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The John Adams Bolen Medals & Stuck Copies

John Adams Bolen was a die sinker, a jewelry repair man, a sewing machine salesman, a subscription book salesman an engraver and a shop owner, among other things. He is best known to modern numismatists, however, for his prolific, eighteenth century production of medals and store cards. Bolen began his career in the 1840s in the New York-New Jersey area making jewelry and cutting likenesses for James Rumrill of Peckham and Rumrill. He later followed Rumrill to Springfield, MA in the early 1850s and remained there for the rest of his life.

Sometime between late 1860 and early 1861, Bolen was approached about producing a medal for the Pioneer Baseball Club of Springfield, MA. This would be Bolen’s first medal and would later be known as JAB-1. Following the Civil War, Bolen returned to making medals as well as a small number of struck copies of rare US (colonial) issues. From late 1865 through 1869 he would cut 36-dies and issue 23-medals, which began to appear in auctions and were noticed throughout the numismatic community. Following 1869, the issuance of medals stopped until the Masonic Temple Dedication medal of 1874, with only sporadic medals produced thereafter and generally tied to the subject of local Masonic events.

Vexing to Bolen and later numismatists were his 1862-1869 production of struck copies for rare US-related issues including the Bar Cent and Higley Copper pieces, among others, at least some of which had small changes incorporated into the designs perhaps as a signature or copy mark. Bolen was well known in numismatic circles and was a member of numismatic societies and he offered his struck copies as copies instead of as legitimate historical issues. Both Lyman Low and Henry Chapman were outspoken critics of struck copies, electrotypes and other forms of duplication and they referred to Bolen’s work with struck copies as counterfeits. Historically, this label appears to have stuck with Bolen to a degree and it may be debated as to how accurate it truly is.

Collecting Bolen’s works has been an active niche in numismatics at least since the 1860s and at some point after the production of the first medals it was realized by both Bolen and others that a catalogue of issues could be quite useful to the industry. During his lifetime there were five different lists of medallic work produced with the first of these appearing in 1866 and the fourth in 1882. It would not be until 1905 that the fifth work, which is also the only work that was published under Bolen’s name, would be produced. Importantly, none of the five lists is complete or accurate. It appears that real-time records of medal production were not kept by Bolen and that subsequent issues of lists relied upon Bolen notes or his recollections. Bolen also kept his own reference collection, but again it appears as though this reference collection was started well after medal production was started as it was incomplete. The pieces in this reference collection had a small B struck on the side of the medal along with a notation of the metal and a mintage number, which may very well have been a best-guess number. This reference collection was sold to the ANS in 1948.

A frustrating aspect of Bolen regarding his work is that he sold many of the dies he prepared to strike his medals. A total of 34-dies were sold and many of these were later used by their new owners to strike mules. Not all these dies have been accounted for. To complicate matters further, Bolen himself produced 15-mules. This makes collecting and organizing Bolen’s medals a difficult task, but also allows terrific flexibility into what might or might not be included in any individual collection. The dies were sold in three groups to George B. Mason, John W. Kline and A. Ramsey McCoy. Mason later sold or traded his purchased dies to Dr. Frank Smith Edwards and both parties made various mule combinations and these are known as the Mason/Edwards (M/E) mules. The group of dies sold to Kline that were used to produce mules have been catalogued as the Kline mules (K). Those dies sold to McCoy had their mules marketed by W. Elliot Woodward and are the (W) mules.

The numbering system for Bolen’s medals and struck copies largely follows the listing of medals in Bolen’s 1905 work and lists as, for example, JAB-12. Mules produced by Bolen incorporate an M and would be listed as JAB-M-12. Those mules produced by other parties would contain their designation (M/E, K or W) as well. The definitive reference work on Bolen’s career is The Medallic Work of John Adams Bolen and was written by Neil E. Musante and published in 2002. It is from this definitive work that the great majority of the information in this article was extracted. TB


Numismatic Americana is proud to announce the acquisition of the unique 1836 Capped Bust Half Dollar, overdate variety. Hailing from the celebrated Eliasberg collection, lot 1903, that was sold in April, 1997 through Auctions by Bowers and Merena, Inc. Mr. Eliasberg holds a special place in numismatics as the only person to have assembled a complete set of United States coinage known during their lifetime; a feat not likely to be accomplished anytime soon as many of the unique, or near unique, specimens have found new homes in strong collections or institutions.

This near GEM has outstanding eye-appeal that showcases the razor sharp strike, superb cameo contrast, and just a hint of toning on both the obverse and reverse alike. Deeply mirrored fields, combined with the aforementioned strike, dispel any doubt of this coin’s proof status; this isn’t one of those ambiguous proofs that sometimes plague the market. If fact if this coin were a Seated Liberty or Barber half dollar no one would question the proof method of manufacture. It is that strong of a coin.

The fact that this coin is unique, as in this is the only piece of this variety seen or graded (in any grade) by either of the major grading services in over twenty-five years, only adds to its mystique. Struck during the inaugural year of the steam coinage press, one must question why this piece was made. Was it produced for presentation to a dignitary before the “Reeded Edge” half dollars were available? Was it part of a set struck in 1836 that included both types, lettered and reeded edge, of these? We will probably never know the reason for its existence, but there is always the possibility of further information coming to light explaining its being.

As I mentioned this piece is unique today. Breen states that there are “several known”, but not seen, and non of the supposedly existing others have been graded by either PCGS or NGC. Where are they? By comparison there are 15 specimens of the “Reeded Edge” showing up on the PCGS and NGC population reports, although surely some of these are duplicates from resubmission. Even with these figures it is safe to say that this is at least 10 times rarer than the “Reeded Edge” variety, a coin that routinely sells for $35,000 to $80,000.

This is a unique opportunity for a unique coin. No collection of Capped Bust Half Dollars in Proof can be complete without this piece. A truly “Historically Important Numismatic Property” worthy of any coin cabinet. Perhaps yours…

Click here for more information

Operation Bernhard; A piece of History

Recently I watch the movie “Schindler’s List”. For those of you who haven’t ever seen it, it is an incredibly moving film showing both the darkest hour of mankind as well what can be accomplished when one man attempts to bring a ray of hope to light during that time. At the end of the movie they had a little trailer showing some of the survivors depicted in this epic film, and I was reminded of a fact I had heard some time ago where it stated that an astronomical number of survivors and veterans of World War II were dying every day. I think it is important that we, as a society, try and record as much history as possible from those that were there before there are no more to tell the story. I strongly recommend everybody see this film.

As a “coin” guy I have always said that we can tell the history of a country by its money. From those that circulated throughout the land, to the many commemoratives that were struck celebrating great events. But there are also those items that can tell a chilling tale of us as a whole. It has been said that money is the root of all evil and sometimes an event happens that seems to reinforce this belief. Enter “Operation Bernhard”. Among the many little known facts of the war was the plot by the Third Reich to counterfeit British pound notes as well as the United States dollar. And like “Schindler’s List” this event was surrounded by atrocities towards man committed during the Second World War, as this task was accomplished by Jewish prisoners at a Nazi concentration camp under the constant threat of death. Lawrence Malkin wrote the book, “Krueger’s Men”, that tells the story in its entirety, and like many great books it was made into an Academy Award winning film, “The Counterfeiters”, again, a very moving film, which, like “Schindler’s List”, should be watched by all. Both of these cinema masterpieces are very accurate historically but I must warn you that there are many disturbing scenes in both of them. For those of you interested in reading the book, or seeing the movie, I acquired copies of both from Barnes and Nobles but I am sure that there are many other places on line to buy them as well.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to purchase examples of notes produced during “Operation Bernhard”. I found myself mesmerized by the story they tell, and bought virtually every one I found. But after seeing “Schindler’s List” again, I think it is important to share these, along with their story, with others. Therefore I have decided to sell 7 pieces that I have. Keep in mind that these were made to deceive, and thus there are many “manufactured” flaws as well as wear on each of them, done to simulate circulation. I am selling them exactly as I bought them. They have been graded by two different services, one nationally known the other not so much. But it isn’t the grade that matters on these. They are artifacts of an event conducted under the worst conditions imaginable known to man. It is their story. The story of how they were used in North Africa by Nazi spies. The story of how they disrupted the British economy so much that the Treasury had to “retire” all current, and genuine, notes in circulation. But most importantly the story of the men who made them and the horrors they endured, day after day. Yes…the story needs to be told again and again so that it is never forgotten.

Many might think that it is hideous that I am selling these and that they are “Blood Money”. I understand and respect each and every one of those opinions. I don’t mean to disrespect anyone, nor discount the hell that the inmates went through to make these. But I think they have a story to tell; a story that should never be forgotten lest we are destined to repeat it. Therefore I will donate the entire proceeds from the sale of these notes to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.

Numismatic Americana Acquires Finest Known
1874 Proof $3 Gold Piece

1874threedollarFor the second time in as many months, Christine and I have purchase the finest known (top pop) specimen of key date in a very collectible series.
With a documented mintage of just 20 pieces, this coin, graded PR 65 DCAM by PCGS also carries the green seal of approval from CAC.

With deeply reflective fields and intensely frosted devices the eye appeal is unparalleled for the series, let alone the date. As stated above, this date has a known mintage of only 20 pieces. Looking at the PCGS population report we find the following:

In regular proof, that is non cameo or DCAM, there is 1 PR 63, 8 in PR 64, and 3 in PR 65. Undoubtedly there are resubmissions in those figures.

In Cameo there is one PR 65 CAM. Which by the way will be on display next week in Sacramento during the ANA’s spring show, at PCGS’ table, as part of a complete set of proof $3 gold pieces.

In Deep Cameo there is this piece. The lone PR 65 DCAM.

While the 1874 in proof has long been recognized a rarity by students of the series, the large mintage and availability of circulation strikes gives the illusion that this should be a common date. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, when one looks at the official mintages for “documented” proofs dating from 1859-1889, it becomes clear just how rare this coin is. There are only four dates with “official” mintages of 20; the 1874, 1875, 1877, and the 1878. Even the highly prized 1873 open 3 has a higher production figure of 25, of which PCGS has designated two as PR 65 DCAM. And the last sale of an 1873 in PCGS PR 65 DCAM was two and a half years ago in auction for $212,750. Granted there are no circulation strikes for the 1875, and few business strike 1873’s , creating extreme pressure by date collectors of the series. But from a strict mintage and population view point one can see that the opportunity to acquire the finest known example of any coin with such a low mintage, is one that doesn’t come along often.

This coin, as well as all of our new purchases, will be available for viewing and consideration next week in Sacramento.

A Tale of Two Cities (or what a difference three thousand miles makes)

Taking the “Red Eye” back to New Jersey from Long Beach is never an easy task. Getting off the plane and going directly to the Parsippany, New Jersey show makes it even harder. But this is what I do.

I left for the first of three Long Beach shows this year on Wednesday. Not the usual Tuesday as I had done in the past decade. The wholesale business just hasn’t warranted it. And I didn’t think that many fresh coins would be there in other dealer’s boxes just waiting for the picking. I was right. Quality coins are definately in short supply. This Long Beach show wasn’t a “barn burner”, nor was it “dead”. Let’s call it lack-luster…plus.

pan_pac_50cWhy? I’m not sure. But I have a few thoughts about it:

First, I don’t think the economy in California helps matters much. I didn’t see many of the usual collectors I normally would have. I even got emails from clients telling me that they had to work and couldn’t make it to the show. I guess job security is paramount and they couldn’t risk taking vacation to get to the show.

Second, and maybe the most important factor, is that I think the Long Beach show may have run it’s course. This show has been around a long time, and while the promoters have tried to evolve with the times, this venue is tired.

So how was the show from a sales stand point of view? Good. Actually good and then some. I thought throughout the show that it would be sub-par. I was wrong. The numbers actually added up. Not just the dollar amount, but the number of invoices written. It is always a good sign when you can sell coins to MANY willing buyers and not just a few. As of lately, ;most sales were to collectors who knew what they wanted. We didn’t sell any coins “on a whim”. Just like at the FUN show, we noticed a lot of interest in U.S. commemoratives. The classic ones, not the modern pieces. And again, the coins had to have something, some sort of character, to sell. And sell they did. We also experienced an urgency of sort among the retailers to acquire coins for their customers. Most of the wholesale we did was to other retailers, not the crack-out artists or bottom fishers.

The price of gold taking it on the chin didn’t help. But that is the Long Beach curse, and those that adjusted their buy/sell prices accordingly did just fine. Those who tried to sell with a higher cost basis, well, they didn’t do so good. But generic gold was selling. Only for lower numbers.

So let’s grade Long Beach a B-. Not bad considering everything going on.

Landing at Newark’s Liberty International Airport at 5:30 after spending the night at 36,000 feet, we proceeded to go straight to the monthly Sunday show at the PAL building in Parsippany. Let me tell you it was COLD. Fifteen degrees to be exact. And windy.

The doors opened to the dealers at 7:00 and to the public at 9:00. By 10:00 the place was packed. I saw a few dealers here who, like me, had just returned from Long Beach. Seems business is good if you want to work for it. Parsippany isn’t like Long Beach. Finding high quality coins here has always been difficult. Harder now more than ever before. But we found a few “GEMS” for your consideration. They, along with Long Beach’s, will be up on our website within the next few days. Check back often.

Most of the people in Parsippany weren’t looking for higher quality pieces. A large percentage were looking for modern coins, both bullion pieces as well as proof strikings. Circ dollars, 90% silver, and circulated U.S. gold coins also appeared in demand. Lower grade, certified Morgan and Peace dollars were selling as well. True “collector” grade coins are King in Parsippany.

We give Parsippany an A-. Even better.

So there you have it. Two cities. Two shows. Two totally different observations. All I can say about this is that I am glad to see coins selling. Both GEM quality as well as lower grade and lower priced ones. It proves that no matter what is happening around the world, collectors are still willing to invest in their hobby. In this day and age it’s great that we have a means to escape into our own little world and relax.

Our next show is this week in St. Louis at the airport Hilton. This show has, in our opinion, always been a bell-weather for the midstream collector market. Hopefully we will find a few items for your consideration there.

Collecting and Appreciating Naturally Toned Coins, Part 1

By Greg Reynolds [ The original article appeared on CoinLink and is re-published with permission ]

In the history of coin collecting in the U.S., most of the greatest all-time collections were characterized by many coins with attractive, natural toning, especially including many coins that had never been cleaned, dipped or otherwise deliberately modified. I have personally and carefully inspected a substantial percentage of the coins in the Eliasberg, Norweb, and Pittman collections. Further, I have seen a significant number of the naturally toned coins that were previously in the Garrett family and James A. Stack collections. Most of the very scarce or moderately rare coins from these collections that brought surprisingly high prices at auction, and generated the most enthusiasm among collectors, are those that have (or then had) natural toning and/or mostly original surfaces. Over a period of more than 125 years, sophisticated collectors in the U.S. have tended to strongly prefer naturally toned coins.

jas_1870-S_Dollar_111109Currently, three of the most sophisticated collectors who are widely recognized are Dr. Steven Duckor, Stewart Blay and Jay Brahin. Considerable information regarding their collecting accomplishments is found in the PCGS registry. While Jay is more of a specialist in early 20th century gold coins, Blay and Dr. Duckor have built phenomenal collections in several areas. Not all of their coins are listed in the PCGS registry. Most sophisticated, advanced collectors have similar sentiments and a preference for natural toning. Many of them, however, wish to remain anonymous and thus will not be mentioned. Duckor, Blay and Brahin are all very much willing to share their knowledge with the coin collecting community.

Mark Hagen is another collector who is willing to share with the collecting community. He has been collecting coins for over forty years. I have seen him at many auctions. Further, he reports that he attended the Norweb, Eliasberg and Pittman auctions and ALL of the FUN and ANA Platinum night sales. Indeed, Mark has “been to over one hundred major auctions over the past twenty-five years” and he has “seen most of the classic rarities and gem type coins that have sold at public auction over that period.”

Hagen observes that “there are a lot of artificially toned coins on the market.” Further, Mark laments that “in addition to those that have been recolored, thousands of rare coins have been dipped; the number of original coins is getting smaller every year.” On this issue, Jay Brahin agrees with Hagen.

“To the eye of a true collector, originality is more important than shiny,” declares Brahin. “Natural toning is a testament to the age and natural process that the coin has gone through. What makes antiques appealing is their antiqueness, a normal aging process of the items. The natural aging of a relic attests to its authenticity. If you saw an 18th century original document that was a bright manila white, you would realize that something is wrong with it. You would expect an old document to show natural signs of aging. If you see an 18th century silver coin that is bright white, it is suspect; or if it has bright purple toning, it means something is wrong.”
… Click Here to Continue

Collecting and Appreciating Naturally Toned Coins, Part 2

By Greg Reynolds [ The original article appeared on CoinLink and is re-published with permission ]

In Part 1, I discussed the fact that almost all sophisticated collectors of U.S. coins have a very strong preference for natural toning, as opposed to coins that have been artificially toned, doctored, or dipped in brightening chemical solutions. As more and more rare coins are becoming subject to such deliberate, artificial modifications, this issue is crucial and needs to be urgently addressed. Although the two leading grading services have, since 2007, been rejecting a larger percentage of submitted ‘doctored’ coins, too many still become graded and encapsulated. Collectors will benefit by learning about such matters. Here in part 2, I focus on the connection between natural toning and the greatest collections, I emphasize the tradition of strongly preferring naturally toning, and I point out that naturally toned, 19th century coins are often not expensive.

Vermuele_93S_Morgan_pvgsHolderIn many instances over the years, I have mentioned the importance of naturally toned coins in the all-time greatest collections. I never claimed that my thoughts on this matter were path-breaking. Quite the contrary, I always believed that most sophisticated and knowledgeable collectors, plus advanced dealer-experts, agree that, usually, the naturalness and originality of the coins is a substantial and very important factor in determining the greatness and importance of a collection of U.S. coins.

Of course, there are other factors, such as completeness and the rarity of the coins included. Yes, collections that do not score at the highest levels in the originality category can still be excellent, such as the Harry Bass and Ed Trompeter collections. Undoubtedly, however, these collections would have been even better had more of the rare coins included been characterized by natural toning and/or original surfaces.

Certainly, natural toning and original surfaces are not the only factors to take into consideration when analyzing an individual coin. A coin may have natural toning and still have many problems. Natural toning has, though, been regarded as an extremely important factor throughout the history of coin collecting in the U.S.

Over the last half century, the Eliasberg, Norweb, Pittman, and Garrett collections are the four greatest to be auctioned. Numerous coins in these collections can be definitively traced to specific auctions that were conducted prior to 1915. Records exist of auction purchases by the Norweb and Garrett families. Moreover, most of the gem quality, 19th century silver and gold U.S. coins in the Eliasberg collection were earlier in the Clapp collection, which largely documented by the elder John Clapp. In addition to acquiring coins directly from the U.S. Mints, Clapp purchased coins at auction, possibly through or with the assistance of an agent. These had original (or at least mostly original) surfaces. Clearly, he avoided coins that were brightened with acids or artificially colored.
… Click Here to Continue

Collecting and Appreciating Naturally Toned Coins, Part 3

By Greg Reynolds [ The original article appeared on CoinLink and is re-published with permission ]

In Part 1, I frame the topic and put forth perspectives of very accomplished, active collectors regarding natural toning. As I discuss in Part 2, preferring coins with natural toning is a tradition at the core of the culture of coin collecting in the U.S.

Here in Part 3, I maintain that the case for strongly favoring naturally toned coins goes beyond collector opinions and tradition. There have always been logical reasons for determining that coins with natural toning and/or mostly original surfaces are superior.

nat_toned_120609(1) Coin collecting has been a popular and serious pastime for around 150 years in the United States, and there has always been a strong tradition of valuing, all other things being equal, coins with mostly original surfaces and/or natural toning over those that have been treated with acids (including dipping), artificially toned, surgically altered or deliberately chemically affected in other ways.

It is fair to conclude that experts in earlier eras were employing reason, not just following a tradition, especially before the tradition evolved. (Please read Part 2.)

(2) The layers of a coin’s surface that are stripped off, and the changes in the texture of the surfaces of coins, through standard dipping or the application of many chemical concoctions implemented via ‘conservation,’ or other deliberate, short-term modifications are, to some extent, irreparable. The original state of the coin can never be restored, and will never fully return on its own. Parts of the coin are destroyed, and, while some coins can largely recover, parts of the nature and history of each coin are lost forever.

Please note that I am referring primarily to rare or at least scarce old coins. Usually, recently minted coins are minimally or not noticeably toned. So, not much toning is destroyed when a recently minted, or modern coin, is dipped in a standard acidic solution. For high quality, rare coins, dipping or ‘conservation’ through liquids, almost always destroys toning. … Click Here to Continue

I love my job. I really do.

I have spent over thirty years in this business on the wholesale level. While I have always had an interest in the history of coins, and always wanted to share it with other collectors, my career went down the wholesale road and that is the path it remained on for three decades. One of the ways that I have tried to “give back” to the hobby is by teaching a class at the American Numismatic Association’s summer seminar. This year, 2009, was my 12th summer at “coin camp” in Colorado Springs.

The first eleven years I remained purely educational. I only taught and never gave out a business card. Before this year, some might say I was standoffish, almost unapproachable. The truth is I was uneasy and didn’t know if the collecting fraternity would accept me or my style. I know coins, and I know the subject matter that I teach, but I never really thought of myself as a “salesman”. But this year something changed. Why, I do not know. Maybe it was because we had all survived the “heart attack” that America’s financial system had had, and just wanted to have fun with our coins again. My students and other collectors started asking me questions. Not just about coin grading, but about other aspects of the business. And it was fun again.

One of my students this summer, I’ll call him Stanley, was a repeat. He had been in my class before, but thought it might help him if he took a refresher course. So where is this leading to? Read on…

I’ve always have enjoyed Stanley, He is a true numismatist and a real gentleman. He collects a series, which I won’t say, where there has always been a little controversy about method of manufacture. That is whether a coin is a business strike or a proof. So this summer, at the ANA’s coin show in Los Angeles, I was excited when he stopped by my booth to chat. We talked for quite some time about a variety of things. Towards the end of our conversation he asked me if I might help him find a couple of coins he was looking for. The pieces he was looking for are scare if not downright rare. I told him I’d keep an eye out for them, and also reminded him to “not hold his breath”.

Two hours later one of them walked up to my table. Huh. What are the odds of the happening? As Stanley had already left the show, a few phone calls, and a couple of emails later, a deal was struck. Stanley wanted the piece.

Fast forward a few months, a few more emails, and a few more phone calls. Stanley had found a piece in his collection which exhibited the exact die characteristics as the coin he had purchased from me. The only difference was the holder it was in. The coin he had bought from me was a mint state specimen, and his other coin was labeled as a proof. What to do?

We met at the fall Long Beach show and examined his coin. I had another colleague look at the coin. We determined that the second coin was wrongly attributed. And so I resubmitted the coin on Stanley’s behalf.

Stanley was correct. He had done his homework, found an incorrectly labeled coin in his own collection, and had the third party grading service correct it. He was elated. It made my show to see another collector so happy.

I love my job. I really do.

Stone Mountain Counterstamped Half Dollars

Stone Mountain Counterstamped Half Dollars

In early 1925 the Stone Mountain Monumental Association was looking for different ways to market and help sell their newly issued commemorative. With the profits derived from the sale of a proposed 2,000,000+ coins at $1 each, the Association hoped to defray the cost of carving the massive granite sculpture in Stone Mountain, Georgia.

Along with enlisting the help of banks, insurance companies, and others, the group came up with the idea of “special” counterstamped pieces. There are basically three types of counterstamps, and they are as follows:

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Contact Information

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

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

Notes on Our Next Show

If you have items to SELL please stop by our table and we will be happy to discuss purchasing them

We will also have many items with us for you to view. If you are looking for anything in particular, or have an interest in anything on our website, please email or give us a call, prior to the show and we will make sure we bring this item for you to view.

Thank you and we look forward to meeting you.

Show Schedule