The Lincoln Wheat Cent

In 1787, the penny was created in response to the need for coinage that was uniquely American (see our previous blog).  Americans wanted to stray from the use of European coinage with its different appearance, weights and value.  Flash forward to the early 1900’s and we find ourselves in competition with European coinage once again.  The president at the time, Theodore Roosevelt, felt all US coins were lacking in their artistic qualities.  An avid art connoisseur, Roosevelt wanted US coins to more closely match the artistic flair of their European counterparts.

A recent law requiring all coin designs be in circulation for at least 25 years was in effect.  This meant the only coins up for redesign were the 4 gold pieces in use at the time and the penny.  Roosevelt hired his friend, Augustus St. Gaudens for the redesign.  Augustus favored a design with either an eagle in flight or lady liberty, but unfortunately passed away before any of his designs were submitted.  He did successfully redesign the $20 gold piece, called the double eagle (see below).

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After St. Gaudens’ death, Roosevelt turned to Victor David Brenner.  He admired a bronze plaque Brenner had done of Abraham Lincoln and although there had never been a US coin created with a historical figure on it, Roosevelt couldn’t resist capturing his fellow Republican on a coin.  It came as perfect timing, really.  America was about to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of Lincoln’s birth and Lincoln memorabilia was in high demand.  In January 1909, Brenner was officially hired for the redesign.


“Victor David Brenner” by Unknown – Harper’s Weekly, August 21, 1909, p. 24. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

In March 1909, satisfied with his design, Brenner met with mint chief engraver, Charles Barber.  Barber was less than impressed with the initial design.  Although artistic, it still had to be mint-able and that was Barber’s chief concern.  He also didn’t like the idea of outsourcing the job to someone who only had experience as a sculptor. After a lot of back and forth between Brenner, Barber and Mint Director Frank A. Leach, a design was finally agreed upon and the first Lincoln Cent hit the presses.

On August 2 1909, the first Lincoln cents were available to the public.  The coin had a profile view of Abraham Lincoln on the obverse with the words “In God We Trust” filling in the space above his head.  The reverse featured 2 wheat ears framing the words “One Cent” and “United States of America.”  On the very bottom of the reverse, were the initials V.D.B for the man who created the design.

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Because of the built up anticipation of this coin and the fact that it had Lincoln on it, the coin was wildly popular with the public. The day it was released, people stood in long lines at the various treasuries just waiting to get their hands on the freshly minted coins.  There was such demand that they ended up rationing the coins they handed out that day.  People in line at the New York Treasury could get up to 100 coins at a time and people at the Philadelphia Treasury were only allowed 2.  Many people then took these newly minted coins to the secondary market and ended up making a profit, selling them for up to 25 cents per coin in some areas.

The hype was short lived and things returned to normal in a matter of days.  That is until rumors started circulating that Victor David Brenner was trying to make a name for himself by putting his initials V.D.B on the back of the coin, in rather large printing.  The legality of this move was even called into question as some called it advertising, which is not allowed on coins.  All production was halted on August 5 until a new design could be made with out the initials.

Although a compromise was finally struck and minting started back up on  August 18, the controversy remained.  What started out as a simple attempt to make a pretty coin and keep up with the Europeans had turned into a rather ugly battle between artist and engraver.  Stay tuned to find out what the compromise looked like and how it affected the Lincoln cent in the weeks and months to come.

In the  meantime, check out all the wheat cents we have for sale with the controversial V.D.B initials still on them by checking out our Ebay store or website.

Hobo Nickels

Although the Buffalo Nickel had it’s fair share of issues during it’s time in circulation from 1913 to 1938 (see our previous entry), one arena where it found nothing but popularity was among artists.  One form of art as unique as the individuals that made them are Hobo Nickels.  Created mostly by transient people, Hobo Nickels were essentially coins turned into pieces of folk art.  Engravers would alter the obverse (face) of the coin,  to resemble their own face or that of some other character, and then change the reverse of the coin to resemble an animal. This type of art is not only extremely unique, but it encapsulates a period of time defined by struggle, hard work, creativity and survival.



Coin engraving dates back all the way back to the 18th century, when engravers used to turn any of the Seated Liberty coins into “potty coins” by modifying lady liberty so that she appeared to be sitting on a chamber pot.  Most of this art was found outside the US in counties like Britain, France and South Africa.

The arrival of the Buffalo NIckel in 1913 brought this form of art to the United States.  The nickel was the perfect medium because it was thicker and harder than other coins in circulation and the Native American’s head was much bigger than the faces on the other coins.  This gave engravers more room to work and allowed for finer details.

In the 1930’s, as a result of the depression, this form of artwork flourished.  Thousands of men were out of work and spent their days traveling the railroads, looking for work.  These people, commonly called “Hobos”, considered themselves far different from the “bums” and “tramps” of their time.  Hobos were a nomadic group of people who worked hard when work was available, stayed out of trouble and considered themselves to be free spirited.  They were also called “knights of the road.” The small, round pieces of art they created were often traded for food, shelter or other necessities.

Creating a hobo nickel was no small feat.  It was not uncommon for a single piece to take up to 100 hours to complete.  Artists used things like nails. chisels and knives to carefully construct these pieces of art.  No one coin looks the same.

Although most of the hobos creating these nickels preferred to stay anonymous, a few names have surfaced over the years. Probably the most famous of these was George Washington “Bo” Hughes.  A nomadic man from an early age, Bo met a man by the name of Bert during his stay at a “jungle” (the term commonly used to describe a hobo camp).  Bert was a craftsman and taught Bo the art of engraving and altering coins.  He caught on quick and began churning out coins left and right.  His coins stood out among the many being created at the time because his designs were more innovative than other artists and he was not afraid to experiment with his technique.

In 1957, Bo Huges had an accident involving a chisel, rendering his hand nearly unusable.  That combined with years of hard, physical labor brought his career to an end. He did continue to carve Hobo nickels to the extent that he was able until his death in 1982.

It is estimated that around 100,000 hobo nickels were created during their hay day, by various artists. On average, original Hobo nickels sell for between $100 and $400, but a few have sold for as much as $3000.

Today, artists continue to create Hobo Nickels, although their history is not the same. Power tools have replaced nails and knives and the subject matter has changed to include popular modern characters and themes.  It is estimated that the number of modern Hobo nickels (created after the 1980’s) will quickly surpass the number of classic ones. They are no longer traded for goods or created by the idle hands of hard working men out of work and travelling the railroads.  The art form lives on, but the story has changed.

Hawaiian Coinage

It’s a little known fact outside the collector’s world that the Hawaiian Islands had their own coinage.  Five official coins were issued for the Kingdom of Hawai’i before it became a territory of the United States.  All of these Silver pieces were designed by Charles Barber and were minted in San Francisco.  Serving as legal tender in Hawai’i, Hawaiian coinage includes the 1847 cent issued by King Kamehameha III and the 1883 silver dimes, quarters, halves and dollars, which bare the portrait of King Kalakaua.

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The element that makes these coins so collectible can be found in their uniquity.  After Hawai’i became a United States territory in 1900 these coins were no longer accepted as legal tender and lost their initial value.  At that time, most of these coins were withdrawn and melted down.  As a result, they are more rare and of higher value.

Aside from their limited number, they are unique in the many hands they passed through during a specific time and locale in history.  Initially 100,000 of these Hawaiian coins were issued and were used for the remainder of the century alongside a plethora of foreign coins circulated through plantation work and trade.  Because the Hawaiian Kingdom did not have the means necessary to mint their own coins, commerce relied on a medley of currency from Spanish American colonies, Asia and the United States.  Alongside foreign coins, plantations such as Wailuku, Thomas Horton, Waterhouse and Haiku distributed tokens to serve as minor coinage.

By The original uploader was Ianwatts at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By The original uploader was Ianwatts at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Each of the coins might have been the daily bread of a migrant plantation worker or a means of cultural trade.  Even today Hawai’i is referred to as a “melting pot”.  It’s fascinating that from the beginnings of currency and language, Hawai’i has demonstrated a blending of cultures which can be seen through their limited currency and the story each coin tells.

Origins of the U.S. Postal Service

Thinking about taking a trip down to the Post Office conjures up images of long lines and regulated service in an age of instantaneous communication through text messaging and the internet.  But looking back on the history of Postal Service, the transportation of information was a privilege of the utmost relevance.

The importance of long distance communication was recognized by the early North American colonies and several programs were initiated but none took into account the vastness of all the colonies.  With a limited scope and disjointed function, these independent services failed.

In 1691, Thomas Neale petitioned for a grant from the British Crown for the establishment of a North American Postal Service.  On February 17th of 1691, he heard his response from regents William and Mary, giving him the funds “to erect, settle and establish…an office or offices for receiving and dispatching letters and pacquets, and to receive, send and deliver the same under such rates and sums of money as the planters shall agree to give, and to hold and enjoy the same for the term of twenty-one years.”


Excited, Neale wasted no time in appointing Andrew Hamilton, New Jersey Governor as deputy postmaster with the first official service up and running by 1692.  Postage rates were standardized and a Post Office erected in each Virginia town.  When Neale’s patent expired in 1710, Parliament advanced the English postal system to support the colonies.  The head office was established in New York City.

All was fine and dandy with this system until the Revolutionary War which seated Philadelphia as the information hub of the new nation, collapsing the English postal service.  The postal service found necessity in the expedited transportation of news, laws, military and political intelligence.  Newspapers were distributed among the thirteen states as journalists began reaching more people at a lower cost.  Overthrowing the English based postal service, the United States postal Service was created on July 26th, 1775 by the decree of the Second Continental Congress.  It was initially led by Benjamin Franklin, previous colonial postmaster.

Photograph by Mike Peel ( [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photograph by Mike Peel

Seventeen years later The Post office Department was created in 1792 in order to establish Post Offices and Post roads by Constitutional authority.  Representative of core American values, the 1792 law guaranteed low-cost access to information while sanctifying personal correspondence and privacy.

As the country grew West, Post Offices began popping up across the land.  To most efficiently reach far away places, this new service operated on a hub and spoke system in which Washington was the hub.  By 1869, the USPS had gained so much leverage that it contained 27,000 local Post Offices and began utilizing railroad mail cars.  The USPS influenced national expansion crucially.  Supplying a quick and affordable way to communicate increased migration to the West, encouraging trade and business ventures while maintaining political relevance.  Aside from practicality, the easy spread of information bolstered a sense of nationalism in a blooming country, providing a necessary infrastructure in establishing the new frontier!

So next time you complain about a letter getting lost in the mail or not having mail service on Sundays, remember the long history of the Post in this county and the value of sharing information in America!

In Your Dreams

Originally a Native American beauty, the dreamcatcher has woven its way into bedrooms worldwide.  A delicate web set in willow hoop lures wandering consciousness while dreamers lie peacefully snoring; the concept is very attractive and has been adopted by extraneous cultures.  Like many Native American cultural traditions, the dreamcatcher has been misappropriated by non-native people.  Nonetheless, it is a valuable collectible today.

The legend of the dreamcatcher begins with Asibikaashi, the Spider Woman who once captured the morning sun for the Ojibwe people. In fulfillment of a prophecy, the Ojibwe people spread to the four corners of North America making the journey for Asibikaashi difficult and thus caring for her children and the land near impossible.  To carry on her wise undertaking, the Mothers, Sisters and Grandmothers began weaving magic webs for the children to protect them in the night and greet them with the morning sun each day.

According to Ojibwe legend, dreamcatchers filter out all bad dreams, only allowing the passage of positive thoughts to enter consciousness.  With the rising sun and evaporating of the morning dew, bad dreams confusedly caught in the web would perish while good ones would pass through the center hole, sliding down the feather to the sleeper.  The dreamcatcher possesses the great power to change and control dreams, regardless of the sleeper’s cognizance.

Dreamcatchers were woven of twigs, sinew and feathers since ancient times, utilizing the profound teachings of nature.  Thread from the stalk of stinging nettle compromised the eight points of the web, in respect for Asibikaashi and her eight legs.  Once the twigs were gathered fresh, they were left out to dry into a circle form.  The circle represents strength and unification of life for the Native American people.  Then sacred feathers, gemstones and bits of everyday life such as arrowheads and beads were given to each web to complete it’s spiritual function.

Not only beautiful arts and crafts, dreamcatchers carry a specific cultural heritage and act as a teacher of the natural world.  A feather set into the center teaches an infant the importance of good air, which is essential for life.  Even the slightest movement of the feather signals the passage of another good dream.  Their material is not created with permanence, to signify the precipitous passing of youth.  The care and meaning by which dreamcatchers are made is all part of their significance to the Ojibwe people.

Very specifically belonging to Ojibwe culture, it was not until the 1960’s or so that they were adopted by Native Americans of a number of diverse nations.  Through intermarriage and trade, the dreamcatcher made its way across an expanding America.  In this sense, they have become known by many as a symbol of unity and identity among Indian Nations.  Though creating positive connections among First Nations, many Native Americans view Western cultures’ hollow misunderstanding and manufacturing to be disrespectful and offensive.


Of course in the history of America, respect for other cultures hasn’t always been at the top of an expansive priority list.  Dreamcatchers are sold today in abundance as cheap home decorations and as collectibles.  With tacky tag lines and denominating sales tags, some people have forgotten their value as objects of spiritual wisdom and art.  They have been widely commercialized as seen through the popularity of dreamcatcher tattoos and earrings.

On eBay, dreamcatchers are now manufactured from the Middle East to China, coming in a variety of shapes, styles and price tags.  Later Ojibwa dreamcatchers can even be found for sale.

Have you ever owned a dreamcatcher?  We’d love to hear your perspective in the comments below or on our social media!
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Vintage Treasures Into Modern Novelties | Glass Insulators

It takes a special kind of person to turn old thrown away items into beautiful and useful keepsakes; someone with an eye for design, with the capacity for creativity and the drive to innovate something unique and lasting.  I am not this person, but looking around the Stamp & Coin Etc. shop, my mind begins to turn with ideas about refurbishing hundreds of items I don’t even know the names of.  Customers come in to the shop searching for their next creative project in objects long forgotten.
With the gleam in eyes that see endless possibilities, they tell me all about how excited they are to upcycle and recreate.

Image by Napa Style

Image by Napa Style

With all of the pressure towards consumerism in America, there’s something truly desirable about creating modern treasures from the past.  Refurbishing is affordable and eco-friendly; ultimately adding a wistful charm of an untouchable period of time in your home – if you have the knack for it.

An item that we have a ton of are glass insulators.  They are lovely little glass caps that range in shades of blue, green, orange, purple and clear among several hues.  Seemingly useless nowadays, it turns out vintage insulators make a charming, functional array of goods today.  This out of date technology, with a little creativity and care becomes a habitat for small plants, a chandelier or a coat rack.  The only limitation is imagination.

by Mark Kintzel

by Mark Kintzel

At about three dollars a piece at our store, glass insulators are a great way to add a bit of history to your home.  The oldest insulators pre-date the Civil War and thus are a prized collectible today.  Like several other collectible items, various styles were produced, some in more limited quantities, making them rarer and consequently more valuable.  Subtle nuances in style and appearance differentiate glass insulators by date, location and manufacturer.

With Pinterest as my guide, I’m going to create hanging candles with my insulators.  What will you do with yours?

All About Half Dimes

Before the invention of the nickel, the half dime was a lovely little coin that has now worked its way into some pretty impressive collections over the last hundred years.  With a limited production history and few variations, a well minted half dime is a collector’s dream.

Generally holding the same appearance and designs as larger United States silver coins, the half dime is immediately distinguishable by its small stature.  Originally 20.8 grains and .8924 fineness, the half dime is one of the smallest U.S. silver coins ever to be minted.  They appear to be half of a dime, and so the term for these 5 cent denominates was coined – no pun intended.

The half dime is a unique collectible in that some numismatists consider it to be the first coin minted under the United States Coinage Act of 1792.  The act officially minted currency as legal tender and implemented the decimal system for U.S. currency.  Others argue that it is no more than a pattern coin for testing a system in works.

With the authorization of production in July of 1792, a test piece known as the disme was in circulation the year before the first United States Mint actually opened for business.  Because the facilities were not yet made available, the first half dismes were struck in local craftsman, John Harper’s cellar with the oversight of official mint personnel.  Taking advantage of the limited quantity of available silver, it is rumored that President Washington donated his own household silverware!  In his fourth annual address on November 6, 1792, he stated: “There has been a small beginning in the coinage of half dimes: the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them.”  The half disme would forbear a long-standing history of U.S. coinage as a pattern piece for the half dime.  In 1795, the first official half dime was struck, though some were mint-marked 1794.  From then on, the coins were produced with great expedition and haste.

Over the course of eighty-one years thousands of half dimes were produced.  Most have been heavily circulated.  In 2006, a single PCGS MS67 half dime sold at auction for $1,322,500.  Their value is largely attributed to their historical significance and scarcity.

Image By

Image By

Various developmental designs of the half dime include the Early Half Dime Flowing Hair Pattern (1792), the Draped Bust Half Dime (1996-1797), the Capped Bust Half Dime (1829-1837) and the Seated Liberty Half Dime (1837-1873).  You’ll notice that none of these specimens portray images of presidents, as George Washington insisted the rejection of monarchical imagery, opting for visions of liberty.

As a tangible token from the beginnings of America, it’s no wonder the half dime is so highly valued.  Though your chances of finding one of these by luck are next to none, you can find them in exchange between passionate collectors.  The Stamp & Coin place is home to the world’s finest assembled Seated Liberty 1858-1873 Proof Half Dime collection.  You can view some of our half dimes for sale on  ebay.

Extinct Treasures | Ammonite

My very first time in the Stamp & Coin Etc. shop I remember being immediately overtaken by the aroma of old books as I wandered through the remnants of a world I’ve only experienced through old time movies.  Hundreds of varying vintage treasures from different time periods all over the world had found their way right into this historical building on the corner of a quaint Washington town.  The thought was simply magical.

My eyes scanned beautiful turquoise jewelry, ancient arrowheads and stones of all kinds before settling, mesmerized on a brilliant swirling fossil annotated “Ammonite”.

I ran my hands over cool, patterned stone feeling the history of a once-living organism which had somehow found its place in this collectors’ paradise, where lovely old things come to share their pasts like old friends.  Upon further research I found that this particular treasure had about 65 Million years on me: a life preserved in it’s polished fossil shell.

240 Million years ago, the ammonite made its appearance among the dinosaurs as a sort of prehistoric, carnivorous squid.  Part of the cephalopod family, they were predatory deep-sea creatures with sharp jaws hidden beneath air-siphoning tentacles.  Similarly to an old growth tree, ammonites grew outwardly in their shell, occupying the outermost coil.  Sexual dimorphism endowed females a macroconch, encouraging development up to 400% larger than males in order to accommodate egg production.

Variety of Ammonite Forms

Variety of Ammonite Forms

Serpentstones and Saligrams, these precious fossils have attained spiritual acclamation throughout history.  In medieval Europe ammonites, called “snakestones” were believed to provide evidence of the habitation of saints such as Saint Patrick and the mythical Hilda of Whitby in Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion.  Supposedly possessing healing powers, ammonites were traded as religious icons, often with a snake head painted or carved into the intricate pattern.  In Nepal, an ammonite is considered to be a “saligram”: a tangible manifestation of Vishnu.  Even the scientific name “ammonite” is derived from religious origins, as the shell resembling coiling ram’s horns alludes to the ram horn adorned Egyptian god Ammon.

Due to the ammonite’s ancient history and prevalence they make excellent index fossils, helping geologists determine rock layers of different geological time periods.  I didn’t expect to find something with such an age-old history that day.  I guess you never know what curious minds find.