The 1905s straight serif DIAGNOSTICS: Part 1 of My Obsession
Updated: Sep 13, 2021
It is very challenging when one comes into a new hobby and becomes obsessed by it.
An obsession that certainly begins with theories to prove and eventually leads to posing
numerous challenging questions. Questions that other participants in the hobby may not even be interested in, or even think that you are crazy or maybe even cocky. Thus began my numismatic journey when I started dabbling in numismatics by purchasing my very first slabbed coin almost 3 years ago. After spending a number of years obsessing over Japanese horological timepieces, mainly focused on the vintage Grand Seikos, I realized that the habits one develops while obsessing over a hobby are all "transferable." The habits of reading everything about the hobby every night, and trying to digest everything there is to read about Japanese timepieces and absorbing all those readings and small discussions; scrolling through ebay and Japanese auction postings to understand the nuances of the pieces plus the most common, relevant and most asked information of all, the current market prices of each. I realized all these when I switched my interest to numismatics. Books on horology were replaced by books on coins. Ebay searches changed from words like "Grand Seiko" to "Philippine coins" or "Philippine medals" and conversations or long chats late at night were now all about numismatics and the results from the latest auctions in Stacks and Bowers and Heritage Auctions. It was very obvious, I was once again entering another black hole every collector experiences as he tries to understand the nuances of the hobby. And the journey has not only been exciting, but also historical and very interesting. So, please humor me with this blog as I humbly try to understand and express my love for the hobby by sharing a study I had made on one of the most underrated and unappreciated coins of the hobby, and, at the end of the day, gain some needed knowledge and equip myself to make the right decisions down the road, because God knows I’ve made some very bad purchase decisions at the beginning of my numismatic journey.
This journey started right after I purchased my very first 1905s curved serif. It was graded Ms62 by NGC. However, I was very much intrigued by it's "variety counterpart" the 1905s straight serif (SS), also known by its reference code in the Lyman-Allen manual of varieties as Allen 16.06a. In the beginning when I heard the words "straight serif" I knew it had something to do with the font used on some portion of the coin. In fact, that's all I knew at that time. I had read somewhere that the serif of the number "1" on the year "1905" had a straight top, unlike it's curved serif counterpart. Pretty simple, I thought. However, as I tried to identify straight serif variants I realized that it wasn't as easy as it was made out to be. It was very difficult to identify different coins given their circulation and wear and tear. On top of the difficulties in properly identifying true straight serifs, I wanted to explore the possibilities of the "true value" of the coin, and how does it compare to the King and Queen of peso coins, the 1906s and 1912. Thus, began my two-phase obsession with the 19905s straight serif One peso USPI coin.
As I read and learned more about the 1905s SS, more specifically from the FB posts and comments of fellow collectors, I realized that the common question was always: "...is this a straight serif?" or "straight serif ba ito o hindi..?" That's when I realized that identifying a proper SS wasn't as easy as one believes it to be, and that is when I decided that the first phase of my journey was to understand the difference of a natural straight serif from its curved counterpart. I needed to learn and properly identify the diagnostics aside from the serif of the "1." In other words, I did not want to believe nor accept the fact that the only acceptable diagnostic of a SS was the serif of the number "1" and I believed that there had to be other diagnostics to differentiate it from a 1905s curved serif. This had to be step 1 of my journey and this is where the expensive part of my study came out. I had to purchase the coins and actually take the pictures of each coin. I did not want to rely on pictures from the web, nor from the TPGs, because, as we all know pictures from the web are not reliable, no matter how high the resolution. However, because of limited budget, a sample size of only 6 coins was used: 3 from each variant.
To ensure a proper and unbiased study of the coins, the following procedure was followed:
Six(6) coins were used as a sample size --Pictured above are the coins that were used in this test. The coins C1 up to C3 are the straight serif varieties, while C4 up to C6 are the curved serif samples. (please note that this coding system will be used throughout the study). Please note that the only graded coins are C2 graded Au58+ by PCGS and C4 graded Ms62 by NGC.
We identified the points of interest, from top to bottom in order to determine the differences or the proper differentiation of both coins. We determined and discovered 9 points of interest, namely: (1) Head and eye area of the eagle, (2) Nostril or the "nares" area of the Eagle, (3) Beak area of the eagle, (4) The feather on the left foot of the eagle, (5) The top arrow on the right foot of the eagle, (6) The connection of the three arrows on the right foot of the eagle, (7) The serif on number "1" on the year, (8) the side of the number "1" going down and (9) the knob on the "9".
I took macro shots of the actual coin for each point of interest, and create a visual comparison for each.
I used the identified "difference" from each point of interest and compare to additional samples outside the sample list used.
I recorded the difference as discovered.
To start, the very first point of interest is the head area and eye. It is important to point out that the eagle straight serif variety has a thicker head area. The thickness of its head makes it a little bit more "pronounced" than the head area of the eagle of the curved serif variety. In fact, it looks as if the head of the SS variety has a lump on the forehead. Plus, if you look closely the eye of the eagle straight serif seems to be looking to the side, while the eye of the curved serif eagle is looking straight ahead. A subtle difference if one uses imagination and looks closely and long at the eyes of both eagles.
Going down to the nostril of the eagle, also called the "nares" we find the second point of interest. This is part of the eagle's head where one of the two channels of the nose, from the point where they bifurcate to the external opening. Please note that for the SS variety the nares of the eagle seems to go full circle.
While that of the nares of eagle of the curved serif variety is "C" shaped and has, what seems like a long tail at the end, as seen from the side of the eagle.
The next point of interest is the beak area of the eagle. It is important to point out that the beak area of the straight serif eagle has a smoother endpoint and is not as sharp as its curved serif counterpart. Please refer to the red line traced below the eagle's beak area on the picture below. It is seen that there is also hardly a gap in the area between the upper part of the beak and the bottom part flows smoothly.
For the curved serif variety, you see a completely different story. The endpoint of the beak of it's eagle is sharper, and a gap occurs between the upper beak and the lower beak forming an inverted letter "V". Please refer to the red line traced over the lower and upper beak of the eagle.
After the beak area, the 4th point of interest is the feather on the left foot of the eagle. For this particular point of interest, it would be easy to remember that for the straight serif variant the feather is straight going down the length of the eagle's leg as seen on the red line traced on the image below; while for the curved serif variety the feather curves as depicted on the attached image below.
After the feather on the left foot, we go to the top arrow on the right of the eagle. For the straight serif variety, the endpoint of the arrow touches the feather at the top, while one sees a different story for the curved serif variety. All three samples have endpoints that do not touch the feather at the top. There is a small gap between the endpoint and the feather as seen from the images below.
As you go down amongst the arrows, the 6th point of interest is the intersection where all three arrows on the right foot area meet or intersect with the shaft of the middle arrow. Please note the subtle difference where the straight serif variety has all points intersecting on the shaft; while the curved serif variety has only the bottom arrow's endpoint that intersects with the shaft of the middle arrow. The top arrow's right endpoint does not touch the shaft of the middle arrow's shaft area.
The seventh and eight diagnostic have something to do with the "1" on the year. The most known diagnostic is obviously the straight serif at the top, which is where the name of the variety of the coin is derived from, and, as you go down the shaft of the "1" you will notice a subtle difference as traced by the red lines in the image below. For the straight serif variety, the sides of the shaft form a letter "J" on both sides, while for the curved serif variety, the sides form a different angle as seen from the image below. Finally, for the ninth and final diagnostic, we noticed that the knobs on the number "9" had an obvious difference. The straight serif variety had a bigger knob that comes very close to the bottom of the arc on the "9" as seen on the circled red image below; while the knob for the curved serif variety had a smaller knob and is farther from the bottom of the arc on the "9" (again seen on the image below).
I cannot help but think that the nine points of interest I identified may not be perfect, mainly because my sample size was comprised of SS and CS from my simple and small collection. A collection that took me awhile to acquire given the scarcity of these two varieties. So the accuracy of my findings could be put in question. In other words, I am saying that my one big caveat is to say that this is not a definite truth or be taken as a given, as more research has to be conducted on a bigger sample size. But I've tested my findings with other online images especially as new coins are discovered and shared on FB. Plus I've shared my findings with other more senior collectors who seem to agree with some of my findings. I guess the challenge is for the reader to test these out on their own coins and see if we come up with the same findings. Try it.....you may find it interesting.
(As I completed the recording of these points of interest, I will now transfer my obsession to the relative values of the 1905s straight serif. More specifically testing the theory about it's "undervaluation." However, I will leave that to phase 2 of my study. A continuation reserved for a new blog)