Here is a spread of early 20th century silver piastre trade coins from the colony of French Indo-China. Prices for these silver trade dollars, and others like them, have steadily risen over the past 10 years - particularly for problem free specimens in good condition.
In 1865 U.S. journalist Horace Greeley popularized the rallying cry "Go west, young man". The phrase was originally meant to encourage the enterprising and ambitious to strike out for fortune in the rugged expanses of the Western United States. And yet, if you travel far enough west, you inevitably find yourself in the exotic and mysterious Far East.
In the 19th century, China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia were not only sources of exotic philosophies and bizarre plants and animals, but also luxury goods of all descriptions. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the unfamiliar, yet beguiling, cultures of the Far East fascinated the West. Antique silver trade dollars - large coins minted to promote commerce in the region - perfectly exemplified this Western obsession with all things East Asian.
During the mid 19th century European trade with the Far East grew dramatically. Europe imported massive quantities of Chinese silk, porcelain and tea, along with many other East Asian luxury goods. However, the merchants of the Far East - and China in particular - would only accept silver bullion in exchange for their wares.
As the 19th century progressed and the European powers established colonial territories in East Asia, the need for standardized silver trade coins to facilitate commerce became acute. As a result, the greatest empires and nations of the age - France, Great Britain, Japan and the U.S. - all minted impressively heavy silver trade dollars for exclusive use in the distant Far East trade.
Although I use the phrase "silver trade dollars" as a catchall term in this guide, calling these coins silver trade crowns would be more technically accurate. A "crown" in coin collecting traditionally referred to an old British 5 shilling silver coin. However, the term has also been adopted by the collecting community to refer to any silver coin that is similarly large in size.
Foreign silver crowns are avidly sought by coin collectors due to their imposing dimensions and captivating designs. Silver trade dollars of the Far East are no exception to this rule. With diameters generally varying between 38 and 39 millimeters (1.5 to 1.54 inches), they are similar in size to the venerable U.S. silver dollar.
In addition, these East Asian trade coins were struck from high purity, 900 fine (90%) silver. They were among the largest, most splendid coins ever intended for general circulation. Nothing impresses a potential trade partner like a massive hunk of almost pure silver.
Tragically, these historic silver trade dollars were usually treated as common bullion. Although originally minted by the tens of millions, over the decades vast quantities have been damaged, excessively worn or melted down. Consequently, these artistically crafted treasures of a bygone era are not nearly as plentiful as official mintage figures would indicate, particularly for examples in better condition.
One of the most beautiful and iconic of these silver trade dollars is the French Indo-China piastre. Over a period of about 30 years in the late 19 century, France accumulated several territories that it eventually consolidated into French Indo-China. The present-day countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were all part of this colony. At the time, the French Empire was second only to the British Empire in terms of prestige.
In order to facilitate trade in French Indo-China, France introduced a new currency unit called the piastre de commerce. The piastre was minted to a standard of 24.49 grams (0.7875 troy ounces) of pure silver. The series ran from 1885 to 1928 and featured the personification of Liberty seated on the front.
The figure of seated Liberty on the coin looks uncannily like the Statue of Liberty in New York City's harbor. This isn't just a coincidence. France gave the famous landmark to the United States in 1886 as a gift for its (belated) 100th anniversary. The reverse has a simple, yet elegant, wreath surrounded by a legend with the coin's weight and fineness.
In 1895 the weight of the French Indo-China piastre was slightly reduced to 24.30 grams (0.7812 troy ounces) of fine silver. However, the purity and design of the coin was left unaltered. The French Indo-China piastre was minted primarily in Paris, but coins dated 1921 and 1922 were struck in Birmingham, Osaka or Hanoi.
French Indo-China Silver Piastre Coins For Sale
Another silver trade dollar that is extremely popular with collectors today is the British trade dollar. In the early 1890s, the British began looking for a new currency to promote commerce with China, as well as Britain's expansive East Asian possessions. As a result, the British trade dollar was minted from 1895 to 1935. This coveted coin saw heavy circulation in Burma, British Malaya, British Borneo, Singapore and Hong Kong.
This attractive silver trade dollar shows Britannia - the personification of the mighty British Empire - standing proudly with her trident and shield on the obverse while the reverse displays the denomination in both the Chinese and Malay languages. The British trade dollar contained 24.26 grams (0.7800 troy ounces) of fine silver and was minted in both Bombay (present day Mumbai) and Calcutta (present day Kolkata).
British Silver Trade Dollars For Sale
The Japanese also felt the need to maintain their commercial interests by striking a silver trade dollar. In 1897 Japan pulled over 20 million of its silver one yen coins from circulation and countermarked them with the Japanese word "gin" or silver. These demonetized coins were then exported as bullion pieces to the Imperial Japanese possessions of Taiwan, Korea and Manchuria. The "gin" countermark denoting these as special trade pieces was stamped on the reverse of the coins, to either the left of the denomination (indicating the Osaka mint) or the right (indicating the Tokyo mint).
The Japanese silver one yen coin contained 24.26 grams (0.7800 troy ounces) of fine silver and was struck from 1874 to 1897. It featured an Asian-style dragon on the obverse and the stately Japanese imperial crest, along with a wreath and the denomination on the reverse. These remarkable Japanese silver trade dollars were a far cry from the feudal-style, "samurai money" the Tokugawa shogunate had struck just a few decades before.
Japanese Countermarked Silver One Yen Coins For Sale
Not to be outdone by its trade rivals, the United States also minted an East Asian silver trade dollar that is extremely popular with collectors today. But this silver trade coin had a story behind it.
In the early 1870s the United States had two problems. First, it needed to find a way to off-load massive quantities of silver that had been discovered in Nevada's famous Comstock Lode. Second, the U.S. was worried about the competitiveness of its existing silver dollar in the Far East trade versus the preeminent coin of Chinese commerce at the time, the silver Mexican 8 reales. Foreign silver coins other than the Mexican 8 reales - like the U.S. dollar - were often significantly discounted in transactions.
As a way to address both problems at once, the U.S. authorized the striking of a special, slightly heavier version of the silver dollar. This resulted in the U.S. trade dollar, a coin struck from 1873 to 1885 that was intended to circulate solely in China and the Far East. The U.S. trade dollar showed Liberty seated on the front and an eagle with wings spread on the back of the coin. The coin was struck in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Carson City (in Nevada) to a standard of 24.49 grams (0.7874 troy ounces) of pure silver.
U.S. Silver Trade Dollars For Sale
An ambitious connoisseur could assemble a very impressive traditional collection of these large, enticing silver coins by date and mint. Alternatively, one could assemble a good "short set" by acquiring a single example of each type of trade crown - a French Indo-China piastre de commerce, a British trade dollar, a "gin" countermarked Japanese yen and a U.S. trade dollar.
Another fine set would be a French Indo-China piastre from every decade of its production run - one from the 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1910s and finally the 1920s. This type of abbreviated set would work well with the British trade dollar as well.
Yet another variant would be collecting every different date of a U.S. trade dollar struck at a particular mint. A San Francisco U.S. trade dollar set would consist of six common-date coins and be eminently achievable. On the other hand, a Carson City set - although the same number of coins - would be substantially more challenging and expensive to assemble due to their lower mintages and high collector demand.
When purchasing silver trade dollars it is important to acquire coins in Very Fine (VF) or better condition. Coins in VF condition will retain most details on figures and devices, although the exact grading varies by the coin series. One potential exception to this rule is key date coins, where a lower grade may be acceptable.
For example, the 1878 Carson City U.S. trade dollar only had a mintage of 97,000 pieces. But according to U.S. mint records, 44,148 trade dollars were melted in that year. Almost all of these were undoubtedly 1878 issues from the Carson City mint. So it is likely that net issuance was only around 50,000 specimens, with many of those subsequently destroyed or heavily damaged. Therefore, unless your budget is unlimited, acquiring an 1878 Carson City trade dollar below VF condition may not only be acceptable, but your only realistic option.
The other primary consideration when choosing silver trade dollars is ensuring the coins are problem free. It is imperative to avoid pieces that are scratched, holed or damaged in any way. It is also wise to bypass coins that have been harshly cleaned at some point in their lives. A well-worn coin that is brilliantly lustrous is suspect and highly likely to have been cleaned. Instead, look for examples with original surfaces even if it means the coin is toned, dark or slightly tarnished.
Some trade pieces have chopmarks. These are Chinese characters stamped onto the coin by private Chinese banks or moneychangers to guarantee their silver content. In years past, chopmarked coins were considered damaged and thus traded at a discount to non-chopmarked examples.
However, this outdated opinion may be changing as the market for these attractive coins matures and becomes more sophisticated. At a minimum, chopmarks on a silver trade crown prove that the coin in question definitely circulated in the Far East - and more specifically the Chinese market.
With their impressive size, precious metal content and historical significance, silver trade dollars are highly desirable investments. In fact, as of early 2018, prices for these stunning coins have risen by almost 50% in just the last few years alone!
In spite of these rising prices, good examples of common date French Indo-China piastre and British silver trade dollars are still available in the $50 to $250 range. Countermarked Japanese one yen pieces run slightly more, with pricing starting at around $100. U.S. trade dollars are the most expensive of the group with common date varieties in reasonable condition trading for over $200.
Scarce or key dates of any of the series can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to several thousands of dollars, depending on condition. Key dates of the U.S. trade dollar in particular are difficult to find and correspondingly expensive. However, even an abridged set of these celebrated Far East silver trade coins would constitute a magnificent and compelling tangible asset.
It has been more than 150 years since Horace Greely's famous pronouncement to "Go west, young man". With the rise of China in the modern age, Horace Greeley's illustrious advice to seek fortune on the edges of the globe has stood the test of time. And there are few finer ways of honoring the spirit of that astute motto than by investing in the silver trade dollars of East Asia.
Here is an example of a typical vintage cigar or cheroot holder, circa late 19th or early 20th century. This specimen is either made from amber or an early plastic like Bakelite or Galalith. The original, fitted case significantly enhances the investment desirability of the piece.
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. It compels us to look fondly backward to a time in our life when things were simpler or better. Sometimes we can even be nostalgic for a time and place that we never experienced personally, like the cultural golden ages of pre-World War I Vienna or 1920s Paris. And few antiques are able to elicit nostalgia for bygone times, both experienced and imagined, like vintage cigarette holders. These luxury trappings were invariably at the fingertips of the wealthy, powerful and famous throughout the 20th century, allowing them to unapologetically smoke a cigarette and look great doing it.
A cigarette holder is a small, hollow, tubular device used as an intermediary between the smoker and his (or her) cigarette. Often made from the most precious materials available, vintage cigarette holders were objets d'art par excellence for the fashionable smoker. They embodied the highest principals of functional luxury for the liberated woman or urbane man during the first half of the 20th century.
The discerning gentleman who preferred to relax with the occasional cigar was not forgotten, however. Cigar holders, just as luxurious as their cigarette holder brethren, were also widely used from the late 19th century until the middle of the 20th century. In fact, this tobacco paraphernalia was almost a requirement in gentlemen's clubs, billiard rooms and studies - anyplace men of refinement might gather to enjoy a leisurely cigar.
These personal tobacco accessories, the cigar holder and the cigarette holder, served two main purposes. First, they prevented nicotine staining of the fingers or gloves. If the cigarette holder contained a filter, a fairly common occurrence before the advent of filtered cigarettes, it would also help minimize any staining of the teeth. Second, a cigarette holder kept second hand smoke out of its users face. This was particularly helpful in social situations, like formal dinners, high society parties or the opera.
Cigarette smoking and, by extension, the use of cigarette holders, was a quintessentially 20th century affair. At the beginning of the century, in 1900, it is estimated that only 4% or 5% of tobacco users were cigarette smokers. All the others smoked cigars, pipes or used snuff. But that statistic changed rapidly during the first decades of the new century.
Vintage Cigar & Cheroot Holders For Sale
The First World War, from 1914 to 1918, drove widespread adoption of cigarettes by men in the armed services all over the globe. Most belligerent countries during these conflicts, including Great Britain, Germany and the U.S., handed out cigarettes as part of their troops' weekly ration packages. The Second World War merely reinforced this trend, firmly establishing cigarettes as the preeminent tobacco product. These two global conflicts, perhaps more than anything else, helped popularize and normalize smoking during the 20th century.
While pipe, cigar and cigarette smoking were originally considered a distinctly masculine pastime, women's desire for liberation in the modern era led to their increased interest in smoking. Although regarded as unseemly and unladylike at the beginning of the 20th century, smoking also held an allure of illicitness via its association with jazz music, prohibition era drinking, underground gambling and even promiscuity. Indeed, it was the iconic female "flappers" of the rebellious 1920s who finally changed societal perceptions, legitimizing cigarette usage among women. Naturally, with increased smoking among women came the use of elegant and chic cigarette holders.
Smoking's popularity reached its zenith in the middle of the 20th century, from the 1940s to the 1960s. During this period, almost everyone from the humblest housewife to the most powerful politician indulged in a relaxing cigarette occasionally. And the eye-catching, portable and ever stylish cigarette holder was omnipresent.
Old Hollywood starlets, in particular, have given us countless iconic images showing bejeweled cigarette holders languorously hanging from their lips. Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Rita Hayworth were just a few of the acclaimed celebrities from Old Hollywood to smoke cigarettes, usually with a magnificent cigarette holder.
Gold Vintage Cigarette Holders For Sale
Some other famous smokers of the era were 007 creator Ian Fleming, musician Nat King Cole and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Even rebellious royalty luxuriated in smoking during this period. Great Britain's Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, was, scandalously, a smoker from her teenage years. But she often burnished her defiance through the glamorous use of high end cigarette holders.
In 1961 the celebrated movie Breakfast at Tiffany's was released. This notable film featured the famous actress Audrey Hepburn portraying Holly Golightly, a young, sophisticated New York debutante who sported a trademark long cigarette holder. This character perhaps best exemplifies the apogee of mid-century cigarette culture and its indispensible companion, the cigarette holder.
However, during the 1960s and 1970s, more and more medical evidence began to point to the dangers of smoking. The resulting decline in tobacco use was slow at first, and many beautiful and functional cigarette holders were created during this time. But, inexorably, smoking gradually became associated with cancer, emphysema and other terrible diseases. By the early 1980s, cigarette use in the West was dying, and with it the need for glamorous cigarette holders. An era had ended.
Vintage cigarette holders were made from a wide range of different materials, from the unassuming to the opulent. Amber, the fossilized resin of ancient trees, was one of the most common materials used. Another substance frequently encountered is tortoiseshell which originates from the carapace of large turtle and tortoise species like the hawksbill sea turtle. Ivory, with its warm tones and creamy, off-white color was also popular. The simple, black elegance of jet, a gem quality coal, was, likewise, a favorite material for vintage cigarette holders.
Amber Vintage Cigarette Holders For Sale
All of these prized natural materials were imitated by early plastics starting in the late 19th and early 20th century. The very first of these, celluloid, was occasionally used in the production of cigarette and cigar holders, but was discontinued as soon as other plastics became available due to its flammability. Casein formaldehyde, called Galalith, was another early synthetic plastic used in vintage cigarette holders. But perhaps the best known of all the early plastics was Bakelite, the trade name for phenol formaldehyde resin.
High quality vintage cigarette holders were often accented with the precious metals - gold, silver, or platinum. This would usually take the form of one or more simple bands near the middle or the tip of the cigarette holder. Vintage cigarette or cigar holders were even created from semi-precious stones like jade, lapis or agate, although this was less common.
Vintage cigarette holders were frequently made out of a combination of several different materials. In these cases, the organic gem materials and plastics mentioned before were reserved for the stem of the piece that would be held in the mouth. This is because these materials were thermally non-conductive and would keep the user from accidentally being burnt.
While humble cigarette holders that sold for less than a dollar were manufactured in profusion, the most desirable specimens today were produced by famous makers. Renowned luxury houses, such as Cartier, Buccellati, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co. and Boucheron, created some of the most sumptuous examples. But the famous Russian jewelry firm of Faberge is celebrated as perhaps the greatest maker of luxury antique cigar and cigarette holders.
A special mention is in order for Alfred Dunhill, a noted English tobacconist who founded the eponymous firm of Alfred Dunhill Ltd. While his company started as a generalist British luxury goods company, it soon developed a sterling reputation as a purveyor of fine tobacco accessories, including cigarette and cigar holders. Dunhill vintage cigarette holders were made to the highest standard, as evidenced by the fact that the company received a Royal Warrant as the tobacconist to the Prince of Wales in 1921. Alfred Dunhill Ltd. cigarette and cigar holders can often be identified at a glance by their characteristic "white dot" trademark.
High quality materials are a must when looking to invest in vintage cigarette holders. Precious metals like gold, silver and platinum, are often found on high end specimens. Other precious materials like tortoise shell, amber, ivory or jade are also usually indicative of a high quality cigarette holder.
High End Vintage Cigarette Holders For Sale
Early plastics, like Bakelite, have a neutral impact on the value of vintage cigarette holders. Instead, it is the workmanship and any accompanying materials that determine the item's desirability. A simple antique cigarette holder made entirely from Bakelite will possess limited desirability, while a sumptuously crafted Bakelite specimen accented with gold and diamonds will be quite valuable.
Condition, of course, is an attribute of primary importance when investing in vintage cigarette holders. Modest wear, usually in the form of light tooth marks, is completely acceptable on the stem of an antique cigarette holder. This indicates it was used and treasured by a former owner. But cracks, chips, significant discoloration or other noticeable damage will greatly reduce the value of a piece. In addition, a vintage cigarette or cigar holder that comes in its original case is always more desirable than one that doesn't.
A compelling collection of vintage cigarette or cigar holders can be assembled for a surprisingly small investment. Relatively modest specimens start at just under $100, while more elaborate examples are usually just a few hundred dollars. Interestingly, even the finest pieces rarely go for more than $1,000, which allows disciplined connoisseurs to dabble in the high end cheaply. One need not smoke to admire a fine vintage cigarette holder or antique cigarette case. These luxury goods from yesteryear give both the aspiring tobacciana collector and objet d'art aficionado a window into a splendid, nostalgic past.
The delicacy of this 14 karat yellow gold, seed pearl and pink tourmaline brooch is typical of Edwardian jewelry. Notice the white gold millegrain settings around the tourmaline gems. These settings serve to emphasize the subtle pink color of the stones and are a hallmark of both Edwardian jewelry and the later Art Deco style.
In the modern age we have a certain fascination with the rich and famous. They somehow seem to inhabit a world apart from us - a world of palatial mansions, yacht outings and opulent fashion. And yet our current gilded age, as magnificent as it seems, is put to shame by one that preceded us. If history is any indication, few people knew how to throw, or attend, a high-class party like the Edwardians. And one of the ways the Downton Abbey set flaunted their substantial wealth was by wearing magnificent Edwardian jewelry.
Gossamer creations of unparalleled beauty, Edwardian jewelry is among the most prized objects on earth. Diamonds, sapphires and natural pearls drip graciously from platinum garlands, bows and ribbons. It possesses a refinement and elegance that elicits images of royalty and aristocrats. And, although only created for a short period of time, from 1900 to 1915, Edwardian jewelry still looms large in the imagination today.
The Edwardian era took its name from the reign of the British monarch King Edward VII, who ruled from 1901 to 1910. He ascended the throne on the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, who had ruled for an astonishing 64 years. Under Queen Victoria's reign, Great Britain grew into the most powerful and wealthy country on earth, with a colonial empire unrivaled in both size and prestige.
However, Victoria was a traditionalist. In fact, she was often viewed as a slave to formality and ceremony. This was partially reflected in Victorian fashions, which were invariably elaborate, heavy and sometimes suffocating. Although the Victorian period was immensely prosperous, the upper class was constrained by the staid Victorian ethos espoused by the Great Queen. Conspicuous consumption was something one simply did not do in Victorian England.
King Edward VII's ascension to the throne, however, brought a renewed sense of lightheartedness and enjoyment to high society. The new king and his wife, Alexandra, loved grand parties and were unrepentant socialites. King Edward VII led by example in this brilliant new era. He enjoyed gambling, overeating and womanizing. He even indulged in smoking both cigars and cigarettes, although not at the same time. In the Edwardian period it was perfectly acceptable to be rich and revel in it.
Although King Edward VII was the monarch of Great Britain, his lavish parties and hedonistic behavior established the spirit of the age in Continental Europe as well as America. In France, this period was known as the Belle Époque - the beautiful era. In the United States it was called the Gilded Age.
But regardless of the name used, the Edwardian era was a brilliant flourishing of culture, leisure and the arts. In many ways, the Edwardian period was the apogee of European imperialism and global dominance carried forward from the late 19th century. Great Britain and France both had extensive colonial possessions that spanned the globe, while Germany was a rapidly rising world power.
Then, just as a star burns brightest right before it is extinguished, Europe was plunged into the horrors of the First World War in 1914. The extravagant parties and opulent holidays abruptly ended. Even the luxurious frivolity of the fashion world stopped almost overnight. In the darkly prophetic words of the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey at the onset of the War, "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time."
Antique Edwardian jewelry was characterized by ribbon, bow, garland and heart motifs. However, unlike the contemporary Art Nouveau jewelry style, Edwardian jewelry didn't adhere slavishly to naturalism. It wasn't uncommon for Edwardian pieces to have geometric or linear elements, foreshadowing the future rise of Art Deco jewelry styles in the 1920s.
Edwardian Rings For Sale
The Edwardian stylistic movement, with its delicate yet dazzling appearance, was directly inspired by 18th century Rococo jewelry and the Louis XVI style. Pierced or filigree settings added a playful and airy sense that was absent from earlier Victorian jewelry. Fine Edwardian jewelry always possesses a delicacy and lightness that is not found in later Art Deco jewelry.
Diamonds and colored gemstones were often mounted in millegrain settings during the Edwardian period. Millegrain is a goldsmithing technique where the bezel around the perimeter of a stone is minutely beaded or ridged, giving the piece a rich, glittering look. It also wasn't unusual for bezels in Edwardian jewelry to use a different, contrasting metal from the rest of a piece. Yellow gold bezels emphasized the richness of colored stones while white gold or platinum bezels accentuated the dazzling whiteness of diamonds.
The discovery of massive diamond deposits in South Africa in the 1870s led to increased availability of these coveted gemstones during the late 19th and early 20th century. Diamonds, formerly rare and reserved for the aristocracy, were quickly embraced by mainstream jewelers. As a result, diamonds were one of the preeminent gems of the period, often adorning Edwardian jewelry in profusion.
Most diamonds found in Edwardian jewelry are either old mine cut or old European cut diamonds. These older diamond cuts were hand-fashioned by highly skilled old world craftsmen in order to maximize the fire of these stones under low light conditions. Fire, otherwise known as dispersion, is when a diamond breaks light up into the spectral colors of the rainbow before returning it to the viewer's eyes. These old cut diamonds possess a warmth, charm and charisma that complements Edwardian jewelry beautifully.
High End Edwardian Jewelry For Sale
Another diamond cut often found in Edwardian jewelry is the rose cut. It is a flat-bottomed, faceted dome - sometimes irregular - that rises to a single point. The rose cut is actually a very old diamond cut, first originating in Europe in the middle of the 16th century. By the Edwardian period at the beginning of the 20th century, rose cut diamonds were usually used in less expensive pieces of jewelry. Edwardian jewelry was the last style of jewelry to feature the widespread use of rose cut diamonds.
Because of the extensive use of diamonds in Edwardian jewelry, white metals - primarily white gold and platinum - were de rigueur in these pieces. Platinum, in particular, became a hallmark of high quality Edwardian jewelry. Platinum has an extremely high melting point and can take a great deal of expertise to properly work. So although the rare white metal was known decades before the Edwardian period, the early 20th century was the first time platinum was commonly used in jewelry production.
Platinum was uniquely suited for use in Edwardian jewelry. Unlike silver, platinum's mesmerizing gray-white color doesn't tarnish over time. In addition, platinum is incredibly strong compared to sterling silver or even karat gold.
As a result, jewelers were able to create profoundly complex yet magnificently diaphanous scrollwork, filigree and millegrain effects in platinum that would have been impossible in traditional silver-topped gold. As an added bonus, the new metal's great strength allowed platinum Edwardian jewelry to be surprisingly light for its size. This was a reversal from earlier Victorian jewelry made from silver-topped gold, which was invariably bulky and heavy.
Platinum Edwardian Jewelry For Sale
Another gem often mounted in Edwardian jewelry is pearls. The really interesting thing about good quality pearl jewelry from the Edwardian period - circa 1900 to 1915 - is that it exclusively employed natural pearls. This is because the cultured pearl industry, pioneered by the enterprising Kokichi Mikimoto, didn't produce commercially viable harvests of round pearls until the late 1910s.
Natural saltwater pearls could only be harvested by highly trained oyster divers who would descend to the sea floor in search of wild mollusks. These divers would descend to depths of up to 100 feet without any breathing apparatus, risking not only drowning but also the dreaded bends. It is estimated that every ton of oysters collected would yield only a few high quality pearls.
It is incredibly significant that Edwardian jewelry was the last style of jewelry, historically speaking, to rely solely on natural pearls. Natural saltwater pearls have been prized for thousands of years for their luster, iridescence and otherworldly, almost ethereal appearance. Natural saltwater pearls were so rare that matched necklaces were only within the reach of the very wealthiest members of society. In fact, the renowned French jeweler Jacques Cartier reputedly traded a mere two necklaces of natural pearls for his flagship Fifth Avenue New York store location in 1916.
Pearl Edwardian Jewelry For Sale
Other gemstones often encountered in Edwardian jewelry are sapphire, aquamarine and ruby. Turquoise, peridot and amethyst were used in somewhat less expensive pieces. In any case, delicate, softly-colored pastel gems often found top billing alongside dazzlingly bright diamonds and platinum.
Edwardian jewelry provides a wealth of opportunities for the aspiring antiques investor. Along with the contemporary jewelry style of Art Nouveau, Edwardian jewelry was the first type of jewelry to look effectively modern. Unlike Victorian or Georgian jewelry, fine Edwardian jewelry can still grace the hand or neck of a gorgeous woman without looking dated.
When buying Edwardian jewelry for investment purposes there are a few rules to follow. Large, expensive gemstones like ruby, sapphire and diamonds were frequently mounted in important pieces and are very desirable. However, it is more common to find a multitude of smaller accent stones without a single large gem in more modest pieces. Although these less elaborate examples are still quite collectible, they will always be less valuable than a similar piece set with a large precious stone.
Pearl Edwardian jewelry represents a tremendous buying opportunity due to the fact that it is perhaps the single best source of affordable natural pearls left in the market today. As always, large, round pearls with good luster and no damage will be the most desirable. Seed pearls, split pearls and baroque pearls are also commonly found in Edwardian jewelry, but are significantly less desirable than large, fully round pearls. It should be noted that natural saltwater pearls were so rare that it wasn't unusual for pearls used in antique jewelry to only be approximate matches for color, roundness and size. Allowances should be made for these natural variations.
As noted above, platinum is the premier metal for high end Edwardian jewelry. However, yellow gold was also frequently used. In addition, yellow gold topped with platinum or silver is also commonly encountered. It is recommended that the serious investor only entertain pieces made from 14 karat (58.3%) gold or better. Platinum used in jewelry, in contrast, is almost always 90% fine. All else being equal, a given example rendered in platinum will always be more desirable than a similar piece made in karat gold.
Other Edwardian Jewelry For Sale
A fine piece of Edwardian jewelry will always communicate an unmistakable delicacy and lightness that is innately appealing. Poorly made Edwardian jewelry will tend to be clunky or ponderous. The serious connoisseur will skip over these subpar examples.
Modern reproductions in the Edwardian style will often have similar shortcomings, projecting an awkward or clumsy aura. They will not only lack the subtlety and spontaneity of original pieces, but are also usually set with modern cut diamonds, which is a dead giveaway. These modern reproductions are unfit for investment purposes.
As usual, it is important to avoid buying damaged, broken, bent or otherwise compromised pieces of Edwardian jewelry if future investment performance is important. Pearls, especially, should be checked to ensure they haven't pealed, cracked or discolored. Watch out for chipped gemstones or diamonds as well. They can be almost impossible to economically replace.
It is important to note that synthetic rubies and sapphires went into commercial production just before 1900. Because of this, the Edwardian period was the first time that synthetic gemstones were widely used in jewelry. However, just because a piece of jewelry employs synthetics, it doesn't mean that it isn't desirable. Synthetic gemstones were still very expensive and difficult to produce at the time. Therefore, it isn't unusual to find them mounted in very fine settings - often as matching calibre cut stones - along with completely natural, high value gems, like diamonds and pearls.
Due to its tendency towards high intrinsic values, investment quality Edwardian jewelry can be quite expensive. Pricing for good quality, investable Edwardian jewelry generally starts at around $500 for simpler examples. Prices quickly escalate for more elaborate specimens or pieces mounted with large, valuable gemstones like diamonds, sapphires or rubies. Superlative examples can easily command sums of $10,000 or more.
The Edwardian period was an age of sophistication, elegance and grandeur. Its alluring combination of carefree leisure and tremendous wealth still inspires us today. Edwardian jewelry is a window into that past, embodying the zeitgeist and splendor of that pre-World War I golden age.
Here is a superb example of a 2006 one troy ounce U.S. Gold Buffalo coin. Although not traditionally considered collectors' pieces, modern gold bullion coins that possess strong designs and low mintages will inevitably become favorites of the numismatic community.
Perfection is a something that most of us have chased at one time or another. Unfortunately, perfection is a notoriously fickle thing. Almost everything in the world has its quirks or flaws. Regardless of how great your mobile phone might have seemed at the wireless dealer, once you've used it for a month, you know its shortcomings. Likewise, your late-model car may look great from a distance, but get up close and the ugly little scratches and dents become all too visible. Even our interpersonal relationships have their warts, rarely achieving the ideals that we initially envision for them.
However, there is one thing in life where perfection isn't just possible, but is practically mandatory - gold bullion coins. These paragons of tangible wealth nearly transcend the material world in their quest for absolute perfection. Struck by the most well-respected government mints from around the world, these internationally recognized bullion pieces are minted from the very purest gold, using the very latest industrial processes. Free from even the smallest of blemishes, gold bullion coins embody the ideal of physical perfection. In a world of digital crypto-currencies and virtual offshore accounts, gold bullion coins are pristine, physical treasure that you can hold in the palm of your hand.
Collecting gold bullion coins offers the aspiring numismatic connoisseur a lot of advantages over collecting older coins. First, bullion coins are made out of gold, giving them an immediate cachet that more pedestrian coinage lacks. And these masterpieces in gold are also usually struck in a variety of sizes to accommodate every budget. Governments mint everything from small, but affordable 1/20 troy ounce gold bullion coins right up to impressively hefty one troy ounce examples.
Another overlooked benefit of gold bullion coins is that there are rarely any key or rare dates. This puts a complete collection of most bullion series within the reach of the average collector. This contrasts markedly with traditional coin collecting, where ultra-expensive key dates often render complete sets unrealistic.
Finally, the monetary risk of collecting gold bullion coins is generally quite limited because most of what you are paying for is bullion value. Under normal circumstances, high quality, collector-oriented gold bullion coins with substantial numismatic potential can be purchased for a modest 5% to 25% over spot. Even for very rare pieces, the premiums are rarely more than 50% over spot.
The Mexican Libertad is one of these great gold bullion coin bargains. In fact, I view it as the hidden investment sleeper of the gold bullion coin world. Struck intermittently from 1981 until the present, gold Libertads come in one troy ounce, 1/2 ounce, 1/4 ounce, 1/10 ounce and 1/20 ounce sizes. From 1981 until 1988 the Mexican gold Libertad series was struck in 0.900 fine gold, but starting in 1991 the composition was changed to pure 24 karat gold.
The gold Libertad obverse features Mexico City's famous Angel of Independence statue in the foreground flanked by the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl in the background. Mexico's national emblem, a golden eagle tearing apart a rattlesnake while sitting atop a cactus, graces the reverse. Libertad gold coins underwent a redesign in the year 2000. Although the major design elements were not changed, they were updated to a more modern aesthetic.
The Mexican Libertad is one of the lowest mintage regular issue gold bullion coins available in the market today. Excluding the first year of production, when mintages were significantly higher, the one troy ounce Libertad gold bullion coin has averaged less than 15,000 specimens per annum. As shockingly low as this number might seem, the mintages on the gold Libertad fractional coins are even lower. Gold Libertad proofs have the lowest mintages at all, with numbers struggling to reach the four-figure mark in many cases.
Mexican Libertad Gold Bullion Coins For Sale
The Australian Gold Nugget/Kangaroo is another great bullion series for the aspiring collector or investor. First minted in 1986, the Nugget/Kangaroo features a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse. The reverse featured famous Australian gold nuggets for the first three years of production before switching over to kangaroos, hence the reason the series is commonly called the Nugget/Kangaroo. As an added incentive for investors, the kangaroo design on the reserve is altered every year to increase collector interest.
Minted in pure gold, the Australian Gold Nugget/Kangaroo has been struck in sizes ranging from the monstrous 1 kilogram (32.15 troy ounces) coin to the diminutive 1/20 of a troy ounce (1.56 grams) coin. Mintages have generally been modest, with the 1 troy ounce gold Nugget/Kangaroo averaging only 152,000 specimens every year from 1986 to 2016. The maximum mintage was 2013 when just over 341,000 examples were coined.
Australian Kangaroo/Nugget Gold Bullion Coins For Sale
China's entry in the global gold bullion coin competition, the Chinese Panda, was first issued in 1982. Struck from 99.9% pure gold, Chinese Panda coins feature Beijing's famed 15th century Taoist Temple of Heaven on the front. The back has a depiction of a Chinese giant panda in a natural setting that is redesigned every year.
From the series' inception in 1982 until 2015, Pandas were struck in 1 troy ounce, 1/2 ounce, 1/4 ounce, 1/10 ounce and 1/20 ounce sizes. However, starting in 2016, the Chinese authorities decided to embrace the metric system. As a result, more recent Chinese gold Panda coins have been issued in 30 gram, 15 gram, 8 gram, 3 gram and 1 gram sizes.
Chinese Pandas are some of the most popular modern gold bullion coins with collectors due to their attractive designs and quintessentially Chinese cultural themes. In addition, mintages have been very limited for a bullion issue, with 1 troy ounce pieces averaging an annual mintage of less than 60,000 annually from 1982 through 2006. Due to their perennial popularity, the Chinese government increased mintage numbers modestly starting in 2007.
Chinese Panda Gold Bullion Coins For Sale
The final gold bullion coin I want to showcase is the American Buffalo. These .9999 fine pure gold coins feature an adaptation of the acclaimed U.S. Buffalo Nickel, which was originally minted between 1913 and 1938. The U.S. Buffalo gold coin has original artist James Earle Fraser's iconic Indian head bust on the obverse and his powerful rendition of a wild bison on the reverse.
Unlike most other gold bullion series, the U.S. Gold Buffalo is a relative newcomer, having only premiered in 2006. American Gold Buffaloes are also the first coins the U.S. mint ever struck from pure, unalloyed gold. With the exception of 2008, when 1/2, 1/4 and 1/10 ounce pieces were also struck, the mint has made the curious decision to issue the coins in only one denomination - the one troy ounce size.
Mintages for U.S. Gold Buffaloes are surprisingly low for a popular U.S. bullion series. Except for the first year of issue, 2006, one troy ounce pieces have averaged just over 225,000 minted every year. These mintages include both uncirculated bullion coins and proof collector coins. These numbers are exceptionally low compared to its counterpart program, the American Gold Eagle bullion series, which has averaged over 600,000 one troy ounce coins per year.
U.S. Buffalo Gold Bullion Coins For Sale
For those collectors who are looking for even more exclusive gold bullion coins, the U.S. mint recently released a set of three very special issues. These bullion pieces borrow iconic U.S. coin designs from the early 20th century - the Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter and Walking Liberty half dollar - beautifully rendered in pure 24 karat gold. These three classic American coins were faithfully updated and released in 2016 on the 100th anniversary of their original issue in 1916.
The 2016 U.S. Walking Liberty Centennial gold half dollar weighs a full 1/2 troy ounce of .9999 fine gold and measures 1.063 inches (27.00 mm) in diameter. The front of the coin depicts Liberty confidently striding forward while the sun rises majestically behind her on the horizon. The reverse of the Walking Liberty Centennial gold piece features an American bald eagle nobly perched on a rocky outcropping. The original Walking Liberty half dollar design was so well loved that it was also adopted for the obverse design for the ubiquitous American Silver Eagle bullion coin.
2016 U.S. Gold Walking Liberty Half Dollars For Sale
The 2016 U.S. Standing Liberty Centennial gold quarter weighs 1/4 of a troy ounce of pure gold and has a diameter of 0.866 inches (22.00 mm). The obverse shows the personification of Liberty standing serenely with a shield in her left hand and an olive branch in her right hand. The reverse depicts an eagle in flight with its wings outstretched.
2016 U.S. Gold Standing Liberty Quarters For Sale
The 2016 U.S. Mercury Dime Centennial gold coin is struck from 1/10 of a troy ounce of 24 karat gold and is heavier than the original silver Mercury dime. The gold Mercury dime measures 0.650 inches (16.50 mm) in diameter. The front shows the head of winged Liberty, which is often identified with the ancient Roman god Mercury, while the reverse features a Roman fasces entwined with an olive branch.
2016 U.S. Gold Mercury Dimes For Sale
These three gold centennial issues have extremely limited mintages: 125,000 pieces for the dime, 100,000 for the quarter and only 70,000 for the half dollar. These coins are also notable because their original silver analogs often suffered from weak strikes due to the complexity of their designs. This is an oversight that the United States mint was finally able to rectify with modern minting technology, giving collectors the opportunity to own some truly iconic gold coins in stunningly pristine condition.
However, in my opinion, the ultimate gold bullion coin for the truly discerning collector is the 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle. The name is quite a mouthful, but this coin is worthy of its weighty title. It is a one troy ounce bullion piece struck from pure 24 karat, .9999 fine gold. But any similarity with lesser bullion coins promptly ends there. In order to understand why the 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle is so special, you need to first know the history behind this unique piece of numismatic Americana.
In the early 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to give the burgeoning American nation a coinage to rival that of the ancient Greeks. Ancient Greek coinage has been renowned through the millennia for its incomparable beauty, in particular its high relief designs. High relief is when a coin's devices (designs) are substantially raised above its flat background, or field, giving an impressive, almost sculptural effect.
President Roosevelt commissioned renowned artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create new dies for the U.S. double eagle, or $20 gold piece. Saint-Gaudens then designed the legendary St. Gaudens double eagle, which has been copied and adapted many times over the years. It features a robed lady Liberty boldly moving forward while holding a torch in her right hand and an olive branch in her left hand. The reverse portrays a noble American eagle soaring over a brilliant sunrise.
However, when Saint-Gaudens tried to have these magnificent new coins struck at the mint he ran into technical problems. The design was rendered in such high relief that the minting technology of the time was not up to the task of fully striking the coins. Consequently, the dies had to be redesigned in lower relief in order to accommodate the minting technology available.
Only 11,250 high relief double eagles were struck in 1907 for circulation before the dies were changed. These special high relief gold coins are especially coveted by knowledgeable U.S. coin collectors. In perennially high demand, prices generally start in the low five-figures for worn examples and rapidly escalate for nicer specimens.
In 2009, the U.S. Mint decided to finally right this historical wrong. Its Director, Ed Moy, resurrected the original high relief St. Gaudens double eagle design and adapted it into a limited edition, one troy ounce gold bullion coin. Except this time, the mint would make sure it would be fully struck in gloriously high relief as sculpture Augustus Saint-Gaudens originally intended.
Saint-Gauden's original plaster dies were pulled out of their hundred year storage at the U.S. Mint and digitally scanned. With the resulting digital design, the die was updated with the year, 2009, and the motto "In God We Trust", which was not present on the original 1907 version. In addition, four stars were added to the existing 46 stars around the rim of the obverse to reflect the additional four states that had joined the Union since 1907.
And with that, a masterpiece was born. The 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle measures 1.0630 inches (27.00) mm across and an unbelievable 0.1575 inches (4.00 mm) in thickness. These impressive gold bullion coins have been meticulously struck in the highest relief and to the most exacting standards. In fact, the standards were so exacting that it took a century before the technology was developed to make them a reality. And, of course, the mintage for this one year type is low, with only 115,178 pieces in existence.
2009 U.S. Gold Ultra High Relief Double Eagles For Sale
Nearly all of the gold bullion coins I've presented here are pure, 24 karat gold. While that is partially coincidence, there is also a solid financial reason to recommend it: attrition. Because pure gold is very soft, circulating gold coins have traditionally been alloyed with a small amount of other metals (primarily copper and silver) in order to harden and toughen the gold. However, gold bullion coins are not intended for circulation and can, therefore, be made from pure gold.
But as a result, 24 karat gold bullion coins frequently acquire scuffs, scrapes, rim bumps or other minor damage if they are mishandled. This doesn't impair their value as bullion pieces, but it does render them unacceptable to serious coin collectors. So the already small populations of the collectible gold bullion coins listed above will inevitably be whittled down further over time via carelessness and accidents. The remaining pristine coins will, predictably, appreciate in value as they become rarer.
There are a host of other very popular gold bullion coins that I have not mentioned. These include American Gold Eagles, Canadian Maple Leafs, British Britannias, Austrian Philharmonics and South African Krugerrands. I want to make it clear that while these coins certainly have some collectible attributes, it is unlikely they will ever be as desirable as the gold bullion coins specifically highlighted in this article.
Mintage plays a significant role here. The Mexican Libertad, Australian Nugget/Kangaroo, Chinese Panda and U.S. Buffalo series have never had a mintage higher than one million pieces in any year through 2016. However, American Gold Eagle and Canadian Maple Leaf mintages have commonly exceeded this amount. Since 2013, British Britannias have only been limited in supply by the number of coins the market will absorb in any given year. South African Krugerrands, one of the only gold bullion coins available in the 1960s and 1970s, were struck by the tens of millions during that period. High mintages for gold bullion coin series are not conducive to future numismatic price appreciation and should be avoided.
Another factor that makes certain gold bullion coins more collectible than others is design. Modern coins, particularly commemorative coins, have been notorious for decades for the overall poor quality of their designs. The specific bullion issues discussed in this article buck the trend, making truly aesthetically pleasing designs available to the collecting community.
In contrast, many lesser gold bullion coins wallow in their own stylistic mediocrity, content to be thoroughly uninspiring, albeit utilitarian. There are degrees of nuance here, of course. Canadian Maple Leafs and American Gold Eagles both have reasonably pleasing, although not exceptional, design, but are rendered less desirable by their high mintages. Specially struck proof and burnished uncirculated American Gold Eagle issues are special exceptions, as they have very low annual mintages of tens of thousands or fewer.
In any case, it is important to collect what you like. But if numismatically-oriented investment return is important to you, then low mintage figures coupled with compelling design is a must. While larger 1 troy ounce gold bullion coins should theoretically be more desirable than smaller examples, this size advantage may be offset by the lower mintages and better affordability that fractional issues enjoy.
Condition, as always, is also a key factor. Because modern gold bullion coins are manufactured to such high standards, imperfections that would normally be acceptable on older collector coins are absolutely forbidden here. Examples include scratches, nicks, scrapes or any other damage visible without magnification. Modern gold bullion coins are one of the few collecting areas where absolute perfection is almost a necessity.
Gold Bullion Coin Sets For Sale
Prices for gold bullion coins usually track the spot price of gold fairly closely. Common date one troy ounce U.S. Gold Buffaloes and Australian Nugget/Kangaroos sell for relatively small marks ups of about 5% to 10% over bullion value. Expect to pay a bit more for one ounce Chinese Pandas and Mexican Libertads. The premiums on these bullion pieces can range from about 8% on the low end to well over 100% for some of the rare Chinese Pandas.
The 2016 U.S. Centennial gold coins also command substantial premiums over their bullion value. Currently, the alluring U.S. Walking Liberty gold half dollar trades with a premium that is about 40% over spot. The gold Standing Liberty quarter and Mercury dime both have higher premiums than this. But these elevated premiums are to be expected, as smaller gold bullion coins usually have higher premiums than their larger counterparts.
The outstanding 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle sports a hefty 50% premium right now. However, its premium has been even higher in the recent past. Honestly, a 50% premium over spot seems pretty tame to me for the ultimate gold bullion coin, but you can make your own assessment.
It is the height of irony that we live in an age when the world's central banks pursue rampant inflationism while their national mints simultaneously strike tremendously beautiful and profoundly collectible gold bullion coins. Consider it a sign of the times, a reflection of the developed world's monetary cognitive dissonance. Whatever its cause, don't let this opportunity slip by you. Gold bullion coins currently offer one of the lowest risk investment options for the savvy coin collector or shrewd tangible asset investor.