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

45th President's letter by Chris Pilliod

This is my 45th letter as president.
I received a lot of positive comments on my last president's letter as it related to some of the tales behind my Mint State Indian Cent collection. I dropped the story off with my 1878 aquisition and stated I would continue on with the later dates and the copper-nickel issues. Actually, I skipped over a couple of noteworthy issues in the early years I'd like to go back to.
Two issues deserve a shout-out from the early years. When you have a tribe of 60 or so, there is always going to be a misfit, the "stepchild." For my set, it is definitely the 1864-L. And it actually makes for an intriguing case study. It is a curious coin and deserves some amount of discussion. It is the only piece in the set with a mint-made blamish. I purchased this piece at the 1994 ANA show from a Nabraska dealer named Steve Musil, a guy with the last name of only 5 letters that I have heard pronounced about 7 different ways. Steve is a nice guy who is very sharp on a wide range of issues. He does a lot of retail business but in his case at that show was a really stunning 1864-L issue that caught my eye. He didn't have a grade on it but when I asked Steve for a price he said "did you look close at it Chris?" "Yes, I see the defect," I replied. "How's $125???" he replied. I couldn't get my money out fast enough.
As many of you advanced Indian Cent collectors have learned, the sharpest struck issues of the series are ironically the early years from 1864-L to 1872 or so. The 1864 No"L" mintages were from an entirerly different obverse hub, not only was it a NO"L," but the feathers and profile of Miss Liberty are different as well. I can't quantify the exact differences, but a veteran can spot it quickly.

About 5 years ago, I walked into a coin shop in West Chester, PA, and the dealer, who has no idea about error coinage, happened to pick up a 50% undated off-center Indian Cent in choice chocolate brown MS63. He had it labeld "Off Center" and indeed it it showed no evidence of any digits. I said to him, "it may not have a date but it is an 1864 "NO L" issue." "How do you know?" he queried.
"I can tell by the feather design." "What's different about it?" he asked. I told him I couldn't quantify it but it had a different feather design.
And only when the "with L" hub was commissioned did the strike quality really come to life in the Indian cent series. Some great strikes abound in those years. And the 1864 -L in Steve Musil's case was a textbook example of a real hammer image coupled with choice original red-brown toning. Except there was one issue. It was struck on a defective planchet. The most likely cause of the defect was slag, which is a combination of oxides, refractory, and other oxogeneous nonmetallics that naturally occur as part of the melting process. These, by nature, are less dense than the liquid metal bath and generally float to the top where a variety of technologies are employed to prevent them from getting into the finished product. Actually, the main coining alloys of the United States--gold, silver, nickel, and copper--have the right attributes and as such create very small amounts of nonmatalic by-products with traditional melting techniques. On the other hand, steel and other ferrous alloys are very difficult to keep clean due ti irons high melting point and strong affinity to react with oxygen. A 300-ton ladle of liquid steel looks like it has a half foot of lava on top, which is actually "slag" or liquid oxides.

But even copper is not immune from slag and, if it manages to get into the product, it becomes an inclusion that gets rolled into the strip. Being brittle at room temperatures, it likely fractures appart during striking leaving behind a void. In fact, I have some examples where daylight can be seen on the other side of the coin.

So follow up question begs to be asked... "why would someone as discriminating as me have a coin like this in my high-end Mint State Indian set?" My answer is a bit convoluted but I'll take a moment of your time to digress. If you include struck-throughs, laminations, and grease filled dies as mint errors, then in reality a large percentage of mint errors do not add and actually even devalue the coin. I see a lot of high grade 1887 Indian cents struck through grease, often to the point that the date is barely legible, that have no appeal to me. But on occasion, errors of this nature do not bother me, and in fact can add character or flamboyance to a piece. For some reason, that was the case with this 1864-L---I just happen to like the mint-made defect that shows so clearly on the piece. It reminds me of a famous pirate like old Bluebeard who, without a scar accross his face, would be woefully lacking in strong Character. Now, if the blemish was milk on mouth, or bad makeup, then it's ugly and detracts in Character and is of no interest to me.
Only an 1888 in my error set shows a large struck-through slag pocket.
So when it comes to minor errors, it becomes subjective and personal. Many would not care for owning the 1864-L in my set, and I'm not sure what the grading service would do with such a piece. But for me, it adds the history of the Mint, with rudimentary melting and casting technology, unable to even restrain a large chunck of slag from entering the copper ingut and eventually finding itself smack square in the middle of an 1864-L Indian centthat likely laid in someone's desk drawer since the Civil War and on after for another 100 years or so.
The 1870 and 1872 Indians in my set are also noteworthy in that they exhibit nice raw textbook woodgrain appearance. My good friend and fellow variety enthusiest, Quent Hanson, called me and mentioned he had seen an 1870 at a small show in Nabraska about 5 years ago. Quent is the nicest guy you'll ever meet in the hobby and is also very sharp on Indian cent varieties---one of the best in our club. When my three sons were older and more active Quent and I would talk by phone every week about various coin issues. After this small local show, Quent rang me up and asked if I needed an 1870 for my set. "I need an up-grade," I mentioned. And with that, Quent got the piece on memo and sent it out. It is just a textbook example of a nice untampered woodgrain Indian Cent that I wanted ti share with members.
The same goes for the 1872 in my set, an aquisition from a Haritage auction in1995 for $525. Finally, in this letter I want to wrap up by thanking Haritage. Many of you know this, but I'm sure for a few of you it hasen't dawned on you that you have not received a renewal notice for your membership. This is because of haritage Auctions' continued support of the club. Our largest club expense by far is the printing of the Ledger. Haritage, for 5 years now and counting, has been extremely generous and has taken it upon themselves to print the Ledger pro bono. So next time you run into a Haritage employee at a minor show or auction be sure to thank them graciously.

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