April 2013 Archives

The latest currency determination for the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra has been published recently and gives us insight into the likely designs and denominations soon to be issued. Here's a bit of a roundup of what it contains.

1. It contains 2013, 2014 and 2015 dated coins with the Elizabeth II portrait.

2. For those with spare cash burning a hole in your pocket there's another (2014) in the Road Sign and Zodiac series 1kg gold $3,000 (face value not issue price!) to add to your collections.

3. Hot at the moment since the announcement of Black Caviar's retirement a 2013 one dollar coin will be minted in aluminium bronze, a salmon-coloured coin with black dots and a 1oz silver proof all designed by Tony Dean.

4. 2013 The Ashes since 1882 20c design by Aleksandra Stokic.

5. 2013 celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Queen's coronation with a 50c design of 60 crowns in copper-nickel and silver by Aleksandra Stokic.

6. Continuing the Inprirational Australians series with a Slim Dusty $1 again by Aleksandra Stokic.

7. 60th Anniversary of the Korean War dollar in aluminium bronze and silver.

8. A companion coin to Bindi we'll see another of Australia Zoo's saltwater crocodiles on a 1oz silver coin, this time Graham.

9. For 2014 the road sign series will feature a Koala and the Chinese zodiac year of the horse.

10. Two new $5 coins. In 2014 25 years of the ACT Territory government and 2015 125 years of the West Australian state government.

Two Kinds of Coin Shops

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We've been taking a well earned rest from our family duties and travelled to Melbourne for a few days of fun. Fun for us usually means looking at coin shop or two that we don't normally get the chance to see so we hopped on a train and travelled to Nunawading for a suburban coin shop visit.

We'd done our research and checked the list of ANDA dealers and websites of nearby dealers and Southern Cross Coins looked like a great place to visit. We stumbled off the train and up the stairs and there it was in plain view, couldn't have been any easier to find. We wandered in and the owner Adam Lovegrove was very pleased to have a chat and show us his stock of coins. We introduced ourselves and chatted about what we liked so he could point us at the right items in his shop. He gave us his card and was also happy to suggest other dealers in the area we may like to visit. We paid for our goodies and headed right next door to an eclectic collectables shop that was worth the browse as I spied yet another decimal changeover glass to add to my ever growing collection of 1966 decimal changeover collectables.

It was a lovely autumn Melbourne day and we set off on foot to walk to yet another suburban Melbourne coin shop. What a big fancy shop filled with stamps and coins conveniently located within the shopping precinct. I spoke with staff who offered to help and I mentioned we were from interstate and it was suggested that we visit because of their vast offerings. I mentioned my interest in high grade pre-decimal Australian coins and he said we'd come to the right place and nothing on display would fulfil our needs. Ok great then, "show me the good stuff!" Then the question you get and you know it will never end pretty, "what EXACTLY are you after"? The answer to that is that I don't know because I have not yet seen what you have, I am not particularly after a 1910 florin or a 1946 shilling, I like to browse and if I see an outstanding coin then I'm in a position to buy it. This fell on deaf ears and when questioned we settled on viewing some high grade early Australian florins. Now high grade to me are the top gems, the very best of gem uncirculated with booming cartwheel lustre, spectacular feathers and clear fields which he suggested he had for sale. What I was offered was half a dozen unc-if-you're-drunk dipped rubbish coins which I'm sure had pencilled prices on the 2x2's straight out of the catalogue.

Time to try a different tactic, "well I like high grade pretty copper maybe with some colour, you often find 1964 pennies with beautiful rainbow tones". Again after a long boring wait I was offered a choice of 4 quite nice red 1964 pennies but still "meh". I was beginning to sense it was all a bit difficult and I knew that customers and sales were not really a big thing in this shop. While I was standing around like a mannequin in a window I mentioned to another of the sales staff that I'd like to browse a particular box of First Day Covers behind the counter. I was told he couldn't help me, I needed to wait for my own salesperson to help me. I yawned and continued to wait. Maybe I'd try again for something more specific, "have you got any error coins" I said. Hmm, he said and went out the back again and after more counter-leaning and yawning he returned with two pre-decimal crowns. Ok, not what I asked for and not particularly nice coins, I was still yet to see a nice high grade coin so we moved on.

He asked me about the $1/10c mule he had on display, I said no thank you, I already had 4, 3 of which were found for a dollar but that's another story. Did he think I was kidding? He said with a narky tone that I didn't want his then. I thought to myself no, but even if I did the price was certainly eye-wateringly high. It was all downhill from there as he mentioned sarcastically if I have interest in a scalloped 20c. My ears pricked up, here we go something I am VERY interested in. He went on to say, in a vindictive tone, too bad I sold it on Saturday. In complete disbelief at my treatment and his tone I turned my back and left the shop without looking back muttering under my breath "yeah sure you did".

It's hard to believe you could have such extreme experiences in the space of just a few hours and within just a few kilometres. I'll certainly be returning to Southern Cross Coins but I'll tell you now, I'm never ever going to that other particular coin shop again.

We've just returned from a multi-day coin hunting trip that involved visiting multiple coin shops in search of that elusive gem or spectacular error. We make this sort of trip three or four times a year and try to be as prepared as possible to maximise both our enjoyment and the quality of our finds. We thought it might be worth talking quickly about the 10 things that we (and you) should do before you visit a coin shop and what you should do when you are in there. Here they are.

Don't Search Hungry (or Thirsty)

We've spent nearly 4 hours in some coin stores and it's important that you focus on what you're there to do. So make sure you eat properly before you start your search and make sure you take a drink. But please be careful with it and again be polite and thoughtful. Some dealers won't take too kindly to you leaving an open can of drink sitting on their counter. Consider taking bottled water that you can open, drink, and then put back in your bag. Be careful about eating in coin stores, some shops will not allow it. Also if going for your backpack of handbag whilst viewing coins then be sure to be visually open about it so it doesn't appear deceptive. Some coins shops will watch over your browsing and others who know you might attend to other things. Remember you're likely on candid camera!

Take Your Supplies

Make sure you've packed what you need for the visit. This includes your loupe, your coin catalogue, spare coin holders such as SAFLIPS, notepad and pencil, your want list, and a drink. Modern technology allows for a couple of other tools that can be very useful too. We've taken an iPad with Internet access along with us from time to time so we can look at auction records for obscure world coins. We've also done searches for coin varieties which are not typically listed in catalogues. Having access to the Internet like this has proven to be extremely useful and if you can do it we highly recommend it.

Know What You're Looking For

Coin collectors tend to have eclectic tastes and collecting habits. Some collect by date, some by type, and some just a coin because it appeals them in some undefinable way. If you have troubles controlling your spending then it's always best to go into a coin shop with a definite idea in mind. This could be as focussed as "Australian 1928 Shillings", a less restrictive "QE2 Pennies", or a quite broad "UNC or better Australian Pre-Decimals". Whatever your focus is, whether narrow or broad it should be something you think about BEFORE you set foot in a coin shop.

Set Your Budget

It seems obvious but you should know how much you can afford to spend before you start looking at coins. Set yourself and budget and stick to it. There's nothing harder than looking at a desirable coin you know you can't afford and wanting it anyway. But do yourself, your family, and your wallet a favour and only spend what you can afford.

Be Polite. Be Polite. Be Polite.

This is possibly the single most important tip we have. Building a relationship with a dealer is one of the most important things you can do and the first step to this is being polite. Introduce yourself when you arrive and if you've travelled to see their shop let them know! Make sure you leave counter space while you look, don't degrade or downplay their coins. If they show you a coin and you don't like it, a polite no thanks is much better than "oh it has so many problems and it's been cleaned and it's over-graded". Ask politely to see various types of coins and make sure to say thank you for their help and don't haggle too strongly over prices until you know that coin dealer well. And of course. Be. Polite.

Prioritise Your Search

If, like us, you have broad collecting interests then you're going to want to look at a lot of coins. Potentially thousands. There's no point pretending you can give each and every coin the same attention because the longer you look the more fatigued you get and the more mistakes you're likely to make. So, prioritise your search to look at the most important, most costly, or most desirable coins first. Leave the less important stuff till later in the search when your back is hurting and your eyes are getting tired. When we look for coins we always look at Australian Pre-Decimal coins and error coins early on because these are the coins we want the most. What's your priority?

Don't Be Scared to Put a Coin on Hold

Sometimes you'll come across a coin that piques your interest and you won't know whether to buy it or not. Perhaps it's some high grade world coin you're not familiar with, or a peculiar "error" that you need to look into further, or a strange variety you've never seen before. If you've been friendly with the staff in the coin shop they shouldn't have a problem with you asking to put the coin to one side for a day or two so you can look into it further. Make sure you take detailed notes on the coin and be sure to ring the shop and tell them to return the coin to stock if you decide you don't want it.

Be Prepared to Take a Break

We're all human and a few hours of peering closely at tiny coins wears us out. Don't be scared to ask the coin dealer to put your potential purchases to one side while you take a break. Go for a walk around the block, get a coffee, or go eat lunch. Then head back in and start looking again with a rejuvenated set of eyes.

Re-Check Your Finds BEFORE Settling Paying

It's been a slog but you've found a great coin shop with staff who were prepared to let you turn the shop upside down and look at every coin in the place. And you've got a pile of coins in front of you that you're going to buy. Take a breath and before you settle up look carefully at each coin again. Examine each for problems and for things you may have missed the first time you looked a them. Many times we've both fallen in love with a coin and then an hour or two later when the romance has cooled and we're evaluating our possible purchases we've looked at it again and noticed hairlines, or ugly spots. So check your potential purchases again BEFORE paying and put aside anything you're unhappy with.

Work Out What you Owe BEFORE Asking for a Final Figure

Most coin dealers will work with you on price, especially if you're making a decent sized purchase or paying in cash. You should know what you're going to be paying for your stack of finds BEFORE the dealer gives you a figure and should work out what counter-offer you're going to make if the dealer asks for full retail. Of course BE POLITE when making a counter-offer. There is, of course, one other reason to know what you're going to spend and that's to ensure you don't blow your budget.

Written by The Australian Coin Collecting Blog and published in the Australasian Coin and Banknote Magazine September 2011 Volume 14 No. 8. Reproduced here for your information.

The early years of World War 2 saw the end of the Great Depression, an upswing in the Australian economy which was now on a war footing, and nearly a million cashed up US servicemen taking up residence here. These factors all combined to cause a critical lack of available coinage. Unfortunately the war effort put an unprecedented demand on our manpower and industrial capacity as well as a strain on the cash reserves of the government of the time. The Royal Mint branches in Melbourne and Perth were unable to meet the demand for either bronze or silver coins and the decision was made to manufacture coins overseas. The task fell to India to mint bronze coins in 1942 and 1943 while the USA minted silver coins (3d, 6d, 1s, and 2s) from 1942 to 1944. More than ??6 million worth of silver coins were minted in the USA during this period and Australia supplied less than half the silver required for the coins freeing up valuable funds for the war effort. The debt was not repaid until 1956 when ??3 million of silver recovered from the debasement in 1946 was supplied to the USA.

Figure 1 : a regular shilling minted in San Franciso in 1944 on a 92.5% silver planchet weighing 5.65g.

One can imagine that the US mints in Denver and San Francisco were intensely busy during this period, fully occupied with minting their own coinage as well as those of several other countries. As well as Australia these countries included Fiji, France, Greenland, the Netherlands and the Netherlands East Indies. To further complicate matters there were big changes going on with the coinage of the USA itself during the War. The USA issued a zinc coated steel cent in preference to the copper cent and also minted the so called 5c silver 'war nickel' instead of the normal 75% nickel / 25% copper coin. Both of these new compositions were designed to preserve metals that were important for war purposes. In the case of the penny, copper was required for use in ammunition while the nickel in the 5c coins was required for use in armour plating.

The frenetic activity at the mints naturally lead to a decrease in quality standards, and this is readily apparent by the number of coin errors issued by the U.S mints during WW2. Australian errors before this period are very scarce by comparison. Clipped planchets, broadstruck coins, and coins struck by filled dies are not too hard to find, but as you'd imagine florin errors are a little tougher than the other denominations. However, there is one error that is a lot scarcer than the others, the so called 'foreign planchet' strike. Contamination of barrels of blank coins of one country or denomination could easily have happened during such a busy time and sure enough this is the case. We are aware of Australian threepences struck on US dime planchets, and shillings struck on war nickel planchets.

Figure 1 shows a regular shilling minted in San Francisco in 1944 on a 92.5% silver planchet weighing 5.65g. Figure 2 shows another shilling struck in San Francisco in 1944, it is readily apparent however that this coin (in figure 2) is not a 'regular' shilling. It has clearly been struck on an undersize planchet which is evident by the missing rim around 50% of the coin's circumference. Fishtailing of the lettering (particularly strong on AUSTRALIA on the reverse) indicates that the planchet was undersize when struck rather than being damaged later. So what has happened here? There are three strong clues to a possible answer. Firstly, the coin weighs 4.95g. Secondly, as shown in the image there's a large patch of poorly mixed copper apparent on the obverse pointing to an alloy relatively rich in that metal. Thirdly, the coin has a darker appearance to a normal shilling than you'd expect.

Figure 2 : another shilling struck in San Francisco in 1944. This coin is not a 'regular' shilling. It has clearly been struck on an undersize planchet which is evident by the missing rim around 50% of the coin's circumference.

Each of these factors point to one answer about what sort of planchet this coin was struck on. It almost certainly was minted on a US silver war nickel planchet of the period (see figure 3 for a US war nickel). War nickels are composed of 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese and they weigh 5.0 grams. Thus the mass of our mis-struck shilling is consistent to that of a war nickel. Also, a war nickel planchet is rich in copper giving a quite plausible explanation for the copper impurity shown in figure 2. Finally, the manganese content in the war nickel is a neat way of explaining the darker and duller appearance of the coin. Similar observations have been made of war nickels and the 50% silver coinage of Great Britain from 1920 to 1947 which also contained some manganese. The only way to prove without doubt is to have a non-invasive metallurgical composition test conducted on the coin. Another alternative would be to it slabbed and tested by PCGS or NGC. They would label it as an error coin and record the actual composition of the coin on the holder. PCGS offer this service for around $USD310 (incl. shipping). This would boost buyer confidence and perhaps help the coin to realise a higher price if it were to be sold. Without proper metallurgical testing our theories, while quite well supported and logical, are just that, theories.

So how scarce are these war time silver coins that were struck on US or other foreign planchets? The answer is extremely scarce. The coin shown here is the only one the authors have seen at online auction for the last 5 years. Examination of public auction catalogues for all the major Australian auction houses from the last 3 years show the following (likely) wartime silver coins struck on foreign planchets (prices not inclusive of buyers premium):

March 2011 IAG Sale 73 Lot 487 1943s Shilling on War Nickel planchet realised $1,100
March 2010 IAG Sale 71 Lot 460 1943s Shilling on War Nickel planchet realised $1,320
February 2010 Roxbury Sale 77 Lot 694 1943s Shilling on USA alloy planchet for a Nickel realised $620
March 2009 IAG Sale 69 Lot 453 1944s 3d on Dime planchet realised $3,000

Figure 3 : the US War Nickel

There we have it, just a handful of coins; truly these foreign planchet error coins are rare indeed. We know how scarce these types of foreign planchet errors are in the decimal series. Think of the the 1981 20c struck at the Royal Mint in Wales on a Hong Kong scalloped $2 planchet. There are 6 known examples and if you could find one of those for sale we doubt you'd get much change from $15,000 (McDonald's 18th ed EF cv $7,500 seems underrated). We also know of a $2 on a euro planchet, what else is out there?

These foreign wartime planchet Australian errors are interesting finds for the afficionado and perhaps a good investment in better grades due to their scarcity. Certainly one for those from the 'thinking arm of numismatics' to keep an eye out for.

Crellin, A (2009). Australian Coinage During WWII. Retrieved from http://www.sterlingcurrency.com.au/research/australian-coinage-during-wwii
Hanley, T & James, W (1965). Collecting Australian Coins. Sydney, Australia:The K.G. Murray Company Pty Ltd
Hanley, T & Myatt, W (1980). Australian Coins, Notes & Medals, Melbourne, Australia: Castle Books
Zierbath, T (2006). Foreign Coins Manufactured at US Mints. Retrieved from http://www.pdxcoinclub.org/articles/Foreign Coins Struck at US Mints CWNA article with table.pdf

Thanks to Gerry McGinley from 'At the Toss of a Coin', Adelaide for supplying the 1942P War Nickel.