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History and Design Merge with Classic Commemoratives

31 Oct

By Connor Falk

 

The classic commemorative silver half dollar series represents a merger of historical events and people with appealing coin designs. Issued between 1892 and 1954, classic commemorative halves were struck and sold to the growing coin collecting community in the United States. The use of coinage to represent important American events, places, people, and events broadened the appeal of coin collecting. Their designs reflect both the classical themes in use during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the art deco era of the 1920s and 1930s, and the post-World War II modernism during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

 

Due to their low mintages and wide collector market, the series has appreciated substantially from the $1 to $2 the coins were originally sold for. In this article, I’ll highlight three important classic commemorative coins as well as an overview of the other commemoratives in our Nov. 2-3 auction.

 

150th Anniversary of Captain Cook’s Discovery of Hawaii – 1928

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1928 Hawaii Half Dollar

Commemorating the sesquicentennial of Captain James Cook’s arrival at the Hawaiian islands on a commemorative half dollar was initially raised in 1927 by the territorial government of Hawaii. The bill easily passed Congress and was signed on March 7, 1928 by President Coolidge. The Philadelphia Mint struck the complete mintage of the type at 10,008 coins. Eight of those struck were used for assay purposes; the other 10,000 were sold by the Bank of Hawaii at $2 a coin. The commemorative proved to be very popular with collectors and quickly sold out. Since then, its low mintage, scarcity, and popularity both in subject matter and design have driven demand and it is now considered a key date in the classic commemorative half dollar series.

 

The obverse of the coin depicts a left facing bust of Captain Cook with the legends UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN GOD WE TRUST, and HALF DOLLAR just above, to the right, and below the bust, respectively. To the left of the bust, it reads “CAPT. / JAMES COOK / DISCOVERER OF / HAWAII.” The reverse shows a Hawaiian chieftain in front of a Hawaiian beach, holding a spear and with his right arm outstretched with the legends E PLURIBUS UNUM and 1778 1928 below.

 

The example in our sale, lot 1498, is graded NGC MS 63. The estimate on it is $1,250 to $2,000.

 

400th Anniversary of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s Old Spanish Trail – 1935

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1935 Old Spanish Trail Half Dollar

The authorization and design of the 1935 Old Spanish Trail half dollar was a personal project of L.W. Hoffecker, an El Paso coin dealer and ANA official (he would later become the organization’s president from 1939 to 1941). In his position as the chairman of the El Paso Museum Coin Committee, he lobbied the government for a bill to commemorate Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s expedition from Florida to northern Mexico from 1528 to 1536. Once the bill had passed, Hoffecker worked with a sculptor, Edmund J. Senn, to create the coin design in plaster based on Hoffecker’s original sketches.

 

The design takes some artistic liberties with Cabeza de Vaca’s travels: stops in St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Mobile, New Orleans, Galveston and San Antonio are shown despite Cabeza de Vaca travelling mainly by boat around the Gulf coast. Upon approval of the designs, the US Mint struck the 10,008 coin mintage in September. Hoffecker received 10,000 of the coins to resale for $2 plus postage; another eight were used for the Assay Commissions annual meeting. By most accounts, the coins were well-received by collectors and, though they took time to sell out, are rather scarce and desirable.

 

The obverse of the coin shows a cow head, symbolizing Cabeza de Vaca which literally translates as “head of a cow.” Above, the legends read UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, E PLURIBUS UNUM, and LIBERTY, below the legends read ALVAR NUÑEZ CABEZA DE VACA and HALF DOLLAR. The reverse design consists of a palmetto tree in front of a map depicting Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas with a line showing Hoffecker’s interpretation of Cabeza de Vaca’s journey. El Paso is marked at the far left. Legends read OLD SPANISH TRAIL above and 1535 – 1935 below.

 

The example in our sale, lot 1504, is graded NGC MS 65. The estimate on it is $800 to $1,200.

 

100th Anniversary of Missouri’s Admission to the Union – 1921

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1921 Missouri Centennial Half Dollar

The authorization for the Missouri Centennial half dollar called for a massive mintage of 250,000 coins, a reduction from the 500,000 called for in a prior draft of the bill. Such a mintage would easily make it one of the most common classic commemoratives, yet only 50,028 coins were struck. Of this, 28 were set aside for the Assay Commission. The 50,000 mintage was then sent to the Sedalia Trust Company for mail orders as well as sales at the Missouri Centennial Exposition at a price tag of $1.

 

Of these 50,000 coins, 5,000 were initially struck with a special notation 2*4 to the left of the bust before having this device ground off the dies. For the 45,000 without the 2*4 notation, 29,600 coins were melted after sales proved sluggish. The final numbers, 5,000 coins with 2*4, 15,400 without 2*4, are suspect as modern market prices suggest the availability for both versions is about the same with a slightly higher premium for the 2*4 versions. Many numismatic experts suggest a roughly even 10,000/10,400 split is more likely.

 

The obverse shows a left-facing bust of Daniel Boone wearing a coonskin cap with the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA above, 1821 and 1921 flanking, and HALF DOLLAR below. The notation 2*4 is present to the left of the bust, just above the 1821. The reverse shows a frontiersman holding a rifle and gesturing to the left, directing the attention of a Native American who is holding a peace pipe. A field of stars is set along the background with SEDALIA below and MISSOURI CENTENNIAL above.

 

The example with 2*4 notation in our sale, lot 1490, is graded NGC MS 64. The estimate on it is $800 to $1,200.

 

Other Classic Commemoratives in our auction:

Varieties of Rincón Three Reales of Mexico Charles-Joanna

29 Oct

By Cori Sedwick Downing

 

Some of the earliest coins struck at the Mexico City mint were in the 3-reales denomination, under the first assayer Francisco del Rincón (hereafter Assayer R). We can establish a relative timeline for Assayer R coins by the analyzing the quantity of lettering that is Gothic compared to the later Latin lettering. Sometimes other elements, such as the use of native punches instead of original Spanish punch designs, give us additional timeline clues. As a result, there are three varieties of 3-reales coins, in the following chronological order:

 
1. Coins with three dots for denomination and water running beneath the pillars (similar to but not the same as “pillars and waves” in later coinage)
2. Coins with three dots for denomination and no water
3. Coins with three bars for denomination and no water

 
There was some crossover of design from one variety to the next, and there was more than one design within each group.

 
By royal decree a quarter of the silver minted at the Mexico City mint was for 2- and 3-reales coins. Based on analysis of lettering, the 3-reales pieces were minted before 2-reales coins. The original decree mandated that 3 reales would be paid to
mint officials for each mark of silver they coined (according to Nesmith, the actual payout was 68 maravedís, or 2 reales, pp. 14, 43) Perhaps that’s why the 3 reales were minted in the first place; regardless, they were quickly discontinued by royal fiat.

 
How We Study the Coins

 
Many different design elements differentiate one coin from another. We usually analyze both the shield side and the pillars side separately, but we can also compare a whole coin to others. Instead of using the terms obverse and reverse, we prefer to say shield side and pillars side to avoid any confusion since there is a difference of opinion among numismatists as to which is the obverse and reverse.

 

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Figure 1: Lot 615, Sedwick Treasure Auction #14, October 2013 (enlarged, illustrating important design elements)

 

Shield-side elements we analyze are the following:

 
• Whether the lion in the shield has a tongue and a crown
• Whether the pomegranate at the bottom of the shield has leaves or dots on either side of it
• Whether the crown is contained within the beaded circle or outside of it
• Whether there are four or eleven rondules in the crown
• Whether the mint mark of “M” is Gothic or Latin
• Whether all, some, or none of the legend around the shield contains Gothic or Latin lettering
• What the legend spells out (particularly how the legend ends and what stops are used to separate words)

 
Pillars-side elements we analyze are the following:

 
• Whether there are three dots with water under the pillars, three dots and no water, or three bars for the denomination
• In which direction the ribboned banner runs
• What is contained within the banner (in the case of 3 reales, PLVSVL or PLVSVT)
• Whether all, some, or none of the legend around the pillars contains Gothic or Latin lettering
• What the legend spells out (particularly how the legend ends and what stops are used to separate words)

 

Varieties of Three Reales

 
Three Dots for Denomination with Water Under the Pillars

 

 
The design element of water running under pillars must have been short-lived, given the scarcity of known coins—just four in total. This is the only Early Series coinage with this design, while waves under the pillars was a hallmark of the Late Series designs as well as later designs at other New World mints. Interestingly, the sea is calm on 3-reales coins, while the Late Series coins display choppy waters. For whatever reason, this must not have been a popular issue and was probably soon replaced by the three-dots variety without water.

 
The banner that runs between and wraps around the outside of the pillars always contains PLVSVL within it (an abbreviation for PLVS VLTRA). [It changes to PLVSVLT in the three-dots/no-water variety and reverts to PLVSVL in the three-bars variety.] The banner wraps around the pillars from lower on the left to higher on the right. [In the no-water type, the banner wraps in either direction. In the three-bars variety, the banner wraps in the same direction as the three-dots/water variety, with a Latin L instead of a Gothic L in PLVSVL.]

 
There are two known shield-side designs for this type:

 

• those with the crown (which sits atop the lions-and-castles shield) contained within the beaded circle; thus a legend surrounds the entire coin, and
• those with the crown outside the beaded circle (the design for all other Charles and Joanna coins).

 
Again, there must have been some experimentation with this design since there is no other denomination— Early or Late Series—in which the crown is contained within the beaded circle.

 

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Figure 3: Lot 195, Sedwick Treasure Auction #4, November 2008 (illustrating Latin M and crown within the beaded circle)

 
Of the two known coins of the type where the crown is within the beaded circle, one displays a Gothic M mintmark on either side of the shield (the convention for coins of this period) and the other displays a Latin-M mintmark, as on the coin below. [This Latin mintmark also appears on two designs of the three-dots/no-water variety and was illustrated by Nesmith as his 5a variety. It is also interesting to note that one of those is a “crown within the beaded circle” design. Its shield side is a very close cousin, with the only discernible difference being “:” instead of “.” as a stop in the legend (all lettering is Gothic).]

 
Within the shield, the lions have tongues and crowns and the pomegranates have leaves. There are four rondules above the crown. This is true of most of the other 3 reales.

Of the second shield-side design—those with the crown outside the beaded circle—the lions in the shield are different, with a furry mane and no tongues or crowns (what Nesmith called a “native imitation”). They can be found on no-water 3 reales of the Nesmith 5b variety, of which three are known. There are probably two different legends which, like the above, are very close cousins. The legend may end in D or R on one and DE or RE on the other. The lettering is all Gothic except for Latin O’s in KAROLVS and IOHANA. The lions do not have tongues or crowns and the pomegranates have dots in place of leaves. There are four rondules above the crown.

 
On the pillars side of the coins, things are much simpler: all four known coins are struck from the same die. This lends credence to the idea that this was the lower die, or pila, which was sunk into an anvil, since that die received less wear and tear than the upper die, or troquel. All coins bear a Gothic R for assayer below the PLVSVL banner and three dots above it. All lettering in the legend is Gothic.

 
Three Dots for Denomination Without Water Under the Pillars

 

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Figure 4: Lot 517, Sedwick Treasure Auction #22, November 2017 (three dots, no waves)

 
The bulk of the at least 40 known 3-reales coins are of the three-dots/no-water variety, nineteen of which belong to one type, the Nesmith 5c. Two other types contain nine coins (Nesmith 5b) and seven coins, respectively, and the rest are unique or almost unique types. It is evident that these coins were minted after the “water” series, given the greater use of crude or Latin lettering as the Gothic punches wore out. The Latin letter N in the legend is composed of two vertical lines and a slanted line that runs in either direction (normal N or retrograde N). This is common in other denominations under Assayer R as well. Why this is true of only the letter N is unknown and indicates a lack of a proper Latin N punch.

 
The fact that there were only a certain number of Gothic punches from which to create coins is illustrated by the letter M. The Gothic oMo-oMo on either side of the shield contained a smaller M than was needed to finish INDIARVM on the legend of the pillars side and thus the small Gothic M at the end of the word looks strange.

 

On the shield side of the coin, there are two die carryovers from the three-dots/with-water variety, Nesmith 5a and Nesmith 5b.

 
There are seven legend varieties, ranging from all-Gothic to mostly crude or Latin lettering. The use of the retrograde N appears in the later coins with the cruder lettering. The O punch (in IOHANA) must have been an early casualty of overuse because that’s the first letter to make the change from Gothic to non-Gothic.

 
On the pillars side, the same ornament used to make the crowns of the pillars—a sort of three-petaled shamrock—becomes the initial part of the legend on that side at 12 o’clock, replacing the cross potent that was used in the three-dots/with-water series. It disappears again in the three-bars variety that followed. The final M in INDIARVM is either Latin or Gothic (usually Gothic).

 
The banner that runs between the pillars always reads PLVSVLT unlike the three-dots/with-water variety which reads PLVSVL. The banner wraps in either direction with Nesmith 5a and 5b types running from high left to low right and 5c from low left to high right.

 
Three Bars for Denomination

 

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Figure 5: Lot 615, Sedwick Treasure Auction #14, October 2013 (three bars)

 
The greater use of non-Gothic lettering and crude execution place this coin variety in the last of the 3-reales coins minted before being replaced by 4-reales coins (which turned out to be much more suitable currency). The ornament at 12 o’clock in the pillars legend is now different from both of the earlier versions of 3 reales, what Nesmith called a punch 9 (or 10 when worn). We still do not have a name or description for this punch as it does not appear on any other Spanish coin, whether minted in Mexico City or elsewhere. It only appeared on Mexican coins under Assayer R.

 
The only three-bars variety that Nesmith cataloged, which he called 5d, is not illustrated by any other coin we have seen and thus all three-bars coins are hybrids of it. Since it is photographed in his book, we know it exists. As with the three-dots/with-water variety, there are few specimens to examine and most are unique. Of the nineteen examples, four are unique. Why the mint transitioned from three dots to three bars is unknown; however, “bars” for numbers can be found on coins minted during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabel. The bars resemble old Spanish accounting shorthand for Roman numerals, according to Daniel and Frank Sedwick in the 4th edition of The Practical Book of Cobs (pp. 27-28). In a perfect timeline, it would make more sense that three-dots varieties would follow three-bars varieties, but this is not the case. As with many aspect of this complicated series, we don’t usually know anything with certainty. Dots were used for denomination in 2 reales. By the time 4 reales were minted, the denomination was expressed as an Arabic 4.

 
The three-bars type always has the same PLVSVL in the banner running between and around the pillars, and the wrap direction of that banner is as the three-dots/non-water type; by this time, however, the L in the banner is crude rather than Gothic.

 
An important discovery is that there is a die-match with the three-bars shield side and the earliest of the 4-reales designs as illustrated below. In addition, the later three-bars coins have eleven rondules in the crown above the shield, while all others (and all three-dots/with-water and three-dots/no-water) have four rondules in the crown. Again, this is part of the design carryover from 3 reales to 4 reales.

 

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Figure 6: Die match from 3 reales to 4 reales

 
On the three-bars shield side, there is one die carryover from the three-dots/no-water variety, in addition to six other shieldside legend varieties (five are exclusive to four-rondule crowns, two are exclusive to eleven-rondule crowns, and one is found on coins with both types of crowns). Lions have tongues and crowns, and pomegranates have leaves.

 
There are two pillars-side legends which differ in the use of N or retrograde N in INDIARVM and a “:” inserted in INDIAR:VM. Many of the letters are crude, with H in HISPANIE bearing a diagonal slash to make it resemble a crude K.

 
Conclusions

 
The most important discovery from this research into the 3-reales varieties from the Mexico City mint is that there was a die overlap between 3- and 4-reales coins. Previously these were thought to be distinct entities. Now we know that, for some period of time, the mint produced 4-reales coins using a 3-reales shield-side die. While the coins are not the same size and weight, it was possible to do this since often the tops of the legend letters on 3-reales coins were cut off while the complete legend is discernible on the few 4-reales coins we can use for comparison.

 
Based on die details, we can state that there are three broad phases of coin production under Assayer R:

 
• 3, 2, 1, ½, ¼ reales were produced first,
• 4 reales were produced next,
• And the implementation of the rhomboid panel to replace the ribboned banner with some form of PLVS VLTRA (and limited production of 8 reales) was the final phase before the start of the next assayer’s tenure.

 
Within the family of 3-reales coins, there were three varieties: three dots for denomination and water under the pillars, three dots for denomination with no water under the pillars, and three bars for denomination with no water under the pillars. We have about twice as many examples of the second variety than either of the other two, and the first variety is exceedingly rare. But, who knows whether more varieties exist? And who knows whether there are more sub-varieties within each of these three? Perhaps if we ever see the 38 recorded 3-reales coins in “buena conservación” (well-preserved condition) from the Inés de Soto shipwreck we would be surprised. (Inés de Soto, p. 129) It is doubtful that any 3-reales coins with dots and water were found on the wreck, as none is illustrated nor mentioned in the description written by Alfredo Díaz Gámez. (Inés de Soto, p. 115)

PCGS-graded coins up for bids in Sedwick’s Treasure Auction 24

22 Oct

Heavy bidding is expected for a plethora of rare and historical coins graded by PCGS during Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC’s Treasure, World, U.S. Coin and Paper Money Auction 24. The lots up for sale run the gamut from rare shipwreck gold to South American coins and medals that are missing in major collections. The floor auction will take place Nov. 2-3, 2018 in Orlando, Florida and online at auction.sedwickcoins.com with an internet-only session to follow on Nov. 5.

PCGS-graded coins

Bidding on the above lots is open from now until the lots hammer down during the Nov. 2-3 sale. Bidders interested in viewing the lots in person can see them Oct. 25-28 at booth #1137 during the Whitman Baltimore coin show. Lots will also be available for viewing at the auction site Nov. 1-3. For more information regarding the auction, please visit www.sedwickcoins.com/ta24/catalog.htm.

Captain Sam Bellamy and the Whydah: The Fateful Decisions that Brought Spanish 1715-Fleet Treasure to the Shores of Cape Cod

19 Oct

By Daniel Frank Sedwick

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Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy

Born in England in 1689, Samuel Bellamy became a sailor early in life and fought for the Royal Navy during Queen Anne’s War (War of Spanish Succession). Like so many other sailors, he was at loose ends after the war, so he decided to go to Cape Cod, probably to seek employment, in the spring of 1715. In July of that same year, the Spanish lost an immeasurable fortune in the 1715 Fleet disaster, wherein many thousands of coins and ingots from Mexico, Peru and Colombia went to the reefs and shores of eastern Florida in a hurricane. Such news was irresistible to an unemployed but experienced sailor like Bellamy, who soon formed a group of fellow adventurers to seek their fortunes chasing the treasures of the 1715 Fleet. This was his Fateful Decision #1.

 

After the sinking of the Spanish 1715 Fleet on July 31, the survivors sent longboats to St. Augustine and Havana to obtain relief. Just two weeks later the Spanish launched a rescue and salvage operation that continued into the year 1718. Without proper defenses, however, the salvage sites were sitting ducks for fortune-seekers, and news quickly spread to the two biggest Caribbean privateers of that time, Henry Jennings of Jamaica and Benjamin Hornigold of the Bahamas. It was not long before both of these famous pirates met Sam Bellamy.

 

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The red X marks the resting place of the Whydah.

Bellamy, along with his chief financial backer and second-in-command, the New Englander Paulsgrave Williams, arrived on the east coast of Florida to find that the Spanish had already begun salvage work and the treasure was not simply there for the taking as they had thought. The easy stuff was already salvaged by the Spaniards and being guarded onshore. Enter the pirates: After the news reached Jamaica in November, the English privateers Henry Jennings and John Wills sped to Florida and raided the salvage camps to come away with a reported 120,000 pesos in treasure. This vast fortune caused quite a stir back in Jamaica and launched a political battle between England and Spain that in effect gave rise to unabashed piracy based in the Bahamas, where eventually the King had no choice but to grant a general pardon in 1718 for any pirates who turned themselves in.

 

Sam Bellamy, meanwhile, faced having to return to New England empty-handed and answer to the investors who financed his salvaging venture, or instead turn to piracy. This was his Fateful Decision #2, and it brought him and his men to the Central American coast, where they exchanged their salvage vessel for two smaller and much faster boats known as periaguas (like huge canoes but capable of handling the seas). For several months they plundered ships off the Mosquito Coast, adding to their crew along the way. While heading to the better target of Cuba, Bellamy encountered the likes of Henry Jennings, fresh off his return to Jamaica with the 1715-Fleet loot. The timing was right for this veteran privateer to become Bellamy’s first pirate mentor. Together they attacked Baya Hondo, on the north coast of Cuba, on April 3, 1716, overpowering a French ship and taking its 28,500-peso windfall in the form of what were no doubt 1715-Fleet coins, which the Spanish in Cuba had just traded for illicit goods from the French. Word of another rich French vessel to the east attracted Jennings’ attention, although his scouts soon found that his rival Benjamin Hornigold had beaten him to it. The over-confident Jennings decided to go after Hornigold, and in a severe lapse of judgment, he left Bellamy with the loot in Baya Hondo. Now known as “Black Sam,” Bellamy took the treasure and ran, which was his Fateful Decision #3.

 

Jennings did not find Hornigold, but somehow Bellamy did, with a different purpose. Hornigold was not just famous for privateering but also for mentoring other buccaneers, most prominently Edward Teach, better known as “Blackbeard,” who was Hornigold’s second-in-command by the time they met Bellamy. Hornigold loved the fact that Bellamy had tricked Jennings, and he gave his new student the sloop Marianne. Throughout the summer of 1716, the pirate flotilla carried out successful raids, but increasingly the pirates grew tired of Hornigold’s policy of not taking British ships or cargo. During a careening stop, it was decided that Black Sam Bellamy would be the new master, and Hornigold, along with his protégé Blackbeard, was sent packing. (As a side note, Hornigold soon retired from piracy, taking advantage of the aforementioned pardon in the Bahamas in 1718, while Blackbeard continued his adventures in one of his prizes, which he named Queen Anne’s Revenge, later lost off the coast of North Carolina in 1718, and was killed by the British Navy in November of that same year.)

 

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Closeup of the Whydah’s bell.

Bellamy, still in the Marianne, proceeded to ransack the Caribbean, taking over 50 ships along the way in a very short amount of time. In December of 1716, off Guadeloupe, Black Sam captured the ship Sultana, made her his new flagship, and installed his second-in-command Williams as captain of the Marianne. In February of 1717, somewhere between Cuba and Haiti, the pirates spotted a new, 300-ton slave galley and chased it for three days before finally taking her without a fight. Her name was Whydah, and she was on the homeward journey after just having exchanged her cargo of slaves for what again had to be Spanish coins from the 1715 Fleet. Bellamy and his men counted the treasure on board—20,000 to 30,000 pounds sterling in value—and divided it into 180 shares, one for each of the 180 pirates in the crew. Also divided were bags of gold from Africa, including gold dust and Akan gold jewelry, and reportedly East Indian jewelry as well. With all this treasure, and considering her newness and agility, Bellamy decided to make Whydah his new flagship and container for all the pirate loot, amounting to some four-and-a-half tons of silver and gold divided into 180 shares, not to mention other goods and an arsenal of cannons. In return for not resisting, Bellamy graciously allowed the former captain of the Whydah to sail away on the Sultana, leaving Bellamy and his pirates with just the Whydah and the Marianne.

 

For whatever reason—be it the needs of a New England carpenter to return to his family, or the objective of starting a new “pirate kingdom,” or simply to make repairs, Bellamy steered the Whydah and Marianne up the east coast and northward to the faraway shores of Maine. Even though each of his 180 pirates now had more wealth to his name than a typical lifetime of earnings for an honest man of that age, the captures did not stop, and the convoy added two more ships, the Mary Anne, which provided the gleeful pirates with a cargo of fine Madeira wine, and the small sloop Fisher, which gave them the benefit of a local navigator in the foggy and treacherous waters of the northeast (the fate of the Marianne at this point is unknown). Drunk from the wine and feeling confident in his ability to safely navigate, Bellamy made his Fateful Decision #4, which would be his last: The ships steered toward Cape Cod.

 

The historical record does not specify that Bellamy intended to stop at Provincetown at the northern tip of the Cape, but the fact is that he turned his ships that way when he should have turned more to the east if he was still headed to Maine. Romantics believe the reason for the return to Cape Cod—ignoring the risks of capture and prosecution—was a woman. Her name was Maria Hallett. Sam Bellamy met her by accident just before he left for the Florida coast in 1715, and the two fell in love immediately. Upon his departure, Bellamy told her he would return with vast treasures, marry her and start a new life with her as prince and princess of some island in the West Indies. Some even say she was pregnant when he left, and bore Bellamy’s son in his absence, only to have that son die under mysterious circumstances, all without Bellamy’s knowledge. It is hard to see Bellamy’s navigation toward Cape Cod on that fateful April night—and indeed the entire northward trek—as less than an attempt to see his beloved. Naturally the story continues with Hallett watching from the shore as the Whydah went down, and of course pining for Bellamy forever after. But as with any good love story, the facts have commingled with fictitious romance, and we will probably never know the truth behind Bellamy’s final fateful decision to steer toward Cape Cod and lose everything.

 

What Bellamy did not know, however, was that a storm was bearing down on the three ships and soon would wreck them all in the shallow sands off Cape Cod. For various reasons, most of the pirates and their captured artisans survived from the other ships, but only two aboard the Whydah lived to tell their tale. The pirates were soon captured and tried for piracy. These trials, in fact, provide many details about Bellamy and the Whydah that we would not know otherwise. In the end, each of the condemned pirates was goaded into penitence by the famous Puritan minister Cotton Mather before execution. Whether dying on the wreck or on the gallows, each pirate missed out on the general pardon of 1718 by just a few months.

 

The next famous figure in this story is Captain Cyprian Southack, the Boston official responsible for retrieving as much of the wreckage as possible. By his account, the Whydah lay in 13 feet of water just 500 feet from shore—but the cold water and poor conditions made it impossible to dive the wreck, not to mention the fact that the ship had capsized and sank into the sand upside-down, with all the treasure therefore buried deep below the ballast and cannons and everything else. His efforts to recover washed-ashore parts of the ship were rebuffed by the beachcombing locals, and he even got stuck with the bill for burying all the dead pirates.

 

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Examples of treasure recovered from the Whydah wreck site.

But Southack was an expert cartographer, and it was his data that made it possible for the Whydah to be found in modern times by Barry Clifford, whose sleuthing pinpointed the wreck site at more like 20 feet of depth an additional 1000 from the coast, due to erosion and rising sea levels that had even sunk a nearby town that Southack had used for reference. Clifford’s efforts were roundly criticized by the archeological community until his team recovered a large bronze bell with the actual name of the ship on it. Since then, Clifford and his team have recovered 48 cannons (plus twelve more still on site) and literally tons of treasure, including around 15,000 silver coins and hundreds of small pieces of Akan gold, with hundreds more still encased in yet-to-be conserved concretions—but the “mother lode” at the bottom has yet to be reached.

 

It is staggering to think of what riches from the 1715 fleet are yet to be found on the Whydah—intriguingly, there are gaps in dates and types of coins recovered from the 1715 Fleet in modern times that the Whydah instead could account for. Already we have seen among the Whydah recoveries many silver coins from the mints of Lima and Potosi that are scarcely represented in the 1715-Fleet finds of modern times. In gold coins from the Whydah we might expect to see Lima gold cobs of the year 1714, which are rare from the 1715 Fleet (not to mention the controversial date 1715, which may or may not have been possible from the 1715 Fleet for Lima). Most tantalizing of all are the hundreds of Mexican gold “Royals” (round presentation pieces) that are mentioned in contemporary documents but that exist only in small numbers so far from the 1715 Fleet recoveries. Barry Clifford and his company continue to search and salvage the Whydah site. When—not if—they find the “mother lode,” it will be a new day for the collectors and researchers of 1715-Fleet coins!

Want to see (and possibly own) two coins recovered from the Whydah? Check out lots 568 and 569 in our Nov. 2-3 Treasure Auction 24 HERE.

Bibliography:

Clifford, Barry (with Peter Turchi). The Pirate Prince: Discovering the Priceless Treasures of the Sunken Ship Whydah. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Clifford, Barry (with Paul Perry). Expedition Whydah: The Story of the World’s First Excavation of a Pirate Treasure Ship and the Man Who Found Her. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.

NGC and PMG-graded highlights in Sedwick’s Treasure Auction 24

17 Oct

Many rare and, in some cases, unique NGC-graded coins and PMG-graded notes are up for bidding in Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC’s Treasure, World, U.S. Coin and Paper Money Auction 24 to be held on Nov. 2-3, 2018. The floor auction will take place live in Orlando, Florida and online at auction.sedwickcoins.com with an internet-only session to follow on Nov. 5.

NGC-graded coins

PMG-graded notes

Bidding on the above lots is open from now until the lots hammer down during the Nov. 2-3 sale. Bidders interested in viewing the lots in person can see them Oct. 25-28 at booth #1137 during the Whitman Baltimore coin show. Lots will also be available for viewing at the auction site Nov. 1-3. For more information regarding the auction, please visit www.sedwickcoins.com/ta24/catalog.htm.

Ultra rarities up for bid in Sedwick’s November sale

21 Sep

How do you price ultra rare coins? Bidders will soon find out Nov. 2-3 when a unique set of 1915-dated Cuban specimen gold pesos come up for sale in Daniel Frank Sedwick’s Treasure Auction 24.

The Cuban gold set is made of all six denominations (1, 2, 4, 5, 10 and 20 pesos) struck in 1915 by the Philadelphia mint on behalf of the then fairly new Republic of Cuba. The coins were all designed by U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber. What makes the set rare is the fact that five of the six coins are recognized by NGC as specimen strikes. To date, no other specimens for those denominations are known.

Cuba1916_20Pesos

This unique Cuban 1915 gold 20 pesos, estimated at $20,000 and up, is one of six specially struck coins in the set.

The only outlier to the set is the 5 pesos which, while not having the specimen surfaces the other coins possess, was clearly well struck and specially handled. NGC graded the coin MS 66+, the finest known in both the NGC and PCGS censuses. Other NGC grades for the set range from SP 63 (20 pesos), SP 64 (4 and 10 pesos), SP 66 (1 and 2 pesos). Estimates for the coins range from $2,000 and up for the 1 peso up to $20,000 and up for the 20 pesos. The set will appear in the auction as lots 146 to 151. Final bids for the set will hammer down Nov. 2 with bidding available live at auction.sedwickcoins.com.

“Having this set in the auction really speaks to the strong market behind Latin American coins,” said president and company founder Daniel Sedwick. “It’s anyone’s guess as to where the final bids will end up but we’re expecting heavy interest from many experts and collectors.”

Another top lot in the sale is lot 5, a specially struck, 1715-dated Mexico gold cob 8 escudos recovered from the 1715 Fleet and graded NGC MS 64. The coin exhibits an even, round planchet and a clear date, shield and crown. Upon manufacture, it was put aboard a ship in the ill-fated 1715 Fleet, which sank off Florida’s east coast on July 31, 1715. This coin was then lost for almost 250 years before being recovered by the Real Eight Company and featured in the Schulman auction of November 1972. In Sedwick’s auction, the estimate on the coin is $35,000 to $50,000.

17158E

After being carefully prepared by the Mexico City Mint, this 1715 gold cob 8 escudos was lost aboard the 1715 Fleet for almost 250 years.

A much earlier Mexican coin expected to draw much attention is lot 664, a Mexico City-minted Charles-Joanna assayer Rincón silver 3 reales, with waves, graded NGC VF 30. The coin was struck around 1536 to 1538, making it one the earliest coins minted in the Americas. In addition to its history and choice grade, it boasts a pedigree to the Isaac Rudman collection. The estimate on the coin is $35,000 and up.

3R

This choice Mexico City-minted Charles-Joanna 3 reales, struck around 1536-1538, is one of the earliest coins minted in the Americas.

Other top lots include:

  • Lot 206: a Cuzco, Peru, gold 8 escudos, 1837BA, FEDERACION type, graded NGC MS 64+ Prooflike, finest known in both NGC and PCGS censuses, estimated at $35,000 to $50,000.
Cuzco.jpg

NGC graded this Cuzco, Peru, 1837-dated 8 escudos as MS 64+ Prooflike because of its lustrous and reflective surfaces.

  • Lots 256 and 257: two large silver bars (one 83 pounds, 2.3 troy ounces and the other 81 pounds, 6.56 troy ounces) recovered by Mel Fisher from the Atocha, sunk in 1622 off the Florida Keys, estimated at $30,000 to $45,000 each.
  • Lot 20: a Lima, Peru, gold cob 8 escudos dated 1701H, graded PCGS MS62 and recovered from the 1715 Fleet as well as pedigreed to the John Pullin collection, estimated at $20,000 and up.
  • Lot 247: a gold “finger” bar weighing 466 grams from the “Golden Fleece” wreck, sunk ca. 1550, estimated at $20,000 and up.
  • Lot 568: a Mexico City-minted cob 8 reales fully dated 1715(J) recovered from the pirate ship Whydah, sunk in 1717 off Cape Cod, Massachusetts by salvager Barry Clifford, estimated at $10,000 and up. Barry Clifford, who discovered the ship in 1984, will give a talk on his discovery of the Whydah at the auction site on Nov. 1.
whydah

This 1715-dated Mexican cob 8 reales was recovered by Barry Clifford from pirate Captain Sam Bellamy’s Whydah, the only salvaged pirate treasure shipwreck.

  • Lot 638: an 1865-S $20 double eagle recovered from the S. Brother Jonathan, sunk in 1865 off California, and graded PCGS AU58, estimated at $8,000 to $12,000.
  • Lot 1557: a Colombia, Banco de Panama, 5 pesos (ca. 1869), graded PMG Choice VF 35, the finest graded in the PMG census, estimated at $2,000 to $3,000.

Bidders can register now for the auction at www.auction.sedwickcoins.com. The auction catalog will be available Oct. 9 at www.sedwickcoins.com. For more details, please contact Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC at office@sedwickcoins.com.

¿Águila o Sol? The Mexican 20 centavos of 1943-1974

4 Sep

By Connor Falk

The Mexican bronze 20 centavos of 1943 to 1974 is a beautiful coin with a wealth of history in its design. From the Pyramid of the Sun on the reverse to the National Arms on the obverse, the design is attractive and bold. A lustrous, Gem BU example shines with a bright, copper-red color. Also pleasing is a circulated example with surfaces an earthy-brown tone, having served a long time in Mexican commerce.

History of the Bronze 20 Centavos

With the beginning of World War II, Mexico became a primary supplier of silver to the United States of America. Such strong, wartime demand for the metal increased prices and sparked public hoarding and melting of Mexican silver coinage, particularly of the 20 centavos. In addition, the Casa de Moneda (the Mexican Mint in Mexico City) found it difficult to strike enough silver coinage to satisfy public demand.

Even the silver coinage that was issued didn’t circulate well. Reports at the time show many people made do with bronze 1 centavos as well as copper-nickel, then bronze, 5 centavos to replace the 20 centavos. Such a system was cumbersome and could not fully alleviate the 20 centavos shortage. With an economy heavily skewed towards silver coins (upwards of 94% of coins in circulation at the time were silver, the rest being bronze or copper-nickel), an alternative needed to be found to bring back the 20 centavos.

On Aug. 10, 1943, a presidential decree signed by President Manuel Ávila Camacho authorized a new bronze 20 centavos. According to Historia del Banco de México: Volume 3 by Eduardo Díaz (2015), the dies for a bronze, 28.5 mm 20 centavos piece had been made already by engraver Manuel Luna Negrete, assisted by Francisco Rivera Paniagua. Those dies were rapidly put to use. Production began almost immediately on Aug. 19, 1943 using “all the copper they could get.” The Casa de Moneda was soon producing 400,000 20 centavos a day. Total production in 1943 amounted to 46,350,000 bronze 20 centavos compared to a scant 3,955,000 silver 20 centavos.

20centavos1943obv_hires

Reverse of the 1943 20 centavos featuring the Pyramid of the Sun.

The design of the bronze 20 centavos is fully emblematic of Mexico and quite striking. The obverse features the coat of arms of Mexico: an eagle clutching a snake above a cactus, with the legend ESTADOS UNIDOS MEXICANOS above. The reverse features the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán with the city’s name at the pyramid’s base. Beyond the pyramid are the volcanic mountains Ixtaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl; above, the denominator 20 is divided by a liberty cap and embellished with sun rays with the mintmark oM below. In the foreground, two varieties of cactus flank the denomination CENTAVOS and the date. The depiction of an eagle on one side and the Pyramid of the Sun under a sunburst on the other gave rise to the Mexican phrase “¿águila o sol?” (eagle or sun?) in the same way Americans say “heads or tails?”

Some design elements of the bronze 20 centavos reflect earlier Mexican coinage designs. The Phrygian cap and sun rays are nearly identical to those found on the cap-and-rays 8 reales of the 1800s. Similarly, the two mountains Ixtaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl appear prior on the gold 50 pesos of 1921 to present (struck with a frozen date of 1947 since that year) and the 1921 2 pesos. Finally, the coat of arms of Mexico is present on a number of coin designs though styles vary. The closest early depiction to that of the arms found on the bronze 20 centavos would be the “hook neck eagle” of the 1824 silver reales.

The bronze 20 centavos series is marked by three distinct obverse design changes. Type 1 (KM-439), produced from 1943 to 1955, features a small national emblem. Type 2 (KM-440), which began part way through 1955 and continued to 1971, features a larger national emblem with wider spacing between ESTADOS UNIDOS MEXICANOS. Type 3 (KM-441), minted in mid-1971 to 1974, features a stylized national emblem that is very different from the previous two reverse designs. Although mintages were split between Types 1 and 2 in 1955 and Types 2 and 3 in 1971, there is no noticeable scarcity in those years for any particular type. No bronze 20 centavos were struck from 1947 to 1950 and in 1961, 1962, and 1972.

20centavosreverses_hires

Left to Right: Type 1 (1943-55), Type 2 (1955-71), and Type 3 (1971-74).

The end of the bronze 20 centavos denomination is very similar to how it began. By the early 1970s, the price of copper had risen enough to surpass the face value. In mid-1974, the Casa de Moneda ended production of the bronze 20 centavos in favor of a lighter, smaller copper-nickel version.

The Market Today

The market for the bronze 20 centavos is wide open to collectors. Most dates have high mintages in the tens of millions and can be had in Gem Brilliant Uncirculated grades for a few dollars. At the grading services, the majority of graded examples are from lower mintage dates. Such dates include 1951 (11,385,000 struck), 1952 (6,560,000 struck), and 1959 (6,017,000 struck).

All dates are readily available, both raw and in slabs, even in Mint State grades. According to the NGC census as of Aug. 3, 2018, 77 coins (12.9 percent) of all graded bronze 20 centavos are 1951-dated; at PCGS, 27 coins (8.3 percent) are from 1951. For 1952-dated pieces, NGC has seen 131 examples (21.9 percent); at PCGS, 31 coins (9.5 percent). Another 76 coins (12.7 percent) of NGC-graded pieces are from 1959; PCGS reports 27 coins (8.3 percent) for the same date. For those three years at the two grading companies, all slabbed examples received Mint State grades.

Only business strikes are known for the series; no proof strikes were made. There is, however, an interesting mule error known for the 1973 issue. The error pairs the 20 centavos reverse (the pyramid side) with an obverse meant for the 1973 copper-nickel peso. The error is not readily apparent. The size difference is negligible; the 20 centavos has a diameter of 28.5 mm while the peso has a diameter of 29 mm.

Under examination, a few key diagnostics give the mule error away. Most notably, the “T” in ESTADOS on a normal 1973 20 centavos has a top bar that dips down at the ends; the mule has a T with a straight top bar. The “A” in ESTADOS also varies from thick with legs connected at the bottom on the regular issue versus a thinner, open version on the mule. The “I” in UNIDOS stands straight on a regular strike; the mule has an “I” with its top tilted to the left. Lastly, the “M” in MEXICANOS is wide on a regular example; the M appears narrow and bold on a mule.

1973muleerrorcolorhires

Regular 1973 20 centavos at left, mule peso obverse at right.

It is unknown how many 1973 20 centavos mule errors were made. At this time, NGC has graded two pieces: one MS 66 Red, the other MS 67 Red. A value on a mule 20 centavos is tough to give at this time. No mules have appeared on the market recently and are unlisted in Krause. Given the large mintage for the year, it is reasonable to think that more are out there.

Another collectible in the series are bronze 20 centavos encapsulated by NGC in commemoration of the 2014 U.S. Mexican Numismatic Association Convention. The coins were donated by the Mexican Coin Company (now World Numismatics) and slabbed for free, then handed out to convention attendees. They can be found in NGC sample slabs with the invoice number 2048221. Dates found in the USMEX slabs are 1957, 1960, and 1973. According to NGC records, 150 sample slabs were made.

11902_hires

An example of a USMEX Convention NGC sample slab containing a 1960 bronze 20 centavos.

Conclusion

The Mexican bronze 20 centavos was a workhorse in commerce for many years. It arrived at a pivotal time for the nation’s coinage, as gold and silver gave way to bronze and other base metals. Beyond its history, each piece also represents an example of Mexican craftsmanship with a design that is a well-executed testament to Mexico’s rich history.

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