The Numismatist's Second Best Friend
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by Greg Burns

Your numismatic second best friend is waiting to be introduced to you. Of course, it will only be a temporary liaison. One that you can look back on in the future with fond remembrances, and occasionally rekindle.

I, myself, am very fickle. I switch my second best friend constantly. At least my numismatic second best friend.

Who is the numismatist’s second best friend, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s whichever numismatic reference book you happen to be holding at the time you ask the question.

If the book is your second best friend, then your absolute best numismatic friend must be the team of author, publisher, and bookseller that put the book in your hands.

I treasure my reference books almost as much as I treasure the coins themselves. In fact, in some cases, even more so. One of the series I happen to find interesting is the Tiffin tokens and their counterfeits produced and used in the early 1800s in colonial Canada. The copper originals were imported from England by a Montreal grocer named Tiffin. When they proved popular with the townspeople due to the general lack of small change in commerce (and, by the way, very profitable for the person doing the importing) they were quickly counterfeited, usually in brass, by other minters with an eye for quick money. While I have several dozen specimens of differing varieties, I wouldn’t know where to begin to decipher the differences among them if it wasn’t for the early numismatists that took the time to put to paper all of their knowledge and experience. It’s only through their efforts that I’m able to quickly attribute the different varieties that I have.

Aside from numismatic reference books, how about the other books that supplement your numismatic studies? I know that I’ve found dictionaries of biographies of people important to the field of coins and tokens very useful. And history books in general can be an invaluable resource. One of the newest flavors comes in CD-ROM, a system of information storage for computer systems that utilizes compact discs to store enormous quantities of information. I understand that all of the articles ever published in “Pennywise” (the publication of the Early American Copper club) have been put on CD-ROM to the tune of $100 a copy. For someone interested in this facet of collecting this is an incomparable aid to their research. Imagine being able to search hundreds of articles for all those that mention specific topics of interest to you; kind of like a super-index. I understand also that the American Numismatic Association has been examining the costs and feasibility of putting information from “The Numismatist” on CD-ROM. For those able to use this form of information retrieval this is the wave of the future.

Now of course, having a friend means also being a friend. To see if you’re as good a friend to your books as they’ve been to you I’ve devised a little test. The answers are printed at the bottom of the page. Don’t cheat and look before you’ve given each question a good try. You can even use your copy of “The Red Book” (A Guide Book of United States Coins) as a resource, because that’s what I used in coming up with the test. Be warned, I used the 1994 edition:

1. This piece had thirteen horizontal lines as the sole device on the reverse and was made of copper. In what year was it believed to have been originally minted?

2. This minor denomination has always weighed five grams (a useful thing to know if you’re curious to know how much five grams is) throughout all of it’s various design types.

3. Generally speaking, which is of greater market value: a blank Eisenhower dollar planchet or an off-center silver Washington quarter dollar?

4. This one’s worth four points: Name four denominations of United States minor coins that have used zinc in their specified composition.

5. Name a major design type (not a composition type) of regular United States coinage (e.g. not including commemoratives) that was struck in only one year. “Varieties” as identified in the Red Book don’t count!

6. Listed twice (?) in the index, this subject has the most pages listed as being devoted to it.

Don’t Peek Below Until You Answered The Questions Above…

1. Page 53; the Bar “Copper” is believed to have been issued by Thomas Wyon at Birmingham, England for use in America. It first circulated in New York during November, 1785.

2. Pages 107, 108, 109, and 111; the nickel five-cent coin has remained the same weight, even during the years of World War II when the element nickel (a critical war material) was eliminated in favor of silver. The other elements had their percentages juggled to keep the weight the same overall.

3. Didn’t know the Red Book had pricing on misstruck and error pieces? For shame! (Neither did I when I started this article.) Look on page 293 and find that both of these errors are shown with the same retail value of $40.

4. First denomination: Page 94; bronze Indian Head cent of 1864-1909, followed by Page 99; zinc-coated steel cent during 1943, followed by the current Lincoln cent of copper plated zinc since 1982. Second denomination: Page 104; two-cent pieces of 1864-1873. Third and fourth denominations: Page 288; bronze 1 Centavo of 1937-1944 and the copper-nickel-zinc 5 Centavos of 1944-1945 (betcha’ forgot about the US coinage for the Philippines, didn’t ya?).

5. Could be a controversial one, but let’s see how closely we matched. I’ll let you be the judge on this one. Let’s try: head left half cent of 1793; flowing hair chain reverse cent of 1793; flowing hair wreath reverse cent of 1793; Indian head wreath reverse cent of 1859; Liberty head without cents reverse five-cents of 1883; I’ll include all of the Bicentennial coinages (quarter, half, and dollar) out of sentiment and patriotism, but reluctantly because they were actually coined over a two year period: 1975 and 1976; and capped bust left quarter eagle ($2.50 gold) of 1808. Whew! That’s nine. If you guessed any of them give yourself a point on this one.

6. It’s listed once as “Private or Territorial Gold...258-281” and once as “Territorial or Private Gold...258-281”, for a run of 23 pages.


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