Sunday, February 23, 2014

Coin Collecting and Genealogy Part III - Nickel Coins

See Coin Collecting and Genealogy for the first of this series.

Note:  Everything is in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

Three Cent Nickel

Although I cannot remember the date, this replacement 3 cent piece is of the same condition as the original.

These coins were the first "nickels".  Most of us think of nickels as five cents, but those came later.  Three cents was the price of a postage stamp in these times, change was still scarce, so these were issued to help.

Shield Nickel

Again, I can't remember the date, but the one I bought will do.

I think the "With Rays" version of this is ugly.  I like this style better.

Liberty Head or "V Nickels"

 The initial issue of these in 1883 did not have "CENTS" on the reverse.  That's the version that was in the original collection and it was every bit as nice as this replacement. 
They say that people gold plated these and passed them as Five Dollar Gold pieces and therefor these are sometimes called "Racketeer nickels".

I doubt that happened often. People were familiar with gold coins and the weight difference would have been very noticeable.  Also, $5.00 was a fairly large amount of money then - at least $100 or more in today's money.  Few people take a hundred dollar bill today without looking at it and I'm sure most wouldn't have been fooled then.  See "JOSH TATUM RACKETEER NICKEL REFERENCES PRIOR TO 1968" also.


That was all there was in the original collection.  

Buffalo Nickels

As a young child, I found a very nice 1913 "Type 1" Buffalo. The one I bought is only slightly nicer.  

I've also added the last year of issue, 1938.

It was very easy to find Buffalo's in change when I was a boy.

Jefferson Nickels

Supposedly this is the "most collected" U.S. Coin.  It's nice that you can still find all but the most difficult dates in circulation.  I even got a very worn 40% silver "war nickel" in change recently.

When I was a boy, those silver nickels were very easy to find, even in high grades.  
Interestingly, many that I found then had lamination errors, where particularly the reverse would be peeling off.  Today, some collectors pay a premium for coins I threw back into circulation as "damaged"!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Coin Collecting and Genealogy Part II - Copper Coins

See Coin Collecting and Genealogy for the first of this series.

Note:  Everything is in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

Large Cents

I feel that I should start here because these were the coins I was most interested in when I first examined the coins in that tin box. I had an instant attraction to them - the designs and the chocolate coloring and their weight.  I fell in love with Large Cents and Half Cents and I still feel that way today.

The only coin that I never sold was the 1855.  

There are actually several varieties for 1855 - the one here is not rare, although the total mintage for this year was only a million and a half coins.

I think I remember an 1851 in the set also, but that would be a duplicate of this type, so I might be wrong.  Regardless, I bought one because 1851 was HML's birth year.

I definitely remember an 1816, which was low grade and very dark. 1816 was the famous Year without a summer, a tough year for many, so it is fitting that this coin should be so beat up.

By the way, somebody recently pointed out to me that in 1816 no other U.S. coins were minted - just the large cent!

I don't remember anything prior to 1816.  That's good for my wallet; those coins get very expensive.

That leaves two other varieties, neither of which I can remember dates or grades.  I'll just buy decent examples and post the pictures here when I get them.

By the way, I apologize for the pictures.  They are not high quality and they vary in size when they should not.  Maybe someday I'll rig up some sort of stand to be consistent.

Here's the 1851.  The major variety for that year is the 1851/81 (this is not that).   I used to have books on the minor varieties, but sold them long ago.   The 1855 is in slightly better condition than this, but it's still an attractive example.  Common dates like this run around $40.00 in this condition as I write this in early 2014.
By the way, NEVER, EVER try cleaning old coins to make them look better.  You are almost certain to destroy their value.  In the case of contaminants and green oxidation, there are things a professional can use, but do NOT try that at home!

Half Cents

I'm quite sure that there was at least one half cent in that box, but I do not remember date or condition. I bought this very nice one instead.  If I every do remember, I'll buy something else.


I kept remembering another half cent. No firm memory swims up, but something was bothering me, so I bought this:

My memory could be way off on that, though.  There is another design (Draped Bust, 1809-1844); it may have been one of those. However, I think I remember the "1/200" on the reverse, which disappeared starting in 1809.

Two Cent 

I know the coin in the box was an 1864 Large Motto.  Here is the 1864:

I remember that the one from the collection was high grade and had an interesting die break, though I cannot remember where.  I keep looking at these whenever they come up for sale, hoping to spot that break (a die break or chip causes a raised area on the coin).

This was the first U.S. Coin to display "In God We Trust".  People who insist that we should do what the founders wanted should take note: the founders didn't want this.


These two tokens were part of the collection.  I had no trouble finding them on Ebay.

This political token was was made around 1834 by the Scovill Manufacturing Company in Waterbury, Connecticut.   It was political satire directed at Andrew Jackson's desire to abolish the Second_Bank_of_the_United_States.  “I take the responsibility” is what Jackson said when he transferred the Bank of the United States funds into 25 state banks.

On better examples you can see the letters LL.D on the donkey.

That was a poke at the honorary degree Harvard had awarded the poorly educated Jackson.

Jackson is partially blamed for causing the The Panic of 1837.

This token dates from 1837.  There are many like it.  Do you see the odd spelling of "Defense"?  Apparently that wasn't odd in 1837.   The phrase itself was quite common for the time.

The Panic of 1837 cause coin hoarding and a great shortage of change.  These tokens tried to fill the gap.

The building is the Merchant's Exchange building on Wall Street which burned in 1835.  That may be mentioned on the coin because the marble building was supposed to be fireproof!
Also present was the "Lord's Prayer" token mentioned in the introduction.

This last token is from 1901.  These types of medals are "So-called Dollars" because they are Silver Dollar size.  There are a lot of them and of course there are people who collect all of them.  In general, things like this fall into what's called "exonumia". 

Why my grandfather or his father had this, I do not know.  At  I learned that

Reverse of issue below is replica of famous Gold medal given General Washington by Resolution of Continental Congress March 25, 1776; only gold medal ever granted him by Federal Government. One hundred years later, just prior to both Centennial Celebration of Evacuation, Boston and to U.S. Centennial, Philadelphia--1876, 50 Boston citizens subscribed fund to purchase medal from Washington family who finally were induced to act due both "to losses sustained…during… Civil War…and (national) interest…of the centennial."

Purchasers immediately presented piece to City of Boston to be "preserved forever in the Boston Public Library." Medal is about 68mm. in size, 2 11/16mm. thick and weighs more than 7 oz.

These reproductions were distributed to Boston school children in 1901; struck by Whitehead & Hoag, Newark, NJ.

That being the case, young Beardsley was probably given this when he was 14 or so.  I'm not absolutely certain of that, though, because I don't know exactly when the family moved back to Boston.  I found this at AskArt:

Born in Worcester, MA on Nov. 19, 1861. Lawrence came to San Francisco in the 1880s and established a studio. One of his notable achievements was the fresco on the ceiling in the Flood Mansion (now the Pacific Union Club). At the turn of the century, he left San Francisco and returned in 1915 to achieve fame by his revolutionary color effects on the buildings and roofs of the PPIE. His Court of the Ages at the Expo was one of his best works. While in San Francisco he also did the interiors of the Public Library and the Granada Theatre. Lawrence died in Sharon, MA on Sept. 4, 1937.

My cousin Nick has the birthdate as 1851 - I don't know which is correct.

Machin's Mills

The oldest coin in the collection was dated 1787.  It was very worn, with the date barely visible, and had been cleaned, so it was really an ugly piece.

I did not recognize it for what it was.  I thought it was a British Half Penny.

However, no British Half Penny's were made in 1787.  These were actually made illegally here in the colonies.  See Machin's Mills Imitation British Halfpence for more on these.  I'll just quote this:

The coinage mill was forty to fifty rods below the pond, on a canal dug for the purpose. The building was of wood, thirty by forty feet, and two stories high. The metal used was copper, obtained by melting up cannon and leaving out the zinc in the alloy. The copper was then run into moulds, and rolled into flat sheets of the thickness of the coin and from one to two feet wide. It was then punched with a screw, moved by a lever, so adjusted that half a revolution would press out a disk of the size of a coin. The blanks were then put into a cylinder and revolved with sand, saw dust and water. They were generally left revolving through the night; and the coiners circulated the story that the devil came by at night to work for them. They also sometimes worked in masks to create a terror in the neighborhood. 

Coins I added

I added these copper coins.  They were NOT represented in the original collection.

1871 Two cent with repunched date (1871/1871)

1948-D Lincoln (my birth year)

1910-D "Indian Cent" (fantasy piece)

The "Moonlight mint" produces a number of these limited edition fantasy coins (there were no Indian Head cents in 1910).  I'm surprised that this is legal, but apparently it is (though see 1964-D Peace Dollar) for arguments against such things.

This 1890 is real:

As a child in the fifties, I found a high grade 1909-VDB Lincoln in change.  That's not a "rare" coin, but it is the only year in which the designer's initials appear on the reverse (V.D.B., Victor D. Brenner).

People objected and the initials were placed under Lincoln's shoulder from then on.  The "S" (San Francisco mint) version of this is very rare and expensive.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Coin Collecting and Genealogy

Some of what follows is conjecture.  All of it is subject to the imperfections of my memory, but the whole of it is truth, at least as well as I know it.

The story starts with my paternal grandfather, Beardsley Lawrence, born in New Jersey in 1887.   As I promised genealogy in the title, I may as well get that out of the way first.  This is taken from my cousin Nick Dann's work:

Lawrence Line:

  • 1. Thomas Lawrence (England) 
  • 2. s. Joseph Lawrence (c1800 England – ) m. Sarah Bishop (c1784 England – ) 
  • 3. s. Frederick Joseph Lawrence (1826 England – 1904) m. 06 Nov 1850 Eliza Jane Rogers (c1833 Massachusetts – ) – see Rogers Line 
  • 4. s. Herbert Myron Lawrence (1851 Massachusetts – 1937) m. 16 Feb 1882 Anna Raymond Beardsley (1856 Wisconsin – 1949) – see Beardsley Line 
  • 5. s. Beardsley Lawrence (1887 New Jersey – 1953) m. Helen Drake McDewell (1889 Boston  1984) – see McDewell Line 
  • 6. s. Beardsley Lawrence (1914 Massachusetts – 1990) m. 06 Jun 1936 Harriette Azelie Herbert (1911 Massachusetts – 2007)

  • I think he has my mother's birth  wrong - I think it's 1910 and I need to check with my sister as to the exact date of her death, but it's the two Beardsley's and Herbert Myron who matter to this story.

    As I was born in 1948, I obviously never knew HML.  I did meet BL senior just before he died. I remember only that he was a frail old man in a hospital bed and that he said something like "Pleased to meet you, young man".   That's not much.

    Sometime later my father gave me an old cigar box full of coins.  This was a small tin box, perhaps 6" by 8" and an inch deep.  I've looked for it on Ebay hoping to recognize the style, but haven't seen it yet.  I can't tell you the brand, but I do think I'd recognize it.  It was pretty beat up, so I'd guess it was from the 30's or older.

    The coins were much older.  Large cents and other coins from the 1800's and one very worn coin from 1787 or 1788 (more on that in a later post).  I do not remember anything from the twentieth century unless it was a "Peace Dollar" - well, there was a 1901 commemorative medal, but nothing else that I recall.  There were definitely a few late 1800's Morgan dollars.  There were no Indian Head cents and (strangely), no V nickels except one from 1883.

    I do not remember my father telling me where these coins came from.  If I had any thought at all, I might have assumed that they had been his father's, but now I think that actually it may have been HML who collected them.  There are a few reasons why I think that:

    First, although I did not realize it then, this was obviously an incomplete type set.  For those who don't know, a type set is one of each type.  For example, if we look at modern Lincoln cents, you'd have one or of the most modern cents with the Union shield, one or one each of the 2009 Bicentennial issues, one of the Lincoln Memorial type and one Wheat Ear (see  That's what was in the box.  It wasn't just a random pile of loose change; this was a collection.

    Second, as I mentioned above, I don't think there were any 20th century coins included except possibly one Peace Dollar.  If Beardsley Senior had been the collector, you'd think there would have been 20th century coins - possibly not, of course,  but it seems more reasonable to think that.

    Finally, there were two other pieces.  One was a Columbian Half Dollar.  These were available at the 1893 World's Fair and might have been acquired there.  Beardsley would have been rather young, though of course he could have obtained it later.  The other exonumia piece has a date of 1832, but was actually minted in 1876 for the "Philadelphia Exposition"  and MAY have also re-struck at the 1893 World's Fair (I'm still researching that - there is conflicting information on the Web).  Either way, I think it more likely that HML was the collector.

    Columbian Half Dollar

    1832 Philadelphia Mint "Lord's Prayer" Token

    I'd like to be able to tell you that the two pictures above are from that box of coins.  Unfortunately, they are not: they are both coins that I recently bought to replace those coins.  I'll tell you more about that in a moment, but here is a picture of the one coin that I do still have from that box:

    1855 Large Cent

    Everything else that was in that box I sold at one time or another.

    Yes, that's awful and I regret it deeply.  If my father had told me more about their provenance (assuming he knew, of course), I would not have.  To me, these were just a pile of old coins. They did spark an interest in coin collecting, but I had no sentimental attachment to them.   It is only very recently that the suspicion that this was an actual collection of my great-grandfather (or his son) formed in my mind.

    My Quest

    Because I regret this loss, I have been rebuilding this collection.  My intent is to pass it and some other interesting coins on to my children.  Neither of them have children of their own, but I'm sure they will find someone else in the family to receive them.   If that person decides or needs to sell, so be it:  I did my part.   I'll be including a copy of this post along with other posts I plan to make detailing the contents of the collection.

    Note:  Everything is in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home.

    Replacing these coins is not as easy as it sounds. Because of the guilt and regret I feel, I want to be very precise in the replacements.  That is, I'm not just cruising Ebay and buying the first Half Cent I see.  I remember dates (mostly) and specific conditions and appearance and THAT is what I'm trying to replicate.

    This leads to interesting conversations.  For example, as I write this I have been looking for an 1816 Large Cent.  It has to be low grade, dark and somewhat porous.  I've had several people offer me higher grade examples, sometimes at good prices and I've turned them down because I specifically need to match my memory of that coin.  Other collectors seem vaguely annoyed by that: "Don't you want to upgrade the condition?".

    No, I do not.  I want to replicate what I sold as precisely as I can.  My memory may be inaccurate, so I'm willing to make some adjustment, but I'm not going to replace what was a well circulated coin with a pristine example or even with one nearly pristine.

    In future posts, I'll detail what I've found so far and include as much numismatic and historical information as I can.

    Copper Coins
    Nickel Coins
    Silver and Non Silver dollars Part 1