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The Coin Geek

Sand Dunes Colorado Coin

Great Sand Dunes Colorado Quarter.

Great Sand Dunes Colorado Quarter.

The mint has released the newest “America the Beautiful State Park Quarter tm”.  It is the Colorado Great Sand Dunes National Park. The coin features two figures by the river with the dunes in back and a snowcapped mountain in the background. The park was created by a law signed by Herbert Hoover in 1932. The land for the state park was expanded in the early 2000s. Around 285,000 people visit the park annually. You can visit the park’s website here.



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The Jewelry Myth

solitaireNot all Americans are showy. There are many plain sort of folks out there who don’t need fancy things. But even those plain sort of folks can end up with gold or diamond jewelry through a family member or marriage.  And even though these regular people are not consumed with consumerism, they still fall into the trap of thinking diamond jewelry is very valuable.

Before the yelling starts about me being against the jewelry industry, I’m not. I just find it ironic that the same American people who buy a TV for $700 that is worth $70 in 6 years, or buy a car for $20,000 that is worth $5,000 in ten years, get upset when they find out the ring they bought at Zales for $4500 is only worth $450.

Carat Total Weight is a scam.

Carat Total Weight is a scam.

If you choose to spend $8000 on a ring for your engagement, that is okay. Just remember it is probably only worth 10%-25% of that if you buy it at a national chain jewelry store. The reality is that most of the cost of the ring is the store’s overhead. That is the cost of the building, the labor, taxes, and profit. The wholesale cost of the ring itself is a small percentage of the total cost you are paying. And even a smaller percentage of that is the actual value of the diamonds or the gold. When you buy new, you are also paying for the creation of the ring.

This is why when you buy a ring at a major store they usually have a no return policy. Or they have a policy where they will take the item back IF you spend TWICE as much on a new item. Wow, nothing like losing twice as much money as the first time.

Lot's of Volkswagens

Lot’s of Volkswagens

The jewelry industry has great marketers and marketing strategies. One thing you will see often is a ring listed with a “Ctw” – Carat total weight (or TCW). What they will do is put 20 little five point diamonds in a ring and call it 1 carat, total weight. It sounds good at first, like having 100 single dollar bills gives you $100. But it doesn’t work that way with diamonds. It is more like saying that if you have 10 Volkswagens you have a Maserati. Well my friends, if you have 10 Volkswagens you do not have a Maserati, you have 10 Volkswagens!

Not a bunch of Volkswagens!

Not a bunch of Volkswagens!

Some of you may be wondering what the alternatives to buying at the box stores is, and my answer is to shop pawn shops and second hand stores. You don’t need to know much to get a better deal. The rings pawn shops buy from individuals are mostly of the same quality as those you get at Jared’s, Kay’s or Zales. In fact they were probably bought there originally.

Posted in: All, Consumer Awareness

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FRN Districts

There are a lot of numbers and letters involved with currency. On US Currency you will notice the long serial number. But what about those other numbers and letters on the sides of the serial numbers? What do they mean?



The B2 Indicates the district.


When the Federal Reserve system was developed in 1913 the country was divided into 12 districts (warning Hunger Game fans: No relation to the 11 districts). The districts sizes were determined by population first and geography second so the western districts cover huge tracks of land.

Name of District
Boston 1 A
New York 2 B
Philadelphia 3 C
Cleveland 4 D
Richmond 5 E
Atlanta 6 F
Chicago 7 G
St Louis 8 H
Minnesota 9 I
Kansas City 10 J
Dallas 11 K
San Francisco 12 L


1928 $100 Features the number 10 for Kansas City

1950's Kansas City note with J for the District letter.

1950’s Kansas City note with J for the District letter.

The 1928 Series of Federal Reserve Notes were the first notes set at our current size.  Before 1928 they were larger. Today we call them large size and small size. The 1928 greenbacks used the alphabet at the front of the serial number and used the number in the seal and in the four corners.



The Federal Reserve Bank Notes of 1929 have the District listed by name and the letter in several spots.

The 1929 Federal Reserve Bank Note series had a crisp clean look with the name of the district on the note with the letters in the corner. One thing that is consistent over the years is that at the beginning of the serial number you will find the district letter.

Large Size


1914 Series with an Alpha-Numeric seal.


1918 Series $1 with Cleveland.

The 1914 Series Federal Reserve Notes have an alpha-numeric seal on it. So a note from New York will have a “2-B” in the seal. They also have it in the four corners of the note. The “Federal Reserve Bank Note” Series of 1918 does not use the large seal but does have the smaller annotations in the corners.



The black alphanumerics indicates the district, and the second letter in the serial number matches.

The black alphanumerics indicate the district, and the second letter in the serial number matches.


Map of the Districts


Map for the Federal Reserve Districts

Map for the Federal Reserve Districts


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What time is it?

Have you ever watched a sporting event with a friend and had an argument over a call made by the official? They will show the play in slow mo, and super slow mo and then you both come to the opposite conclusion as to if the pass was complete or incomplete.

This is the problem with the US $100 bill. Since 1929 the bill has had Independence Hall on the back of the note.  I have a couple of close up shots of some notes over the years. You can take a look at them and see for yourself what time you think it is.


1966 $100 US Note

1966 $100 US Note

1990 $100 Federal Reserve Note

1990 $100 Federal Reserve Note


After looking at both of these I considered self evident that the time is 2:22. After trying to find information on the significance of the time I came across THIS ARTICLE that says the BEP and FED claim the time is 4:10. This sounds like evidence, unless you consider the source…I don’t know of a source with less credibility than the FEDS! It sounds more like they have a negative reaction to the use of the time 2:22 because it was used in the movie National Treasure.

You can look at these images and tell me they say 4:10, however, on both notes the hand near the 2 appears shorter, especially on the 1990 note.  I did have another professional numismatist tell me that you could establish the difference in time based on the shadows that are cast. I happen to think the difference in time wouldn’t lend itself to a wide variation in shadows.

"A N.W. view of the state house in Philadelphia taken 1778," by Charles Willson Peale. (detail) The Library of Congress.

“A N.W. view of the state house in Philadelphia taken 1778,” by Charles Willson Peale. (detail) The Library of Congress.

When I look at the $100 bill I always thought it was neat to see the history. What I found out in the process is that the clock wasn’t even on the tower during the revolution. It wasn’t until 1828 when the building was redesigned that the clock was moved from the front of the building to the tower.  Therefore it is clear that the time on the clock was not there for historical reasons.

When the new $100 bill came out in early 2014 (2009 dated) I was surprised to see a new time on the clock. It was moved from 2:22 (or 4:10 if you are stubborn) to 10:30. This time they made one hand on the clock noticeably shorter, so there would be no arguments. The only question  left is why 10:30? If the time had no meaning, then why change it? Was the old time really 4:10? Did they let the artist pick the time? Can we start a new conspiracy? According to the BEP both images are taken from the original sketches by J.C Benzing, done in 1928.

The changes were among the steps in the new counterfeiting measures taken by the BEP. In case you think that is too subtle of a change, the other change on the new hundred is more dramatic, but just as hard to notice. The new hundred has the back side of the property instead of the front side. These anti-counterfieting changes may all be necessary and the changing time may be meaningless, but I am going to stay indoors on the 30th of October this year!

2009 $100 Federal Reserve Note

2009 $100 Federal Reserve Note

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Coin collectors  have the debate over whether to buy ”slabbed” or ”raw” coins. The term ”slab” comes from the coin being entombed. But those coins can be revived. Slabs can be cracked open and the coin released. There are, however, real slabs. Tombs from which it would take industrial tools to remove the coin.  I’m referring to coins put into lucite, or plastic.

They were used for many reasons, as souvenirs, for advertising, as a business incentive or give away for a bank. They also were marketed and sold in gift shops around the world. They also came in many shapes and sizes, from single coins up to dozens. You will even find paper money under plastic. What is 100 $1 bills worth under wraps?!

Some companies put them into every day items. We have a couple of interesting items with coins in them, including a ruler and a magnifying glass.

Coins in a ruler and a magnifying glass.

Coins in a ruler and a magnifying glass.

It can be hard to put a value on these items since they are not in a spendable form. Many of them have silver value but most collectors are not looking to buy silver coins in a 2 inch square slab!

Some collectors will have interest in the product that was marketed, such as Maxwell house or Lysol. Other people may enjoy finding different banks. But I think the best way to collect coins in lucite holders is to not discriminate. Buy one when you see one (as long as you don’t have that type yet) and see how many you can collect. You may find it a challenge to find them on your travels but it can be fun and rewarding.

Maxwell House gives a 2 pound promise and the Royal Mint shows off!

Maxwell House gives a 2 pound promise and the Royal Mint shows off!

Banks gave away coins with new accounts.  This is the Pima Savings and the Meadow Brook National Bank.

Banks gave away coins with new accounts. This is the Pima Savings and the Meadow Brook National Bank.

How would you spend $100 in Ones...under plastic?

How would you spend $100 in Ones…under plastic?

Not only coins, but tokens, medals and casino tokens are entombed.

Not only coins, but tokens, medals and casino tokens are entombed.


Arthur Anderson gave away and Olympic coin from Canada and encouraged the employees to ''Go for the Gold''. Lysol gave away Silver Eagles for their silver anniversary.

Arthur Anderson gave away an Olympic coin from Canada and encouraged the employees to ”Go for the Gold”. Lysol gave away Silver Eagles for their silver anniversary.


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1903 O Morgan Silver Dollar

Despite the nearly 4.5 million coins produced at the New Orleans mint in 1903 it is a coin that is very rare. But that rarity has had one major bump in the road. Most of the 1903-O Morgans were melted down. Through the early 1960’s the 1903-O was actually considered the key to the series (setting aside the proof only 1895 issue).


1903 O Morgan Dollar. NGC MS64.

In the 1963 US Red Book  the 1903-O listed for $400 in Extra Fine and $1,500 in Uncirculated. By way of comparison the  1893-S  listed for $125 in XF and $1,200 in UNC.  Between 1962 and 1964 the US Treasury released many uncirculated bags of the coins. This had what you would call an adverse effect on the price of the coin. In the 1964 US Red Book the 1903-O listed for $15 in XF and $30 in UNC.  Ouch.

Although some have suspected upwards of 300,000 of the coins were released it seems unlikely since NGC has only graded 7279 pieces to date.  What is interesting is that of those, only 121 are in circulated condition. That is a whopping 98.4% in uncirculated condition! The largest portion of which are graded MS64 (37%). Contrast this with the 1893-S Morgan. NGC has graded 2,695 of the 1893-S Morgan dollars, of which a scant 27 pieces are in uncirculated condition.

Today the  1903-O in VG lists for $270 and in MS60 it lists for $365. There are not many coins that have that small of a spread from VG to UNC.  The 1903-O is still a hard coin to come by. If you ever find one circulated, you’ve found a truly rare coin. It is in fact a conditional rarity.

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Changing Good Luck


There are many types of superstitions that people follow. Sports fans will wear the same clothes on game day. There are old wives tales about stepping on cracks. Thespians say ”Break a leg” on stage. Over the years many superstitions have evolved and revolved around specific objects, such as a rabbit’s foot,  horseshoes, 4 leaf clovers etc. I’m sure there is a story behind every one of those items…which brings me to a good luck token we recently came upon.reversetoken

It is about the size of a half dollar and appears to be made of bronze. On the center of the reverse it has an all seeing eye that radiates and has good luck symbols in between the radiant lines. They have a heart and key, a four leaf clover, an elephant charm, a horseshoe, a rabbits foot and a wishbone. It reads “THE ALL SEEING EYE GUARDS YOU FROM EVIL”.

eyeThe other side has a well defined genie looking in a crystal ball and at the bottom reads, “GOOD LUCK WILL ACCOMPANY THE BEARER”.  What the modern observer would find shocking is the symbol chosen to be inside the crystal ball to represent good luck; the swastika.goodluck

The swastika is a symbol that is many millennia old. It is still used  in the far east, as a religious and good luck symbol.  It was 1920 when Hitler first adopted it as a part of the nazi parties emblem. Today most of the western world despises the symbol. Based on western history we would guess this token is from the 1920’s or earlier. It is unlikely that by the time you got into the 1930’s they would have used the swastika as the main symbol for good luck in the crystal ball.

Good luck tokens come in all sizes and designs. They are often mystic in nature with images of genies or sorcery. The message is often one of good luck or good fortune. This piece is a reminder that through all numismatic studies you can learn, or take the time to learn, about history and culture. The details can be a mystery at first but can lead to a well rounded education. GOOD LUCK!

goodlucktoken  hearttokenephelumpswastika

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Herbert Hoover Dollar

Herbert Hoover was the 31st president and served the country from March 4th, 1929 to March 4th, 1933.  He was born in West Branch, Iowa. His dad died when he was 6 and his mom when he was 9. He was raised by his Uncle John Minthorn and attended the inaugural year at Stanford in 1891.


He came to the presidency from his position of Secretary of Commerce under presidents Harding and Coolidge. This no doubt shaped his  views on having business and government “work together”. He was preceded by Calvin Coolidge and was succeeded by Franklin Roosevelt.

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Arches ATB Quarter

The newest ATB (America the Beautiful) park quarter  has officially been released. The Arches, UT park quarter has one of the more recognizable designs. It is a place that most hikers want to visit and even casual nature fans have an affinity for.arches The park was established in 1929.  It has over 2000 natural stone arches.

Many of the ATB quarters have not been up to the standard you would want for a circulating coin. They are often too busy, or the topic is not recognizable. This coin has a great look to it (especially the special Proof version) and it is easy to recognize as Arches National Park.

You can visit the Park website here.

We expect to have them in inventory in the coming weeks.


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Should I buy A Slabbed Coin or Raw?

Decisions, Decisions, Decision.owl

A common question that we get is whether or not it makes sense to buy a coin certified or raw.  The answer is going to vary based on what your collecting goals are. It is also a matter of individual taste, knowledge and experience. I know collectors of ancient coins who refuse to buy any coin that has been certified.


I believe that having a game plan always makes for a more pleasant collecting experience. Setting up the parameters for when you will only buy a coin slabbed or when you will only buy a coin raw will help you know what to do. There can be some grey area, but let’s try to make the best black and white line that we can.

  • PRICE- Setting up a price basis is probably the easiest way to decide whether you want a raw or slabbed coin. This works for any collector level. You can be experienced or inexperienced and you can have a big bank roll or a small bank roll and it makes sense. The only thing that will change is the number. For example you may decide that you will not spend $500 on a raw coin. In that scenario you would only buy slabbed coins if the price exceeds $500. Perhaps your price point is $100 or $1000. It is up to you, but going into it knowing where you are want to be price wise will help you make a good decision.
  • CONDITION – The next place to look is grade. This will most likely only apply to higher grade coins. 81sslabThere is no reason to buy a raw Morgan as an “MS67”. You do not want to get into the habit of using the grading companies as crutches. You want to be able to confidently grade coins yourself. However, when it comes to high grade uncirculated coins the reality is that the grading companies control the market. They determine what is a 66 and what is a 67.
  • PRICE JUMP  – This one may be the most flexible way of looking at the issue. If a coin has no or little price variation from one grade to the next then you most likely don’t need to buy it certified. But let’s say we are looking at a coin that in XF is $120 and in AU is $450. If the dealer has the coin priced as an AU and you are not convinced it is, then perhaps you should lay off the coin or try to work out a deal where the dealer will get it certified and you will pay the fee and pay his price if the coin comes back an AU.
  • AUTHENTICITY- There are certain coins that have a higher propensity of counterfeits. This mostly encompasses rare dates and more expensive coins. So this ties into our first point about price. Not many common coins get counterfeited. At the same time you may be perfectly comfortable spending $1000 on a raw coin, but say you are looking at a Hawaii or Spanish Trail commemorative half. These are two coins that have many known counterfeit types. You may buy all the coins raw, except those two.
  • GOALS- If your goal is more of an investment than a hobby then you may just want to look for certified coins. If you really prefer filling holes in a coin album, you may choose to buy only raw coins.

All these things are factors when you collect coins. They all work together. Your level of knowledge, experience, and price sensitivity will determine what you decide to do. One thing I’d like to point out again, take time to learn how to grade. Don’t let the modern coin market dictate or diminish your level of knowledge.

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