A few weeks ago I invited readers to submit ideas for subjects in this weekly blog. The response was excellent, and I have several in line. This week’s topic is from Joe J.S., actually two:
1) I don’t believe I ever read your thoughts on world coins, specifically their popularity, value, and history in relation to U.S. coinage. I love all coinage, so I’ve always wondered about your thoughts here. Another interesting yet untapped aspect is world coin errors. If U.S. errors are so popular to some, wouldn’t they also value abundant examples from around the world? I do, especially since they’re relatively cheap.
2) Can you provide an overview of the U.S. Mint and it’s minting of world coins? Specifically, when did it start, is it ongoing, or did it stop? I have an old book with a list of production dates and all/most examples, but I always wondered why more authors don’t engage in this topic.
Your questions would require a small book to answer, so here are some quick comments addressing the high points:
As to popularity, probably 90% of the numismatists in the United States collect coins of our country. Regarding foreign coins, for those who do collect them, modern issues such as Canadian commemoratives, pandas, and the like are popular. Foreign Proof sets were more widely popular in the 1960s and 1970s than they are now. Beyond the above, collectors with a scholarly turn of mind often focus on ancient coins. It is essential for most buyers to get certified coins and fakes are plentiful. In my opinion, an Athenian “owl” should be in every collection, and one of the world’s greatest, and also expensive, coins is the decadrachm of Syracuse, a nice example of which will cost over $50,000.
Of course, world coins were the basis of American commerce, and selected silver and gold issues were legal tender until the summer of 1859. By that time there were enough federal coins in circulation to fulfill transactions. Collecting Spanish-American silver and gold coins have always been popular. There are many world coin specialties that are interesting and affordable—Canadian coins 1858 to date, city-view talers of Europe, etc.
As to mint errors of world coins, these are catch as catch can—here and there whenever they can be found. As you say, they are inexpensive. I am not aware of any printed source with comprehensive information.
As to the minting of foreign coins by United States mints, there are many instances in which the Philadelphia Mint, in particular, has made such pieces. This, too, is a wide subject beyond the space limitations of this column. In addition, the San Francisco Mint has made many coins for other nations, most famously Hawaii prior to its annexation in 1898 and for the Philippine Islands.
As a closing comment, from 1850 through early 1853 the world price of silver rose to the extent that existing federal coins from the half dime to the dollar had more value as bullion. Accordingly, they completely disappeared from circulation and were hoarded and melted. Filling the gap were Spanish-American silver coins, with the two-reales or “two bits” coins being by far the most popular, with a value of 25 cents. As noted, these and other coins remained official legal tender until late summer 1859.
Next week: Something different. See you then!