Replacement Banknotes

All modern United States currency contains either a 10- or 11-digit serial number in Star_Noteorder to make each bill unique. Ten-digit serial numbers were on all bills until the “new style” came out in 1996. Those bills (and all produced since then) have an 11-digit serial. The serial number consists of the following:

  • The first letter, only found on the new-style bills, represents the series of the bill. The series indicates the year in which the design of the bill was approved for production. This begins with A, and moves through the alphabet each time a new series is needed (for example, each time there is a new secretary of the treasury, the bill design changes because the secretary’s signature is on all currency). You can also find the series of the bill printed directly to the bottom-right of the portrait.
  • The second letter (or first, if you’re looking at an old-style bill) represents the district of the Federal Reserve Bank that your bill was issued from. As there are 12 Federal Reserve Banks, this letter can range from A to L, with A representing Boston, MA, and L representing San Francisco, CA.
  • The eight numerical digits that follow represent a unique ID number. This number increases sequentially as each bill is printed. Using these digits alone, there would be a possible 99,999,999 bills issued per bank.
  • The final letter is used to raise the number of possible bills beyond 99,999,999. Altogether, there are a possible 2,499,999,975 serial numbers for each bank!

As quality control finds defective notes in the printing process after the serial number has been overprinted, they are taken out with their serial number written down and replaced with another banknote printed specifically for this purpose, so that the number of banknotes being printed stays the same in each production batch. With replacements notes, a set of serial numbers can still have the proper number of bills even if some of the original bills had to be pulled. The replacement notes have a sequence of their own, using the star as their final “letter.” This allows for 99,999,999 possible replacement notes for any given bank, series and denomination. This saves time and money compared to re-printing exactly the same serial number that was used before. It is rare that the replacement banknote has the same serial number as the original faulty one. A replacement note will have its own serial numbering system that separates it from the normal numbering system.

A star note is also a bank note that has an asterisk (*), or star, after the serial number. Many early issues carried the star in front of the serial number. These have been used by various countries around the world including Australia and the United States. In the US, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing inspects currency for printing errors prior to releasing notes into general circulation. When notes are discovered that have been printed incorrectly (such as having the serial numbers upside down, etc.) the misprinted “error notes” are replaced with star notes because no two bills within a certain series can be produced with the same serial number. They are used to maintain a correct count of notes in a serial number run. By their nature, star notes are more scarce than notes with standard serial numbers and as such are widely collected by numismatists.

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A star note was also substituted for the last note in a block rather than printing a note with a serial number consisting of eight zeros. This practice is no longer in use, as the highest range of serial numbers is now reserved for uncut sheets sold to collectors, so regular notes intended for circulation do not reach the final serial number in the block.

In general, replacement notes aren’t worth more than regular bills. However, if you find a replacement note with a particularly interesting serial number — like 00000001 or 999999999 — or a large number of consecutively numbered replacement notes that you keep together as a lot, you may have a collector’s item on your hands.

Check out our Ebay shop for our variety of Star Notes for sale.

Phrygian Caps


Bust of Marianne, with the Phrygian cap

The Phrygian cap is a soft cap with the top pulled forward often depicted as being red in color. It is historically associated with Eastern Europe and Anatolia, including Phrygia, Dacia, and the Balkans. In early modern times it came to signify freedom and the pursuit of liberty. Perhaps one of the biggest connections modern culture has to the cap is the imagery of it on coinage. The Phrygian cap is seen on 20 centimes and seated liberty dollars to name a few.

By the 4th century BC the Phrygian cap was associated with Phrygian Attis, the consort of Cybele, the cult of which had by then become graecified. At around the same time, the cap appears in depictions of the legendary king Midas and other Phrygians in Greek vase-paintings and sculpture. Such images predate the earliest surviving literary references to the cap.

While the Phrygian cap was made of wool or soft leather, in pre-Hellenistic times the Greeks had already developed a military helmet that had a similar flipped-over tip. These so-called “Phrygian helmets” (named in modern times) were usually of bronze and in prominent use in Thrace, Dacia, Magna Graecia and the rest of the Hellenistic world from the 5th century BC up to Roman times.  Also confusingly similar are the depictions of the helmets used by cavalry and light infantry, whose headgear also included stiff leather helmets in imitation of the bronze ones.

The cap only began to become a symbol of freedom when it got linked up with the pileus cap. In late republican Rome, the soft felt pileus cap was symbolically given to slaves when they were granted freedom, which granted them not only their personal liberty, but also freedom as citizens, with the right to vote (if male). Following the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, Brutus and his co-conspirators utilized the symbolism of the pileus to signify the end of Caesar’s dictatorship and a return to the republican system.

These Roman associations of the pileus with liberty and republicanism were carried forward to the 18th-century, when the pileus was confused with the Phrygian cap, with the Phrygian cap then becoming a symbol of those values. Since then, around the world the Phrygian cap has popped up during many cases of war and battles for freedom.


Tinted etching of Louis XVI of France

In 1675, the anti-tax and anti-nobility Stamp-Paper revolt erupted in Brittany and north-western France, where it became known as the bonnets rouges uprising, named after the blue or red caps worn. Although they are not known to have preferred any particular style of cap, the name and color stuck as a symbol of revolt against the nobility and establishment. The use of a Phrygian-style cap as a symbol of revolutionary France is first documented in May 1790, at a festival in Troyes adorning a statue representing the nation, and at Lyon, on a lance carried by the goddess Libertas. To this day the national allegory of France, Marianne, is shown wearing a red Phrygian cap.


In the 18th century, the cap was often used in English political prints as an attribute of Liberty. In the years just prior to the American Revolutionary War of independence from Great Britain, Americans copied or imitated some of those prints in an attempt to visually defend their inherited liberties as Englishmen. Later, the symbol of republicanism and anti-monarchical sentiment appeared in the United States as headgear of Columbia, who in turn was visualized as a goddess-like female national personification of the United States and of Liberty herself. The cap reappears in association with Columbia in the early years of the republic, for example, on the obverse of the 1785 Immune Columbia pattern coin, which shows the goddess with a helmet seated on a globe holding in a right hand a furled U.S. flag topped by the liberty cap. The cap’s last appearance on circulating coinage was the Walking Liberty Half Dollar, which was minted through 1947 (and reused on the current bullion American Silver Eagle).

The U.S. Army has, since 1778, utilized a “War Office Seal” in which the motto “This We’ll


Seal of the U.S. Senate

Defend” is displayed directly over a Phrygian cap on an upturned sword. It also appears on the state flags of West Virginia (as part of its official seal), New Jersey, and New York, as well as the official seal of the United States Senate, the state of Iowa, the state of North Carolina, and on the reverse side of the Seal of Virginia.

Many of the anti-colonial revolutions in Latin America were also heavily inspired by the imagery and slogans of the American and French Revolutions. As a result, the cap has appeared on the coats of arms of many Latin American nations. Such as, the coat of arms of Haiti, which includes a Phrygian cap to commemorate that country’s foundation by rebellious slaves.

The cap had also been displayed on certain Mexican coins (most notably the old 8-reales coin) through the late 19th century into the mid-20th century. Today, it is featured on the coats of arms or national flags of Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Paraguay.

No matter the true intentions of the Phrygian cap, it has been used around the world to represent revolution and freedom. Through art, protest, and war, the cap is forever a symbol of change and rebellion against tyranny.

How Mexico’s Remarkable Peso Revolutionized the World

Happy Cinco de Mayo!


In honor of the holiday, let’s take a moment to learn about and celebrate Mexican coins.


Both pesos and dollars originated in the Spanish dollar of the 15th-19th centuries. The word “peso” was originally used to refer to pesos oro and pesos plata (gold and silver weights, respectively.) In fact, the literal translation of peso is “weight.”


Peso was the original name of the legendary Spanish “pieces of eight” coins issued in Mexico, sometimes called Spanish dollars. Each peso was valued at 8 reales; the escudo coin was worth 16 reales. These coins were widely circulated in the Americas through the mid 1800’s; America accepted them as legal tender prior to the Coinage Act in 1857, and Canada did the same until 1854. The first American dollar coins were not minted until 1792, and their value was set to approximately match the Spanish dollar.


The first decimation of the peso occurred in 1863, with the issue of centavo coins, each valued at one hundredth of a peso. The first peso denomination coins were issued in 1866, though reales denominated coins were still issued until 1897.



The gold content of the peso was cut nearly in half in 1905, but the silver content was unchanged until 1918, while other coins were debased. Silver coins, except for the 1 peso, were limited to token issues, and several varieties of centavos were issued in bronze, nickel, and other metals.


CaballitoOne of the most striking of Mexican coins was created during this period: the Caballito. It bore the Mexican coat of arms on the obverse with its now-familiar eagle and snake motif, with the legends, “Un Peso” and “Estados Unidos Mexicanos.” The reverse showed a woman on horseback reaching out a hand as if in proclamation, and the date. These stunning coins, minted in .903 silver, were minted from 1910 through 1914. After 1918, all silver coins declined in both weight and fineness, culminating in the last minting of silver 100-peso coins in 1977.


In 1993, a new currency was introduced: the nuevo peso. The new peso, written as N$ and designated MXN, equaled 1000 of the original MXP pesos. The Bank of Mexico began introducing bimetallic coins in 2003. There are 32 coins in this series: one for each Mexican state, and one for the Federal District. Each coin bears Mexico’s coat of arms on the obverse, with the state’s coat of arms on the reverse. They are rare in circulation, but remain a popular novelty coin. Collectors have been encouraged to acquire full sets, but as the coins are high in price, this has not been as successful as hoped. The coins also have a bullion version, with a gold outer ring instead of the aluminium bronze of the standard coins.


AUPeso.jpgMexican bullion coins are available in several weights, in both .999 fine silver and fine gold. On one side, a winged Victoria strides across a landscape, with the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl in the background. The coat of arms of Mexico is shown on the other side. Newer versions show Victoria at a different angle, and the Mexican coat of arms on the reverse is surrounded by other coats of arms from Mexican history.


Today, the peso is third most-traded currency from the Americas, the most traded Latin American currency, and the eighth most traded currency in the world. It served as the model for multiple world currencies, including the Straits dollar, Hong Kong dollar, Japanese yen, and Chinese yuan, largely due to the trade and influence of the Spanish empire. 19th century Siam briefly used the Mexican peso as legal tender, when an unexpected flood of foreign trade caught the government mints by surprise.


According to Collectors Weekly, “Of the coins from the early days of the Republica Mexicana, escudos and reales minted in the 1820s are in particularly high demand. […] Other Mexican coins of note include round lead centavos issued by the state of Durango in 1914 and rectangular copper Oaxacan centavos from 1915.”


Mexican coins are among the most popular in the world, and are an excellent starting point for beginners, as well as a good investment for more experienced collectors.


Image and share your Mexican coins with us through the Lookzee app to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with us! Now available on Google Play Store and App Store.

The Teacher on the Morgan Dollar



The face of Liberty on one of America’s most popular coins is that of a devoted teacher and education advocate.


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When Congress passed the Bland-Allison act in 1878, the Treasury began buying silver to mint into new coins, and began to search for a new silver dollar design to be stamped onto the newly-minted silver dollars. The silver dollar had not been minted for domestic use since 1873, and the Seated Liberty design had begun to feel outdated.




Anna_Willess_WilliamsGeorge Morgan, newly appointed to the Philadelphia Mint in 1876, began taking intensive art classes; in 1877, he began work on the designs for the new coins. Morgan’s friend, artist Thomas Eakins, encouraged him to use Anna Willess Williams, an art student from Philadelphia, as a model. Morgan considered her profile to be flawless, and was struck by her “crowning glory” of golden hair.


Anna was an art student herself, and agreed to sit for the design of Liberty on the new coins. However, she insisted that her name be kept secret, as she had no desire to become famous as a model of any kind.


Though she had been guaranteed anonymity, Anna Williams’ identity as the “Silver Dollar Girl” was outed by a reporter in 1879. She was flooded with letters and visitors, to her great distress. She was offered a role on stage that could have made her a great deal of money, but rejected it in favor of a teaching position at $60 a month.



When it became known that she was engaged in 1896, interest in Anna Williams was revived. However, the marriage never took place, and Anna preferred to spend her time talking about her role as the supervisor of kindergarten schools in Philadelphia. She retired from her post when she suffered a bad fall in December of 1925, and died of a stroke the following April at the age of 68.

How to Prevent Coin Loss

Fred Howard, a Virginia collector, left part of his valuable Byzantine coin collection on the viewing table in his bank’s safety deposit area. Fortunately for him, a bank employee noticed, and turned the coins in to the head office. Having no way to know which customer they belonged to, the coins ended up in the Unclaimed Property division of the Virginia Treasury. Usually, items left unclaimed for a certain period of time are auctioned, but this collection of coins seemed special to Alex Baker, an employee of the Treasury. He reached out to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where curator Peter Schertz made a breakthrough. Many of the coins were labeled with the name of the auction house or dealer they had been purchased from, and Schertz was familiar with several of them. The dealers had also kept records, and when contacted, were able to put Baker in touch with Howard and restore the missing coins. 


This story might not have had such a happy ending if Howard hadn’t scrupulously labeled his collection. Not all losses are due to malicious theft; here are some things you can do to help lost coins make their way back to you.


1: Label your coins. Simply adding the date and purchase location to a coin can massively improve the odds of getting it back should it be lost.


2: Keep a record of your collection. A simple spreadsheet listing the coin, grade, year purchased, price, and place purchased from should be plenty; make sure it’s up to date. If some of your coins are lost or stolen, this will show exactly what is missing.


3: Make a system to ensure you don’t leave coins behind. Howard’s coins were lost when he neglected to put them away after viewing them at his bank. If you use a safety deposit box for your coins, come up with a system to make sure you don’t leave them on the counter. For instance, taking a quick cell phone pic of the empty viewing table after replacing the box: this adds an extra step plus physical motion, not just a sweep of the eyes. The photo can be deleted immediately, since it’s the process that’s important. Whatever method you choose, make sure it’s something you’ll remember to do.


While there’s no way to ensure that your coins will never be lost or stolen, a few simple precautions can significantly improve the odds of getting them back.

The Proof of the Coin is in the Weight


Metal detectorists come across many unusual items from bygone ways of life on their expeditions. Spindle whorls are common, as are shoe buckles. One of the most interesting items, though, are coin weights.


Coin weights were used for centuries to ensure the quality of precious metal coinage, almost always for the larger denominations of coins. They were one of the first technological developments to prevent coin clipping and counterfeiting. Generally made to match the lowest possible weight at which a certain coin could be considered legal tender, they were made of lower-quality metal like iron or bronze.


800px-Al-Walid_ibn_Abdul-Rahman_-_Inscribed_Pound_Weight_-_Walters_476_-_Three_Quarter_Left.jpgWeights are first found in the Ptolemaic and Byzantine Empires, as well as in ancient China. Islamic civilizations also used coin weights, eventually preferring glass weights, as they were thought to be unalterable. Islamic weights are the first to appear in Britain, having been introduced by the Vikings, who traded extensively with both civilizations. Many weights bear the names of rulers and other important individuals, making them valuable to historians and other researchers. By the time they were introduced to the Carolingian Empire, weights had begun to be stamped with the same dies as coins, to ensure that the weight could be clearly matched to the right coin.




Post-medieval coin weight, probably German. Credit to Ciorstaidh Hayward Trevarthen, used under CC by SA 2.0

There are hundreds of different kinds of coin weights, from many countries and eras. In England, all coin weights were made for gold coins until Charles I in the 17th century. English-origin weights frequently have a design only on the obverse, until Henry VIII, when the shilling and pence values of the coin were added to the reverse in Roman numerals.



In the 1500s, sets of weights complete with scales were brought into production. An order to the warden of the Mint in 1587 dictates the creation of “true” weights with the symbol of a crown E (Elizabeth I being Queen at the time). The order states that no other weights may be used, and that every city, town, and borough must have a set of the balances and weights. The punishment for using any other weight was imprisonment. Another order the following year provided for the manufacture of special cases for the weights and balances. “The descriptions of five cases are given – the first of wood with 14 coin-weights, a balance, a suite of weights marked from 1 to 5 dwts (pennyweights) and a suite of up to 5 grain weights, the whole to cost 4s 6d. The cheapest set was to cost 3s 1d. […] The evidence is that the proclamation did not have the desired effect for in 1589 a Richard Martin complained to the Lord Treasurer that he had expended above £600 in providing scales and weights marked with an ‘E’ crowned, the far greater part of which still remained upon his hands.”



Late medieval coin weight, found in Warwickshire. Credit to Helen Glenn, used under CC by SA 2.0

Square weights were specifically banned by Parliament in 1632: ‘many of them, which were in common use were too heavy , and others too light, so that men bought and received by one weight, and sold and delivered by another’. The round weights from after this edict are some of the most commonly found.



After 1775, all coin weights were required to undergo testing; those that were accurate were stamped with a mark certifying their accuracy. A ewer mark indicated testing at the Founders Company of London; an Imperial crown indicated the Royal Mint; a lion passant indicated London; and an anchor for Birmingham. In 1891, Parliament passed the Coinage Act: this gave a governmental guarantee for all new coins, bringing the need for coin weights to an end.


In addition to the official weights, homemade weights were occasionally used. “In some coinweight boxes from the late-17th century onwards are found a small nest of cup-weights similar to those used for other commodities since late-Medieval times. These however are intended for weighing silver coin and are marked VS (for the crown), 2S 6D, IS and ½S or 6D. These were probably used during transactions for weighing quantities of worn clipped coins or even scrap up to an actual coin value and are not strictly therefore coinweights.” Apothecary weights may also sometimes be mistaken for coin weights, as the systems are similar.


Coin weights have been used almost everywhere that coins have circulated, and have been one of the longest-lasting technologies used to counteract bad currency. Though there are now many modern technologies that help prevent widespread coin devaluing, weight is still one of the most reliable ways to check a coin. To this day, many collectors keep a precise scale on hand to weigh prospective purchases and ensure that they are getting the coin that’s been advertised.


(Featured image is a coin weight from the reign of Edward III of England, found by detectorist Scott Bevan. You can follow Scott on Twitter to see more of his discoveries.)

The Coins of the Lost Emperor


Coins are an unusually good way of preserving history. They are stamped with the images of rulers and significant persons, the precious metals in them do not corrode easily, and the value of precious metal coins means that people save them. In the case of the Gallic usurper Domitianus, the best evidence we have are two coins recovered from buried hoards, one of which was ignored for a century.


The 3rd century CE was a time of great unrest in the northwest Roman empire. Rome faced enemies on several fronts, as well as internal strife. The Crisis of the Third Century, as it is known to historians, included a 50-year period in which there were no less than 26 claims to the throne of the Empire, largely from officers of the military. Gaul and Britannia had formed the Gallic Empire and claimed independence from Rome; the current Roman emperor rarely challenged this, as the Gallic emperor usually bore the brunt of invaders from the north, making one less thing for Rome to worry about. The eastern edge of the empire had become the Palmyrene Empire, ruled by regent Zenobia, who later claimed the title of Empress and was defeated by Aurelian in 272 CE.



The Chalgrove Domitianus coin, courtesy of the Ashmolean Museum

Several leaders claimed the rule of the Gallic Empire, five of whom were considered somewhat legitimate (though not by Rome itself, since none of them had been acclaimed by the Senate), and two of whom were usurpers. Domitianus was one of the latter.


Until the more recent coin was found, historians were unsure that Domitianus had ever even claimed the Gallic throne. The majority of what we know about him comes from two sources written a century after Domitianus died. Both sources together give us fewer than 30 words about his life and reign. Zosimus states, “Epitimius, Urbanus, and Domitianus, were suspected of committing treason [by Aurelian], and were immediately apprehended and punished.” Neither source mentioned him as emperor.


Some sources say that his predecessor, Victorinus, was killed by one of his soldiers after finding out that the emperor had been sleeping with the soldier’s wife. While it’s possible that Domitianus was that soldier, there’s no way to know for sure, unless more contemporary records are found. However it happened, Domitianus claimed the throne after the death of Victorianus in late 270 or early 271 CE, and probably took control of the mint at Trier (in what is now Germany.) It’s unclear if the portrait on the coin is even that of Domitianus; it looks very similar to the coins minted for Victorinus. It’s possible the mint did not take time to create a new portrait, but simply made a few slight alterations and changed the name on the coin.


The first Domitianus coin was found in France in 1900; however, since little record had been kept of how it had been found, and there was no textual evidence for Domitianus ever having been emperor of the Gallic empire, it was assumed to be a modern forgery and dismissed. In 2003, metal detectorist Brian Malin was detecting in a field in Chalgrove, just outside Oxford. His family had recovered a small hoard from the field nearly 20 years before, but Malin was not convinced they had found everything. He came across a jar full of coins from the Roman era, which had fused together with the coil into a compact lump. He turned the hoard over to the Ashmolean Museum without attempting to separate the coins. As the experts at the museum worked their way through the coins, carefully freeing each one from the others, they discovered the Domitianus coin. Since this hoard had careful documentation, and the coin was found fused with other easily verified coins of the era, its authenticity was unquestioned. Even better, examination of the original French find confirmed that both coins had come from the same stamp. Both were authentic, and Domitianus regained his place in the line of Gallic rulers.


Both coins and their respective hoards seem to have been buried not long after Domitianus was overthrown by Tetricus. The Gallic Empire was reclaimed for Rome by the emperor Aurelian in 274 CE (as the Palmyrene Empire had been a few years earlier.) Aurelian suppressed the Gallic culture that had arisen, and it’s possible the coins were buried to protect them from raids or other military threats. It’s also possible that having a large amount of money was dangerous during such uncertain times, and the coins were buried to prevent them from being stolen. Regardless of how the coins ended up in the hoards, it is only due to their burial that we have any solid evidence of the emperor Domitianus.


Cover image by Wikipedia User Geni, used under GFDL.

Preparing to Pass On a Coin Collection


You see it every day on coin collecting forums and Facebook groups: “I found this coin collection while going through my relative’s estate, but I don’t know what any of it is or how much it’s worth. Help!”


You understand the history and value of your coin collection, but how do you make sure that knowledge gets passed on? If you’re thinking of passing your collection to a family member, it helps to give them all the information they need.


Bermuda_(UK)_image_number_432_coin_collection.jpgFirst, make sure all of your coins are in good quality, long-term holders. You don’t know how soon the new owner of the collection will be able to take a look at it, and you don’t want any of your coins to lose value because they were in a lower-quality storage system.
Next, make sure everything is labeled. Collector Tom O’Brien writes, “jot down the price you paid for an item, compared to the catalog value. Only thing is, most people don’t think of doing this until they are already deep into the hobby.” If you can’t put all of the information on the coin holder, consider keeping a notebook with the information in it. Include all identification of the coin, as well as the year you purchased it and how much you paid. This will be incredibly helpful to the future collector in understanding the value of the collection.


800px-coincollectionbedfordmuseum.jpgSteve Wolfe, another long-time collector, explains: “I have extensive spreadsheets on my collection complete with purchase data and photographs so it can be properly accounted for if I sell or if my heirs do. I’ve been doing this for over 25 years now. I also have a document explaining the basics of the business side of the hobby and contacts of people and organizations I trust my wife or children to do business with.”


The end goal, regardless of method, is to ensure that your knowledge of your collection is passed down with the physical coins. Decades of research, roll-hunting, and other numismatic labor should not be lost.

Sedley Marianne Towler: The Greatest Numismatist You’ve Never Heard Of


Though unknown to most today, Sedley Marianne Towler was one of the first female professional numismatists in the world.



Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

As a child, Towler was fascinated by money in all forms, and become an ardent numismatist. During the early years of her adult life, she worked as a school teacher and superintendent, but she retained her interest in numismatics, and decided to pursue a career in the field. In 1916, at the age of 55, she began work as an assistant numismatist at the Art Gallery of South Australia. In 1917, she received a promotion to “keeper of coins,” a curatorial role.


Australian-1930-penny-Off-the-Wall-Art-Gallery-of-SA-1100x568Towler was a brilliant curator, creating exhibits that captured the sentiments of the nation. Using such exonumismatic items as charity home-front badges and war medals, she encouraged public interest in the numismatic fields. She also honored the nations and coins of the Europeans who had recently began to settle in the country. Her greatest acquisition for the gallery was the famous 1930 Australia penny.


nssa-badge-smallTowler was an advocate of public engagement, and gave approximately 300 numismatic talks. Realizing that a more organized effort was needed, Towler and her fellow numismatists started the Numismatic Society of South Australia, which continues as an active organization to this day.


Though some were concerned about a woman in a position of such responsibility, her coworkers and fellow numismatists agreed that she was a skilled numismatist, and more than capable of holding her role adequately. She worked up until her death in 1931, when her understudy, James Hunt Deacon, assumed her responsibilities.


Towler wrote no books or articles, which may account for her current obscurity, but she was known for talking to journalists to promote the Gallery’s collection, as well as her openness with the public.


For all those collectors and numismatists who go out of your way to promote the hobby and teach others: our most profound thanks!

The Penny That Went to Mars


When NASA sent their Mars Science Laboratory (nicknamed Curiosity) to Mars in 2011, they included one unexpected object: a 1909 VDB Lincoln wheat cent. The penny was included on the mission as one of several calibration targets for the Mars Hand Lens Imager camera (MAHLI.)


R. Aileen Yingst, deputy principal investigator for the MAHLI camera, stated that at 14 micrometers per pixel, the photo of the penny was a demonstration of the imager’s best-capable return. This photo demonstrated that the camera was functioning as intended for close-up views of small objects on the Martian surface.


mars-rover-curiosity-calibration-targetsThe penny, along with another target, helps the camera with three-dimensional calibration. According to, MAHLI principal investigator Ken Edgett bought the VDB penny himself, to continue an old geology tradition. “The penny is on the MAHLI calibration target as a tip of the hat to geologists’ informal practice of placing a coin or other object of known scale in their photographs.” It also provides a familiar object for the general public to watch for in images from the rover.
Interestingly, the penny collected Martian dust during the 14 months between landing and the taking of the photo, despite being mounted vertically on the rover. This not only produces a more interesting picture of the coin, but gives NASA scientists additional information about how Martian dust behaves.


You really never know where a VDB cent will turn up!