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PCGS, So-Called Dollars, and an emerging market

September 24, 2012 Articles, Bill's Blogs

Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with Don Willis, President of PCGS, at one of the major shows. I’ve known Don for many years and have always respected him for his professionalism and knowledge of the coin industry, so it was no surprise to me when he took his current position at PCGS. During the course of our chat we discussed many things; from how the market is in my segment of the hobby, to my clients views on PCGS, and everything in between. One of the topics that came up was potential areas of growth for PCGS and how they might be obtained.

I mentioned that many of our customers who purchased federal coinage also bought medals and tokens to complement their collections. Two areas that came to the forefront were U.S. Mint medals and So-Called Dollars. I can now say that the outcome of these talks is that PCGS now grades and encapsulates both of the areas of numismatics. As this article is about So-Called Dollars I won’t talk about PCGS’ grading of U.S. Mint medals, but rest assured that I will write about them in the future.

So just what exactly is a So-Called Dollar? Well we get that term from two gentlemen who coined it in the 1960’s (pun intended). One of the hottest areas of collecting in the 1960’s was medals whose size was comparable with that of a U.S. silver (or gold) dollar. This was a fun and inexpensive alternative to collecting regular American coins. The big problem was that there was not a reference book, or any books, available to help the average collector with this endeavor. Enter Harold E. Hibler and Charles V. Kappen. In 1963 The Coin and Currency Institute, Inc. published their book So-Called Dollars, an Illustrated Standard Catalog. It was an instant hit.

The authors looked at thousands of medals to include in their book, eventually settling on less than one thousand. How they did this is beyond me. I have seen literally thousands and thousands of medals that met their criteria but did not make it into the book. A daunting task to say the least.

Hibler and Kappen decided to divide their book into three separate areas of medals that met the guidelines they set forth. They were:

Part l Commemorative and Expositions Medals of National Significance

Part ll Commemorative and Exposition Medals of Local Significance

Part lll Monetary and Miscellaneous Medals

I could spend hours and hours telling you just exactly what deserves to go into each of those categories, but I will let the titles do the talking. Personally I like the medals of part l and lll. National events and monetary policy appeal the most to me as a numismatist. That is not to say that the medals of part ll aren’t important, because some of them are, it’s just that some of them are so obscure that I don’t think they were that popular when they were issued. So-Called Dollars were minted by a variety of manufactures, one of which was the U.S. Mint. I find that these, usually found in Part I of the book, are generally well made, sometimes designed by artist who also did coins, and are the most popular of the series.

As with most things in life popularity sometimes comes and goes, this happened with the So-Called market. For most of the 1970-1990’s there wasn’t much demand for them, in fact collectors of them had all but fallen off of the face of the earth. But then slowly their appeal started to re-emerge. Demand picked up and during the first decade of this century there was actually a “bull” market for them. The problem was that there weren’t any copies of Hibler and Kappen’s original book available for this new generation of collectors. As more and more people became interested in these pieces it became evident that a new “revised” edition would help ease this problem. We have Tom Hoffman, Dave Hayes, Jonathan Brecher, and John Dean to thank for this. In 2008 they released a second edition, somewhat revised, and it became a best seller. I should also note that there were other major players in this field at that time, most importantly Jeff Shevlin, the newly appointed Executive Director for the American Numismatic Association. New life had been born into the long forgotten field of So-Called Dollars.

There are two other reference books that deserve to be mentioned here. They are National Commemorative Medals of the United States of America since 1873 by William Swoger and National Commemorative Medals of the United States Mint, An Illustrated Catalog, by John T. Dean. Both of these books are great in their own right, but for the sake of consistency and continuity PCGS has decided to attribute these medals by their So-Called Dollar numbers.

The medals of Part ll, to be blunt, aren’t nearly as popular as those of Parts l and lll. In my opinion they have very limited appeal to most collectors. The phrase I like to use is “nobody cares about the Shamhart Family reunion medal of 1936 except for; you guessed it, the Shamharts”. I’m not picking on those listed in Part ll, in fact they have many (okay a few) loyal followers of their own. The biggest thing these pieces have going for them is that you need them to have a complete collection of So-Called Dollars.

The medals of Part lll are really cool. Some of the neatest ones included are the Bryan issues, Lesher Referendum Dollars, and the Pedley-Ryan Dollars of 1933. In fact many of the medals listed in this section have other, stand alone, reference books of their own. If you’re a student of American monetary policy and the way it has affected our country, then these So-Called Dollars are for you. Way cool in my opinion.

After my talk with Don Willis, PCGS decided to begin grading So-Called Dollars. Mind you this ISN’T because of me. So-Called Dollars had been on PCGS’ radar screen for some time, but I like to think that my talk with Don didn’t hurt.

So now you know what a So-Called Dollar is. You know who wrote the original reference book on them and also those responsible for the new and revised edition. And you know my opinion on which areas of them are cool and which area isn’t (To paraphrase the comedian Dennis Miller…”hey that’s just my opinion, I COULD be wrong.). Now all you have to do is go out and buy a copy of the So-Called Dollar book (and maybe the others I mentioned above) and start reading. Then you can start on your new quest for them.

Christine and I have a few of the first pieces graded by PCGS. Look over our listing, then look them up in your copy of Hibler and Kappen’s book, and if you see something you like, give us a call. Remember…we love to talk coins (and medals).

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Contact Information

Numismatic Americana Incorporated
P.O. Box 608
Chester, NJ 07930

William Shamhart, Jr.
email: Bill@numismaticamericana.com

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