by Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
INTRODUCING THE CLADKING
Sam Petry, better known online by the handle “CladKing”, is a pioneer in the area of collecting clad (post-1964) coinage. His knowledge and expertise on the subject is the culmination of a career spent going against the grain and finding value and quality in modern-day coinage before it became fashionable to do so. For those who follow his online persona on any number of coin message boards, CladKing almost always has the final say about the probability of finding a truly exceptional modern coin in Mint sets and bank rolls or which esoteric varieties are worth looking for in any given coin series from any given date. He is one of the people we always look forward to hearing from when coin discussions veer towards the modern, and his approachability and sound guidance has undoubtedly spurred a great number of collectors in the direction of looking for high quality, well-struck modern clad coins. For you see, with CladKing, it’s all about the clads.
He began collecting coins in 1957, pulling Indian Head (Buffalo) nickels from circulation. Like many collectors from his generation, the name of the game was completing sets by date and mint mark. For most, the quality of the coin never played much of a role in their judgment. Sure, collectors had minimum requirements, but for the most part coins were either circulated or uncirculated. Petry recalls one of his earliest lessons in quality, when he ordered a 1913-D Type II Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel from catalog dealer Jack H. Beymer: “I paid ‘fine’ money for it but the coin that he sent me was very fine. Maybe he didn’t have any fines left, but who knows?”
As Petry developed as a numismatist, he started scoping out fully struck examples of coins from the new “sandwich metal”. “At first there was no need to collect the coins,” he says, “The Fed had a habit of sitting on large numbers of older clad coins for years. In fact, as late as 1972, it wasn’t uncommon at all to find brand new rolls of 1965 quarters at the bank. But early in 1972, I saw a newspaper article in the Chicago Tribune that said the Federal Reserve was switching to FIFO (First In, First Out) accounting, which meant that older coin stock had to be fully distributed before new coin stock would be sent out. For collectors, this meant that seemingly endless hoards of uncirculated coins from past dates wouldn’t trickle out for the rest of time.”
In a hobby where most collectors and dealers were interested in classics or pulling the last remaining silver coins from circulation, Petry switched gears and turned instead to the new issues, convinced that the hobby’s insistence on ignoring them would one day prove lucrative for him.
THE QUEST FOR THE BEST
He started out by searching for the best quality clad coins he could find. To do so, he zigzagged across the Midwest. When the 1982 “No-P” (FS-501) dimes appeared in April ‘83in the Northern Ohio city of Sandusky, home of Cedar Point – one of the country’s premier amusement parks – Petry made the ten hour trip from his St. John, Indiana home. When he arrived at J & J coins, which was known to have a hoard of about three hundred of the mint error dimes, Petry was surprised that the throng of collectors he expected had never materialized. At first, he tried to offer the dealer a price for all of the “No-P’s” the dealer had, but was rebuffed. Undaunted, Petry set out to find the best one of the bunch, spending the next hour or so scrutinizing more than a hundred examples of the rare variety, looking for a piece that was fully struck up, attractive, and free from surface chatter and bag marks.
Initially, Petry kept his pursuit for high end clad to himself. In the highly competitive world of coin collecting, the collector seeks every possible advantage. In the pursuit of such unorthodox coins, Petry had an advantage. Sure, pockets of modern collectors were starting to pop up across the country, but their numbers were small, and the overwhelming availability of contemporary material meant that these collectors had carte blanche to look through countless mint sets and bank rolls at or close to face value. The problem that these specialists soon discovered was that finding truly exceptional examples of certain issues was proving elusive: 1969 quarters, 1981-S Susan B. Anthony dollars, P mint Eisenhower dollars (1971-76), fully struck up circulation quality nickels and dimes… you name it. Without the benefit of third party grading company population reports, collectors like Petry had to rely on what they were seeing first hand to predict the yield of mint sewn bags, rolls, and sets.
Such fastidiousness did not always sit well with dealers. He told us how he used to get kicked out of certain coin shops for being so particular about moderns: “sometimes, I got the impression that these dealers just didn’t care about moderns. They just thought it was un-American to look for clad coins.” Of course, fast-forward to 1999 and these same dealers would bend over backwards to market State Quarters to the millions of new collectors caught up in the frenzy.
Petry sees this infusion of new blood as a good thing: “at the time, it certainly was a fad. But many of the collectors who got into the quarters as kids and teenagers will come back as adults and when they do, they’ll want to collect these coins again. The primary thing that drives people to collect things like coins is nostalgia. For the kids who grew up in the 1950s and ‘60s, their nostalgia was for silver coinage. It crystallized a time in their lives that has passed. For the kids who grew up in the ‘90s and ‘00s, their nostalgia will be for State quarters. For those that grew up in the late ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, their nostalgia will be for clads, for cents made of copper, for the heraldic eagle reverse, for Eisenhower dollars and Susan B’s. “
Obviously, Petry knows that there’s no guarantee that there will be a mass movement into clad. He’s expected one for the better part of the last thirty years, only to see one fail to materialize. By the mid-1980s he gave up his vow of secrecy and began to promote modern coinage. In some small part, his efforts led to the gentle nudging upwards of the prices of clad coinage in printed guides such as the Red Book, although he still thinks they are vastly undervalued. Petry feels this is the result of two factors: the hobby’s formal adoption of third party grading, and the social aspect of coin collecting made possible via the Internet and reflected in the growing popularity of registry set collecting. Curiously, he has no interest in competitive collecting for the sake of surmounting online leaderboards.
Always the hobby contrarian, Petry also sees the Sheldon Scale as being an imperfect compromise in determining a coin’s physical state and state of preservation. “Back before the Sheldon Scale saw widespread adoption, people didn’t pay attention to grade. Of course, some dealers might charge you a small premium on the best looking coins, but most collectors were looking for an example of a coin or date. Some collected circulated coins while others collected uncirculated coins, but people in general weren’t all that particular about quality. In fact, most dealers thought you were crazy for paying a premium for gem quality coins. This is one of the reasons why many of the rolls that were hoarded are so low end.”
His point has echoes in the famous debate between John J. Ford and PCGS’ majordomo David Hall at the 1989 ANA Convention in Pittsburgh. Petry sides with Hall, who sees that quality commands a premium in the marketplace, but diverges from the approach Hall’s grading company and its competitors settled on when the TPG industry matured. “The problem is that the current system is really just an average of a bunch of factors. Each one is significant and should be important to collectors. If you are a collector like me, then perhaps you put more weight in the quality of the coin’s strike. How much did the coin strike up? The grading scale doesn’t take this into account which has led specialists in series like Mercury and Roosevelt dimes, Jefferson nickels, and Franklin half dollars to add coin-specific attributes to overcome the deficiency in the grading scale.”
He also sees other problems with the fundamentals of the grading scale, which to him is overly complicated and inconsistent. “The scale is so complicated that it has necessitated a system within the system. CAC, for instance, applies their company’s weighted average to different factors that go into the market acceptance of a coin and awards stickers for coins that are ‘strong for the grade’. If the grading scale was transparent about factors such as strike, luster, surface preservation, and eye appeal, then you wouldn’t need to have a second party ‘read a coin’ and interpret the TPG’s grade for you.”
Because of this stance, Petry will leave it to others to grade his coins when it’s time to break up his collection. After nearly fifty years, he’s accumulated one of the Clad Era’s most significant collections of high quality, well-struck specimens, with Petry having already turned down several high dollar offers for elusive high-end moderns, from collectors willing to take a chance sight-unseen.
Often asked to write a book on clad coinage, he’d prefer to leave that to others. Petry did contribute a chapter to the Ike Group’s Collectible Ike Varieties: Facts, Photos, and Theories (2011), where he spelled out in a first-hand account how the transition from silver coinage to clad shocked the hobby and crashed the B.U. coin roll market that had developed when thousands of Americans, many prompted by “get-rich-quick” books such as George W. Haylings’ The Profit of Your Coin Investment, began to squirrel away thousands of rolls of coins in hopes of cashing in at some future date. A behavior the Mint now invites, by the way.
But perhaps more collectors have benefited from his constant sage presence on numerous online collectors’ forums. As CladKing, Petry dishes on the nuance of different issues on a year- by-year or mint-by-mint basis. He reminds other collectors not to assume that every post-1965 coin or mint set is readily available in gem grade, but more importantly, he offers a lifetime of observations and insights into modern American coinage in hopes that others will pick up the baton he’s been running with for most of his collecting life.
“For the longest time I kept what I was doing to myself,” says Petry. “I don’t want collectors to fall victim to the notion that modern coins are always going to be readily available. They won’t be. We aren’t far away from reaching the point where most mint sets will have been picked through for gems like the pre-64 proofs were for cameos. Some collectors have taken notice. When more do, you will see a market unable to keep up with the demand and dealers will learn the hard way that they should have been paying attention all these years.”
If Petry is right about the dearth of gem quality coins in the first half of the Clad Era, then a market shift towards them will bring much excitement to the hobby. David Golan, an Ike Group colleague, put together the best Susan B. Anthony dollar set ever seen at a cost of little more than a dollar per coin by simply poring over dozens of $1,000 mint sewn bags from the Federal Reserve’s vaults. For astute collectors like Sam Petry, that’s just another day at the office, looking through an endless stream of the banal, searching for gems.
So for now, check out CladKing’s posts online, and Happy Hunting!
Which modern coins does Sam think have the most potential for collectors? We asked him to break it down by denomination; here’s what he had to say:
LINCOLN CENT: “For the cent: 1979-D. This coin is so taken for granted with so many made and millions set aside. 1979 was a huge Mint Set year [Due to the excitement surrounding the Susan B. Anthony dollar -Charles]. But the thing is, you can go through 200 fresh mint sets before you find a decent gem. Your typical Mint Set coin is MS-64 with a gouge.”
Mint Set Total: 2,526,000 – CladKing’s estimated gem population: 12,630 maximum
JEFFERSON NICKEL: “Definitely the 1982-P. With this coin there are two different types: the Type of 1981 and the Type of 1982 and two transitional types with non-matching obverse and reverse die pairing [Breen 2808-2811 for 1982-P; Breen 2814-2817 for 1982-D -Charles]. At the moment neither NGC or PCGS attribute them, but when people start to collect both types it will only increase pressure on supply.”
Mint Set Total: 0 – Most Common Type: Type of 1982
ROOSEVELT DIME: “The 1982 and ’83 are nice coins, it’s hard to find an ’82-P that’s fully struck and it’s like pulling teeth to find one in a nice high grade, but I think the 1971-P is grossly underappreciated. There are fewer nice ones than the equally tough 1969 left out there. Those that got saved are generally poorly struck – even the clean ones didn’t strike up that well.”
Mint Set Total: 2,193,396 – PCGS-graded 1971 FT (Full Torch): 12 (All Grades)
WASHINGTON QUARTER: “The 1969 Philly strike [See our take on the 1969 quarter here -Hubert]. Again, the biggest factor is that the Mint did such a poor job in quality that year. They did okay in ’66 through ’68, and again in ’70, but 1969 is marred by planchet scratches, improper annealing, poor dies… you name it. And, forget trying to find nice original rolls.”
Mint Set Total: 1,817,392 – CladKing’s typical grade estimate: MS-60 or MS-61
KENNEDY HALF DOLLAR: “This one’s easier to find, but I like the 1977-D. The ’77-D tends to come spectacular. One out of every 150 Mint Sets should have one that is prooflike in its brilliancy, but without the cameo, of course. I also like the 1980-D if you can find a gemmy one without the shallow gouges which is prevalent with this issue.”
Mint Set Total: 2,006,869 – CladKing’s prooflike estimated population: 13,379
EISENHOWER DOLLAR: “1974s are tough. The mint used cement mixers to knock down the rims of the ’74-P planchets, which is why most of the coins went into circulation having already been circulated. Mint sets will occasionally yield one in MS-65, but finding one in MS-66 is really, really tough. Also, really nice 1976 Type Ones. These don’t come nice at all, and you should hold onto any of them you find of quality.
Mint Set Total: 1,975,981 – PCGS-Certified 1974 Ikes in MS-66: 98
FLIP OF A COIN:
Speaking of clad coinage, many Americans were understandably upset by the removal of silver from our nation’s coinage. The new clad “sandwich metal” coins that began to appear in circulation in October and November of 1965 were called “Johnson Sandwiches” by some. It wouldn’t be the last time a president’s name would be attached to an unpopular monetary policy: fourteen years later the term “Carter’s Quarters” was coined to describe the disastrous Susan B. Anthony dollar.
We wonder if Martha had him over for tea? Ephraim Brasher, the notable minter of the legendary Brasher Doubloon, lived next door to George Washington in the spring of 1789, when the first President resided in a three story mansion now known as the Osgood House at 1 Cherry Street, New York.
Before being served in hoity-toity New York restaurants, Black Diamond, the North American Bison believed to have been used by James Fraser as a model for the Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel reverse, was a favorite attraction of visitors of the Central Park Menagerie.
 Some sources say that the 1982 No-P Mint mark dime was discovered in December 1982; this is likely accurate. Petry recalls first hearing about it a few months later. In his account, Petry traveled to J & J coins, which had already scooped up hundreds of examples.