An Affordable Coin Set – The Susan B. Anthony Dollar

Susan B. Anthony Dollar
Susan B. Anthony Dollar

Historically, dollar coins have been quite collectible, but that mostly applies to the “silver dollar,” rather than the “clad dollar” that has been the variety issued since 1971.  Older Draped Bust, Trade, Morgan and Peace Dollars, for example, sell briskly in the marketplace, with some rare varieties selling for six figure sums.

Newer issues, such as the Eisenhower dollars and Susan B. Anthony dollars, on the other hand, sell for modest sums and draw relatively little collector interest.

Of course, for the novice collector, the “little collector interest” can be a good thing, as collecting things that few other people collect means that you can often buy them at affordable prices. Plus, you never know when something is going to take off, and the collection that you put together today for a modest price may turn out to be something of value tomorrow.

The Susan B. Anthony dollar is a great example of a way that you can put together a complete collection of coins in uncirculated and poof condition at a modest price.

Introduced in 1979, the Susan B. Anthony dollar was a short-lived coin, and is viewed by most people as a failure.  The coin was produced from 1979-1981, with a few more struck in 1999 for technical reasons.  The coin was never popular with the public, as the size and color made it easy to confuse them with a 25¢ piece.  Retailers didn’t have room for them in their cash register drawers, and vending machines didn’t take them.  The public also didn’t care too much for the design itself.

The end result was a coin that largely sat in bank vaults, rather than being used as a circulating coin.  Often derided as the “Carter quarter,” the Susan B. Anthony was quickly forgotten and was eventually replaced by the Sacagawea dollar in 2000.

Susan B. Anthony Dollar proof
Proof Susan B. Anthony Dollar

All of that is bad for the government, but good for collectors.  An entire collection of Susan B. Anthony dollars consists of only 18 coins – 12 business strikes and 6 proofs.  Seventeen of those 18 coins were produced in the millions, and the rarest of the bunch, the 1999-P proof, at 750,000 struck, isn’t particularly rare, with examples often selling for as little as $30 or so.

Yes, some PCGS certified examples of some of the dates can sell for $3000 or so, if you’re the type of collector who must have the best example out there.  For the majority of us, for whom a simple uncirculated example is good enough, there are many examples of all 18 of those dates and mint marks out there.  That means that it’s relatively easy to put together a complete uncirculated set, and you can do it for only a few hundred dollars.

You can often find complete sets for sale, but building one from scratch might be a bit more work.  Not because the coins are rare, but because so few dealers bother to stock them due to lack of demand.  That means that you will still get the thrill of the hunt as you track down some of the harder to find dates, such as the 1981-S, which was struck only for collectors.

Coin collectors who aren’t millionaires rarely have an opportunity to put together a complete set of any coin in uncirculated condition.  If you want to do that and declare victory at least once, the Susan B. Anthony dollar presents a great opportunity to do so.

Where Coins and Watches Meet – The Corum Coin Watch

$20 gold coin watchCoins and watches might seem like two completely separate hobbies, and two hobbies that would not likely intersect with one another.  For the most part, that’s true, but there is at least one place where the two hobbies do meet – the coin watch.

First produced by Swiss watchmaker Corum in 1965, the coin watch is a rather unique piece of horology.

The watchmaker developed a patented process in 1964 for slicing a $20 U.S. gold coin in half.  The resulting watch was made with an ultra-thin automatic mechanical movement.

The reverse of the coin became the face of the watch, with the obverse being visible on the back side of the watch case.  As an added touch, the edge of the watch case was given a reeded edge in order to further simulate the appearance of a coin.

The 34 mm size of that particular coin made it well suited to being used for a watch, though an American law in place at the time made it illegal to “deface” U.S. currency.  Nevertheless, the watch was issued, and Corum continues to make them to this day, though most current issues use more modern currency (including denominations from other countries.)

Current examples of the watch use quartz movements, which are far easier to build to the requirements of the watch, as the coin itself adds quite a bit of thickness to the watch.  By using a quartz movement, rather than a mechanical one, Corum is able to prevent the watch from becoming either overly thick or overly heavy, though it’s pretty heavy anyway, due to the presence of nearly an ounce of gold.

I’m not sure how much the watches sold for in 1965, but original examples are frequently seen for sale in the $10,000-$15,000 range.  It’s also worth noting that Corum used this format for a pocket watch, as well, though the coin pocket watches are quite rare.

Corum isn’t the only company to make a coin watch, though they appear to have been the first.  Shinola, a company based in Detroit, Michigan, has also started to make them, as well.  These mainly use a U.S. 25¢ piece that is inset in a square case.  The watches are built in the United States using Swiss-made parts, and are far more affordable than the Corum models, as they do not have an ounce of gold in them.  The Shinola models are priced at roughly $1200, though prices vary slightly by model.

Coin collectors likely (and rightly, I might add) frown on defacing gold coins to use them as watches, and that’s easy to understand, since most American gold coins were melted down in the mid-1930s as the United States had gone off of the gold standard and had revoked the legal tender status of gold coins by that time.  Citizens were required to turn over their gold coins for other forms of currency, though collectors were allowed to keep them.

Since millions of gold coins were melted down, nice examples are rare and expensive today and those that have been turned into wristwatches have only contributed to their rarity.  Still, a $20 gold coin does make for an interesting watch.

Ugly Pocket Watch sells for $85,000

al capone watchSometimes, when something sells for a lot of money at an auction, you look at it and say, “Yeah – I get it.  That’s a lot of money, but the item is pretty cool.”

A good example of that would be the recent sale of Babe Ruth’s 1927 World Series ring, which sold for $2.1 million in a recent auction.  Granted, the 1927 New York Yankees are regarded as one of the greatest and best-known baseball teams of all time and the ring was also being sold by actor Charlie Sheen, who is himself famous.

That’s a lot of provenance, and the ring itself is a nice looking piece of jewelry.  So when someone paid $2.1 million for it, most people probably saw that value in that, even though it was a tremendous amount of money.

On the other hand, the recent sale of a pocket watch that belonged to legendary gangster Al Capone sort of falls into another category.  Sure, Al Capone is one of the most famous criminals of all time, and he’s famous for his years of crime, his incredibly lavish lifestyle, and the fact that he managed to avoid being jailed for his crimes for years before finally being imprisoned for tax evasion.

The watch sold for $84,375 at an auction of crime and police-related memorabilia called the Gangsters, Outlaws and Lawmen, held recently in Massachusetts.

To read the description, the watch certainly sounds impressive.  It has an odd triangular shape and a platinum case, accompanied by a platinum chain.  The watch was made by the Illinois Watch Company, which certainly isn’t a household name, but one which apparently had a solid reputation back in the day (the company’s remains are now owned by the Swatch Group.)

The bezel of the watch was set with 72 cut diamonds and a platinum dial with gold-toned numerals and watch hands.

23 cut diamonds were used on the back to form the initials “AC”, and those were surrounded by an additional 26 diamonds.

So the watch is platinum and gold and it has a lot of diamonds on it, and it was owned by one of the most famous, if not the most famous gangster in the era of well-known gangsters.

It’s still an ugly watch.

Now perhaps the watch hasn’t been cleaned up and was being sold “as is.”  It’s possible that it might, as they say, “clean up nicely” and make an attractive presentation piece if given some TLC by a reputable jeweler.

It’s also possible that Al Capone had lousy taste and just asked the Illinois Watch Company to build a tacky-looking watch for him.  It’s really hard to say.

It doesn’t really matter, anyway.  The watch was undoubtedly purchased by someone who was interested in the item as an example of something owned by a major crime figure.  It almost certainly was not purchased by someone who is a collector of watches.

The watch was offered for sale by a grandson of Capone, and accompanied by a letter of provenance, which said:

“Shortly after the passing of Albert Francis ‘Sonny’ Capone, his daughter, Barbara Prince, nee Capone, a resident of California, delivered the watch described below to me, along with other personal property that at one time was the personal property of my great grandfather, Alphonse G. Capone.”

An interesting piece, to be sure, but not necessarily one that will appeal to everyone’s taste.