coins are collected. Where is the affordable, flexible, expandable, and attractive coin collection system?

Coin albums work great for date and mint-mark collections but make sure they are made of materials that won't damage your coins. Most albums are now acid-free. Some, like Intercept Shield and Dansco Supreme albums feature inserts or slipcovers to defend against the elements. Albums store well on bookshelves, display both sides of each coin, and feature attractive pages with pre-printed dates. Those dates and pre-cut openings however, are also inflexible constraints.

Coin trays for slabs and 2x2 mylar-lined cardboard fold-and-staple holders are often used at coin shops and coin shows. The trays are great for display but don't store well. The 2x2s and slabs go back into their boxes when the show is over.

My ideal would be a set of trays with openings flexible enough to hold raw coins, capsules, certified slabs and 2x2s. I'd give up the ability to see both sides of the coins if I could easily turn them over. While I'm asking I'd like to print my own labels for each opening and for each tray. Anybody know of such a coin collection storage and display system?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Gold Standard of Tungsten?

Do you think of gold as a safe investment? The newly found tungsten-filled gold bars should keep you up at night. As New York merchant Ibrahim Fadl notes in
"It's a shame. This business is built on trust."
That's just gold bars, right? Think gold coins are immune? According to China Tungsten Online, as pointed out by Tyler Durden in Zero Hedge
"Tungsten is the only lower value metal that has a specific density close enough to gold to fabricate passable counterfeit pieces of the same size and weight as genuine"

"We are a professional tungsten fake gold coin manufacturer.Our tungsten gold fake coin is only for souvenir and decoration purpose. Here we declare: Please do not use our tungsten fake gold coin and other fake gold coin products for any illegal purpose."
Gold Bugs beware.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mars Needs 1909 VDB Lincoln Cents!

As reported in, a 1909 VDB Lincoln Cent is currently on Mars with Curiosity.
The copper coin is attached to a smartphone-size plaque at the end of the robotic arm on Curiosity, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory car-size rover. The plaque, which was added to the vehicle as a calibration target, looks like an eye chart supplemented with color chips and the attached penny.
 The calibration plaque will be used to test the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). The coin was selected and purchased by principal investigator Ken Edgett with Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, CA.
"The penny is on the MAHLI calibration target as a tip of the hat to geologists' informal practice of placing a coin or other object of known scale in their photographs. A more formal practice is to use an object with [its] scale marked in millimeters, centimeters or meters," Edgett said. "Of course, this penny can't be moved around and placed in MAHLI images; it stays affixed to the rover."
Apparently coins in space is not a new idea: See Gus Grissom's lost mercury dimes.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Throw them back!

In the spirit of Catch and Release Coin Collecting there is now a worn Indian Head Cent and a Buffalo Nickel back in general circulation. I dropped the cent into a cup near a cash register and spent the nickel in a vending machine. Throw them back, live free!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Everybody Needs a Hobby

With counterfeit coins in the news lately, I came across a nice piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighting Henning nickels and the people who still search for them. Apparently, in 1954, Francis Henning, a mechanical engineer in Cleveland:
made hundreds of thousands of fake nickels in a machine shop in rural Erial, Camden County, all by himself, using a 250,000-pound press and sheets of cupronickel that cost him thousands of dollars. Then he'd launder the money for real bills at local banks, posing as a vending-machine operator
Why counterfeit nickels, especially when he already had a good-paying day job? The Inquirer continues:
Henning, according to one old newspaper account, needed to make his nickels to pay off the debts he incurred building the industrial machine that fabricated them."You wasted tremendous talent," a judge told him after he was sentenced to three years in prison.
According to which also has an image of a Henning Nickel with the markers for identifying the 1944 counterfeit:
It is estimated that more than 100,000 of Henning's nickels reached circulation. Henning dumped another 200,000 nickels in Copper Creek, New Jersey, of which only 14,000 were recovered. Another 200,000 are thought to have been dumped in the Schuylkill River.
The legacy of Mr. Henning and his illegal hobby continues: as noted in the Philadelphia Inquirer piece, people still search the rivers for examples and the nickels still trade on eBay.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

New Dansco Coin Albums Coming Soon

I have it on reliable authority that Dansco will be shipping new coin albums for The Lincoln Shield Cent and Jefferson Nickels. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Remembering Liberty

1820 Large Cent Matron Head (Large Date)
Image courtesy
If you remember 1947, you remember the last time Lady Liberty was featured on the obverse of a new circulating US coin. The coins of our country's first 150 years featured several artist's representations of Liberty. There was Seated Liberty, Standing Liberty, Walking Liberty, even Winged Liberty. However, not all of the depictions were
especially attractive.

As the nation's mint technology improved, Americans enjoyed increasingly beautiful representations of Liberty. The last, and in my opinion most striking, was the portrait of Teresa de Francisci, designed by her husband, Anthony de Francisci for the Peace Dollars of 1921 to 1934*.

1934 Peace Dollar portrait of Teresa De Francisci
Image courtesy Wikipedia
Today, as President Lincoln begins his second century on the cent, we have fully embraced the cult of the presidency with only presidents and an occasional nod to historic figures on our circulating coins. I look forward to the day when Liberty returns to our coins. Not simply the restrikes of previous designs but new designs by new artists that reflect our country's continued passion for liberty.

*Yes, 1947 saw the last Walking Liberty but that design was created in 1916.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

President Roosevelt Drops "In God We Trust"

1907 Proof Ultra High Relief double eagle graded Proof-69 by PCGS
Image courtesy of

One of 20 Ultra High Relief strikes of the 1907 $20 Gold coins just sold for over $2.7 million. Notably missing from this coin was the traditional "In God We Trust" motto. This was no accident as the NY Times reported: "ROOSEVELT DROPPED 'IN GOD WE TRUST'; President Says Such a Motto on Coin Is Irreverence, Close to Sacrilege. NO LAW COMMANDS ITS USE He Trusts Congress Will Not Direct Him to Replace the Exalted Phrase That Invited Constant Levity."

"WASHINGTON, Nov. 13. -- In answer to one of the numerous protests which have been received at the White House against the new gold coin which have been coined without the words "In God We Trust," President Roosevelt has written a letter, which he to-day made public." Here's the PDF

I knew of President Roosevelt's objections regarding sacrilege but I didn't know the phrase was so often used in jest. He wrote:

 "...In all my life I have never heard any human being speak reverently of this motto on the coins or show any sign of having appealed to any high emotion in him. But I have literally hundreds of times heard it used as an occasion of, and incitement to, the sneering ridicule which it is above all things undesirable that so beautiful and exalted a phrase should excite. For example, throughout the long contest, extending over several decades, on the free [silver] coinage question, the existence of this motto on the coins was a constant source of jest and ridicule; and this was unavoidable. Everyone must remember the innumerable cartoons and articles based on phrases like 'In God we trust for the other eight cents'; 'In God we trust for the short weight'; 'In god we trust for the thirty-seven cents we do not pay'; and so forth and so forth. Surely I am well within bounds when I say that a use of the phrase which invites constant levity of this type is most undesirable."

Mr. Roosevelt's trust that "Congress Will Not Direct Him to Replace the Exalted Phrase That Invited Constant Levity" was misplaced. "In 1908, Congress made it mandatory that the phrase be printed on all coins upon which it had previously appeared." This apparently exempted the nickel but that was changed in 1938 with the introduction of the Jefferson nickel. Despite President Roosevelt's concerns of levity, irreverence, and even sacrilege, our long-mandated motto of trust continues to be coined.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How to Identify the 7 Varieties of 1982 Lincoln Cents

In 1982, the US mint switched from a copper cent to a copper plated zinc core. This decision created four varieties: copper and zinc from both the Philadelphia and Denver mints. Four varieties of any date is rare but the 1982 cent became exceptional when large and small date varieties were discovered in both the Philadelphia copper and zinc cents and the Denver zinc cent for a total of seven varieties. No small date varieties in the Denver copper cent have been identified, yet.

Three decisions are required to correctly identify a 1982 Lincoln Cent variety. The first and easiest step is to identify the mint: Cents from Philadelphia have no mint mark and those from Denver feature a D below the date. Next, compare the date to this large date variety courtesy of The Coin Page

Determining the composition is the most difficult step. If you have a scale capable of measuring to tenths of grams, the copper cent weighs approximately 3.11 grams and the zinc cent weighs 2.5 grams. While the scale is the most accurate method, the zinc and copper cents sound different when dropped. The copper cent has nice ring tone compared to the thud of the zinc cent.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Catch and Release for Coin Collecting

Does this sound familiar? I recognize a Lincoln wheat cent in change and immediately put it aside. Later I check the date and condition only to find that it's a rather common 1950's wheat cent. I already have a better example of that date in a Dansco album so I stash the new find with the other unremarkable cents and nickels I've found over the years. After all, it is a wheat cent, right?

Coin collecting needs catch and release. There are young collectors out there for whom a 1950's wheat cent is not common. They have an opening in their folder that needs to be filled and those old wheat cents will do more for our hobby in their folders than they will stuffed away in a box. So take a look in that jar of misfit coins that you've kept forever and spend some of them. Yes, even the s-mints. Put some 1940's nickels into a vending machine. Replenish the numismatic waters!