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Fly-In Club's President's Letter
by Chris Pilliod

44th President's letter by Chris Pilliod

This is my 44th letter as president. The weather is turning autumnal and the office where I sit is now cool again. While I sit over the Keyboard, I am thinking about all the different aspects of the hobby we all enjoy. Some of the areas I truly enjoy include the history of United States coinage but also, being an engineer, I relish understanding the details of coin and die making, error coinage and varieties.
One area of my Indian cent collecting that often gets short shrifted is my assemblage of high-grade pieces I have pieced together over the last three decades. Well before the Fly-In club got started, I began seeking out nice original choice Flying Eagles and Indian cents, mostly in MS64, with a few better than this. No full reds, nothing jaw dropping like that or even remotly close; but just really choice original red-browns or, for that matter, even straight brown issues. My goal was simple, I was not going to spend over a $1000 for any single piece except the 1877 and the 1856 Flying Eagle. Over the years it has been tempting, but so far I have met my criteria. Sometimes, years can go by without a single additionto the collection. But over this past year, I was able to add several examples to the set, either as upgrades or examples I needed.
As we speak, my set has four empty holes, the 1856, 1864-bronze No L issue, 1868, and 1909-s. I just have not found any of these that have met my criteria. The criteria I use is like with any art, subjective and includes "eye appeal," "well struck," "fully original," "untampered," and natural wood-grain or color."

One of the most important tangential criteria is a unique look appeal. There are a ton of red-brown mint state examples out there, but not many differentiate themselves from the heard. I like examles that are "different."
I have even gone so far as to establish a "star system," from 0 to 5 stars for each of these categories, and then an overall coin rating which is a summary of each factor. Over the years, I kept fastidious notes of each piece in an Excell spreadsheet that I would print out and carry to shows. In addition, after the "overall" rating, I went so far as to insert a column for asking the question "was the coin upgradeable?" Here I would place a "y" or "N" if an upgrade was realistically possible.
Continuing on with the criteria I mentioned above, while all are important, I have the softest spot for originality and "Eye appeal." Naturally, everyone's eye appeal is different, some like Renoir; others like Picasso. Some people get googly-eyed over these modern-art sculptures everywhere. To me, I've seen better modern-art inside the scrapyard here at the steel mill (I actually think thats where some of it comes from). But as mentioned, for me and Indian cents, it is a unique look, a different look. And what fits this bill is a wildly raw woodgrained appearance when you can find it, most often it's found in the 1860's and 1870's. In addition, I am not sure how many others know or even care about it, but I love the look of an old truly mint state Indian cent that has one side exhibiting a totally different look than the other.
Both sides must be fully original. But it's a coin that says to me, "I have literally been laying in the same exact spot since the day I was struck. I was in a drawer somewhere in an Iowa farmhouse or log cabin in Kentucky; and for years have been tucked away, just laying on asheet of paper or wood, toning my back a deep mahogany-blue and my obverse a red-brown." Man do I dig That! I have a few like that but I'd love the entire set that way. There was a great example of just this coin, an 1866 in this year's FUN auction that I chased to about $1400, well over my top-line criteria, but it was a jawdropper! Had it been a hole-filler and not an upgrade, I would have chased it further. To me, these original two-sided toned Indian cents possess far greater eye-appeal than full red examples, and i would pay accordingly.
Early on in the edevor, I dusted off a Capital Plastics holder I found laying around to house my collection, which meant those coins I purchased in a slab now had to be cracked out. This caused me no pause, no bother, nor any hesitation. I am very comfortable grading the issues myself and having a slab meant nothing since I wasn't about to sell them. Like Vern Sebby tought me, "the coin is what the coin is." Plus, if needed, I was confident they would get back into a holder of similar or better grade.
Here's an interesting story about the Capital Plastics holder itself. I'm not exactly sure how it happened but at one point in time, I took it appart, and for the life of me I could not get all of the holes to realign perfectly. I had that plastic sheet flipping this way and that way and then inverted and inside-out but, dadgummit, I never did get it to fit. I am not sure what I did. maybe I got a cover mixed with another series from my SBD. So for years, I kept them in the holder with several of the plastic screws missing. But after a while, it got to bothering me too much and I had to make a decision, take them all out and redrill the thing or just buy a new Capital holder. Neither idea appealed to me because I didn't want to handle each of the coins, even with gloves. Plus, some of the coins were a very tight fit just to squeeze them in the hole and I didn't want to go through that again. So I did what maybe a first in numismatics, I bought a set of nice clamps with soft ends, clamped the holder with all coins in place, got a sharp 1/4" drill bit and re-holed all the misaligned eyes! Don't forget the 1877 is on the very edge of a Capital Plastics holder. But, no sweat, it all went well.
Many of the coins in the set truly told a story of very personal numismatic interest. There is a great looking 1864-L, wondrously struck with gorgeous original red-brown woodgrain that I purchased from Steve Musil years ago when we were each slimmer. He hadn't been able to sell it because it was struck on a slaggy planchet. But the way I look at it is, that's how it was made at the Mint, so unless the planchet dominates the appeal of the coin, I really don't care.

Do you love a child less because of a birth mark??? Of course not. Do you love a child less because of a tattoo??? Well, yes maybe. For me, it was a great coin for $150. Also in the set there are a few "lessons learned." I paid strong for an 1866 Indian in a major auction because it looked gorgeous on the internet photo, but the scan was deceiving and the coin was a disappointment. Lesson learned: Don't buy expensive coins sight-unseen.
And missing in the set are a few personal regrets, as we probably all have in the hobby. I regret the coins I bought that were "mistakes" less than ones I let get away or the choice ones I sold. And no pain of this kind comes to mind any sharper than an 1871 I passed up on at the FUN show many years ago. A Michigan dealer had just bought a large hoard of 1872 Indian cents. I guessed they were all from the Carl Herkowitz collection, who was particularly fond of 1872. They were all now housed in PCGS holders. It was the first table I visited during dealer setup, so I wasn't shopping eagerly yet. Futhermore, by then a I had a drop-dead gorgeous 1872 in my collection, one of the first pieces I aquired, and a BOLD capitalized "N" under "upgradeable ?" in my spreadsheet.
Still, I searched the 1872's for any varieties but found none. I was about to leave when I noticed at the bottom of the tray a stunning 1871 in a PCGS MS64 BN holder. And, man oh man, did it fit the bill of what I discussed above, great power, fully struck and fully original. The obverse was a woodgrain blue and red and the reverse was an even redish brown. I surmised this piece had laid on its obverse on a sheet of paper or wood shortly after it was struck for a very, very, very long time to aquire its exquisitness.
I asked for a price and the dealer was somewhere between 63 and 64 money, as I recall $725, and I made a note about it in my folder to study it. Why I didn't gobble it up was something I've kicked myself for a very long time because when I did go back, of course it was gone. The dealer said he sold it to someone who was "gonna doctor it up to get in a 66 holder." That made me even more upset, why would anyone even think about touching such a coin and ruining its story??? The coin had a very distinctive feature I still recall after all these years, just in case you own it or run into it. It had a very small flake of the planchet in the field just below the bottom feather that had fallen off, a small cavity just the size of a pinhead or so. After years of grueling searching, I failed to find an 1871 anywhere near as choice, a real numismatic haunting. But I'm glad to report that I can now share that my hunt for the 1871 has had a happy ending. Every summer, my family takes a 4th of July vacation in Michigan at a cottage my father purchased in 1961 as a weekend getaway from where I grew up in Ohio.This summer, we left at 5 a.m. from Reading, PA to head to the cottage. We took two vehicles to have a needed spare while there. After lunch in Toledo, I headed off to my hometown of Swanton, Ohio to see my dad, but not whithout stopping to see my friend Clyde Englehard, at the Toledo Coin Exchange. I walked through the shop's doors at 2:45 p.m. not realizing they were closing at 3:00 p.m. in honor of the holiday. Steve, his co-worker, hurriedly showed me a box or two of coins. I pulled out a few ho-hummers, the best of which was an 1841 half dime that was bent but in XF condition for $8.00 ( which would get the hammer treatment ). Then as I was about to leave, I notice in a case all by itself an 1871 Indian cent raw in a flip labled MS60. So I politely asked, "Steve, can I have a look at that before you close shop?" They had it net graded MS60 because the reverse had a few spots of verdigris and corrosion, but other than that, it was a jawdropper! It was not quite as nice of a strike as the FUN show piece, but close.
"How much?" I queried. They pulled out a grey sheet and said, "How about $400?" I couldn't get my money out quickly enough. The only problem was we were just on the way to a beautiful Devil's Lake vacation so it would be at least two weeks until I got to my repertoire of chemicals, which for me is as much fun as the hunt itself. But I have to warn you, if I were to fess up, I've made a mess of some coins, and other have come out wondrously. But like anything over time, my batting average continues to improve.
Earlier this year, my employer Carpenter Technology, purchased another steel making facility in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. I was quickly assigned a product line I was familiar with to help develop a procedure in Latrobe. Well, Latrobe happens to be situated almost exactly halfway between our vacation cottage in Michigan and our home in Reading, PA. So to extend the vacation another day, I arranged for a meeting in Latrobe on my way back from Michigan and, after the two weeks of vacation had expired, I headed to Latrobe for the meeting and a stayover. You're probably asking "What the heck does this have to do with the 1871 Indian Story????"
Well, the second night of my Latrobe stay I went out to dinner at my favorite restaurant in Ligonier, a town just east of Latrobe. I even gave a speech about the restaurant at our Toastmasters club because I liked it so much. I've gotten to know the proprietress and her husband and even bought $7000 of silver from her dads's estate a few years back. But I digress! That night, I bellied up to the bar to chat with Alexa and when it came time to be seated, she leaned over to me and whispered, "do you want to want to sit next to Arnie?"
You see, Arnold is a local native and patronizes the restaurant on occasion. "Sure", I replied and she gave me a seat next to Arnie. He was very gracious and we talked baseball and the Pirates, a little golf. When we got up to leave, it dawned on me to ask for an autograph. In a hurry to catch up with him I grabbed the only thing in my pocket, which was a Toledo bank envelope in which Clyde had put the flip with the 1871 Indian. That evening, I brought it to dinner to Study it closer.

Arnie responded by saying he'd be glad to offer an autograph and pulled out a black Sharpie and eloquently signed the bank envelope with the 1871 Indian cent inside. Even at the ripe old age of 82, Arnold Palmer still possesses a strong right hand, and as he was signing the envelope, I was a bit worried what was happening to the 1871 cent under his paw. Afew days later, the coin was curated and, Wowser! What a beauty! It was not quite as nice as the one I passed on, but very close.
Then there was the 1878 in my collection. By 1991, I had gotten to be good friends with Bill Weikel, a dealer in Kentucky. Bill is a rare breed, a coin dealer with a personality. But every dealer in Indian cents I know seems to have a great one at that. He was walking back from Heritage auction at the Chicago ANA venue and pulled an auction lot

out of his shirt pocket. As he handed it over, I still to this day, remember what he said: "Everyone must have fallen to sleep on this one." And with that he handed me a stunning raw 1878 Indian cent with superb strike and wonderful original woodgrain toning on each side. " I just paid $220 for it.....want it for $250?" he asked. And without hesitation I bought it. For many years, it was the crown jewel of my collection, so much so that, whenever I shared the set with numismatic colleagues, they would invariably ask how much I wanted for the piece. "Not for sale" I would always reply. But over the years one doctor friend in particular would keep tweaking me about the piece.While my mother was deying of cancer in 2000, he was of particular comfort, so as quid-pro-quo I finally parted with the piece. Needless to say, I have never since found as nice of an example. A good lesson in collecting; you always kick yourself a ton more over the nice coins you sell and the nice coins you pass on, rather than the mistakes you buy.
Earlier this year, I had just purchased coins for two holes in the set from this year's FUN show, it was a rare event to fill two holes in the set. I also reviewed my spreadsheet and observed that I had deemed 36% of the collection as" upgradeable." Then this past May, my oldest son matriculated into college at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Being an alum myself, I was actually very proud that he would be a legacy freshman. While we strolled the campus during a Spring overnight visit in April, he asked me how much had the campus changed since I was a student there in the late 1970's. "About $50,000 per year is how much," I quickly replied. Not long after this campus visit, a true miracle took place in my Indian cent MS64 set, one that will go down in the annals of numismatic lore. Without upgrading a single piece in the collection, the "36% upgradeable" in the set went down to 5%. That miracle coincided within minutes of the time we hit the "I Agree" button and established a payment plan for the university.
I'm sure you are wondering about the 1877 in my collection. It is a real stunner, and unusual in that it was purchased raw not that many years ago. In fact, I bought the specimen literally just a few months before the CDN sheets started skyrocketing for the issue. I was at the GSNA show in New Jersey in May 2004 and was literally walking out of the show to head to our car with another collector from Reading, PA. That's when John Bachman yelled accross the aisle at me, "Hey Chris, I have a coin for you to look at." He handed over to me a raw but stunning 1877 with gorgeous red brown original toning. Not only that, but it was a hammer strike with full tips on each feather, something unusual on 1877's. " A few guys have told me it was counterfeit and I wanted to get your opinion."
I studied it closely and deemed it genuine. What had fooled the other observers was the fact that the reverse N's were bold, not shallow, a diagnostic of only Proof issues. But the great thing about this piece was that it had all the sharp details of a proof issue but with little of a proof look. It had the fields of a business strike. It may have been a piece struck very late in the life of a proof die, or more likely the planchet received an inadequate or perhaps no polishing at all. In addition it was well documented that proof dies were at times employed to strike business issues.
"How much do you need?" I asked. John replied, "I just paid $2800....give me $3000." I couldn't write the check fast enough. The piece would likely holder as a PF65RB example, not because it is truly a Proof, but NGC and PCGS automatically issue Proof designations to all 1877's with Bold N reverses. But in my set, the 1877 looks like a business strike. I also keep track of from whom I've made purchases, and John Bachman and Rick Snow lead in my set with three examples each. Many years are difficult to find well struck. Many Type II issues, especially 1866 through 1893, are elusive in well struck specimens. The hub did not have as crisp of a design as Type I, and it has always been a mystery to me asto why they retired the TypeI hubs when 1885 and 1886 Type I Indian cents are often so crisp.
Other years come in a wide range of strikes, like 1879 through 1884. You can find these issues with absolutly hammered strikes, and others with a very mushy appearance. Here, I believe most dies were initially hubbed sharply and crisply but were metallurgically inferior and wore out very quickly upon service. This may have been due to the composition of the steels in use, or more likely a result of improper heat treatment of the dies that rendered the surfaces softer thah standard. In the next issue, I will share some more of my adventures from this set for the years after 1878, as well as take you back into some of the choice copper-nickel pieces I have aquired.

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