Vermeer Numismatic

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Franklin Mint

This piece is an example of both the best and the worst treatment of a famous image.

The medallion is the 1974 Franklin Mint’s copy of Vermeer’s "La Dentellière", part of the Treasures of the Louvre series. 1.25 ounces of Sterling Silver.  There were 50 art medals in this series, and you often see them in book form, in fact it is fairly rare to find single coins.

The Franklin Mint, Middletown, PA, was founded by Joseph Segel in 1964. Segal also started the QVC shopping channel in 1986. The rise in the price of silver in the 1960’s caused all silver coins to be removed from circulation, since the value of the metal now exceeded the face value of the coins. The Kennedy half dollar was the last to be issued (first minted in 1964), and proved so popular that Segal thought collectors would pay a premium for silver coin-like items. The high quality of his products was ensured by hiring Gilroy Roberts, the US mint’s chief engraver and creator of the Kennedy dollar. La Dentellière is really a beautiful piece.

The name ‘Franklin’ Mint name comes from the fact that Benjamin Franklin was on a previous US silver 50 cent piece, and Segal wanted to remind people of the connection with real money. Eventually he expanded into collector’s plates, and the company was purchased by Warner Communications in 1981 as a vehicle for promoting its entertainment characters. Quality of production suffered seriously after the 1981 recession. In 1985 Warner sold the Franklin Mint to the Resnick family, who expanded production into a wide variety of ‘collectibles’ of a bit higher quality but sold with vastly overhyped marketing. In 2000 the company was sued over misleading claims that products were ‘limited editions’, but the case was thrown out. They were also sued in 1998 by the Princess Diana’s estate over misuse of her image, and the Mint again won the case.  Tiger Woods also sued charging that the 1996 Master’s gold medallion series was so low quality that he did not want to associate himself with the company. He won, with the judgment saying that collector’s medallions did not enjoy freedom of the press protection.

Star Grading Services operates out of Belville, Ohio, probably owned by a guy named Larry Bence. Collector’s coins and medallions are ‘slabbed’ (encased in plastic), and issued a ‘Certificate of Authenticity’.  Star products are almost entirely sold on Ebay, by one seller, aboncom. There are a number of high quality coin grading services; such as the Top Tier Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).  It is rather difficult to wade through all the negative comments about Star, but from what I can see, there are some specific complaints. Star is a ‘third tier’ service, and charges most often heard are that Ebay sellers claiming a Top Tier PCGS grade from a third tier service is a fraudulent practice There are also claims that Star is owned by the same Ebay seller that sells most of these coins, negating the independence of the grading. And that numerous examples of poor quality coins receiving high gradings (including photos of damage), are subsequently sold at inflated prices. I do not know what alterations to this particular coin might have been made by Star before slabbing.

first posted 4/1/2009

References (web site references as of 4/1/2009)

Wikipedia: The Franklin Mint