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Some of you may remember from my post about getting my MS65 1888 in early 2018 that, at the time I won that coin, I’d only seen one other coin of that date come up for sale that had been graded by NGC. That wasn’t too surprising given that, at the time, only 20 had been graded by NGC and, even now, only 22 have been encapsulated by NGC. I don’t think I’ve ever bothered to check this before but PCGS has graded a total of 33. So, assuming there hasn’t been any that were cracked out and/or re-submitted without having the old labels sent in to have them pulled from the census, there’s at most 55 of these coins graded by the two major companies. Side note – but I’m a bit surprised that more of these have been graded by PCGS than NGC – I thought NGC tended to grade more World coins and had a better reputation with World coins but maybe collectors of this series prefer PCGS overall – or maybe they used to. It’s all hard to say for sure. That other coin was an MS-62 that the seller wanted $875.00 for. I watched that thing I think for the better part of two years, wondering if it would sell and wondering if the seller would drop the price if it didn’t – they never did. In early 2016 – before I got laid off a few months later - I tried to offer the seller $650 for it - more than reasonable I thought at the time (I think the price guide at the time put it at about $575 in MS63). They still wanted over $800 and counter-offered with $825. I passed. I had had a hard enough time just making that offer. I found the idea of an MS62 for that set fairly underwhelming. I really wanted MS65 or better for that set but I had been somewhat willing to accept it for that coin just because it was the key-date of the series. That coin continued to sit in their inventory – until it didn’t! it went poof one day and I never knew (but always wondered) if someone finally bit the bullet and paid what they wanted for it or if they just gave up and pulled it off eBay. Well… I think I might have found out! The other day I got an email for my saved search on the 10G series and it was an 1888, in MS62, in the same generation of holder as that one from before (they were both in the newer generation of holder with the edge-view and the prongs). I can’t remember 100% for sure - it’s been a long time, literally years - but I think it was the same seller offering it for sale too. Except now, it wasn’t not listed as a BIN for $875. It was selling in an auction and the starting bid price of $0.99. I guess, after about 5 years or so now, they’ve finally given up on waiting, wishing, and hoping they’d find someone willing to buy it at that price. It reminds me of something “Just Bob” said on the chat boards recently – “you have to remember that, for many series, 600 pieces extant would be a huge hoard.” Even with only 22 graded by NGC (I have no clue how many of the original mintage of ~35,000 survive to this day), if the collector base is shallow enough, as it seems to be with this set, an MS62 could still prove to be a cheap coin that can be had for near melt. “Rare” is relative and “rare” doesn’t always translate into “valuable.” Seeing this pop up like this immediately got my interest and my curiosity piqued. Obviously, my finances being what they are at this point, I have no interest in getting in on this. Even if I had the cash, I wouldn’t have to worry about bidding on this. I have the 1888 that I want already – fortunately this does not have to be salt in the wound right now. I got to watch this sell, never bidding, and smile the whole time, because I got to see what everyone else thinks this thing is truly worth. Even if I’m wrong and it isn’t the same coin or the same seller, I still got to see what this thing went for when the bidders get to set the price. (There’s only 6 graded by NGC in this grade, so I have at least a 16% chance I’m right, right?) I knew going in that it wasn’t going to get anywhere that $875 asking price of yester-year. Even the MS65 I got only pulled in $500, so unless in the last two years a couple of collects with deep pockets that feel a burning need to get one of these coins that’s graded by NGC this wasn’t likely to exceed $500. The end result? $327.75 after shipping (a hair over 37% of that old original $875 asking price). 15 Bidders made 25 bids. So, you can’t say that it flew under the radar or didn’t get much attention. It feels good to know / have it reconfirmed for me (as if getting the MS65 for cheaper wasn’t enough) that I was right to not go for this back in the day and that I was far from being alone in thinking that that asking price was too high. Always go with your gut. If it feels wrong, if it feels like too much, it is. If it feels like a bad buy, it is. If you aren’t 100% thrilled to pull the trigger / enter the bid / hit “buy,” don’t do it. In my experience, if you aren’t happy in that moment, it doesn’t get better. Now to go look at my MS65 1888 10G - which I still think is freaking awesome 13 months later.
Ever since I purchased my 1913 20 Franc French Rooster last year, I’ve been wondering why the French government would have made a coin that so prominently featured this bird. My curiosity was peaked further when I saw the older Winged Freedom design and saw that it also had a rooster on it, although, in that case, the rooster was much smaller and was not a dominant design feature. As it turns out, the answer is pretty easy to find online, but It’s just taken me a year to invest the effort into reading about it. The Gallic Rooster is a national emblem of France and, today, is regarded as representing the people of France. This has its roots in a play on words that dates back to ancient Rome. Suetonius, in The Twelve Caesars, noticed that, in Latin, rooster (gallus) and Gauls (Gallus) were homonyms. However, the Gauls at the time did not associate themselves with a rooster. The association seems to have developed more fully in the middle ages, sometimes because enemies of the French wanted to make fun of them by associating them with a not-terribly-frightening bird. The association between the rooster and the French was further developed by the kings of France because the Rooster is also a strong Christian symbol. According to the bible, prior to being arrested, Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed on the following morning. At the rooster's crowing, Peter remembered Jesus' words. Its crowing at the dawning of each new morning made it a symbol of the daily victory of light over darkness and the triumph of good over evil. It is also an emblem of the Christian attitude of watchfulness and readiness for the sudden return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment of humankind. That is why, during the Renaissance, the rooster became a symbol of France as a Catholic state and became a popular Christian image on weather vanes, also known as weathercocks. Roosters also appeared at the tops of watch towers and sentry posts around this time as a general symbol of vigilance and watchfulness. It’s not clear to me whether the association with watchfulness and vigilance or the association with Christianity came first. The popularity of the Gallic rooster as a national personification faded over time but had a resurgence during the French Revolution (1789). While it was a minor emblem at the time these landmarks were built, the Gallic Rooster is found at both the Louvre and Versailles. The French Revolution completely re-wrote the traditional perception of the origins of France. Until then, the royals dated the origins of France back to the baptism of Clovis I in 496, the "first Christian king of France". The rejected this royalist and Christian origin of the country and traced the origins of France back to the ancient Gaul. Although purely apocryphal, it was at this point the rooster became the personification of the early Gauls. The rooster was an important revolutionary symbol and it became an official emblem under the July Monarchy and the Second Republic, when it was seen on the pole of regiments’ flags. In 1830, the Gallic Rooster replaced the fleur-de-lis as the national emblem for a time, but it was later discarded again by Napoleon III - He didn’t like the rooster because, unlike the eagle, which he temporarily replaced it with, the rooster is not a “powerful” bird - thus, why enemies continued to use it to make fun of the French. The Gallic rooster, sometimes named or referred to as “Chanteclair,” has been a national emblem off and on ever since, especially during the Third Republic (which ran from 1870 to 1940), when these coins were produced. So, all of this has some very interesting implications for what I wrote in my earlier post about the 20 Franc design with the Winged Figure. Having learned all this, I couldn’t blame someone familiar with the Catholic kings of France and the Rooster’s symbolism in Christianity for seeing the winged figure as an angel and seeing the rooster, if anything, as a confirmation of the coin’s / image’s Christian intent. However, when the coin is viewed properly, in the context of the time period in which the design was produced (1790s) and later revived (1870s), the Rooster is symbol of the people of France and the government, not of Christianity, and the Winged Figure is an allegorical depiction of liberty, not an angel. Given everything I’ve learned from reading about this, I feel like this coin could be a case study in and of itself in bad communication and confused symbolism. It easily lends itself to and seemingly confirms an interpretation of the image / artwork that runs very counter to the artists’ original intent, in part because the creators were very proactively trying to redefine the meanings of those symbols and re-write the history of the nation at the time.
As I’m sure many of are aware, there’s a series of French 20 Franc coins that were made from 1871 to 1898 that feature a winged figure writing on a tablet. In the US, I’m assuming because we’re a Christian majority country, most of us see a winged figure and think “angel.” As a result, these coins are usually called French Angels or something similar and even the name of the Registry Category references these coins as Angels. But the man that designed the coin probably wasn’t trying to depict an angel or any kind of Christian or religious image when he made the design based on what I can find. The design was originally made by Augustin Dupre, an artist who was principally inspired by the neoclassical school and its themes law, freedom (including “Freedom” personified as a winged person), scales, Greek mythology and Hellenistic beauty standards. (I’ve always found it interesting that, when depicted allegorically, “Liberty” is a woman and “Freedom” is a man.) The design by Dupre depicts a “Génie ailé” (“Winged genius”) and it first appeared on French coinage in 1792, during the heart of the French Revolution. Dupre was named the Graveur général des monnaies (Chief Engraver of Coins) by the national assembly in July 1791. In the original versions of the coin the figure is writing the word Loi (Law) on a tablet. Some versions of the coin include the motto “Le Règne de la Loi” (“The Reign of the Law”). In the post revolution period the coins might read something like “An III de la liberté” (“Year three of the liberty”). In some later uses of the design the figure is writing “Constitution.” The coin design was revived in the 1870s, long after Dupre passed away in 1833, and placed on these 20 Franc and 100 Franc coins. Saying that these later versions were designed by Dupre is therefore a bit inaccurate, but they do feature his art. If you want another hint that the design might not be Christian in origin or inspiration, the 20 Franc coins simply say “Republique Francaise” (French Republic) on the obverse. The reverse side just says, “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” (“Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood”). There’s nothing on the coin that references “God,” gods, or divine favor. By contrast, a US silver dollar from this period (1878 and later) would have proudly stated “In God We Trust.” For another example, 10 Gulden coins made in the Netherlands during this same period were inscribed with “God Zij Met Ons” (“God be with us”). I thought it was an angel too because it looked like one and because that’s what everyone else was calling it. But I just couldn’t help but wonder why they would have made a design like that and what would have inspired / instigated that in the post-revolutionary period. Why an angel on coins in France in the late 19th century? Now I know: It’s not post-revolutionary. it’s revolutionary. It’s not really an angel. The recurring theme of this coin / design is “freedom,” not religion, faith or God. This is not a religious image - it’s a post-enlightenment image. Apparently, there’s a legend whereby Dupre was headed for the guillotine but he was somehow saved by his “lucky angel.” This seems unlikely to be true. Dupre wasn’t a wealthy noble; he was appointed to his position by the national assembly; he wasn’t a counter-revolutionary. There’s no obvious reason why his “lucky angel” would have needed to intervene and save his neck. He held his official position until 1803, well after the Reign of Terror ended in the mid-1790s. Now I just have to figure out… “Why the rooster?” (More on this when I get around to it in a later post) I still haven’t bought / ordered one of these yet. It’s probably coming in the next few weeks though.
Well, when I made the last entry I was really leaning towards the MS66. By the time I went to bed on Saturday I had pretty much convinced myself that the MS66 was the way to go and that I should bid aggressively to make sure I got that coin. So then why am I writing this, saying that I bid on and won the MS65 tonight and why am I so stinkin’ happy about it that my wife is snickering about it at my expense? Well, my basis for thinking that the MS66 was the way to go was thinking it looked better in the pictures. But that’s in the pictures. The person that took photos of the MS66 seems to have known what they were doing. The lighting and everything else about the pictures of the MS65 is comparatively lousy, and I think the coin probably looks just fine in person. That undermined the rationale for going with the MS66 for me. Sunday night I was running some back-ups of personal files and cleaning up some old things that I don’t want or need to keep anymore. In the course of this I found my last “family photo” of the 6 coins I had, including the three in the old fatty holders (the 1876, 1879, and 1887). This really got me thinking again about how that MS65 would fit with the rest of my existing set. This also got me thinking again about the fact that some of the serial numbers were the same out to three digits and it got me wondering just how similar they were, so I pulled them out and looked. The serial numbers for the coins in the fatties are: 1876: 195949-XXX 1877: 195945-XXX 1879: 195974-XXX 1887: 196363-XXX … And there you have it. That coin’s invoice number had 5 digits in common with my 1876 and 4 digits in common with my 1879. There’s only a difference of 4 between two of the invoice #s and a span of less than 30 for all three of them. There’s a very good chance to my mind that the 1876 and 1877 were at NGC together getting graded at the same time, and maybe the 1879 too, maybe 15 or 20 years ago (I don’t know exactly when that holder and those numbers were in use – maybe others would know better?). I may never know what that story is, but I have to think there’s a story there and a shared history. That’s something I just can’t pass up. I just love the thought of that and the possibilities. I told my wife about this. She just laughed and said, “you are such a coin collector.” The MS66, in a current gen holder, was probably graded in the last 6-12 months, and it just isn't part of that same story. In the context of the set, that’s worth a lot. Initially I’d been thinking that the MS65 should go for less than $300, but I could see chasing it up to $325. After I saw all of this and got thinking about it, I fell in love with the idea that I decided I was willing to pay up to $350 just to get to bring the three coins, bought at different times, I think from 3 different merchants, back together. It turns out my prior research and watching of the market was about right in the first place I won the coin at $290.