Charm Bracelet Yields ‘Hoff’ Countermark|
October 23, 2013
I think that there’s a bit of the treasure hunter in all of us as coin collectors. As a collector who started in the early 1950s, I have had many good finds in my collecting life. With the exception of the one I’m going to tell you about, the last one I can remember occurred about 30 years ago when I found an uncirculated 1984 doubled-ear Lincoln cent in my wife’s purse. Amazingly, my latest find may be better than all my other finds put together. Again, it involved my wife.
Several years ago she discovered that coin dealers are generally willing to sell jewelry for little more than its bullion value. As a result of this discovery, she now spends as much time cruising the bourse as I do, and often has superior success, as I’m finding it harder and harder to find coins I want to buy.
The latest convention we attended was the ANA extravaganza held in Rosemont, Ill. Although it may have been coincidental, each time my wife approached me to come look at her latest find it seemed that I had just sold a coin or two and had a wad of hundreds in my satchel. As a result, I generally had a hard time telling her she couldn’t buy the bracelet/ring/earrings/necklace/whatever.
Her last find turned out to be a gold (14 kt.) charm bracelet. “You’ll like it,” she exclaimed. “The charms are all gold coins. Also, the seller told me that half of the coins were worth nearly what he was asking for it.” Which turned out to be a lot, by the way.
Naturally, I had to see what she was excited about, so we trooped across the bourse so I could check out her new find. If you were at the show, you know the kind of distances that were involved in our journey.
The charm bracelet, which we bought, has six attached coins, four U.S. and two foreign. The U.S. pieces are an 1853 $1 gold piece, two quarter eagles dated 1845 and 1914, and an 1882-S half eagle. The foreign coins are a 1903 British half sovereign and an 1856 French 10 franc piece.
As you would expect, I studied each of the coins with my loop. On the 1845 quarter eagle, I noticed an interesting counterstamp (or countermark, as the terms are used interchangeably), which I decided to investigate further when I got to a computer.
According to an article by Dr. Sol Taylor I found online, “For much of the 19th century, coins often were counterstamped with the names of jewelers, merchants and even dentists as a means of advertising their products or services.” My first thought was that the counterstamp on the quarter eagle read R.C. Hoff. More careful examination revealed that it was really B.C. Hoff.
A Google search of the “B.C. HOFF” counterstamp took me to the tokencatalog.com website and specifically to information from Gregory Brunk. Brunk is the author of American and Canadian Countermarked Coins, published in 1986. Unfortunately, on Amazon the book is listed as out of print, with limited availability.
Here is some of what Brunk wrote about B. C. Hoff:
“Benjamin C. Hoff was born in 1916. [An] advertisement in the Syracuse Daily Standard of Sept. 30, 1860 noted that B. C. Hoff & Company sold firearms and rented pianos and melodeons, certainly an odd combination of goods.… The Jan. 20, 1860, Syracuse Central City Daily Courier noted the firm had been dissolved by mutual consent. Hoff no longer dealt in firearms, now specializing in jewelry, music and fancy goods at 23 S. Salina St. The 1861 American Musical Directory listed him the next year as a dealer in pianoforte, music, and musical instruments at 50 S. Salina St. He also was a musical publisher.…Hank Thoele noted an interesting aspect of Hoff’s countermarks. Older coins tend to be stamped twice, while coins from the 1870s and 1880s are only stamped once. This suggests two periods of stamping with silver dollars, in particular, being countermarked in the 1880s.”
Note that the 1845 quarter eagle has only one counterstamp on it, suggesting it may have been stamped in the later years. Of course, another possibility is that it was one of the older coins that received only a single stamp. Brunk used the word “tend,” not “always.”
The information from Brunk ended with a list of 54 coins known with the B.C. HOFF counterstamp. None of these is an 1845 quarter eagle, and, in fact, none of the listed coins is gold.
Next, my Google search led me to an online site called CoinTalk (www.cointalk.com) and specifically to a forum that provides member answers to the question “Any Counterstamp Collectors Out There?” In this forum, I described what I had found and got the following response from a counterstamp collector: “Counterstamps on gold coins are rare and usually valuable well beyond their bullion value.” He also noted that no Hoff counterstamps had been found on gold coins.
To make a longer story short, I took several pictures of the coin and sent them to another counterstamp expert, who forwarded them to Brunk to be included in his next book. In addition, after learning from a well-known counterstamp collector/numismatic personality that the quarter eagle was probably worth in the high 3 figures, low 4 figures range, I sold the piece for $900 to the man I had corresponded with on CoinTalk.
With gold at about $1,400 per ounce, I paid about $170 for the quarter eagle. As you can see, this was a great find.
The moral of the story: Study any coins you buy carefully. If you find something unusual, investigate.
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