USA Coin Album: A Little Knowledge Can Be a Bad Thing
Posted on 7/13/2021
Longtime readers of this column know that I’m a collector and researcher of vintage coin holders. I’ve written a series of books on this subject, and my latest volume covers the folders and albums published by Whitman from 1940 through 1978.
One of the things that struck me most while cataloging the many hundreds of varieties found in Whitman’s line of blue coin folders is how much incorrect information they included in their early editions. Whitman’s coin products were under the supervision of Richard Sperry Yeo, better known by his pen name R. S. Yeoman. Though he learned about coins while on the job, this took a few years.
All of these errors ultimately were fixed by the mid-1960s, largely as the result of the company hiring Ken Bressett in 1959 as its first real numismatist. Today, limited numbers of these early folders survive as charming collectibles, and I’d like to share a selection of some of the most amusing numismatic goofs that coin collectors had to wrestle with during the product’s infancy.
Perhaps the greatest number of errors is found in early folders for Seated Liberty dimes. For example, the Philadelphia Mint dimes dated 1842, 1843 and 1845 were represented with two openings, one each labeled CLOSE DATE and WIDE DATE. Of course, such illusions resulted from how deeply the punch was applied to the die and changed as the die underwent one or more polishings, so these variations are entirely disregarded today.
The Carson City and San Francisco dimes dated 1875 are known with their mintmarks either within or below the wreath, but during the First Edition of 1940-42 Whitman’s folder included these same varieties for 1872-S, 1876-CC and 1877-CC. The latter two were dropped later that same decade, but 1872-S retained its two openings as late as 1960.
Some varieties crept into early Whitman folders through a misunderstanding of how mintmarks were applied. For many years the folder for 1892-1903 half dollars included two openings for 1894-S labeled LOW S and HIGH S, respectively. Since mintmarks were punched into each die by hand and routinely varied in position, these varieties were quietly dropped in the mid-1950s.
Early Whitman folders for the Shield nickel series included two openings for 1866. The LARGE DATE—SMALL MOTTO variety is actually a pattern coin, while the SMALL DATE—LARGE MOTTO issue is the adopted type made in the millions. This error was fixed within just a few years.
One that lingered for more than 20 years was the true identity of the man who designed and sculpted the dimes, quarters and halves dated 1892-1916. Collectors are puzzled by 1940s coin folders titled MORGAN DIME, MORGAN QUARTER and MORGAN HALF DOLLAR. The notes found inside each folder reveal that these coins take their names from the similar silver dollars by George T. Morgan, adding that they were actually designed by James E. Barber. Only gradually during the 1950s-60 was “James” corrected to read “Charles,” and it was not until the Eighth Edition in 1967 that the folders were finally titled “BARBER or LIBERTY HEAD.”
When Whitman added line illustrations of the coin type to each folder’s end flap for the Third Edition in 1959, a number of embarrassing errors resulted from the adaptation of existing drawings as needed. For example, an illustration of the Mature Head large cent type coined 1843-57 was dated 1826, because that was the starting date of the folder! Not wanting to create a second illustration of the Liberty Seated dime, the company adapted a Stars Obverse dime to read 1863-S, the starting date of that folder!
One last error is not really Whitman’s fault, but it does recall an amusing situation for this writer. I began collecting coins as a child in 1965, and at that time nearly all of my knowledge of coins came from my Whitman folders. As it developed, mintmarks were dropped that year and not restored until 1968, but I was blissfully unaware of these developments. My folders, printed in 1963-64, included openings dated 1965-D and 1966-D, as the company always added a few extra years as a courtesy to buyers. I searched in vain for such coins as late as 1968, when I was gifted a new Red Book that finally revealed the truth.
David W. Lange's column, “USA Coin Album,” appears monthly in The Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.
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