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Another Saturday Morning Adventure in Coins
(March 9, 2008) To quote Jim Anchower, “I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya, but things got crazy, if you know what I mean.” Gold soaring, paper crumbling, banks shaky, economy in recession – but let’s talk about my weekend.
Since this is a website that markets gold – not gold jewelry, not gold collectibles, not the idea of gold or electronic representations thereof, but actual gold in its most basic and cost-efficient forms – it would seem that this would be a good time to present an article about gold’s remarkable runup.

That commentary would include a lot of obvious stuff. For instance, the fact that the gold price on Friday was within lunch money of $1,000 per ounce, that it is up significantly not only against the beleagured and unloved dollar, but also strongly higher against the euro, pound, yen, and pretty much anything you can name.

Such an article would also mention that the credit crunch continues on, crunching such notables as Carlyle Capital this week to the tune of some $21.7 billion in funny paper, plus making victims of just about every bank that you can name, and many that you cannot.

For instance, I would put a word in somewhere about Citigroup, who we’ve all heard of and some of us poor unfortunates even own shares in, which has had cash infused into it from everywhere over the past few weeks, but all that money must be leaking out the other end, as its book deteriorates and its shares today fetch less than half of what they did about five months ago. Is it too big to fail? Probably. But still, it will be no fun seeing its share price approach, uh, zero.

And although it’s not our style, we could scream “Recession!” here in this crowded theatre, which would not doubt be answered with cries of “So what else is new? Sit down and enjoy the picture!”

We would also mention the current US presidential contenders, AKA the Mod Squad (“One’s white, one’s black, and one’s blonde!”), whose intelligence quotients of economic, fiscal, and monetary knowledge seem to range from just plain wrong to ‘what was the question again?’

Somehow we would throw the still-deflating housing market in here somewhere. There are now a few million folks who are likely to default on their mortgages within a year or so, and with prices in a freefall, why shouldn’t they? If we were to face reality in the US real estate market. we would all have to come to grips with the fact that our current abodes, with few exceptions, are worth about 65% to 70% of their inflated values of two years ago. Worth that, of course, assuming that you could find a buyer, and assuming that buyer could find a willing and solvent lender.

And finally we would give a nod and a tip of the hat to our friends and clients who have been telling us for a few years now that the financial shenanigans of the past decade or so will someday have dire repercussions, in the form of massive collapses of derivative houses of cards in which real money was put up against the phonus balonus, with not unforeseeable results.

To these prescient ones, we must admit that all this time we thought we were just hearing the ramblings of wild-eyed doom and gloomers. You know, the kind who have stacks of gold and other precious metals hidden away against the day when huge institutions will fail and the only way to stave off a total collapse of our economy (as we have known it) will be the Fed and Treasury creating more & more & more & more & more & more & more and more dollars, and therefore the only logical thing to own will be gold. Can you imagine?

Like I said, somebody out there will write such an article, explaining in detail the monumental trainwreck which is the economic, financial, and monetary times that we currently live in.

But not me. I’m going to talk about last Saturday.

For some weeks now, I have had scheduled a local coin appraisal down in Mesa, Arizona. A fellow called me a on a recommendation from one of the local jewelers that we deal with, explaining that he was the heir to eight metal WWII surplus ammo cans full of coins, and he needed some help determining their value. It sounded like quite a job, so we scheduled a visit at his house this past Saturday, and at 9AM I rang his doorbell and was ushered into a living room where the ammo cans were. I told him that I would take a quick survey of what we were up against, and then present him a plan for an appraisal. It didn’t look like much of value, so we agreed to an appraisal price, and I went to work.

Two hours later, I was looking at a $5 million coin – then Mint director Charles Barber’s personal specimen of the 1907 roman numeral ultra high relief $20 gold piece designed by Augustus St. Gaudens. This example is virtually flawless, and graded by PCGS as Proof-69 quality (on a 1 to 70 scale).

Only 24 ultra high relief $20 coins were struck, and this example is far and away the finest in existence. It is one of the top five expensive and desirable US coins, and will probably be the first US coin to top the $10 million mark in value within the next few years.

In 1907, after the striking of 24 specimens, a new die was prepared with a slightly lower relief, and the mint struck some 11,000 examples of the roman numeral date high-relief double eagles for general circulation. But unlike normal production coins which are only struck once, each one of the high-relief $20s required multiple blows of the dies to bring up all the details.

At that time, the Mint was not too happy about President Teddy Roosevelt’s order for them to make the high-relief coins, and after a few weeks, practicality won out. The dies were modified (flattened) so that $20 gold coins in the new design could be easily produced in quantity, and the spectacular, medallic quality high-relief coins were produced no more.

The flattened modification of St. Gaudens’ design was produced from 1907 until the end of circulating monetary US gold coins in 1933. That same design was revived, and modified slightly once again, for the bullion gold Eagles which were produced starting in 1986, and that we sell today.

By the way, this coin wasn’t part of the ammo can collection. In fact, I went to the American Numismatic Association’s spring Money Show in Phoenix on Saturday after I got done in Mesa, and that is where I saw this spectacular coin.

And the ammo cans? After about an hour’s search, I found that they mostly held a bunch of junk. I separated out the silver coins for the heir to this large fortune, and advised him to take the other 200 pounds of coins to the bank.

-Richard Smith


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