Old Pueblo Coin – Tucson, AZ

The Coin Geek

An Ancient Coin & the Bouncing Ball

“That’s the way the ball bounces.”

The first pitch. The opening tip. The Kickoff. Episkyros. Oh the familiar sounds of sports! Wait, epi-what-now? It’s time to work on our Greek. Here is the story of what I learned because of one little coin.

It is a small silver coin called an obol, about half the size of a dime. It is from roughly 450-400 BC. The coin is from Larissa, a prominent city in Greece. The city was known for its horses, and many of their coins have a horse on one side. This coin is no different. The other side of the coin blew me away, it was of a person ‘’bouncing a ball’’. I had never considered how old balls were. But as I stared at the piece I wondered, “Bounce? They had balls that bounce?!”.

obol coin from Larissa, Greece - horse

This side of the silver obol features a horse. The city of Larissa was famous for its horses.

The ancient Greeks are known for sport, and especially the Olympics. I think of the images of the relay race, the discus, the hurdles, but I never really considered the ball. That is until I saw this coin.

So what was a ball from 440 BC made from? Several different things. Balls were made from string or wool or cloth. These were also seen in Egypt. These balls did not bounce. Some balls were also made of leather and stuffed with animal fur. The balls that bounced were made of a pig blatter and also wrapped in leather.

obol coin from Larissa, Greece - bouncing ball

An ancient obol coin (c. 440BC ), featuring a person bouncing a ball.

They had many ball games that varied from a type of passing game called “trigon”, to “harpastum” which looks a lot like rugby! They also played “episkyros” which was a game similar to soccer. This game most likely used the ball that bounced, although bouncing the ball was not as much a part of the game. There was no dribbling style game, like basketball, that I found. There were games that threw a ball through a hoop, but that was as close as it came to the NBA!

It’s always fun to find something so small that can teach you so many new things.


-The Coin Geek

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PCGS & NGC Grade Comparison

Recently, we ran a bit of an “experiment” to compare the grading of NGC and PCGS on a few US Dollars (or maybe we didn’t agree with one company’s grades, but let’s keep calling it an experiment instead).  All coins were sent in raw (not using either of their “crossover” services), and were sent in recently (within the last few months). Let’s take a look at how the grades compare. First up, we have an 1877 US Trade Dollar.

1877 US Trade Dollar

1877 Trade Dollar - PCGS PR Genuine - obverse 1877 Trade Dollar - PCGS PR Genuine - reverse


Both Third Party Graders mentioned the coin being cleaned in some way (PCGS says “surfaces smoothed”, while NGC uses the term “whizzed”), but NGC graded the details slightly higher at Almost Uncirculated compared to the PCGS grade of Extremely Fine detail. Also, PCGS determined this Trade Dollar to be Proof.



1872 Seated Liberty Dollar


1872 Seated Liberty Dollar - PCGS XF40 - obverse 1872 Seated Liberty Dollar - PCGS XF40 - reverse



For the 1872 Seated Liberty Dollar, both Third Party Graders determined the coin to be Extremely Fine. However, NGC labeled the coin as “cleaned”, while PCGS gave it a grade of XF 40.



1801 Draped Bust Dollar


1801 Draped Bust Dollar - PCGS VF20 - obverse 1801 Draped Bust Dollar - PCGS VF20 - reverse


Lastly, let’s compare the 1801 Draped Bust Dollar. Both NGC and PCGS graded this dollar in the same range (Very Fine, in this case), but again NGC labeled it as “cleaned” while PCGS simply gave it a numerical grade of VF 20.


1801 Draped Bust Dollar - PCGS NGC comparison


There’s a few things to take away from this:

PCGS is not always the tougher grader.

The same coin may grade differently based on many different factors, included who graded, when they graded it, what they had for lunch, etc.

And Finally, Always look at the coin, not just the label!

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Rekindled Collections

I realized the other day that I’m really having fun collecting coins. This may sound silly, since I’m the Coin Geek, but I think we all ebb and flow in and out of our collecting passions. What I mean is that at any given time we are more passionate or less passionate than in the past.

One thing that helps your passion flow is by getting into new areas of collecting. You literally get kindled again…that fire of collecting sparks again. It may be something you’ve dabbled in in the past. It may be something that is only tangentially related to what you collect now.

For me that is currently Greek Coins. The history, the designs, the varieties, the age of the coins, all these things make it  a ton of fun. I also enjoy doing the research for each coin.

The single most important thing with collecting that makes it fun and will get you fired up is having other collectors in your life. The sharing of common interests, of stories, and of ”show and tell” are the things that make collecting a real joy.

So if you’ve lost your fire then consider picking up an old flame, or something new, but make sure you are doing it with other people. Those people will be the secret to your collecting success. And by success I mean having fun.

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(Not) Following My Own Advice – Seek Professional Help

I missed out on buying a  cool watch. A very cool watch. Why? Because I didn’t follow my own advice! Check with a professional and don’t believe everything you see on the internet.

A gentleman brought in a neat diver’s watch from the 50’s. I did some research online to try to get a current value. This is a practice I recommend, with a grain of salt. It takes time to learn what information is good and what is not. <——- At this point I should stop writing, hang my head in shame, go home and sleep.——> Although I found reasonable information on sales, I took one more look at the watch and noticed something funny – it had the same serial number on the back of it as one that sold at a major auction house.  This was a red flag to me, so I searched for the information as though the watch were a counterfeit, and needless to say the first dozen sites that popped up indicated as much.

I told the gentleman the bad news. I was just as disappointed as he was. I contacted the auction house AFTER he left and they informed me that the information I read on the internet was wrong. That specific watch was made with the same number on the back.

Let me say again:

…information…read…on … the…internet…was… wrong!!!!!

Who knew?….that’s right, me. I tell people that all the time. Lesson learned. Seek the advice of a professional.

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2018 Native American Dollar : Jim Thorpe

While many people are familiar with the Sacagawea Dollar that was released in 2000, fewer are aware that since 2009 the reverse of the coin has been changing yearly to celebrate the contributions of Indian tribes and Native American individuals.

Jim Thorpe Native American Dollar - obverse

Native American Dollars still feature Sacagawea on the obverse, but the year & mint mark have been moved to the edge

Previous examples include the Trade Routes of the 17th Century (2012) and the Code Talkers of WWI and WWII (2016). This year’s Native American Dollar celebrates athlete Jim Thorpe.

Jim Thorpe Native American Dollar - proof

2018 Proof Native American Dollar

The coin depicts the face of Jim Thorpe along with the inscription of “Jim Thorpe” and his Sac and Fox Tribe native name “Wa-Tho-Huk” (“Bright Path”).  The foreground features Thorpe as a football player and an Olympian.

Thorpe was a star athlete in football and track at Carlisle Indian Industrial School. He, along with head coach Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner, led Carlisle to a historic 18-15 victory over a top ranked Harvard team in 1911 (Thorpe scored all 18 points) and a NCAA championship in 1912. Thorpe played as a running back, defensive back, placekicker, and punter, and received All-American first-team honors in 1911 and 1912.

At the 1912 Stockholm Summer Olympics, Thorpe competed in the new multi-event Pentathlon and Decathlon. He took home gold medals easily in both, placing first in 8 of the 15 events comprising the Pentathlon and Decathlon.

Thorpe played professional football (NFL), baseball (MLB), and basketball in the following decades, often boosting attendance numbers wherever he played.

To give some context of Jim Thorpe’s legacy: A 1950 Associated Press poll of sportswriters and broadcasters voted him the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century. Nearly 50 years later, a 1999 Associated Press panel looked at the entire century and determined the top 100 athletes. The top three spots were Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, and Jim Thorpe.

Perhaps you, like me, had only heard the name Jim Thorpe in the context of the Jim Thorpe Award (given to the top defensive back in college football since 1986) and were unaware of his accomplishments and Native American heritage. Hopefully this coin will lead to a few others being educated as well.

Old Pueblo Coin currently has a number of uncirculated Native American Jim Thorpe Dollars (available in “P” Philadelphia and “D” Denver mints marks) for $2 each.

Native American Jim Thorpe Dollars can be found with a proof finish in the 2018 US Mint Proof Set, currently available for $35 each.

Jim Thorpe Native American Dollar - reverse

2018 Uncirculated Native American Dollar featuring Jim Thorpe

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Punchboards are gambling devices of a bygone era. They were found everywhere from taverns, bars, and gas stations, to church social halls and the local Elks lodge. They were designed to raise money for the proprietor at the expense of the participant, with the promise of prizes and winnings if you play (somethings will never change).

Pony Express

The Pony Express cost 5 cents per play, but you could win the Jackpot

Most states started outlawing punchboards in the 1950s. Government looked at it as an unfair form of gambling (just let that last sentence seep in for a while). Of course, today the states make sure that they are the ones who get the gambling revenue and we are left with this slice of gambling history known as punchboards. In fairness to the states, the companies that produced the boards started providing a map or a key to the winning punches, calling it a “protection slip”. The vendor could then reduce their risk (that is, increase their profit) by removing the grand prize. They also could have a shill win a prize to get others around them excited.

Turf Kings

This derby themed punchboard cost 25 cents per play

Punchboards consisted of a foil playing field full of small circles, and the player would purchase ”punches” for the price listed. They would push the key through the foil, releasing a roll of paper out the back. If the number or item on the paper matched a winning number from the board then they would win the matching prize. The game was somewhat similar to some modern lotto tickets (but you’re paying per “scratch”), and very similar to the Punch-a-Bunch game found on The Price is Right (but the game show variety is so big that you literally punch the holes with your fist).

Punchboards from the 1950s and 60s were mostly tame, or bland. Some of the earlier ones were rather risqué. They often featured pin up artwork from GC Orde, George Petty, Gil Elvgren, Earl Moran and Alberto Vargas. Sports were often also a popular theme with some die-cut boards actually shaped like a baseball or a football. Occasionally a specialty board will be found for a specific team or franchise.

Checkers Punchboard

Circumvent this swinging model to reach some of the checker board

The value of punchboards is in large part a matter of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. Of course condition plays a major factor, but desirability is also attributed to shape, topic, and eye appeal. Boards that are plain tend to be less valuable. Having a board that is a cut out of a specific shape rather than a simple rectangle will usually add value. Some boards had slots for actual prizes, such as coins or knives or lighters. Usually, the more extravagant the better.

Cigarettes 2 cents

Note the unique cutout shape of this risque punchboard

Old Pueblo Coin still has a few punchboards displayed on the wall. Come swing by the shop if you want to take a look.

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Spanish Pillar Dollar

Our Coin of the Week is a Spanish milled dollar (also known as a piece of eight, or eight royal coins, or other names), valued at 8 reales (“royals”).

The Spanish silver dollar was used around the world, including colonial America, and was the coin upon which the US dollar was based. It remained legal tender until the Coin Act of 1857.

The Pillar Dollar variety, featuring pillars on the obverse, was made from 1732 – 1772. For this particular coin, the “Mo” on the obverse is a mint mark indicating Mexico City, while the “FM” on the reverse are assayer’s initials.

This example from 1771 is graded XF45 by NGC.

1771 Mo FM Mexico 8 Reales - NGC XF45 - Obverse      1771 Mo FM Mexico 8 Reales - NGC XF45 - Reverse

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Dionysys Silver Tetradrachm

Our Coin of the Week is this Silver Tetradrachm from the Greek Isle of Thasos struck over 2100 years ago, sometime between the 2nd and 1st century B.C.

The obverse features the face of Dionysus, while the reverse features a naked Heracles holding a club and lion’s skin.

This specimen has been graded Choice Extra Fine by NGC Ancients with a 5/5 strike and 3/5 surface. 

Silver Tetradrachm reverse - Dionysus      Silver Tetradrachm obverse - Heracles
Silver Tetradrachm - NGC Ancients slab                Silver Tetradrachm - NGC Ancients slab reverse

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1798 Draped Bust Dollar and 1893-S Morgan Dollar

Our Coins of the Week fall on more of the “scarce” side.

Our first coin is a 1798 Draped Bust Silver Dollar. 1798 is the year that the reverse design changed from the Small Eagle variety to the Large Eagle (or Heraldic Eagle) variety. This particular coin is of the Large Eagle variety and graded VF Details by NGC. While this year is one of the more common dates for a Draped Bust Dollar, the 1798 mintage is still just 287,536.

1798 Large Eagle Silver Dollar - NGC VF Details - obverse  1798 Large Eagle Silver Dollar - NGC VF Details - reverse

Our second coin is a 1893-S Morgan Dollar. At a mintage of about 100,000, the 1893-S is one of the key dates for any Morgan Dollar collector. This coin was graded Fine Details by NGC.

1893-S Morgan Silver Dollar - NGC Fine Details - Obverse  1893-S Morgan Silver Dollar - NGC Fine Details - Reverse

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First US Palladium Coin

Coin of the Week – Palladium Eagle

On September 25th, 2017 the US Mint released the first ever US Palladium coin. It is called a Palladium Eagle, and has the Mercury dime head design, and an Adolph Weinman eagle design on the reverse. The coin has a denomination of $25. It has a strong high relief design to it.

Originally it could only be bought from distributors contracted with the US Mint, and sold for about $1100. At the time of this writing, they are now trading anywhere from $1500 up to several thousand dollars depending on the label and holder type. The Mint only produced 15,000 pieces. Next year the US Mint will produce a proof version of the coin that they intend to sell direct to the collector.

Overall this coin is a winner on eye appeal. It’s hard to say what the collector value will be long term. But if you buy what you like, and it fits in your budget, you’ll want to own one of these!

Palladium Eagle - PCGS MS69
Palladium Eagle - PCGS MS69 - obverse  Palladium Eagle - PCGS MS69 - reverse

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