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Posts from the ‘Coins’ Category

New Dutch Architecture Five (5) Euro Coin, Programmed in Python

Yes, I said Python.

First, special hat tip to Mario Sundar for finding this lead.  Mario is not a coin collector, but he reads my blog often enough to know that I have a special interest in coins.  This one is a beauty, since it combines creative visualization with a unique engineering tale.

Here is the coin design:

dutch_coin_design

Here is a brief description, from the Dutch Mint website, on the coin design:

A new 5 euro commemorative coin pays tribute to the history of Dutch architecture. Both our historical architecture as well as our innovative conceptual architecture and modern design are popular across the globe.

The Architecture five-euro coin was designed by artist Stani Michiels (b. 1973). The design on the obverse of the coin pays tribute to the history of Dutch architecture, with the portrait of Queen Beatrix being distinctively constructed using the names of important architects from Dutch history. The artist used the internet as a popularity-meter to determine the names’ order of appearance.

The reverse of the Architecture five-euro coin draws attention to the striking fact that many Dutch architects have also included publishing books on architecture in their professional activities. To illustrate this phenomenon, recent books on architecture rise up from the sides of the coin like buildings. Through their careful placement they combine to outline the Netherlands, while birds’ silhouettes suggest the capitals of all the provinces.

This blog post, however, from the designer, is where the real beauty lies.  It’s too long to reproduce here, but it goes into significant depth about the design inspiration, concepts, and visualization at work.  If you have a background in design, you will appreciate it.

Here is the summary from the post, and I think you’ll see why this contest winner gets substantial geek cred, as he goes into detail about the technology used in the coin design:

The whole design was done for 100% with free software. The biggest part consists of custom software in Python, of course within the SPE editor. For the visual power I used PIL and pyCairo. From time to time also Gimp, Inkscape and Phatch helped quite a bit. All the developing and processing was done on GNU/Linux machines which were running Ubuntu/Debian. In the end I had to collaborate closely on location together with the technicians of the Royal Dutch Mint (coin factory). So all the last bits were done on my Asus Eee PC. (I am still wondering why Asus doesn’t offer Ubuntu on its netbooks.) The Eee laptop took a bit longer (30 seconds instead of 3 seconds to generate a whole coin), but did the job just fine. For looking up the number of hits on the internet, I rediscovered Yahoo, which provides a much better api for automatic querying than its competitors. Of course the jury judged only the design and not the software used as others used Maya, Illustrator, …

And the winner is…
I am proud to announce that I won the competition! So soon 350.000 Dutch people will use the fruits of free software. I would have loved to release the coin under the GPL, which could maybe solve the financial crisis. However for obvious reasons I was not allowed to do that. There will be also special editions for collectors which can be bought world wide: a massive silver edition for € 30,95 and a massive gold edition for € 194,95. They will be probably sold out quickly as these are real collectors items. The coin is released in all Dutch post offices to the public the same day as the Intrepid Ibex: 30th October 2008.

You can purchase the coin here at the Royal Dutch Mint.  They seem to still have the gold version available, but no sign of the silver version.  Maybe it sold out?  If you find it, please comment here with a link.

Two More First Spouse Coins for Sale

As I wrote last week, I’m saying goodbye to my First Spouse coins.  I’m moving through the series step by step.

The first coin sold for about 10% over the original purchase price last year.  Since that’s roughly the cost of eBay & PayPal fees, let’s just say that owning the coin did no damage financially.

This week, I have both Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson’s Liberty up for sale.

Bidding is on eBay all through the week.

Enjoy.

2009 Presidential Dollar Series: Worst Ever?

The 2009 Presidential dollars are coming… and it’s shocking how uninteresting they are.

Let’s review the four Presidents that will be featured:

  • William Henry Harrison
  • John Tyler
  • James K. Polk
  • Zachary Taylor

I’m guessing the US Mint is already stockpiling coins to get ready for the stampede of demand.  :)

Actually, my guess is that given the waning interest in the series, we might actually be in the realm of coins that, 30 years from now, will be very hard to find.  Remember that, paradoxically, the least interesting coins generally end up with the lowest mintage and availability, and hence, the most value long term.

That assumes, of course, that there will be demand in the future to collect the series.  I’m not sold on that fact at this point, although the historical interest in the Presidents and the relatively low cost of the coins gives at least some hope.

In any case, if you think these four Presidents will be unpopular with collectors, can you imagine paying $2400+ for the gold First Spouse companion coins?

I thought not.

Goodbye, First Spouse Gold Coins. I’m Over You.

Just posted the first of my First Spouse gold coins on eBay

2007 First Spouse Proof Martha Washington Gold Coin

For those of you reading my blog for a long time, you know a couple things about my history with this series:

I’ve decided that this series of coins isn’t for me… it’s too much cash tied up in coins, and frankly most of the first spouses just aren’t that interesting to me.  I may buy one or two in the future (Jacqueline Kennedy?), but I’ve decided to opt out of the full series.

As a result, I’ll be selling the first five off at a rate of one a week.

I think I’m going to steer clear of the more trendy, obvious collector-bait series going forward.  Yes, Native American $1 Dollar Coins, I am talking to you.  Of course, I am a sucker for truly beautiful new efforts.

Just remember, all bids on eBay are binding.  And you must bid from a PayPal account with a confirmed address.

Why the Price of Gold is Sinking Fast

The price of gold has dropped below $700 an ounce, and that has a lot of people in the precious metals community puzzled.

After all, isn’t gold supposed to be a safe haven in times of financial depression and panic?  And if these aren’t times of financial depression and panic, what are?

After all, every country in the world is busy running their printing presses to fund bailouts and fight deflationary forces.  Gold should be on its way up, not down.

If you want to see a good article on the topic, there is some nice coverage here on Marketwatch

Gold futures hit a historic high above $1,000 an ounce a few days after Bear Stearns was taken over by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. on March 14. But in the recent round of crises triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. gold has fallen to below $700 for the first time in 13 months. The metal has so far lost nearly $170 this month.
The reason, according to analysts at the World Gold Council, is that the latest bout of the credit crisis has been deeper and more far reaching. Funds were forced to sell desired assets such as gold to meet margin calls, while weakness in European economies lifted the U.S. dollar, which then pushed dollar-denominated gold prices lower.
One of my readers commented today on a blog post I wrote back in August 2007, “The Lessons of Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) & The Volatility of August 2007″.  That article is actually some of my better commentary to date on why historical diversification of assets isn’t helping very much in this downturn.  Here’s a snippet:

This decade has seen an amazing boom in investment tolerance for non-traditonal asset classes.  People freely talk about how different new investment assets have a “low correlation” to the stock market.  Real estate, commodities, rare coins, art, collectibles, long/short funds, you name it.   As a result, across the world, trillions of dollars are now factored into different asset classes, prudently distributed to minimize risk and maximize reward.

This would all be fine except for one thing.  And it’s the one thing that more than anything led to LTCM’s demise.

That one thing is that all of these great measures of risk are based on historical records.  And as all mutual fund prospectus readers know, “past history is not necessarily indicative of future performance.”

You see, you can take two things that historically have not been correlated.  Asset A & Asset B.  But the minute that an investor owns both A & B, there is now a correlation that didn’t exist historically.  The investor is that correlation.

If Asset A goes down, and the investor needs to sell something, they may now turn to Asset B for liquidity.  And that means selling pressure for Asset B, based on nothing but the asset price of Asset A.  Voila, correlation.

Gold didn’t used to trade like a stock in an ETF that anyone could buy.  It was expensive, hard to store, and was distributed through inefficient, clumsy channels.  It was diversified from other investment classes because it couldn’t be bought & sold easily like stocks or bonds.

Now, buying a Gold ETF is trivial, and can be done for less that $10 a trade with very little spread.  In fact, many commodities can.

All of a sudden, in this market, people are realizing that the investors are the correlation.  And that correlation is much stronger than historical analysis would suggest.

Not to get to gloomy, but re-reading my August 2007 post, I caught this somber realization:

What’s worse, those historical models lead investors to believe that they have less risk on their books than they do have, which leads rational investors to introduce leverage into their portfolios.  That means when the risk shows it’s ugly head, the results get magnified by the leverage of loans.

That’s what happened to LTCM.  Their models were excellent, but they were based on historical correlation.  The minute some of their investments turned the wrong way, their incredible leverage forced pressure in previously uncorrelated investments.  What’s worse, other investors, smelling the “blood in the water”, discovered this new-found correlation, and pressed trades against them.

So, this scares me a lot, at least intellectually.  There are very good reasons why major investors like hedge funds and other asset managers can’t share their up-to-the-minute holdings.  That means, however, that no one really understands this type of “co-investment risk” that is building in mass across the markets.  Unfortunately, the only way I can imagine to properly handle this risk would be to have a universal monitoring set up to accurately reflect this new type of correlation from mass “co-investment” across assets.

Ugh.

American Buffalo, Meet the Ultra High Relief Double Eagle (2009)

I think tonight is my night to catch up on topics that I haven’t blogged about in a while.   Why not add gold coins to the list?

If you haven’t followed the news, the financial crisis has led to a significant increase in demand for gold bullion coins.  Demand has been so high, in fact, that the US Mint temporarily stopped selling the 0.9999 pure gold American Buffalo coins.  As per the US Mint press release:

Demand has exceeded supply for American Buffalo 24-Karat Gold One-Ounce Bullion Coins, and our inventories have been depleted. We are, therefore, temporarily suspending sales of these coins.

Much of this demand has now shifted to the Canadian Maple Leaf coins, which are in limited supply, but still available.

Browsing the US Mint website, I noticed the following information for the new, 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle, debuting in January.

Next January, the United States Mint will issue the 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin. This coin promises to fulfill Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ vision of an ultra high relief coin that could not be realized in 1907 with his legendary Double Eagle liberty design.

2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin Obverse
2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin Obverse

The 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin will show the Nation and the world the very best the United States Mint has to offer. The 21st century vision of the United States Mint, combined with technological advances, enabled the United States Mint to realize the previously unattainable goal of making the coin accessible to all Americans.

Through 21st century technology and the vision of Director Ed Moy, original Saint-Gaudens coin plasters were digitally mapped by the United States Mint. Using the digital design and die-making process, the Saint-Gaudens sculpture — in ultra high relief — has been updated to reflect the year 2009, an additional four stars to represent the current 50 states, and the inscription “In God We Trust,” which was not on the 1907 version.

It does look like a gorgeous coin.  But do we really need:

  • The 22K Gold Eagle, in 1/10, 1/4, 1/2, and 1 oz. varieties, in proof and uncirculated versions
  • The 24K Gold Buffalo, in 1/10, 1/4, 1/2, and 1 oz. varieties, in proof and uncirculated versions
  • The 24K Ultra High Relief Double Eagle, in 1 oz.
  • The 1/2 ounce Presidential Spouse coins, at a rate of 4 per year

The problem with collecting gold coins is that, well, they are pretty expensive.  With gold between $800 and $900 an ounce these days,  you can imagine the ongoing cost of trying to complete these series and collecting the different versions.

The new Ultra High Relief Double Eagles do look extremely interesting.  I hope to see one in person when they debut in 2009.

2009 Lincoln Cent Designs Unveiled

This past week, the US Mint published updated material on the new, 2009 Lincoln Cent program, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the coin, and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.

From the US Mint website:

In 2009, the United States Mint will mint and issue four different one-cent coins in recognition of the bicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth and the 100th anniversary of the first issuance of the Lincoln cent. The reverse (tails) designs were unveiled September 22 at a ceremony held at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. While the obverse (heads) will continue to bear the familiar likeness of President Lincoln currently on the one-cent coin, the reverse will reflect four different designs, each one representing a different aspect, or theme, of the life of President Lincoln.

The themes for the reverse designs represent the four major aspects of President Lincoln’s life, as outlined in Title III of Public Law 109-145, the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005:

The new one-cent reverse designs will be issued at approximately three-month intervals throughout 2009. The Secretary of the Treasury approved the designs for the coins after consultation with the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts, and after review by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.

For collectors, there will be a variety of coins.  You’ll likely see each of the four cents from both the Philidelphia and Denver mints (“P” and “D” mint marks).  It also looks like there will be true copper versions, with the same metal content as the original 1909 penny, from the San Francisco mint (“S” mint mark).  That’s 12 coins, at least.

For those who are interested, here are the four designs:

I don’t expect a lot of collector activity, largely because of the low nominal value of the coin.  Since there are always active movements to get rid of the penny, this might turn out to be the last hurrah for the one cent piece.

I wonder what the US Mint will charge for a roll of these pennies?

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