A Dearth of Change

Civil War Patriotics, 1864 Civil War Token

By Sarah Miller

Perhaps it is hard to imagine a time when pocket change was hard to find. Most of us tend to have an accumulation of change jingling around in our pockets, purses, or change jars. During several distinct periods in American history, however, circulating coinage was scarce enough that there was a true shortage.

Although it is typically considered the responsibility of the federal government to provide coinage as needed, it was often true during the 1800s that there were not sufficient funds in circulation to allow for healthy commerce.

In fact, up until private minting was made illegal in 1864 by federal law, private minting companies and local businesses often made their own coins and tokens in order to make commerce possible when small denomination coins for making change were simply not circulating in sufficient quantities.

Such privately minted coins took several forms over the years. To begin, one fascinating example of such privately produced coinage is Civil War tokens. Normally the size and approximate composition of an Indian Cent, Civil War tokens were produced to both fill the void of circulating small coins.

Civil War Tokens

They served the function of making change as well as to advertise both patriotic causes relating to the war and local businesses. Most were produced in 1863 as substitutes for the regularly issued cents that were being hoarded during the war.

While they filled the practical function of circulating as regular U.S. cents, they also are highly collectible today. The variety of designs and topics available makes these pieces a striking addition to a rare coin collection or grouping of historical items relating to the Civil War.

1864 Civil War Token

Similarly, Hard Times Tokens were another group of privately minted coins that circulated during a selective time period of American history but were not produced by the U.S. Mint. These tokens are so named because they circulated during the “Hard Times” that began in May of 1837.

1838 Am I Not a Woman & a Sister

At this time, many banks became so short on funds that they suspended the exchange of coins for paper currency. In response to these economic trials and the lack of circulating small coinage, private minters began to produce copper coins the size of a large cent. They featured either political themes or advertisements for local businesses. In this regard, they are related to the Civil War tokens that were produced years later.

Private or territorial gold, on the other hand, is the general term that refers to privately minted gold coins produced prior to 1864 by groups or individuals other than the Federal government and outside the U.S. Mint. Such coins were often produced in a region where gold was being mined, creating an economic boom for which the local economy was typically unprepared.

When gold was discovered in California in the 1840s, for example, many people went West to seek their fortunes, causing the population of so called “boom towns” to increase dramatically. Without enough coins in circulation in the sparsely populated West, territorial gold producers turned to minting their own coins.

These include gold smelting and assaying groups such as Moffat & Company, Dubosq & Company, and Wass, Molitor, & Company. Likewise, when gold had been discovered years earlier in the South, the Bechtler family of metallurgists in North Carolina and jeweler Templeton Reid in Georgia struck their own private gold coinage.

$2 1_2 C. Bechtler Quarter Eagle, 67G. 21C. MS62 PCGS

Today, both American tokens and territorial gold coins produced prior to 1864 are widely collected. They have broad appeal not only to coin collectors but also to history enthusiasts interested in the Civil War, the gold rush of 1849, and other historical events connected to their production and designs. All in all, with the added allure of being produced outside the U.S. Mint but collected in tandem with regularly issued American coinage, Civil War tokens, Hard Times tokens, and territorial gold coins present an exciting area of study for collectors.

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A Glimpse Into the Life of Alex Haley, the Author of Roots

letters3

By David Boozer

It has been 38 years since Alex Haley published Roots in 1976. If you’re a Millennial, you likely won’t remember what a cultural sensation that book was. Michael Eric Dyson summed it up well in the 2006 introduction to the 30th Anniversary Edition of Roots: “Haley’s monumental achievement helped convince the nation that the black story is the American story.” If you know anything about American history, you know that was no small achievement.

I was far too young in 1976 to notice as the book sold almost 2 million copies within eight months of its publication and spent 22 weeks atop the New York Times best seller list (it was non-fiction). I also didn’t notice when the book earned Mr. Haley a Pulitzer Prize in 1977.

But I do remember bits of the Roots miniseries that aired on ABC in 1977—it formed some of my earliest television memories, along with Captain Kangaroo. In fact, most of the nation noticed the controversial and racially-charged miniseries (the final episode of the miniseries is the third highest-rated U.S. TV program), especially as it won a slew of awards and changed television and America. No doubt, Roots is an important work.

An early typed manuscript of chapter 2 of Roots has recently surfaced. It is twenty-four pages long with the heading, “2nd chapter. Rewrite” and is offered in Heritage Auctions’ upcoming Historical Manuscripts Signature Auction on April 3, 2014. Also offered is a fascinating collection of Alex Haley’s letters, all written to Diane Grieco, who served as his assistant from 1967-1969.

Those were productive years for the author as he began his magnum opus and continued working for Playboy magazine—conducting interviews, of course. Though Alex Haley died in 1992, Ms. Grieco has fond memories of working with the writer in New York. She graciously answered some of my questions about this collection and what it was like working with a man who knew he was writing a great book.

How did you meet Alex Haley?

When I was sixteen I was working in a small, family-type restaurant after school with several of my high-school girlfriends.  Alex used to walk the streets of the city at night with his friend, George Sims, where they would toss about ideas and plans for the book.  They would stop in the restaurant several times a week and, eventually, a friendship evolved between us.

In 1967 when you started working for him, Mr. Haley had already published his first book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and had just recently begun Roots. Can you give us an idea of what a typical day of working for him looked like then?

Usually by the time I would arrive at work there would be several tapes he had done during the night to be transcribed. Very often, I would see him for a few minutes, then he would be off to catch a train or a plane to somewhere. Many times I wouldn’t see him for several days. He was writing for Playboy at the same time he was researching and writing Roots and travelled a lot.

One of my favorite stories found in these letters is when Mr. Haley writes to you about being backstage at the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia with Sammy Davis Jr. It’s a touching story because he relates how he brought your name up to the entertainer just before show time. When Mr. Davis took the stage, he had his band spontaneously change their opening number to “Diane,” surprising Mr. Haley! In that letter and so many others, he seems very thoughtful and generous. Is that how he was?

Immensely so! I remember the time he had to go to Boston to give a speech and asked me if I had ever been there. I hadn’t, so after clearing it with my parents he bought a ticket for me to go with him. He dropped me off at my hotel and left me to explore the city while he did his thing, then picked me up the next day and we flew home again. He was always doing things like that.

In some of these letters, Mr. Haley mentions working with celebrities. Throughout much of the 1960s, he conducted important interviews of people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Miles Davis for Playboy magazine. Did he have a favorite story that he told you about any of these interviews?

The story that has always stood out in my mind is the time he interviewed the head of the Ku Klux Klan for Playboy. I remember him telling me that the meeting place was secret and they had blindfolded him while he was being transported there. It was all done on their territory. I can only imagine being a black man, during that time in history meeting that particular person.

The letters in this collection show that Mr. Haley took an interest in your own budding writing career. In one letter he suggests that you “start preparing, developing yourself to become one day a professional writer.” In other letters, he gives you very specific advice on how to become a successful writer. Did your writing career ever get off the ground?

No, unfortunately, it never went any further. By the time I was 21 I fell in love, married and began having my babies, still though with writing on my mind. After sixteen years I became a single mother of three and needed a steady income, so I went back to secretarial work. When I retire, though, I’ve been thinking it would be fun to try it again just for fun.

Mr. Haley taught himself to write during his career in the U.S. Coast Guard. Do you think the lack of a mentor played a part in his wanting to mentor you as a young writer in the late 1960s?

With all the kind things he did for me I believe he enjoyed being my mentor, and yes, I also believe he did it because he had to go it alone for a long time. This all happened while the women’s movement was gearing up and he wanted me to see that all things were possible.

He got plenty of practice while he was in the Coast Guard by writing love letters to the wives and mothers of his buddies. Then he sold something to Reader’s Digest and he was off and running. I’m not saying it was easy for him from then on. He still had dues to pay before he became as famous as he did. It was many years before that happened.

Mr. Haley typed the manuscript on yellow paper. He also asked for more of this colored paper in a letter to you dated October 2, 1968. Was there something special about yellow paper?

He would do all the draft work on yellow paper and the finished work on regular white paper. After he got it pretty much the way he wanted it I would re-type it. This manuscript was the result of a research trip to Africa, I believe.

And green ink—there’s a lot of green ink on these pages!

Green was his favorite color and he always wrote with green felt tip pens. He was so poor when he started writing that I think it reminded him of money. I still have two of his pens.

One final question: do you think Mr. Haley knew in the late 1960s that he was writing such a ground breaking work?

He knew he was writing a great book.

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The Rainbow Effect

1881-S Morgan silver dollar_Heritage Auctions

 

By Sarah Miller

How is it that one 1881-S Morgan silver dollar can be worth around $1,500, while another coin of nearly the same date and grade combination sold just a few months later for $90?

In this case, the answer can be mainly attributed to a quality that has fascinated countless coin collectors for years: beautiful rainbow toning. When trace amounts of sulfur or other chemicals come in contact with the surfaces of a silver coin over a period of years, the color and appearance of its surfaces will begin to slowly change.

For example, the paper envelopes and canvas bags that were once used to store coins have often resulted in lovely toning after years of storage, especially in warm or slightly damp environments. Mint set packaging from the 1940s and 1950s as well as some older coin albums were also environments that resulted in pleasant toning on silver, copper, and even nickel coins’ surfaces.

Such natural toning over time is the coloration that occurs gradually due to the coin’s environment and without the false acceleration of human “help.” It occurs through a combination of nature, storage, and chance. On the other hand, artificial toning created by humans is often added to a coin’s surface by the application of heat, the addition of chemicals, or other deceptive methods.

When left to its own devices (no pun intended), the thin layer of sulfide that forms over the surfaces of a coin may range from a pale blush of color to lovely and vibrant hues. It is this type of toning, a true happy accident, that many numismatic connoisseurs covet and seek out for their collections.

Not all toning is coveted, however. Just as it is possible for a coin’s storage conditions to eventually result in a beautiful combination of hues, the oxidation of a rare coin’s surfaces can also result in dark tones that obscure the surfaces and seem to mute the original mint luster. Such heavy toning is not as commonly sought out by collectors as the more vibrant hues and is not always considered to be desirable.

Even so, such toning is a mark of originality, which is a favorable factor in a world where many coins have been cleaned or otherwise altered since the time of minting. At the same time, individual preferences and the subjectivity of what is considered to be beautiful leaves the door open for the collectability of many different shades and coloration patterns. This includes both brighter and darker shades of toning according to each collector’s preferred appearance for their set.

Regardless of what type of toning one prefers—pale hues, vibrant rainbow tones, or darker and more muted colors—there are several ways to collect toned coins. This can include looking for attractively toned coins of a particular denomination, creating a toned type set, or simply seeking out pieces that appeal to you without concern for the denomination or date.

Such lovely coins can also be incorporated into an existing set, adding pleasant variety to an otherwise matched group of numismatic items. The brilliantly toned Morgan dollar mentioned above, for example, would complement a type set, a set of Morgan dollars, or simply a group of attractively toned items in any numismatist’s holdings.

With endless options for the collector, toned coins’ subjective nature can add to their appeal and allows numismatists to make their own decisions regarding toned coins’ values beyond the basic information provided by price guides. Whether you are new to the idea of collecting toned coins or have been seeking out these lovely items for years, the world of attractive toning within numismatics presents fresh ways to add to one’s collection.

Looking for attractively toned coins emphasizes aesthetics and personal preference in the collecting process in addition to the rarity and desirability of a particular coin. All in all, pursuing toned coins for one’s collection presents yet another way to collect what you enjoy and can add variety and beauty to any devoted coin collector’s set.

 

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Twelve Years a Slave, One Little Book

12 years a slave

By Joe Fay

And the Oscar goes to…Solomon Northup.

Who?

Solomon Northup. His is certainly not a household name in current American culture. In fact, Northup has never been a wildly popular or recognizable figure in American history outside a few years in his own time and with historians of slavery, abolition, and the period before, during, and after the American Civil War.

But his story is a fascinating one. Northup was born a free black man in Minerva, New York in July 1808. His father, Mintus, had been a slave for a family in Rhode Island and New York before being manumitted (an SAT word meaning “to be released from slavery”) upon his master’s death. Solomon grew up a free man, married a woman named Anne Hampton in 1829, worked a series of jobs, played his violin at various functions, then eventually bought a farm in Hebron, New York and settled down to raise three children with his wife.

Then, in 1841, the course of Solomon’s life would change forever when he was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in Washington, D. C., where he had gone with two men whom he thought to be circus entertainers, and for whom he was scheduled to play his violin at the circus. These men were not circus performers, but in fact, con artists who sold Solomon to a slave trader named James Birch, claiming he was a runaway slave from Georgia.

Eventually, Northup was forcibly transported to Birch’s partner in Louisiana, where he spent the next twelve years as a slave on various plantations. Here, Northup suffered the typical life of an enslaved man: beatings, torture, attempts on his life, and generally demeaning and dehumanizing treatment.

The process of freeing Solomon Northup was arduous, and somewhat dangerous for Solomon, as it turns out (the master who was forced to give up ownership of Solomon stated that had he known he was going to have to give up the slave, he would have killed the man before such a thing could happen). In any case, twelve years after he was kidnapped and forced to live as a slave, Solomon Northup was freed on January 4, 1853. He returned to his family in New York, where he would launch a few failed attempts to sue those involved in his capture, then move on to speak for abolitionist causes, work as a carpenter, and then seemingly disappear from the public record. Northup’s final years are shrouded in mystery; some think he was kidnapped again and lived out the remainder of his life as a slave, and some think he simply faded away and died of natural causes.

Then, in late 1852, Northup was able to use sympathetic contacts he’d made in Louisiana to get the news of his capture, almost twelve years earlier, to the son of his father’s former master, also named Henry Northup. Upon hearing the news, Northup contacted the governor of New York, Washington Hunt, who opened a case using New York’s 1840 law protecting its citizens from being kidnapped into slavery to help find and release Northup.

Now, what I have provided above is a sadly incomplete summary of the Northup affair. If you would like to read more of the story, you should pick up Northup’s autobiography, Twelve Years a Slave. It is the book upon which the 2013 film was made, the same film that just won Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards.

If you want a first edition of the book, we just so happen to have one in our April 2 Rare Books Auction in New York (ah, timing!). It’s not a particularly valuable book. We expect our first edition to sell somewhere between $500 and $1000.

12 years a slave_heritage auctions

Now, to some that is prohibitive, but it does go to prove that a collector of good and interesting material doesn’t have to spend five figures to enjoy a piece of history. I just encourage anyone who feels interested enough to dig deeper into the story than could possibly fit into 133 minutes of screen time, even though that turned out to be 133 minutes of Oscar gold.

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Collecting Gone Digital: A Guide To Investing in Domain Names

Domain Blog_Heritage Auctions
By Aron Meystedt

It started for me more than a decade ago.  Like many people, I pondered the various Internet-based businesses I could start and run from my house. I was inspired by the success stories of ordinary people running a business they had a passion for, right out of their living room.  I really desired the freedom that an Internet business appeared to offer.  I began to setup e-Commerce stores selling goods ranging from jewelry to audio equipment.  It was profitable and a great learning experience.  However, there was one aspect of the business that bothered me: stocking and shipping inventory.

In the quest to find something to sell with no shipping required, I happened upon domain names, which are purely digital in form.  I was intrigued by the fact that buyers all over the globe could acquire my premium domain names, and “shipping” the merchandise was as simple as a few clicks of the mouse.  I was hooked.

Over the years I’ve acquired and sold dozens of domain names.  Some were highly coveted investments, such as two-letter .com domains, while others had existing traffic that I turned into passive revenue streams.  Most of the names I acquired and sold were simply one-word .com domains that defined a major category, such as Tablets.com – a name that I own today.

So, if you’re an entrepreneur like me and wish to get started in the domain business, here are some helpful tips on investing in domain names that I’ve learned along the way:

What makes a domain name valuable and desirable:

Over 260,000,000 domain names have been registered on the Internet, yet only a minuscule percentage are truly premium domains.  The availability is scarce, and they are very much in demand from investors and businesses. This supply-demand dynamic keeps values solid.

It is not uncommon for premium domain names to be sold for 6 and 7 figures. In fact, the top 150 domain sales of all time are all over $500,000. Premium domain names can range in price from $10,000 up to $10MM plus.  Several factors determine the value of a domain name:  Some of these factors include traffic, advertising costs, the age of the domain name, the length (i.e. brevity) of the name, comparable sales, advertiser competition in the category, industry growth and overall marketability.

Click HERE to check out the top recent domain sales chart.

This is how you can determine if a domain name is a premium asset:

Exact match words that name a product, service, industry or location
A one or two-word domain name that represents a large business category or geographic location will always command a premium price. Examples of this include: Computers.com, Chicago.com, Furniture.com, RunningShoes.com, and Tickets.com. Names like this are often referred to as category defining domain names. Investors and end-user businesses are actively seeking this type of domain name for either investment or business use.

Short names and acronyms
Acronyms are always high in demand because they are easy to type and easy to remember. Two letter .com domains like AA.com and HA.com have a very high value, and three letter .com names like KLO.com are worth a significant sum as well. In fact, a two or three letter .com, if bought at the right price, will be a stable investment.

.com
While there are a few exceptions to this rule, in order for a domain to be classified as a true premium name, it should be of the .com extension. There have been several solid historical sales in other extensions such as Meet.me and Date.me, but most highly valued domain names are .com. As you will soon learn, there is a second Internet “land rush” occurring shortly. This expansion of the Internet will provide more choices for investors and businesses.

One word branding names
Domain names such as Blue.com or Slide.com have value as a brand name for a corporation or business. Even though they don’t name an exact product or service, these names are always in demand as branding assets. Companies are buying these names for their use because they are easy to remember and offer creative branding opportunities.

Domains with a high search volume
Premium domains typically name a word or term that is searched often in Google. The volume of searches can be found by using different domain tools available on the Internet. If a word or phrase is searched often in Google, there will be more advertisers competing for the eyeballs related to these searches. The exact match domain name for these highly searched phrases will have value.

Names with high advertiser competition
If you “Google” a product or service and you see a lot of high level advertisers competing for the traffic, then the exact match name in that space will have value. For example: If you Google “Mortgage” you will see many well-funded advertisers competing for pay per click traffic. Therefore, it can be assumed that Mortgage.com has big value.

High traffic volume
Similar to physical real estate, virtual real estate becomes more valuable as the volume of traffic increases. If a domain name has a large amount of visitors, business can turn these people into profitable leads and sales. Several premium domain names have a high traffic count and this increases the potential value of the asset.

Note:  I would advise against registering or purchasing any domain names that include a trademarked term.  Don’t register misspellings of common websites either.  While this is a way to land a domain name with enormous traffic, this practice is highly frowned upon.  It is best to stick with one and two-word category names, geographic locations or short acronyms.

 

The following are reasons why you should choose a premium domain name for your online operations:

  1. For a business, your domain name is your identity on the Internet. It is the foundation of your online operations. A strong domain name can help you acquire and retain customers more easily than if you placed your company on a non-premium name.
  2. Secondly, a premium domain name offers instant credibility in the marketplace. Instant trust is established when a company operates their business using a name like Cars.com or Hotels.com. A premium domain name will give you a competitive advantage from the start. In addition, prospects will perceive your business as having authority status, which leads to credibility and lower customer acquisition costs.
  3. Next, many premium domain names have existing type-in traffic that can be converted into customers. Type-in traffic has been proven to convert at a higher rate than all other forms of online leads (search engines, direct links, and banner advertisements).
  4. Additionally, premium domain names will help you more quickly rank higher in search engines. Search engines give added “weight” to exact match domain names. Your development on a premium domain name will rank better on Google, Yahoo and Bing faster than if you placed your business on a newly registered name.  Along these same lines, the search engines respect names that are “aged”. Your ranking will improve more quickly if you own a 15 year old premium domain name than if you register a new one today. When matched with quality content and a strong SEO foundation, the exact match and premium domain names will give you a stronger presence on search engine results.
  5. Finally, a premium domain name is one of the most important assets your business can acquire. Domain values have steadily increased over time. Even if your business ends up failing you will still own a solid, valuable asset.

Domain Blog_2__Heritage Auctions

The following are reasons why investors have acquired top-tier domain names:

  1. Domain names are the raw land of the Internet. Similar to physical real estate locations, no matter what you build on your website, its value is in large part dependent upon the domain name.  An oceanfront lot is similar to a premium domain name.  The oceanfront lot has value because of its scarcity as a high-demand location.  However, owners of domain names have significantly less maintenance and expense than real estate owners. A domain name has no property tax, no insurance and virtually no carrying costs. Your only expense is a $10 annual renewal fee. A premium domain can be bought and held indefinitely, with no day to day maintenance required.
  2. Domains can be used to generate passive revenue while you are waiting to develop or resell them. Many premium domain owners have their names “parked” with paid advertisements, which generate revenue and require no daily upkeep.  As mentioned earlier, if your domain name has type-in traffic, you have the potential to create a revenue stream from your digital asset.
  3. Domain names are portable and incur no storage or security fees. We need to keep our art in a secure location. We need to protect our currency in a bank or a safe. Investors insure and protect their precious metals, which are also expensive to transport and ship. Meanwhile, domain names can be owned and held without the difficulties of transportation or security.
  4. Domains offer global opportunities. When you acquire a premium domain name, customers and potential acquirers can come from all locations across the globe. With physical real estate, a commercial property may have interest only from local buyers whereas a premium domain name will often generate traffic and buyers from other continents. We have sold domains to buyers in Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, North America and South America.

Domain Blog_3__Heritage Auctions

Recent trends:

Branding names, as opposed to exact category names, have become highly desired by investors and end user businesses.  While exact category names like Shoes.com and Computers.com are still highly coveted, generic branding assets like Gazelle.com, Blue.com, and March.com are commanding premium prices.

Many of the significant sales in the past few months have been branding type names:

  • Fix.com  $850,000
  • Hot.com  $850,000
  • TeamWork.com for $675,000
  • True.com  for $350,00

In addition to these one-word brand names, 2-letter .com domains have steadily increased in value over the past several years.  There are only 676 total combinations of two-letter .com domains, and many are in use by major corporations.

Here is a small sampling:
AA.com – American Airlines
BN.com – Barnes and Noble
BP.com – British Petroleum
CK.com – Calvin Klein
CC.com – Comedy Central
EA.com – Electronic Arts
GE.com – General Electric
GM.com – General Motors
GS.com – Goldman Sachs
FB.com – Facebook
FT.com – Financial Times
HP.com – Hewlett Packard
ML.com – Merrill Lynch
MS.com – Morgan Stanley
PG.com – Procter and Gamble
TI.com – Texas Instruments
UA.com – Under Armour
WB.com – Warner Brothers
WF.com – Wells Fargo
YP.com – Yellow Pages

It is estimated that half of these combinations are in use by major corporations.  The other half are in the hands of investors.  Every year, several companies acquire their matching two letter .com acronym.  The prices of these acquisitions are quite incredible.

A few notable acquisitions include:
FB.com to Facebook for $8.5Million.
IG.com to the IG Group for $4.7Million.
YP.com to Yellow Pages for $3.85Million.

It was reported, just this week, that JD.com may have sold for as much as $5Million to a Chinese company who now uses this asset. When you pair the finite supply of two-letter .com domains with the high demand from end user businesses, it is easy to see why these assets have increased in value. 

Premium domain names continue to sell for significant amounts.  Whisky.com sold early this year for $3.1 Million.  The name was purchased by a European company in the whisky business, who is looking to establish themselves as the leader in this market worldwide.  However, solid domain names do surface for fair prices.  It is possible to acquire a memorable brand name or investment without paying a fortune.  Please contact me at AronM@HA.com if you have any questions about domain .  Our next auction runs from March 20 until April 9, and it features 100 domain names perfect for investment or business branding. Please contact me if you have any questions.

 About the author: Aron is the owner of the very first domain name to be registered on the Internet:  Symbolics.com.
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Mark Feld’s Coin Collecting Tips

Coin collecting

By Mark Feld

After collecting coins off and on for years as a child, I have been involved in numismatics on a full time basis, since 1979. During that time, I have run my own coin dealership, worked for Heritage on two different occasions, been a buyer for David Hall, worked for Pinnacle Rarities and was a grader at NGC for seven years.

And, as I like to tell people, numismatics runs in my blood, literally – numismatic pioneer B. Max Mehl was my grandmother’s uncle. I am proud to have that numismatic connection and always do my best to honor it.

I created the list of collecting tips below, in order to help collectors enjoy and benefit more from our wonderful hobby.

  1. Buy/collect what YOU like. But keep in mind that when it comes time to sell, not everyone else will necessarily like what you did/do.
  2. Examine as many coins as you can which have been graded by the most highly respected grading companies. This can be done at coin shows and in auctions and is a great way to improve upon your grading skills.
  3. The best way to improve your grading ability is to find someone who is highly qualified AND willing to spend time reviewing coins with you. That person can be a dealer or collector, but he needs to be more than just a friend – he needs to be a teacher. Many individuals are “qualified” OR “willing to spend the time”, but few are BOTH.
  4. Don’t keep buying coins without ever selling any of them – learn what it’s like to try to sell, too. Once in a while you should offer one or two of your coins back to the dealers you acquired them from. See how they deal with that type of situation and whether they want to re-acquire those “gems” they sold to you.
  5. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask lots of questions. You and just about everyone else can learn a great deal that way.
  6. Be aware of privacy and security concerns. It might not be fun to do so, but it’s extremely important.
  7. It’s always good to get a second opinion. Doing so doesn’t make you less knowledgeable, worthy or confident – it simply makes good sense.
  8. Don’t try to get bargains at the expense of quality and desirability, or you’ll likely end up with sub-par coins which aren’t bargains, anyway.
  9. Generally, I advise against “investing” in coins. Even if you are very well informed, based upon buy/sell spreads and other factors, the odds are against your success. That said, I understand that many collectors end up spending significant sums of money on their collections and can’t/shouldn’t ignore the financial implications.
  10. If you are going to “invest”, I’d suggest diversification – not putting too much of your money into one coin or one coin type. I’d also recommend staying away from especially esoteric and/or illiquid and/or currently “hot” items.
  11. While it is not a pleasant mindset to engage in, think about and plan for how your coins should be disposed of if/when something happens to you. Make your spouse and/or family and/or friends and/or an attorney aware of your wishes. If you have a particular dealer or coin/auction company that should be contacted, have that information recorded, along with costs, sources, purchase dates, etc., of your coins.
  12. Eye-appeal is hard to ignore, but technical quality shouldn’t be over-looked/compromised.
  13. If you participate in auctions, whether over the Internet or in person, set your price/bidding limits in advance and stick to them. Auction fever hits many bidders, and almost always to their detriment.
  14. Find time for other activities that don’t have anything to do with coin collecting. Don’t make coins your whole life – life is too short for that.
  15. If you are going to stretch to buy a coin, do it for a coin which is truly special and/or virtually irreplaceable, not on an ordinary one. There are far more of the latter than of the former, and there will almost always be other opportunities.
  16. Don’t talk yourself into buying a coin. If something about it bothers you now, there is an excellent chance it will bother you as much or more later.
  17. Don’t be lulled or suckered into a false/unrealistic sense of security by the strength of many areas of the market that we have experienced for several years now. There are good markets, and, while some current participants might not have experienced them yet, there are bad markets too – I promise.
  18. Do not buy rare coins on a sight-unseen basis, regardless of the seller or the images.
  19. Enjoy our hobby.
  20. I repeat, enjoy our hobby.

Check out Heritage’s FREE coin price guide for quick answers on what your item could be worth.

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What Are State Quarters Worth?

State Quarters_heritage auctions

By Matt Draiss

Every single day, millions of Americans spend money and get change back. Do you ever stop to look at what winds up in your change? The quarters you get back on a regular basis most likely contain State Quarters. State Quarters are beautifully designed coins representing each one of our fifty states, but that is about all they serve a good purpose for. Many people have put together sets of these coins and have invested money into them, but these coins have proved to be a bad investment overall.

The U.S Mint started producing State Quarters in 1999 and minted them through 2008. Every single state was represented with a quarter that depicted an image somehow related to that area. These coins sparked a huge interest in coin collecting and helped contribute greatly to the numismatic hobby. Million of people have enjoyed collecting these coins (minted in Denver and Philadelphia) and placing them into coin folders. A lot of people invested or spent money on these coins at coin shows, online, at coin shops, and from mail order companies.

Advantages of the State Quarter series:

  • The thrill of the hunt trying to find these coins.
  • Many hours of fun placing the coins into the holders with family and friends or just by yourself.
  • A great collection of artwork related to our fifty states.
  • A series of coins that has gotten millions of people interested in collecting rare coins.

Disadvantages:

  • A lot of money was invested or spent on BU (Brilliant Uncirculated rolls), mint sets, proof sets, and sets already placed into coin holders that will never be recovered.
  • These coins will not go up in value for a long time(most likely decades in my opinion).
  • A very large number of these quarters were minted, so in my opinion they will not up in value a great deal.

The State Quarter program is one of the best things to have happened to the business that I enjoy the most: collecting; however, the sets that people purchased many years ago have gone down in value significantly. Sets that at one time traded for over $300 are now trading at around $100. For example, a coin set that contained five coins struck in 90% silver graded as Proof-70 Deep Came(coins that are made in perfect condition) sold in one of our auctions for $160 in 2006 and a set of the same coins sold again for $110 5 years later.

Quick facts:

  • State Quarters were struck in a  regular clad composition for circulation and also in 90% silver for special collector sets.
  • The clad state quarters are worth only face value except for ones still in BU rolls and mint sets(it can be hard to find a coin buyer for the BU rolls).
  • Clad and silver coins in Mint-issued proof sets and mint sets are worth minimal amounts except for the 1999 silver proof set which trades for approximately $100.
  • Coin dealers generally want to purchase only the proof sets, mint sets, and better date BU rolls.
  • Coin dealers usually have no interest in buying sets made from folders by the general public, single coins in uncirculated condition, and single proof coins(except for the silver proofs).

The above are just a couple examples of why State Quarters are not a good investment; however, you should still enjoy the thrills of collecting coins. I had a State Quarter book and it has turned into a career in rare coins. I encourage you to go online or to your local coin shop and purchase a coin folder. This series has offered a great escape for many people. 

Matt Draiss is  a numismatic intern with Heritage Auctions. He is also a numismatic speaker and writer.

If you have old coins or currency that you would like evaluated at no charge, please contact Heritage today.
Check out Heritage’s FREE coin price guide for quick answers on what your item could be worth.
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A Four-Color Fortune

COMICS COVER_HA BLOG

By David Tosh

How much is an old comic book worth? A few bucks? Hundreds? Thousands?

Millions?

The answer is “yes” to all of the above – and “no.” While it’s true that a handful of really rare comics have sold for astronomical prices in the past few years (including a copy of Detective Comics #27, featuring Batman’s first appearance, that Heritage sold in 2010 for a whopping $1,075,500), the majority of the old comic books still in existence are worth relatively little.

Still, there are those that command big prices, and the news of those mind-blowing transactions has traveled the world. People are now actively hunting them down, “American Pickers” style, going to garage and yard sales, flea markets, thrift stores, etc., in the hoped that they might find the next “Holy Grail” comic book.

Now might be a good time to go over a few basics when searching these elusive treasures out.

First, ignore most “modern” comic books. While there is the occasional newer comic that captures the public’s fascination enough to cause prices to soar (case in point: the first issue of The Walking Dead, made super-popular by the runaway hit TV series), most remain easy to find for modest prices.

Why is this?

Let’s consider a few important facts.

First, since the dawn of the American comic book in 1933, the traditional thought was that comic books were disposable entertainment for children, and very, very few people took them seriously enough to save them in pristine condition. Oh, lots of people saved them, but the majority of these were heavily read and reread, and then stashed away in a truck in the attic.

It was the 1966 Batman TV series that really awoke the general public to the joys of comic collecting, and what had been a looked-down-upon hobby enjoyed by a few “nerds” blossomed into an industry that supports huge conventions all around the world, and inspired dozens of hit movies and television series.

By the late sixties, even though the general public’s perception of comics as “trash” continued, their popularity grew by leaps and bounds. In the 1970s, specialty stores selling nothing but comic books and related material popped up and the entire game changed.

Before then, comic books were sold in newsstands, drug stores, candy stores and the like; these vendors would stock 2-5 copies of each title, and that was it – when they sold out, they were gone (and if they didn’t sell, the news dealers ripped the title off the cover and sent it in for credit).

Now, with comic shops taking over the business, many more copies of each new issue were stocked, and this time when they didn’t sell out, they immediately became “back issue stock.”

In other words, there was no shortage of the newer books. Add to that the collectors who noticed the prices of older issues going up, who began buying extra copies to be set back and resold (for a big profit, of course) at some later date.

Get the picture?

Whereas once, back issue comics were difficult to locate, they were now readily available through stores and “fanzines” like Rockets Blast Comic Collector and The Buyer’s Guide for Comic Fandom, where “comic book dealers” ran ads selling these old treasures from years gone by.

When eBay came along, even more hidden-away collections surfaced and were sold online.

Still, finding superhero and “action/adventure” comics with original cover prices of 12 to 25 cents in exceptional condition can be valuable, even copies printed after 1966 – like in most collectibles, the condition is always important; with comics, the lack of visible handling wear on the covers is far more important than how clean and “readable” the inside pages might be.

Like other “hot ticket” collectibles, old comic books stay valuable because there are people out there who actively search them out. That doesn’t always mean all old comic books are highly desirable.

Take for instance the once popular “Cowboy” comics from the 1940s and ‘50s, starring well-known movie and television stars like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Johnny Mack Brown, and others. Collectors loved these back in the 1970s and ‘80s, but around the 1990s, demand started to drop off.

The types of collectors interested in these books appear to have slowed down their buying habits as they age, and few newer fans have picked up the slack.

But superheroes still reign supreme with collectors young and old alike, so our advice to you flea market and yard sale pickers is to keep looking for Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Captain America, and the like, and pay close attention to those original cover prices – the lower, the better.

There are still many treasures left out there – for those who know how to look! And if you have questions about what you find, that’s where we can help, so don’t be shy about dropping us a line!

We’d love to make you the next Comic Book Millionaire!

Click HERE for Heritage’s FREE comic value guide.

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What’s It Worth: An Unexpected Proof

Proof Franklin Half Dollars, 1961 50C Doubled Die PR67 PCGS_V3

By Sarah Miller

After first hearing the definition of a “proof” coin, or a specially struck coin with mirrored surfaces produced by the United States Mint for collectors instead of for circulation, it becomes clear that such coins are quite special. They typically carry a notable premium over regular issue coins and are beloved by collectors. In the early decades of the U.S. Mint, such proof coins were struck mainly as presentation pieces or by special request to the mint from collectors. Years later, the modern concept of a proof set as we know it today was developed.

Starting in 1936, the full range of regular issue circulating coins (penny, nickel, dime, quarter, and half dollar) was produced in proof format for collectors, and by the mid-1950s this process of producing so-called “proof sets” was firmly cemented as common practice. Ever since, collectors can order proof sets containing one of each regular issue coin in the special proof format with that year’s date. Presently, millions of these sets are made each year.

Since proof sets became regularly produced and available to the public, they have been perennially popular both as gifts and with collectors alike. Each year has special dated packaging and contains beautiful proof versions of that year’s circulating coinage.

Despite their popularity, however, not all proof sets are worth a large premium over the face value of the coins they contain. Many proof sets from the 1990s or 2000s, for example, can be obtained for under $10 each. Therefore, seeing box upon box of these relatively common later date proof sets can be downright boring to the advanced collector or longtime coin dealer despite these coins’ beauty.

It is a pleasant surprise, then, to find a rare and expensive variety among the more modern and inexpensive proof sets—the 1961 doubled die reverse proof Franklin half dollar. A doubled die occurs when the design elements present on a coin are doubled and thus appear as if they were struck twice.

This is especially notable because not only are proofs intended to be produced to an exacting standard, but the mirrored surfaces emphasize the misaligned appearance of the doubled die reverse. Although there are multiple minor versions of this variety with only slight doubling, the rarest and most popular version is very clearly visible to the naked eye.

Listed in Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton’s Cherry Picker’s Guide as FS-50-1961-801 and pictured on the cover of the Fifth Edition of this well-known text, the 1961 doubled die reverse proof half is a true treasure among the proof coins that one might discover in a set. They are very scarce indeed and show strong doubling on E PLURIBUS UNUM and UNITED.

Proof Franklin Half Dollars, 1961 50C Doubled Die PR67 PCGS_V2

As Fivaz and Stanton write, “Very few have been uncovered in the last five or six years, but check those unopened 1961 Proof sets—you may ring the bell if you have one!” The Cherry Picker’s Guide also estimates a retail value of $3,000 in Proof 65 condition for this strongest version of the 1961 doubled die, while the PCGS Price Guide estimates $3,650 for the same grade. Given the approximate value of $25 for the typical 1961 proof set, finding a doubled die in your set would be exciting indeed!

Several minor versions with only slight doubling exist that are not to be confused with the truly dramatic doubling of FS-50-1961-801. These slightly doubled versions are still worth a premium over the regular proof price but are far less rare or expensive.

Even so, the rarity and high value of this variety makes it worth checking through that box of proof sets to see just what might be waiting to be discovered! Depending on its grade, finding a 1961 doubled die Franklin in your set can transform it from an inexpensive collectible to an intriguing and profitable find. You never know when those old proof sets that you inherited might reveal an unexpected surprise like the 1961 doubled die reverse half. Happy hunting!

Check out Heritage’s FREE coin price guide for quick answers on what your item could be worth.

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It was 50 years ago today… well, almost

Ed Sullivan Show_Beatles_Heritage Auctions

By Stewart Huckaby

It obviously dates me to say that I still remember when the Beatles were still together, but then I don’t claim to be old enough to remember when they did the Ed Sullivan show 50 years ago – to be exact, February 9, 1964. The Beatles were mentioned now and again on the elementary school playground on occasion, but “Paul is dead” barely got as far as Cupertino, California, and I never bought the idea to begin with. What I remember from that far back was merely that they had long hair and that their music tended to annoy older people. In fact, there was a nursery rhyme about the hair:

Ringo, Ringo, Ringo Starr

How I wonder where you are…

It wasn’t until a few years after they broke up, maybe 1973 or so, that I actually discovered the music. My mother bought the album “The Beatles 1962-1966”, also known as the Red album, and we played it. And played it. On my next birthday, I asked for and got the Blue Album (The Beatles 1967-70) for my birthday. In “A Day in the Life”, John said, “I’d love to turn you on…” I think he succeeded.

It’s not an accident that the Beatles are still popular after 50 years. The music, even in 1964, was ahead of its time, but by the time Revolver and Sgt. Pepper rolled around, it was ahead of our time. The White Album and Abbey Road sound as fresh today as they ever did. According to Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, the Beatles have #1 (Sgt. Pepper), #3 (Revolver), #5 (Rubber Soul), #10 (The White Album), #14 (Abbey Road) in the top twenty, with four other British releases and one American release in the top 500. And that doesn’t take into account the fact that they released quite a number of non-album singles, with some of the finest music ever recorded. Think “Hey Jude”, and go from there.

I like to post on social media about some of the cool things we are offering, usually with a comment like, “I might have mentioned once or twice that we get cool stuff around here.” One of the items in our April 26th Entertainment & Music Auction is a Beatles-autographed backdrop from the February 9, 1964 Ed Sullivan show. Considering the speed at which this item hit the wire services, I think this qualifies as cool stuff, and it attests to the Beatles’ popularity even today. But then, Tomorrow Never Knows.

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