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.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Moonlight Mint's 1916 Fantasy Barber Half

This is truly a beautiful piece.

See “1916” Barber Half Dollar – Production Blog for mintage figures.  This one is Die State 1, before the reverse die crack developed.  As I write this, there has not yet been another die produced - I suppose that will depend upon demand.

I ended up with two of these due to a shipping error. I contacted Daniel and he offered to let me keep the second for $40.00.  I felt that was unfair, so sent him $50.00 :)

Both have the "DOLAR" error on the insert - Daniel says that has been corrected.

Another die was made after 260 of these were produced.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Interesting Infographic on coins and coin collecting

Here is an interesting infographic from

I see that 13% of respondents think 3 cent coins are undervalued ( see ).  I'd agree, though I also think that half cents are even less appreciated.

As to overvalued, I agree: Morgan Dollars are foolishly priced.

But with regard to phasing out the penny: what politician will ever vote against Lincoln?

Coin Experts Survey InfographicCoin Experts Survey Infographic

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

When coins no longer matter at all

We are nearing the point when coinage becomes irrelevant. Already many of us do most our daily business electronically and have little use for cash.  This will continue and soon enough there will be people who may live their lives having never handled cash at all.  Eventually governments will stop producing paper money and coinage.

That may cause a resurgent interest in coin (and paper money) collecting, but longer term it doesn't bode well.


There will always be people who want to transact business privately.  Their business may be illegal, or they may be avoiding taxes, or they may just be pursuing privacy.  These people use cash now - we call it the "underground economy".   What happens there when governments no longer issue physical money?

I suspect they'd turn to bullion.  Maple Leafs, Eagles, bars and so on.  That's perhaps inconvenient for large transactions, but it's more convenient than anything else - trading bags of cocaine has more disadvantages than trading bullion.

In 2014, the U.S. mint produced over 44 million ounces of Silver Eagles.  I have to wonder: did all of that go to collectors and stackers?  Is it possible that the bullion underground economy has already begun? Or at least that people are stockpiling in the expectation of that?  In other words, how many people are buying bullion expecting to exchange it for dollars later vs. those who expect that the bullion itself will be their medium of exchange?

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

United States 3 Cent Coins

The first time I saw a three cent piece was in a box of old coins I inherited from my grandfather. It was silver, quite worn and seemed so very thin and fragile that I couldn't imagine that people had ever really used these as money.

Being slightly smaller than a dime in diameter (14 mm vs. 17.9 mm for a dime) and much thinner would seem to have made this something all too easy to lose. The weight (.8 gram originally and then reduced to .75 gram) would also make it nearly unnoticeable should one fall out of your hand or slip through a tiny hole in your pocket.

And yet, in spite of that, these coins actually were popular for a time and were widely used. We can see that from how many quite worn specimens exist today - search Ebay auctions and you'll find many well used 3 cent silver coins offered for sale.

So why were they so popular?

Your two or three cents worth
In the 1850's, a dollar had roughly the same purchasing power as $30.00 does today ( That means that one of these coins had only a bit less purchasing power than a dollar of today. Admittedly, that's not much, but it is enough for many small things, and that was also true then.
For example, one of the things you could do for three cents in 1851 was to mail a half ounce letter. Prior to that, rates were higher - in 1844, it might have cost you nearly 15 cents. That reduction in cost was good news for people sending letters, but it also introduced a problem.
Nobody liked small change
You probably find pennies (technically "cents", pennies are British) annoying even today. In the 1850's they were even more so. They were large and clunky, weighing three times as much as now and having ten times the surface area. Being copper, they also tarnished and attracted dirt - they were not well liked.
Worse, they were not legal tender. If you handed over three of those large cents as payment for something, you could be refused on those grounds. If you paid with a silver half dime (which was legal tender for debts up to $5.00), you'd get two clunky large cents back in change. Having a three cent coin made a lot of sense!
The value of silver
Setting the silver content of coinage had been a bit of a problem. When silver rose in value, people would quite naturally hoard coins that were worth more than their face value. Coming into the 1850's, a 50 cent coin became worth 53 or 54 cents - obviously worth melting or at least saving.
That created yet another problem for a person who wanted to mail a letter: would you hand over a half-dime or dime as payment when it was worth more than that in raw silver? Silver coins disappeared from circulation.
The silver three cent coin of 1851 was debased with enough copper (25% originally, reduced a few years later) to make it not worth hoarding while still having enough silver in it to be seen as having real value. This was later done with all silver coins, but the silver content was increased to 90% and the size was reduced to try to discourage hoarding and melting.
This worked - for a while. The silver 3 cent coin was successful and saw plenty of use for postage and other needs.
The Civil War
The U.S. Civil War caused hoarding to start up all over again and even the debased coinage was pulled out of circulation. There were paper money notes issued in three cent denominations, but people hated those also.
Worse, in 1861, banks had suspended specie payment. That is, if you brought in paper currency or Demand Notes, they would not give you coins in exchange.
That this made commerce difficult should be obvious.
More debasement
The somewhat unexpected acceptance of so-called "civil war tokens" made Congress realize that small coins didn't really need bullion value. They therefore authorized a nickel 3 cent piece and began minting these in 1865.
These were accepted by the public and by merchants and were minted right up until 1889, when postage rose to 5 cents.
You can find these 3 cent nickel pieces at reasonable prices. Many millions were made, so they are easy to find even in higher grade condition.
These interesting pieces paved the way for the valueless (that is, no intrinsic value) coins we have today.

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

PhoneScope Clip On Microscope Review

Although I have a USB microscope, I wanted something for my phone that I could use in the field. I bought the Lighthouse Phonescope (see Amazon link here).  This is a lens attached to a very strong clip that should fit almost any phone. Here it is attached to my iPhone with an Otter case.

The clip spring is quite strong. I found it somewhat difficult myself; someone with weaker hands (like my wife) might not be able to do it at all.

I did find it slightly easier if I put it on from the side:

The actual lens can easily come out of the clip when not attached to a phone.  It's not so loose that it is likely to fall out, but you could knock it out accidentally. 

The translucent plastic piece snaps on to the lens and provides the right focal length.   Unlike my USB scope, there's nothing to focus with this.

But in order to get that relatively flat, you'll need something at the other end of your phone. I used my wife's pill box, which was close enough.

So now the question is, how well does it work?

You need LOTS of light.  That translucent pedestal will only let in so much.  I was just using overhead lighting in my kitchen; that was insufficient, so I added a flashlight.  I used the iPhone zoom magnification in addition to the Phonescope lens.

But remember that this is a fixed focal length.   Is the ideal distance with the coin covered as it is for the Lincoln cent above, or should it be on the coin itself as it has to be with a silver dollar and can easily be with a half dollar?

What about a coin in a slab? The coin surface will be a little farther away. The iPhone camera will compensate for that somewhat, but the results were a little fuzzier:

I was unable to zoom at all when looking at a slab; the iPhone could not get focus when zoomed.

So, all things considered: this is a decent tool for raw coins, but not ideal for slabs.

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home.