Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Coin Monday: To Be Continued?

Aug. 10, 2010
Written by John Dale

(As you will read below, which I will let JDB explain in more detail, the Heritage blog is going to be taking a sabbatical. It is only fitting that John be the one to sign off, for the time being at least, as he's held down the majority of the writing for the better part of the last year. For that, and for his continuing good work and insight in all the aspects of his work, he has my thanks, as do those of you who have read this blog over the last two years. Best, Noah.)

This will be the last time you see me in this space for a while.

The Heritage Auctions blog is going into mothballs, to be re-evaluated in a year. I’d love to see it come back, but since there are no guarantees and I’ll be waiting a year in the best case, I want to send this incarnation of the blog out in style.

One of my regrets is that in a year and a half of blogging for Heritage, I haven’t been able to make a decent Viking reference. Thus, today’s topic is this Norse-American Centennial medal, part of the Dr. and Mrs. Claude Davis Collection in Heritage’s ready-to-launch August 2010 Official ANA Auction in Boston. http://www.HA.com/1143

The Norse medal, as it is usually abbreviated, has an unusual place in U.S. numismatics. Unlike many medals of its time, it is fairly well-established as an object for mainstream coin collecting. I have described it as an “honorary commemorative” in Heritage catalogs, and the history of the Norse medal is closely knotted with the silver commemoratives of the same era.

In fact, those other commemoratives are the reason the Norse medal is a medal and not a coin.
Several different commemorative coin issues were being struck or authorized in 1925; coins dated 1925 include the Lexington-Concord, the Stone Mountain (Georgia), the California Diamond Jubilee, and the Fort Vancouver (Washington) Centennial, and the 1927 Vermont (or Battle of Bennington) commemorative was authorized the same year. Many more commemorative bills were filed, only to die in committee.

The 1925 Minnesota State Fair featured the Norse-American Centennial, a celebration of early Norwegian immigrants’ arrival to the U.S. in 1825 and subsequent Norwegian contributions to American life and culture. The sponsor of the bill that created the Norse medal was Ole Juulson Kvale, a U.S. Representative from Minnesota of Norwegian descent, who was elected to the House in 1923.

Kvale was well-placed to influence the business of commemorative coinage bills, as he served on the responsible House committee. Through his service, however, he must have been aware of the logjam of commemorative coin bills. To win passage, he made the Norse commemorative a medal instead of a coin. Kvale’s bill passed out of the House and eventually became law.

Norse medals are eight-sided with a Leif-Eriksson-before-longboat motif on the obverse and a longboat on the reverse. The design was by James Earle Fraser, who is better known as the creator of the Buffalo nickel. Medals were made on thin and thick planchets, the vast majority in silver like the present piece, but also 100 struck in gold, like this September 2002 offering.

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Coin Tuesday: The Mule

Aug. 3, 2010
Written by John Dale

The Mule, or, A Mildly Embellished Slice of Life:

"Coin question.”

I looked up. It was one of the photographers. Young guy.

“Coin question? What’s up?” I asked.

“What’s a mule?”

I filed my first response — too much Captain Obvious — away for later. He did say “coin question,” after all. I owed him a Serious Professional answer.

“It’s a coin with two sides that don’t match. Like if a Washington quarter obverse was put together with a Sacagawea dollar reverse.”

I wondered to myself: which coin brought this on?

I started checking through the coins in the Boston ANA Auction in my head. Mules, mules… there was that one pattern with the three dollar gold obverse and the Shield five cent obverse on the same nickel planchet, Judd-531A, by the numbers, and unique by the book… that thing was cool, but weird - seriously weird even by pattern coin standards. New nickname for the Judd-531A: the Lady Gaga.

Maybe it was something else. Another Shield nickel pattern, perhaps?

There was the one dated 1865 with a reverse that has no rays between the stars, the Judd-418. Shield nickels weren’t made for circulation until 1866, and the No Rays reverse didn’t come out to play until 1867, so the two sides didn’t go together. Was there a little Mint hanky-panky at work? Almost certainly, just like with the Lady Gaga.

Two possibilities. I had to ask:

“So which coin is it?”

“This Gobrecht dollar. I was working on the video and it was in the script.”

Gobrecht dollar? I checked the script. Oh, right. Lot 3284, the Judd-65. It pairs the no-stars obverse used on Judd-60 Gobrecht dollars with the no-stars reverse used on Judd-84 Gobrechts. Subtle, but definitely a mule.

I explained what made the Gobrecht dollar a mule. He got the general idea, if not the terminology.

“All right. I still don’t get why they call it a mule, though.”

City kid. It was time to break out the Captain Obvious. I smirked a bit as I slipped into the voice I usually reserve for non-precocious three-year-olds.

“Well, you see, when a horse and a donkey love each other very much…” […and the horse is a male and the donkey is a female, you get a hinny. – Noah]

“Oh, I gotcha.” He cracked up. Point for me.

He got in a parting shot, though. As he walked away, he muttered under his breath, just loud enough for me to hear, in true non-collector fashion:

“Coin weenies," he said. "What’ll they think of next?”