Monday, January 24, 2011

Defacing Our Nation's Currency: Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code


"Whoever mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both." - Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code

In the United States, the above law makes it illegal to deface U.S. currency in such a way as to make it unfit for circulation and it falls upon the Secret Service to enforce this law.

But what does this actually mean? There are plenty of companies out there who appear to be defacing our currency but seem not to be running afoul of this law. It apparently must come down to whether or not they are making the bills unfit for circulation. In the eyes of the government, they must not be.

Overlaid Bills Still Fit for Circulation

At first I found it hard to believe that these "overlaid" or "enhanced" bills would actually be reissued if they fell into the hands of the Department of the Treasury. Or maybe our Secret Service doesn't take the defacing of our currency seriously enough.

Below are links to some of those bills that supposedly "Americans from all over the country are rushing to obtain."

The New England Mint's National Parks Overlaid $2 Bills

World Reserve Monetary Exchange State Overlaid $2 Bills

World Reserve Monetary Exchange "22KT Gold Overlaid" $2 Bills

World Reserve Monetary Exchange .925 Pure Silver Enhanced $2 Bill

The Truth is a Sticky Business

The truth is that they are not running afoul of the Secret Service because they are not really defacing any currency. These overlays and enhancements apparently are nothing more than stickers that you can peel off without hurting the underlying bill.

Don't believe me? Then check out these photos revealing the truth about the "state overlaid" $2 bills.

So the next time you pay $19 for an enhanced or overlaid $2 bill, remember that $17 of your money is paying for nothing more than a sticker. The $2 bill you could always get from your bank for . . . $2.

National Collector's Mint Starts Taking Heat ... Again

"Any review, either favorable or negative, generates sales for us and the negative reviews actually work the best."

This was the quote a few years ago at the ANA's National Money Show in Milwaukee that I got from a marketing representative of a large collectible firm (a competitor of National Collector's Mint). I was asked by this marketing rep to write a review about one of their "numismatic" products. I explained to the gentleman that if I did, the review would not be very favorable. His response was the one quoted above.

His comment got me to thinking about an article I had written a year earlier. The article explained how to calculate the value of the gold or silver content of your U.S. Mint coins and privately produced tokens or medals. As one of the examples, I calculated the gold and silver value in the National Collector's Mint "2001-2006 World Trade Center Gold and Silver Clad Commemorate" medallion.

Using the bullion prices at the time, I showed that the combined value of the gold and silver in the WTC Commemorative amounted to less than 30 cents for each medallion. Although rising bullion prices during the past 5 years have caused the precious metal content to more than double from under 30 cents to over 60 cents, this apparently is not enough to cause a change in the price which is still $29.95 (plus shipping).

During the weeks following my original article, a number of blogs and newspapers followed with their own stories about the WTC medallion and not one of them was positive.

Today it's happening all over again.

A few weeks ago I posted an article that calculated the gold and silver values for a few of the current National Collector's Mint products, including their latest 10th Anniversary WTC Liberian Commemorative coin (yes, this one is an actual coin with legal tender status in Liberia).

Once again newspapers are following with their own stories about the National Collector's Mint, and like before, not one of them is positive. They are quite aggressive in their negative views comparing their products to a "Chuck E. Cheese token" and  using terms like "scamsters," "tacky," "fake coin," and my favorite "next-to-worthless ticky-tacky gewgaw."  (gewgaw?)

Here are a few of those articles:

National Collector's Mint Scamsters Are Trying to Cash in on 9/11 Again with Tacky Coins

What is the true value of collectible coins on TV?

‘Rare’ Coins Are Fool’s Gold

NY Politicians Call For Crackdown On "Phony" 9-11 Commemorative Coins

Tribute Coins May Be Pretty -- But They Are a Pretty Bad Investment

With all this negative press, I can't help but think of that comment from the marketing rep about how "the negative reviews actually work the best."

Are those of us writing about this stuff really helping to sell it?

If so, let me just say, "I'm sorry."

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What is the Gold and Silver in My Coin Worth?

This is probably the most frequently asked question I get from people.

A few years ago I wrote an article showing people how they could answer their own question. But most people really don't want to know how to do it, they just want to know the answer. So, this post is for them.

Below is a list of coins and the values of their gold and silver content. Some are coins produced by the U.S. Mint, and others are produced by National Collector's Mint.

The prices for silver and gold used in the calculations are as follows:

Spot Price of Silver per oz. (as of 01/11/11): $29.68
Spot Price of Gold per oz. (as of 01/11/11): $1,383.00

U.S. Mint

Barber,  Mercury, and pre-1965 Roosevelt Dimes
        Silver value = 0.07234 troy oz. x $29.68 = $2.15

Barber, Standing Liberty, and pre-1965 Washington Quarters
        Silver value = 0.18084 troy oz. x $29.68 = $5.37

Barber, Walking Liberty, Franklin, and 1964 Kennedy Half Dollars
        Silver value = 0.36169 troy oz. x $29.68 = $10.74

$1 Seated Liberty, Morgan, and Peace Silver Dollars
        Silver value = 0.77344 troy oz. x $29.68 = $22.96

$20 Liberty Head Gold and St. Gaudens Double Eagles
        Gold value = 0.9675 troy oz. x $1,383 = $1,338.05

$1 American Eagle Silver Bullion
        Silver value = 1 troy oz. x $29.68 = $29.68

$10 First Spouse Gold Bullion
        Gold value = 0.5 troy oz. x $1,338.05 = $669.03

$50 American Buffalo Gold Bullion
        Gold value = 1 troy oz. x $1,338.05 = $1,338.05

National Collector's Mint
(all the following were reportedly struck with silver recovered from ground zero after 9/11)

5th Anniv. World Trade Center Commemorative Proof
   Advertised as:
        "15 mg each of 24KT pure gold and .999 pure silver"

   Silver value =  0.00048 troy oz. x $29.68 = 1.4 cents
   Gold value =  0.00048 troy oz. x $1,338.05 = 64.2 cents
   Total Value = 65.6 cents

10th Anniv. Liberian September 11th Commemorative Dollar
   Advertised as:
        "14 mg of pure 24-Karat gold" and
        "clad in a total 14 mg .999 pure silver"

   Silver value = 0.00045 troy oz. x $29.68 = 1.3 cents
   Gold value = 0.00045 troy oz. x $1,338.05 = 60.2 cents
   Total Value = 61.5 cents

$1 Cook Islands "Freedom Tower" Dollar
   Advertised as:
        "71 mg of .999 pure silver"

   Silver value = 0.00228 troy oz. x $29.68 = 6.8 cents
   Total Value = 6.8 cents

Sometimes It Pays to Do the Math

There is a big difference in the precious metal content between the coins produced by the two mints, but there is also a big difference in price.

As I write this, the U.S. Mint is selling uncirculated First Spouse gold coins for $841. This is a 25% premium over the spot price of gold.

On the other hand, the 10th Anniversary Liberian September 11th Commemorative Dollar from the National Collector's Mint is only $29.95. However, this is a 4770% premium over the spot prices of the gold and silver in the coin.

Think that's bad. How about the $1 Cook Islands "Freedom Tower" Dollar. At $19.95 it has a markup of $29238% over the spot price of the silver in the coin - ouch!

I'm not going to pass judgement on either mint and whether their prices are too high, I'll leave that up to you. All I will say is that I'm unhappy with how some companies are commercializing the memory of 9/11. The people that are buying these momentos apparently disagree. But a mark-up of over 29 thousand percent?

They can't all be happy about that.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Downloading Free Books to the Kindle


This article is a follow-up to a previous article that talked about free numismatic publications and Amazon.com’s Kindle.

There are literally millions of books in the public domain that are now available to anyone with access to the internet. Downloading them onto your Kindle allows you to read them anywhere that you can comfortably read a book. You can literally carry a whole library with you wherever you go and have instant access to it. The trick is in knowing how to download these books in a format your Kindle can read.

Amazon.com has many  free books available on their website. Books from their site require nothing more than purchasing the book (whether free or not) and having Amazon automatically download the book to your Kindle. You do not have to worry about format if you are getting the book from Amazon.

But what about the millions of free books on Google Books? The numismatic publications I’ve found and listed in my previous article are available from Google Books.

Downloading is as simple as an email

The cool thing about the Kindle is that Amazon.com gives you an email address (that you can change and personalize) to use for downloading. Once you have the document in the format you want, you simply email it to yourself as an attachment. Amazon takes the document and automatically downloads it to your Kindle the next time your Kindle is connected to the internet.

But first you need to have the book in a format that the Kindle can handle. Generally you will find books from Google available for download in two different formats, PDF and ePub.


Free Books from Google Books

Many books from Google Books only allow you to download them in a PDF format. A PDF document retains all the formatting or page layout of the original publication. This is probably the preferred format if the book or magazine you want to download has a lot of special formatting such as columns or illustrations. Many of the coin publications have images so you will be better off using the PDF format for downloading to your Kindle.

The second format is ePub. The main difference between a PDF versus ePub is that ePub has reflowable content. What this means is that the content can automatically adjust properly to fit whatever screen size your e-reader has and whatever font size you choose. On the other hand, a PDF is like a Xerox copy of the original.

The ePub format is great if what you are mainly downloading is text. Although it does fine with the occasional illustrations, a book with lots of illustrations on a page or multiple columns of text on a page can sometimes get a little mixed up. Most of the books that don’t do well in this format usually don’t have the option to download them in it, so Google may have already made the decision for you. Where ePub is a valid option, you probably want to choose it.

Downloading PDF books

The nice thing about a PDF book is that you can download it directly to the Kindle. There is no conversion necessary. You simply email the document to your Amazon supplied email address, and it will automatically get downloaded the next time you connect your Kindle to the internet.

Downloading ePub books

Unfortunately the Kindle does not handle the ePub format. The solution is to first convert from ePub to Mobi. Mobi is just another format that allows for reflowable content. Although Amazon will automatically convert many formats when you email the document to yourself, ePub is not one of them. So you will have to convert it yourself.

Converting with Calibre

Luckily there is a solution for converting books and it’s called Calibre. Calibre is an e-book management tool that you can download for free. It will allow you to convert the ePub format into Mobi. Once you’ve converted to Mobi, then you simply email the Mobi file to your Amazon email address. The next time your Kindle connects to the internet, the book will automatically download.

That’s really all there is to it.

Sources of Free Books for the Kindle

  • Amazon.com Kindle Store - If you can find it here, it's only 1-click away from your Kindle. 
  • Google Books - With millions of books available, it seems to have the best selection of numismatic titles.
  • Internet Archive - Has a good selection of numismatic titles including some of the earliest volumes of the American Journal of Numismatics by the American Numismatic Society. 
  • Open Library - Make sure you click the "Only Show eBook" box and look for the "READ" icon.
  • Project Gutenberg - Has over 33,000 free books but I have yet to find any numismatic subjects. 
While I’ve only talked about getting free public domain documents for the Kindle, don’t forget that there are many new releases and other copyrighted books that are now available for the Kindle. Many are at a price significantly cheaper than buying the paper version.

Test Drive a Kindle

So if you haven’t pulled the trigger yet and bought yourself a Kindle, you might want to take one for a test drive. Some public libraries now have Kindles that you can borrow. If your library has one, give it a try.

I’ve only had my Kindle a couple of months, but I’ve become so attached to it that I can’t imagine being without it. The fact that there are so many historical numismatic publications now available for free is icing on the cake.

Check out Amazon.com's Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, Graphite, 6" Display with New E Ink Pearl Technology

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Free Coin Collecting Books for the Kindle


A couple of months ago I finally pulled the trigger and bought a Kindle. I wanted to take advantage of all the books now in the public domain and free to anyone with internet access. It never occurred to me that the Kindle might also have a numismatic connection; it was a pleasant surprise to me when I finally realized it does.

There are literally millions of books available for free. Google alone has digitized millions of books that can be found for free at Google Books. There are also plenty of books at Amazon.com that are free or for a very low cost at their Kindle Store. There are other sites as well with books in the public domain such as Internet Archive, Open Library, and Project Gutenberg just to name a few.


Popular Classics for Free

Here are just a few of the books I've read in the past two months that I downloaded for free:

Free Numismatic Books and Magazines

What didn't occur to me until I came across them on Google Books is that there are many numismatic titles free as well. Here is just a sample of what I found in the public domain and have since downloaded to my Kindle:

Downloading Free Books to the Kindle

Of course you could just read these books on your computer, but I personally like to read books while relaxing in my recliner or when I go to bed at night. Reading a book on my desktop computer or laptop just doesn’t do it for me.

The Kindle allows me to relax in my recliner with a whole library of books available at my fingertips. The trick is in knowing how to get them downloaded to your Kindle. While it’s fairly quick and straightforward, there are a few steps that you need to know. I will cover these steps in a separate article.

Check out Amazon.com's Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, Graphite, 6" Display with New E Ink Pearl Technology

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A Happy New Year!