A Coin With a “P” Mint Mark

2017 P Penny
2017 P Penny

Each of the mints that produce U.S. coins have long put a letter, or mint mark, on their coins to indicate to the public and to collectors where those particular coins were made.

While current production comes from three mints – Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Denver, and West Point there were previously minting facilities in:

  • Carson City, Nevada
  • Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Dahlonega, Georgia
  • New Orleans, Louisiana

All of these locations have always used mint marks on their coins, though the Philadelphia mint traditionally did not.  Collectors generally knew that any coins that did not have a mint mark were produced at the Philadelphia mint.  An exception was Jefferson nickels produced there from 1942-1945; those did have a fairly large “P” on the reverse side of the coin.  Another exception was the 1979 Susan B. Anthony Dollar.

Since 1980, coins produced at the Philadelphia mint have had a “P” mint mark, with the odd exception of the penny.  For whatever reason, that coin, and that coin alone, did not have a mark.

That’s going to change in 2017, as the Philadelphia mint is celebrating its 225th anniversary.  As part of that celebration, the mint is using the “P” mark on all of its coins, including the cent.

1944 Philadelphia nickel
1944 Philadelphia nickel

Ordinarily, collectors would rush out to buy these pennies, and chances are that many people are hoarding at least a few.  After all, the mint has announced that this is a one-off aberration, and that in 2018, we’ll likely see pennies coming from Philadelphia that lack a mint mark again.

That sounds like a great opportunity for the opportunistic, with just one problem – the 2017 pennies being produced at the Philadelphia mint aren’t rare.  In fact, they’re quite common, as the mint has produced nearly two billion of them through the end of May, 2017.  At that rate, there might be 4-5 billion of them in circulation by the end of the year.

It’s times like these that the oddities may turn up.  Perhaps the mint has (or will) accidentally produce a few cents that lack a mint mark.  In this case, as with the 1944 steel penny, it’s the exception that generates the appeal among collectors.


Watch Cases are Getting Interesting

carbon fiber watch case
Carbon fiber case on a Rolex

When it comes to collecting watches, most people are interested in what the watch does.  A lot of attention is paid to the movements of watches, and that’s not surprising, really.  The movement is the part of the watch that tells time, after all, so it’s not at all unusual for collectors to spend a lot of time focusing on the movement.

Lately, however, collectors and makers have been focusing on the watch case.

That’s a bit strange, at least to the layman.  The case is just the part of the watch that holds the movement, right?  Why would anyone care about the case?

For years, few people did care about the case; and watch cases were usually made from stainless steel.  Stainless steel is durable, rust resistant and relatively inexpensive.  For more expensive watches, that stainless steel might get swapped out for gold or platinum, though both would have to be used in alloys, as both are too soft to use as a watch case on their own.

That was pretty much it; you had either steel or gold.  Both had their advantages and disadvantages.  The disadvantages of steel are that it’s somewhat heavy, and not very sexy.  Who wants to pay $10,000 (or $200,000) for a watch with a steel case?

That’s why makers have recently been turning to other materials to make their watches either lighter or more exotic, both of which offer additional appeal to potential buyers.

Lots of makers are working with carbon fiber now.  It’s both ultra-strong and ultra-lightweight, though carbon fiber tends to lend itself best to use in sports watches, rather than high end luxury models.  That’s just because, for all of its merits, carbon fiber isn’t particularly attractive.  Sure, it’s light and strong, but it’s not as pretty as gold or platinum.

Along similar lines, a few watchmakers are working with ceramic.  We’re not talking about the pottery that your grandmother used to make; these ceramics are high-tech, super-strong, space age materials.  Ceramics offer many of the benefits of carbon fiber and similar drawbacks.  They look nice, but they don’t look elegant.

Hublot has experimented with using a special mix of ceramic and gold to produce a durable, super-strong, highly attractive and scratch-resistant case, and that may be the magic solution that provides the best of all possible worlds…at a price, of course.

sapphire watch case
Sapphire watch case

Hublot has also (with a few other companies) made a few watches using sapphire.  This sounds great on paper; who doesn’t like sapphire?  It’s edgy, it’s expensive-sounding (and expensive for real) and it looks really good.  The downsides are significant, however.  The material is really expensive.  The material is really difficult to work with; you can drill it for hours, be nearly done, and then have the material shatter or crack on you, forcing you to throw it all away and start over.

Perhaps the worst part about ceramic is a problem for the marketing people – the finished product often resembles clear plastic, even though the watch is priced as though it were a house.

At least one maker is simply taking stainless steel and giving it a twist.  Damascus steel is an Old World steel technique that was used to make swords 1000 years ago.  It has an interesting swirled texture to it and looks great.  On the downside, it is still steel, and the deep, dark secret is that the actual recipe for making Damascus steel was lost 150 years ago and no one really remembers how to make it.  The result now is something that looks like Damascus steel but is likely priced more like gold.

All of these things are a lot more interesting than plain old steel or plain old gold, however.  We’ll expect to see far more experimentation coming down the road with watch cases.



Coins Better Than Stocks?

http://img.mf.cz/728/495/www-aperiomarketing.net.jpgPeople collect things for all manner of reasons; there is no explaining why people collect any particular item.  With coins (or watches, for that matter) people choose to collect them because they find them interesting, but no two collectors may agree on exactly what interests them.

The scarcity?  The beauty of the piece itself?  The investment potential?

Most collectors probably don’t collect for investment reasons, but the markets for any collectible will have investors in them.  That’s just the nature of anything valuable – art, automobiles, wine, watches, coins, stamps – you name it.  Over time, rarities in all of these fields have gone up in value, and when this happens, people notice.

When people notice, investors get involved.  Collectors tend not to like that, as the presence of investors in any hobby will necessarily drive the prices up.

One may expect that to get even worse in the coin field, as the Economist recently published an article pointing out that over the past en years, investments in coins were up nearly 200% (195%, to be exact.)  This compares to smaller, but still substantial, returns for art (139%,) stamps (133%,) and the S&P 500 stock market (a mere 58%.)

If you’ve invested in furniture, you likely lost money, as furniture was down 31% during the past decade.

The problem with investing in collectible items is that they’re not entirely liquid.  Bulk gold or silver coins, purchased for their bullion value, rather than their date, condition, or mint mark, may be relatively liquid, but rare coins purchased for date, mint or condition are not overly easy to part with in a pinch.

You’ll have to sell them to a dealer at a discount, sell them on sites such as eBay (and give them 10%), or sell them at auction.  There, the buyer will pay the premium, but these things all take time, making even coins, which represent actual money, surprisingly illiquid.

They’re more liquid than paintings or furniture, to be sure, but getting rid of a collection of rare coins is going to be more time consuming and more costly than selling stocks, even if you did make more than three times as much money on them.

$10 gold pieceWhat collectors don’t like about investors in their hobby is that the investors don’t particularly have any interest in what they’re buying.  They’re buying a widget, and they expect that widget to become more valuable with time.  They don’t care what the widget happens to be, where it came from, what it looks like or what kind of condition it may be in.  All they want is to be able to sell it for more money tomorrow than they paid for it today.

Collectors, on the other hand, tend to cherish the items in their collection.  They know the difference between one item and the next and they know why their different and why Item A might be more desirable than Item B.

They also know that Item A will likely cost them more to acquire now that investors are buying in.

This has been an issue for a long time, but if coins are returning a lot more money over time than other investments, you can rest assured that more people will be buying into rare coins in the future.

This trend isn’t entirely new, however, as this video from three years ago indicates:

Putin’s Patek Philippe for Sale?

Putin's Patek?
Putin’s Patek?

Vladimir Putin is a man who is well known to most people, and he’s certainly been in the news a lot in recent years.  What’s unusual, however, is to see him in the news in matters related to watches.

It turns out that Russia’s leader is actually a collector of fine watches and he reportedly has a collection of both size and repute.  We didn’t know this, but then again, most people who collect world-class examples of rare watches rarely make themselves known.  In fact, more often than not, when a super-rare watch comes up for auction, both the seller and the eventual buyer are usually reported to be “anonymous.”

This week, however, a site called Antiquorum has reportedly listed for an upcoming auction a watch whose owner is reportedly Vladimir Putin himself.  That might seem to be a fraud, but the watch is a rare Patek Philippe, and the company usually insists on recording the name of the buyer for their more unusual timepieces.

Furthermore, the timepiece in question is an unusually rare model, the reference 5208P grand  complication.  These watches aren’t sold to just anyone, and you likely have to be famous (or suitably wealthy) to the extent of a Vladimir Putin to even be permitted to buy one in the first place.

It’s a lovely watch that cost roughly $1 million new, and it features:

  • A platinum case measuring 42mm
  • Black leather alligator strap
  • Self-winding automatic model
  • Minute repeater
  • Mono-pusher chronograph
  • Minute repeater with two gongs
  • Chronograph has 60 minute and 12 hour counters
  • Moon phases
  • Instantaneous perpetual calendar with day, date, month, leap year and day/night indicator

This is a nice watch, and as we pointed out, it sells for roughly $1 million when new.  Obviously, it’s a used example of a watch that is currently available if you have the money and are well-known enough to have the company sell one to you.  On the other hand, the current owner is a well known celebrity (or despot, depending on your point of view) and that alone could dramatically affect the sales price when the watch is sold in July.

Part of the question for all potential bidders is this one – Is this actually Putin’s watch?  At the moment, there is not a lot of indication on the auction company’s site about this, but perhaps at some point in the future they will offer something in the way of provenance to indicate whether this watch belongs to the Vladimir Putin, someone else by that name, or someone who simply used that name to register the watch when they initially purchased it.

Watches that belong to famous people have often sold for tremendous amounts of money, so it’s likely that a lot of eyes will be on this one.

Regardless of ownership or provenance, this Patek Philippe is a beautiful watch with an incredible number of complications and not one that is often seen for sale anywhere.   One can rest assured that there will be plenty of bidding and the off-chance that it might be previously owned by the Russian leader will certainly keep both interest and bids high.