Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Fantasy Coins: The Strange Business of The Moonlight Mint


Fantasy Coins: The Strange Business of The Moonlight Mint

Let’s strike a new design and date on a perfectly good old coin

From my personal collection. All photos by Author

You might never have had an Indian Head cent as change unless you are an old codger like me. It’s a pretty coin, isn’t it? It’s what our pennies looked like until the Lincoln Cent replaced that design in 1909.

But wait — that coin in the picture is from 1910. It must be a fake, right?

No, it’s not. It’s a genuine Indian Head cent. But it’s also true that the United States Mint stopped making Indian Head cents in 1909. How can both these things be true?

Note: All my coins are in a safe deposit box. Nothing is kept in my home.

Let me show you another one.

From my collection

The Peace Dollars were minted from 1921 to 1928, again from 1934 to 1935, and then one more time in 2021. None were made in 1965, but the coin shown above is a genuine Peace Dollar.

What’s going on?

It’s time to introduce you to Daniel Carr and his Moonlight Mint.

Daniel makes fantasy coins. Some of them are his own original designs but others mimic designs of genuine coins but with impossible dates. But mimicry of U.S. coins would be counterfeiting, wouldn’t it? Well, no, not if the coins are stamped with the word “COPY”. Collectors will sometimes buy copies like this to fill in rare dates that are too expensive to afford.

But neither of the coins shown here have COPY stamped on them.

The reason these are not illegal is odd, but according to Daniel himself, the Mint and the U.S. Government agree that he is doing nothing wrong. What he does is use genuine coins and over-strike them with his designs. So my 1910 coin was struck on a genuine Indian cent and the 1965 dollar was a real Peace dollar of a real date.

The dates Daniel uses are dates that never existed and every coin sold has a disclaimer with it that states “Do not attempt to use these as legal tender. This product is NOT endorsed or approved by the US Mint, US Treasury, or US Government.”

Daniel has produced an impressive number of these fantasy overstrikes destarting in 2011 and continuing to the present day. I only have a few of these curious pieces myself, but enough people collect them to make the more rare coins quite valuable. Daniel mints a certain number and then destroys the dies, so no more will be made.

Counterfeit fantasies

Somewhat amusingly, because some of his work has become hard to get, countefeits of his coins exist. ANACS, the American Numismatic Association Certification Service, certifies Moonlight Mint coins for buyer protection.

You might have a Daniel Carr design in your pocket

Daniel Carr is also the designer of the US Mint New York and Rhode Island State Quarters, which are genuine U.S. Mint produced coins. The interview about how he submitted designs to the Mint is interesting.

Daniel Carr Interview: 

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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Those Cheating Coin Dealers Will Rip You Off!


Those Cheating Coin Dealers Will Rip You Off!

Or maybe not


1877 Indian cent, Courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries, used by permission.
Courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries, used by permission.

When she dumped the coins on the counter and shoved the newspaper ad at me, I knew I had a problem. Mike was offering to buy average circulated coins, these were junk: corroded, clipped, some had been drilled for jewelry. I couldn’t pay that price.

Collecting coins is not as popular as a hobby as it once was. Today, most of us barely look at any change we might happen to get; the low purchasing power makes the coins more annoying than valuable. We are apt to get rid of those annoyances quickly, carelessly tossing them into a jar, or even waving away small amounts because they aren’t even worth taking.

That was not always so. For a good part of my life, I carried a dollar or more in the change in my pocket. Most men did the same, and women always had a good pile of coins in their purse. Those coins had purchasing power; they were real money.

The Lincoln Cent

Almost all Americans know the Lincoln Cent. When you get a new one in change, it’s bright and shiny, but it soon tarnishes. Leave a few in the console of your car and they may become so ugly that you’ll throw them away. Why not? A penny will buy nothing today.

But when I was a boy, pennies were made of copper and had value. Penny candy wasn’t a joke at all: there was a display of that candy at the corner store. A bottle of soda was just ten cents, you could buy lunch for less than a dollar. A pocketful of coins might be all you would need for a day.

And some of those coins were worth much more than the nominal value stamped upon them.

Ahh, coin dealers, antique dealers: they are out to get you, aren’t they? They prowl yard sales and casually ask if you’ll take a dollar for something you have marked as two dollars. Turns out it was worth thousands, the cheating bastards!

Coin Collecting

While people have collected coins for thousands of years, it was that Lincoln cent that kicked the American hobby into high gear.

We had a penny before that; it was the Indian Head Cent. First issued in 1864 to replace the much larger cents that had become too expensive to produce, these were the coins many people had used for their entire lives. When the Lincoln design replaced it in 1909, interest in collecting the older Indians became strong.

Coins Have Dates (and Mintmarks)

I’m sure you know that coins are dated and you may know that many also have extra letters indicating which mint produced them. Why dates were put on to begin with is not entirely clear, but it has been standard practice for many years.

Consequently, collecting coins by date was, and is, one way to build that collection.

The mints do not produce a fixed number of coins each year. Mintage is correlated to need; if pennies are in short supply in the western parts of the United States, the San Francisco and Denver mints will make more than they would otherwise. If there is a glut of pennies in the East, the Philadelphia mint will make fewer.

This meant that if you were building your collection from pocket change in 1909, some dates and mintmarks would be harder to find than others. For example, the 1909 Indian cent from San Francisco was rarer because only 309,000 were produced. Today, a pristine, near-perfect example of that specific coin sells for as much as $60,000.00.

Yet an 1877 Indian cent, with a mintage of 852,500, is worth far more. Why is that so?

It’s simple enough. The burgeoning interest in collecting caused the last year of the Indian cents to be snapped up. Some may have gone to normal circulation, but many were grabbed by coin dealers and collectors. Back in 1877, interest in collecting was nowhere near as strong. The country was also in the midst of a recession, so even a penny was important as money. Not many of those were saved, so today the 1877 is the most valuable date in the series.

Well, except for the even more rare 1888/7 die variety.

Those Cheating Coin Dealers

Ahh, coin dealers, antique dealers: they are out to get you, aren’t they? They prowl yard sales and casually ask if you’ll take a dollar for something you have marked as two dollars. Turns out it was worth thousands, the cheating bastards!

Yeah, ok, that does happen. But realistically, people buying and selling things do have to make a profit, and these can be tough businesses. Maybe a little story from my own experience as a coin dealer might make you a bit less suspicious of the ilk.

In the early 1980s, I briefly worked for Del Greco Coins in Quincy MA. I had met the owner, Mike Del Greco, years earlier at a flea market where we were both selling coins. I had been impressed by both his knowledge and integrity; when I found myself in need of a job a few years later, I looked him up and he hired me.

A Suspicious Customer

One of my first experiences working the counter at his store involved an elderly woman who had brought in a few dozen Indian Head cents. Mike had run an ad offering to buy these and other coins; I don’t remember what he was offering to pay, but let’s say it was 35 cents each. That might have been the going price at the time, though my memory could be off.

When she dumped the coins on the counter and shoved the newspaper ad at me, I knew I had a problem. Mike was offering to buy average circulated coins, these were junk: corroded, clipped, some had been drilled for jewelry. I couldn’t pay that price.

Hoping to find something of slightly greater value, I began looking through the coins. I had not looked far when I came across an 1877. This coin had jingled in many a pocket and had been pushed across many a store counter. It wasn’t in great condition, it was well worn, probably a strong AG (About Good, one step above Poor) but it made me breath a sigh of relief. I looked through the rest and found nothing else.

“I can’t give you much for these”, I said. The woman’s eyes flashed anger and she started to speak. I quickly interrupted her. “But I think I can give you $75.00 for this one — I just need to go ask my boss. May I take this to ask him?”

She nodded yes, looking very confused. A moment ago she thought she was about to be cheated out of a few dollars, and now I was offering her $75.00? What had happened?

I took the coin back to Mike and told him the story. He laughed, as I had expected.

“Give her a hundred. That’s a great story.” He smiled as I went back out to deliver even better news to the still puzzled woman.

That can be a dangerous thing for a dealer to do. Both Mike and I knew that when you make an unexpectedly high offer for a coin, the seller may assume it must be worth much more. Armed with that knowledge, they may leave to shop it around. If this had been a very desirable coin, Mike might have invited her into his office to explain and document why he was making the offer.

Imagine her thoughts at this point. She had brought in a few dozen coins, hoping to get a few dollars for them. Judging by her clothes, those few dollars might have been important to her, but I had shocked her by offering her much more, and now I was back with an even higher amount! How would you feel?

She reacted with genuine joy. A hundred dollars was plainly a great windfall for her. She happily accepted Mike’s exceptional offer (a hundred was more than it was worth and the rest of the lot was mostly worth nothing) and went out grinning widely.

By the way, even in the 1950s, you could still find Indian Cents in change now and then. It wasn’t an everyday occurrence, but I probably found a half dozen when I was a boy. No rare dates, but these were still exciting finds.

I will never forget that 1877 cent and the look on that woman’s face.