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Housing The Coin Collection
Housing the coins is a problem that all collectors must face sooner or later and one that can be solved in a variety of ways. For United States coins an album of some type is generally used for housing and display. The newest style albums are in the shape of books. They have slots for each coin with transparent sliding covers which hold the coins in place while allowing complete visibility of both sides. For date and mint mark collections, each opening is imprinted with this information as well as the figure for the quantity struck. In forming a `series' collection the collector attempts to find one coin of each issue and he tries to obtain it in the best possible condition. The sliding cover feature makes it possible to change coins readily when a specimen is found in superior condition.
There are also 'push-in' folders available for American, Canadian and some English coins. Some show both sides of the coins, others only the obverse. Because of the huge quantities produced they are all relatively inexpensive.
World-wide collections or others where the coins are not of uniform size are often written up and stored in special 2 in. x 2 in. coin envelopes. Pertinent data can be written right on the envelope and your information is always available with the coin. Coins stored in envelopes can be further protected by placing them first in cellophane inner envelopes designed for this purpose. Steel boxes can be used to store quantities of 2 in. x 2 in. coin envelopes and they have steel dividers to hold the coins firmly in place. The envelope system is perhaps the best for housing coins such as we will be discussing in this book. Serious collectors encounter many coins of irregular size and they, too, feel that merely pushing a coin into a slot to fill a gap is not numismatics although it is the usual and accepted way to start.
Coin cabinets are used by many collectors in England and on the Continent, and by many dealers everywhere. They utilize flat trays with round or rectangular divisions to hold the coins. A cabinet shows coins to good advantage and enables you to examine them very easily. Unfortunately, however, cabinets are expensive and not very portable. The main object of any method of housing coins is obviously to prevent them from scratching against each other and to protect them from handling. Albums, envelopes or cabinets make it possible for you to keep your collection in an orderly, organized manner as well.
Clubs and societies
You will probably wish to discuss your hobby with other collectors and learn something about the coins other people are interested in. Since the addresses of the secretaries of local coin clubs change from time to time, we have made no attempt to list them but your local public library or coin dealer can very likely provide this information. Some of the more important societies are:
AMERICAN NUMISMATIC ASSOCIATION, Box 577, Wichita, Kansas.
AMERICAN NUMISMATIC SOCIETY, Broadway at 155th Street, New York 32, New York.
CANADIAN NUMISMATIC ASSOCIATION, 74 St Claire Street, St Claire Gardens, Ottawa 5, Ontario, Canada.
SOCIEDAD NUMISATICA DE MEXICO, Venustiano Carranze Num. 69, Desp. 104, Mexico 1, D.F., Mexico.
BRITISH NUMISMATIC SOCIETY, c/o Dept. of Coins and Medals, British Museum, London, W.C.1.
ROYAL NUMISMATIC SOCIETY, c/o Dept. of Coins and Medals, British Museum, London, W.C.1.
AUSTRALIAN NUMISMATIC SOCIETY, BOX 3644, GPO, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Sooner or later the need for photographing or reproducing a coin by some other means will arise. Most sale catalogues of course illustrate the more valuable coins which are being offered and since the prime consideration of these photographs is to illustrate the condition of the coins, the photograph is usually made from a plaster cast which reflects an equal amount of light from every part of its surface. Photographing the actual coin is a much more difficult task since some parts of the coin are darker than others and reflect a different amount of light; to judge exactly the right exposure is a problem which only experience in this particular medium can solve. The photographs throughout this book have been produced by this latter method and I personally feel that this type of photograph gives much more body and life to the picture than can be obtained from photographing a plaster cast. However, photographing the cast is perhaps best suited to the sale catalogue whilst the latter method is excellent for the text book. This is not the place for a long discourse on the type of camera required or the various lens apertures, lamp positions or exposures; suffice it to say that those coin collectors who are also camera enthusiasts will soon decide what will give the best results.
Plaster casts have been mentioned in the preceding paragraphs and a few words might be conveniently said at this point regarding the production of these. The need for a cast of some sort can be felt when either you wish to photograph the coin or send an illustration of a coin in your possession to someone else for comparative purposes. Only the finest plaster of Paris should be used, other plasters such as `Alabastine' or `Polyfilla' are not really suitable since their texture is not fine enough to penetrate into all the letters and delicate parts of the design.
Roll a ball of Plasticine in the palm of your hand to warm it and then flatten it on to a firm surface with a smooth piece of metal (a tobacco tin is ideal for this); dust the surface of the plasticine with a fine coating of talcum powder, blowing away any surplus. Press the coin to be cast firmly into the plasticine and build up the sides so that the cast will be reasonably thick, then turn the whole thing upside down and gently tap the plasticine. The coin, because of the talcum powder, will not be stuck to the Plasticine and will fall out. Make a thin paste of plaster of Paris and pour slowly and evenly into the mould, blowing the liquid into all the design. After a few hours the cast will be hard enough to prise the plasticine away from the plaster. Trim up the sides and back and leave to harden for a few hours longer.
A simpler method of reproducing a coin that is particularly useful when the coin is thin and rather fragile, is by making a rubbing. For this thin paper such as typing copy paper should be used. Hold the coin firmly beneath the paper and push the paper into the design with a rubber, then scribble over the whole coin with a soft pencil (2B is ideal). The result will be sufficiently clear for reference purposes and has the advantage of being much quicker than making a cast.
Although in the succeeding chapters some mention will be made of the various coining techniques used in different eras, a short summary on coining methods in general will be of interest to those who have no knowledge as to how coins are made. As will be seen from the following chapter on ancient coins, the earliest form of struck coin (approximately 700 s.c.) was simply a bean-shaped piece of metal, either gold or silver, which was simply punched on one side with a number of squares. This very simple design of course needed no die cutting; all that was needed was a single square punch, which could be pushed into the coin as many times as required. Later on, when more elaborate designs were used and the coins had designs on both sides, a pair of dies was made by engraving and punching the design into them.
As we have seen earlier, the obverse is that side of the coin that bears the most important design such as the royal portrait and since this side would be more difficult to prepare it is generally assumed that the die with this design on it was the lower of the two dies where it would suffer much less wear and tear than the top one which was constantly being hit with a hammer. The lower die was set into an anvil or block of wood, the cast lump of metal placed on it and the top die, being held by a pair of tongs, would be hammered on to it. Coins are always struck cold nowadays and indeed they have been struck in this way for many hundreds of years, but owing to the thickness of many of the early Greek coins, these must have been struck whilst the metal was still hot and would flow easily into the design.
Not all coins were made by striking, however. Some of those issued by the Roman republic circa fourth century E.c., were cast by means of pouring the molten bronze into a mould and allowing it to cool. This method, one which was also used for the production of the early British tin coins, circa first century E.c. was not very satisfactory owing to the fact that it was impossible to reproduce the sharp detail of the design and this method was used but rarely.
Coins were struck by hand in England until 1561, when one Eloye Mestrelle, formerly employed by the Paris mint, introduced his machinery for producing coins at the Tower Mint. The bars of metal were rolled and the blanks cut out by machinery driven by horses. The actual striking of the coins was also done by machinery but although the coins produced by this method between 1561 and 1571 were of a much finer workmanship, they were not popular and it was not until 1662 that machines became a permanent feature of the mint.
The first United States Mint was established in 1792 and coins struck in 1793. The original machinery was operated by horsepower and a single press working at full capacity could turn out a few thousand coins a day. A new Mint building was erected in 1816 but steam power was not introduced until 1836. Nowadays, with modern machinery, coins can be produced in staggering quantities, some two billion pieces being turned out every year. The Royal Mint in London produces nearly a billion coins annually for various countries and the quantity is growing every year.
The production of a coin from the stage where the artist's drawn design has been given approval is a lengthy one. The design is first prepared by artists in the form of a large plaster cast, some ten inches or so in diameter. A copy of this is made in metal and placed on a reducing machine. The surface of the metal of this so-called `electro' is scanned by a tracer attached to one end of a bar. All the features of the design are accurately transmitted along this bar to a cutter. The cutter, moving over the surface of the electro produces an exact copy in relief of the design on a block of steel, in the size of the intended coin. The same design can thus be used for coins of different sizes. This is the master punch, and when completed, it is used to produce a `matrix' from which a number of working punches are made. From these, the final working dies that strike the coins are obtained. By using duplicate punches instead of the original, the master punch is always kept intact-and the coins carry exactly the same design no matter for how many years the design is repeated. The date is usually added to the duplicate working punches only.
Coins are not struck from pure metals but from a combination of metals called an alloy. In the United States, the alloy currently being used for cents is 95 per cent copper combined with 5 per cent zinc; for silver coins the proportion is 90 per cent silver combined with 10 per cent copper. The various metals are melted into liquid in an electric furnace and thoroughly blended to make the alloy. They are then poured into moulds and allowed to cool, forming flat thin bars. After being assayed to confirm proper content, the bars are passed through a series of rollers to reduce them to the correct thickness for the coinage. Coinage blanks are now cut out of these flattened bars. The odd bits of metal left over are remelted and the process is started over again. After the cutting, the blanks are sent through an annealing furnace which softens the metal. In the process, the metal becomes stained so the blanks are washed in acid, followed by hot water, after which they are dried. In the next stage, the blanks pass through a milling machine which thickens the edge of the planchet and produces the raised rim that protects the design of the coin while in circulation.
The blanks are finally transferred to the coining machines: automatic, high-speed presses that can stamp out 10,000 coins an hour. The planchets are fed down chutes and pass one at a time into the space between the upper and lower dies. The dies come together with the blank sandwiched in between, both sides getting their impression at one time. By the action of striking, the metal is caused to flow into the design engraved on the dies and also into a collar which produces the reeding (or graining) on the edges of the larger coins. After striking, the coins are counted automatically and packed into bags that are stored, ready for delivery to the banks.
In the preceding paragraphs the production of a coin has been followed from its beginning as an artist's model until it lies in a bag awaiting distribution. At this point, therefore, it will not be , out of place to consider how forgeries are made. There are three ways of producing a forgery:
(a) by making a cast in a mould from an original coin, or (b) by making an electrotype, also from an original coin, or (c) by engraving false dies and striking the forgery.
The form most frequently met with is (a). Fortunately, this type of forgery is perhaps the easiest to detect since, when pouring the metal into the mould, it is practically impossible to avoid minute air bubbles becoming trapped in the letters and delicate parts of the design and these will invariably show up under a magnifying glass. The resulting surface also has a `soapy' feeling which a struck coin does not possess. The pressure cast-a cast produced by forcing the metal into the mould by placing the two poles of an electro-magnet one on either side of the mouldis much more difficult to detect and a great deal of experience is required to spot forgeries made in this manner.
Forgeries that have been produced by an electrolytic process are somewhat easier to detect owing to the fact that they are produced in two halves, the impressions being filled with lead and then soldered together, an operation which invariably leaves a thin line around the edge. Electrotypes of the coins in the British Museum were at one time produced by Robert Ready for sale to schools, universities, museums, etc. Some examples of his work occasionally come on to the market but these can be identified by the letters R.R. or M.s. (Museum Britannicum) which are stamped into the edge.
The third method, the striking of coins from false dies, is the most difficult to detect if the forger really has a `feeling' for the style which he is copying and executes an exact copy. One such expert was Carl Becker, a German, who produced some superb forgeries in this manner. As he struck these pieces from 1805 until he died in 1830, many of them have acquired through age a patina that makes them even more difficult to detect. Becker's skill extended over a variety of series from Roman coins to French medieval; fortunately, however, there is a book which was compiled by the late Sir George Hill containing illustrations of most of his forgeries, to which reference can be made before purchasing a suspected `Becker'.
In recent years many more forgeries from fake dies have come on to the market, particularly in the American series of gold coins; these include one dollar pieces through to the big twenty dollars and special attention should be paid to this series before purchasing what seems to be a rare coin from any person other than a reputable dealer.
Restrikes, although not strictly speaking forgeries, are another trap into which the unwary may fall. A restrike is a piece that has been struck from the genuine original dies but at a much later date. These are fairly easy to distinguish providing one looks closely at the coin. Very often, owing to the lapse in time between the striking of the original coin and the restrike, the dies have become rusty and small raised spots will show up on the coin as a result; the field shows these marks particularly clearly. English copper coins of the reign of George III are notorious for restrikes, and very often the rust marks on the dies have been erased by `tooling' them out with an engraving tool, a process which very often takes away part of the design as well, especially the more delicate parts, such as the stems of the berries in the olive branch held by the figure of Britannia on the reverse. Restrikes are usually worth less than the originals.
We have seen already that there are many kinds of coins and different ways of collecting them. There are certain facts, however, applicable to all methods of collecting.
First, you must have a plan. Much wasted effort can be saved if you have a definite project in mind. Next is the concept of condition. The collector becomes much more discriminating as he progresses. If you try to acquire coins in choice condition from the beginning you will avoid disappointment later on. You must also choose a method of housing your collection. Coins that are kept in an orderly manner are easier to work with and show to their best advantage. Finally, you have been cautioned to know coins yourself or to acquire them from someone who does.
If you keep these basic rules in mind, you will spend many pleasant hours arranging and studying your coins and planning new acquisitions. At the same time you will become intimately familiar with and gain an insight into much of the world's history.