Monday, April 26, 2010

Coin Monday: A Day in the Life of John Dale Beety, Hand Model

Monday, April 26
Written by John Dale

“The job description doesn’t tell you half of what you’re going to do.”

It was just one of many sage pieces of job advice I received in college that I had to learn the hard way.

“Numismatic cataloger” sounds nice and tidy: write about coins and get paid for it! So simple! Eh-heh-heh… The business cards remain the same, but nowadays I’m a coin cataloger, editor, over-the-phone coin describer, blogger, implementer of consignor promises and a half-dozen other roles I’ve performed in the past few weeks and now forgotten.

Oh, I’ve also been a hand model.

If you’ve ever seen a picture of me or my hands, you just had a needlescratch moment in your brain. Hand model?!

Perhaps it wasn’t hand modeling in the traditional sense, but I was pressed into service for a nifty new feature: the “360 Degree View” for coins, videos taken to show off high-end coins in all their lustrous glory. I was part of a few dozen videos, and on coins like lot 2272 in the upcoming Central States auction in Milwaukee, those are my cuticles and half-moons framing the coin as it swirls around in the light.

The first time I tackled an Indian half eagle like the 1911-S in lot 2272, I actually had a bit of a panic, because the Indian half eagles (and the quarter eagles like them) are “built” nothing like a typical U.S. coin. Most U.S. coins have low “recessed” fields that are protected by a raised rim around the coin. The central device (a portrait, an eagle, a monument, or what-have-you) is also raised, but no higher than the rim, so the coins can stack.

The Indian half eagles and quarter eagles, designed by a now semi-obscure early 20th century artist named Bela Lyon Pratt, by contrast, turn the relationship on its head. There is no rim to speak of; the fields are raised instead of lowered; and the devices, rather than being sculpted in relief, are defined by lines sunk into the field.

The goal was to keep the coin’s devices legible as the surfaces wore down—all well and good, except that the Indian half eagles really didn’t circulate! On the other hand, with the fields exposed, they attracted all manner of marks and abrasions, which makes finding high-end examples challenging today. Even a near-Gem like lot 2272 is ahead of the curve.

I am unlikely to reprise my hand-modeling role anytime soon, unless the company calls. Still, it was enjoyable to get to review the Platinum Night session of the Central States auction, one coin and one 30-second video shoot at a time.

Who knows… maybe if they have me act as a hand model for the next auction, they might even pay for a manicure!

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-John Dale Beety

1 comment:

  1. James D. Bonn, Sr.May 15, 2010 at 10:36 PM


    Although you may have had the opportunity of handling a rare coin in order to show its surface characteristics I don't think it is a good idea to do it with your bare hands. It may not matter for gold coins but with rare silver, copper/nickel, bronze, or other base metal coins, having incused detail on the edge could be damaged by the salts from your fingers.

    Cotton or surgical gloves may be more appropriate and un make you as a Heritage hand model I would think. Yes?

    James D. Bonn, Sr, Senior Reasearch Chemist Retired