How to Organize a Coin Collection > or maybe how not to...
Zodiac Pendants & Talismans
Zodiac Pendants, Lucky Charms, Talismans and Keepsakes
Within this section, we will display examples of Astrological themed pendants, talismans, and keepsakes. Admittedly, this area can have some crossover with tokens or medals, and does in many cases, but we will try to stick to the basics as much as possible.
What is a pendant vs. a talisman, vs. a keepsake?
A pendant is a piece of jewelry that goes on a necklace and hangs from the chain. It typically hangs downward from the chain and can be reversible (as in having two sides). This can be a keepsake or a medal that was designed to go on a chain, but medals are typically too large and heavy to do this. However, if Flavor Flav can wear a wall clock around his neck and Mr. T can wear a hundred necklaces at one time, then... to each his own. One can imagine that there are a ton of zodiac-themed pendants out there and you would be right, but I am sticking to the ones that were created to be coin-like or medal-like. Many of these were shipped in a circular coin finding and made specifically for the purpose of adding them to your own necklace or sometimes shipped with a chain attached. The finding is a circular hoop with a groove that sandwiched in the zodiac pendant when it was closed around it. Other examples include lucky "charms" that had a hoop added to the design so that it could easily be added to a chain.
Keepsakes are tokens or medals that were designed to be carried around in your pocket and many of these ended up with holes drilled in them and were put on chains this way. It's very common to see many of these "charms" or "lucky tokens" with holes drilled into them which often greatly reduces their value to collectors. Often, keepsakes were given as presents for Valentine's Day or a birthday and this is where this sometimes crosses over into the bullion (precious metals) category.
So now you might be asking yourself, OK, so what the heck is a talisman? The difference with talismen is that they are thought to have some sort of magical powers to bring good luck or protect the wearer of the talisman and are usually inscribed with occult symbols of some sort. So a Talisman can be a pendant or a keepsake, but the design usually incorporated magical symbols of some sort.
A Coin hoop or "finding" for turning a dime coin into a pendant.
Virgo Silver bullion in a coin hoop for turning it into a necklace.
A coin that is recast into a pendant ready jewelry design by adding in a chain hoop.
Ushers' Lucky Medals
The Great Depression gave us the modern zodiac medal. Perhaps people felt there was so little luck to go around that they resorted to buying small pocket pieces; maybe the medal manufacturers decided business was slow enough it was worth minting medals to be sold for a quarter or half dollar each. Whatever the reason, two popular zodiac series both have a 1936 copyright date. Here we will discuss the medals issued by the magician Ushers of Venice Beach (next to Los Angeles), California. Further down we will discuss Zolar's Lucky Buddha medals.
There are a number of people who collect magicians' memorabilia, and some of it gets quite pricey. On the authority of another collector, it's been said that the medals were issued in brass, bronze, or gilded brass, though it is difficult to tell the difference. He also verified the Gemini and Virgo medals are the scarcest. Both of these are Mercury signs, and Mercury is associated with logic and rational thinking. While many of us are too rational to believe in astrology, it seems like the medal producers noticed this trend because the Ushers aren't the only medal sets where Virgo and Gemini are the scarcest.
Each 25.9mm, 7-gram medal has a stylized depiction of one zodiac sign on the front. The sign dominates the front with a shooting star above. The star is a hollow six-pointed star with the zodiac's sigil inside, and the name in large letters in the comet's tail. Somewhere near the sign is the sigil of the associated planet. These came out the year Pluto was discovered, so while they include the new planets Uranus and Neptune, they don't include Pluto. The medals are unusual in that they don't list the dates of the zodiac sign. Most signs have four lucky digits but three signs have only three. All of Aquarius' lucky digits are also lucky for Gemini and Virgo, but that may be because they all have Wednesday as their lucky day.
The reverses all have a ringed planet in the center of a circle of all 12 zodiac sigils. There are four stars over the planet, one larger than the rest. Around the edge facing away from the center is * WEALTH * HEALTH * HAPPINESS *. There are three different reverses and one variety. What I assume is the earliest version has no writing on the planet. A small COPYRIGHT 1936 BY appears above and THE USHERS – VENICE CALIF appears below. At the very top is GOOD LUCK facing towards the center. The second type moves the copyright inscription to below the planet and puts THE USHERS in large letters over the planet and VENICE, CAL. on the ring. The third type has WISHING YOU at the top, and the ring's inscription is VENICE CALIF. A copyright symbol © appears below the planet with no date or words, along with clouds and 2 stars. Although no longer in production, the Ushers medals are still one of the more popular zodiac lucky charm series collected today. Example below:
These are easy to find and not too expensive, going for a few dollars to $25, depending on the condition and rareness. You should be able to collect a full set of these is a few years. These often have holes drilled into them to put on chains but try not to collect those.
Examples of the three types of reverses.
"The Ushers" were Harry and Frances Usher, a pair of entertainers who performed around the United States in the 1920s and 1930s as magicians, mentalists, and psychics. They retired from performing in 1935 and opened their store in Venice, a Pacific Ocean beachfront community west of Los Angeles, California. The store operated until around 1950 when Harry Usher passed away. This poster advertisement for their store was published in 1934.
Zolar Lucky Buddha Set
Zolar (Bruce King c.1897-1976, an American astrologer and author) has published books on astrology and divination over the years. His company also issued their own set of zodiac medals. For some strange reason, the reverse side shows an attempt at the image of the Buddha with long ears and the inscription LUCKY BUDDHA beneath. The medals for the individual signs are 30mm at about 7.1 grams and they include a copyright notice at the bottom. There are two types of inscriptions. One has "Copyright 1936 by Zolar" along the bottom rim (below on left), while the other also has "Made in U.S.A."above the original copyright on the bottom. There are differences in the lengths and angles of the rays, indicating that different dies have been used over the years.
Most of the medals are made of brass, but aluminum ones are also known, though they are much scarcer than the brass. The aluminum medals all include the MADE IN U.S.A. inscription. Sometimes there is a small 8-page paper guide sold with the medals which is extremely hard to find. There is also a 13th medal that is a bit larger (at 35mm) that has all the signs with their constellations and dates on it. See the examples of this set below:
Rare 8 page Booklet
An example of the 35mm diameter lucky charm that includes all the zodiac signs on the reverse with their constellations. This reverse die was used on other talismans
before being used in this series.
I see the larger medal come up from time to time, but to be honest, I did not know it existed until fairly recently and the aluminum medals are so rare that I have only three of these to date. The dies from this set were adapted from this series to the next set or perhaps, vice versa.
Kings Wine Series
Here is a very good example of how die makers will reuse the same design or copy another manufacturer's idea in order to save time and money. This set uses the same center design as the Lucky Buddha series but uses different fronts. The dates shown are also the exact same dates as on the Lucky Buddha medals, however, there is no slogan or translation of the sign's name into English. They all have a large hole near the bottom. Its assumed that this is because they were sold attached by a cord to the wine bottle. All examples seem to be made of bronze or brass and weigh between 5.2 and 6.1 grams. The obverse has the zodiac sign with sigil above in a circle, just like on the Lucky Buddha medals, but are only 1" (25-26mm) in diameter. Below are some examples. Unlike other medal series, the Mercurial signs Gemini and Virgo are readily available. It is the autumnal/winter signs that are hard to track down.
Another series in this sort of design...
The next series is smaller, on a 22.7mm planchet. Most of the medals are aluminum and weigh about 1 gram but there are bronze examples that weigh in at 4.4 grams. The figures and sigils are identical to the Kings Wine series, but the lettering is smaller and so not all months are abbreviated the same way. There is also a hyphen between the dates (where the Kings Wine medals have a hole). The reverses are completely different: they have lucky numbers and day and a slogan. The lucky day mostly agrees with the Ushers medals (based on the ancient planet associated with the medal) but the numbers do not. There are differences in the lettering of some medals which may indicate there were multiple obverses or reverse dies, or the differences could be the result of die wear. These medals are much harder to find than the others.
Large Greek Pendant Zodiac Medals
In the mid-1970s, an unusual series of zodiac medals were produced. Despite being very large, they were intended to be worn as pendants, and despite having only Greek inscriptions, I’m reasonably sure they were produced in the U.S. Most of the medals I’ve seen are 55mm in diameter and cast very thinly to keep the weight down. All are high relief. The obverse of each medal shows a very large zodiac sign surrounded by a broken circle of dots (or maybe they represent planets) and dozens of small five-pointed stars of different sizes. The tops all have elaborate loops. They come in plated in zinc, copper, nickel, and iron. The common reverse has four concentric rings. The outer ring has cartoonish images of the zodiac signs often with stars. Inside of that is the Greek name of the birth sign and further towards the center is the zodiac symbol. The very center has at least three different designs. Most medals have what looks like an oblong Greek coin with a recumbent deer facing right, N to the left, Δ to the right, and 1947 below. I think this may be the minter’s logo. However, one medal has a smiling radiant sun face and another has just 12 “pie wedges” in the center with no lettering at all, the second band on the reverse is empty. Examples are below.
Rarely, this example of a 35mm size can be found. One can see that the sign takes up more space on the obverse with no room for the circle of dots or planets and the stars are closer to the sign. The loop is also much flatter than with the 55mm medals.
The Roy Booker Set
The most popular design of zodiac medals was developed by Roy Booker of Atlanta, Georgia. Unlike the Lucky Buddha and Usher's medals discussed previously, these medals do not carry a copyright date or any indication as to the issuer. However, some were issued in envelopes, but whether the 1949 date is for the medals or just the envelopes is not clear. These medals have been issued in gilded brass, brass, and aluminum over several decades, probably by a number of different mints, as the legend's lettering and positioning vary considerably. Most of the medals are 1 inch in diameter, occasionally found holed or with an attached loop. Most medals show the sign of the zodiac, often with a nude figure, with the sigil, Latin name, and dates of the sign on the obverse, while the reverse has a four-leaf clover at top, a horseshoe at bottom, the lucky numbers at top, a description of those born under the sign in the center, and the lucky day at bottom. The lucky day always corresponds to the planet traditionally associated with the sign. If your a patient and vigilant, you can still find uncirculated complete sets of this series without too much difficulty in the brass, and more rarely in the aluminum.
Original Series in Brass
A little booklet sometimes included with the lucky charm.
American Mint - Pennorama Pendants
Pennorama issued sets of zodiac medals in the early to mid-Seventies. These 40mm medals are often found as pendants in necklaces. Most are bronze, but they are also in copper-nickel and silver. The bronze and copper-nickel medals weigh around 26 grams and the silver 31 grams. These medals are also rarely seen in 19mm hallmarked bronze 3.6 grams or sterling silver 4.7 grams. While the 19mm medal reverses are blank, the 40mm have one of three reverses: a sun figure, the solar system, or a bicentennial design showing Willard's famous Spirit of 76 in one hemisphere over the lunar landing module in the other hemisphere. Many of the medals are still found with the original box. It is the box that identifies the issuer as Pennorama; there is no marking on the medal itself. There were 12 different box designs since they include a photo of the individual medal's obverse and have the zodiac sign's name around the edge. These medals are easily found in the market place and usually come in a coin necklace holder as in the inset picture below.
• Pennorama Pendant Set 1 Example: (Shown in Antique Bronze Treatment)
3 Types of Reverses
19mm Hallmarked Example
American Mint Panorama Pendants (cont.)
This set has a distinctive his relief shape. The central design is in a shallow bowl surrounded by a broad rim which is highest inside then tapers down to the edge, similar to the previous Pennorama set. These are more difficult to find, and I have yet to see a full set. There are three different reverse designs. The most common version has a large asymmetrical sun surrounded by 12 sigils in circles similar to the reverse of the other Pennorama medals. The second most common design is the same but with a smiling cartoon bull's head with a large ring in its nose, facing left superimposed on the sun (which I think has something to do with a Disney® release). And most rarely is the Solar system design with the Sun and Saturn from the Talisman Guild.
• Pennorama Pendant Second Set Example:
3 Types of Reverses
Booklet on the Sign
If you get lucky, sometimes you can find these little booklets with them but these are very rare.
Solid Jewelers Minted Coin Set
This next series was issued in boxes that use the name "Minted Coin" from Solid Jewelers, though that does not appear on the medals themselves. The obverses all have the sign very large with a small Latin name and sigil. The reverses all have the constellation shown in stars with the Latin name at the top and begin and end dates at the bottom. The dies for these medals do not appear to have been produced from a hub because there are small differences between different examples. There are many variations on this set with multiple sizes and thicknesses.
There are two distinct reverses. All then 34mm medals use five-pointed stars in the constellation, while almost all the 39mm medals use asterisks (*) with 8 rays. The only exception to that rule is Virgo medals, which have 39mm with both reverses. So it's possible all the 39mm medals have both types of stars. The asterisk reverses have the dates at the bottom almost touching the rim while the star reverses have a significant gap between the legend and the rim. These medals were created in many types of materials including copper, brass, bronze, cupronickel, silver plated, white metal and several gilded options too. The trick is to find them in a consistent set and without holes drilled in them. So far, I have been unable to track down who originated them or why they were produced.
Rare to find Solid Jewelers necklace box example.
Roger Williams Mint - Southern Comfort Set
Southern Comfort is famous for its whiskey, but in the 1970s they issued a number of mixology books that included "a new guide for Happy Hour astrology talk". They also included ads for a series of reeded brass 32mm 12g medals, each with a different figure and sigil of the zodiac on the obverse. These were issued as key rings, necklaces and just by themselves. These were also stamped in aluminum, but these are quite difficult to find. I was lucky enough to stumble across a who set of these in uncirculated condition marked from the Roger Williams Mint-1971. It seems that Tauras and Aquarius are the most difficult to find while Caner and Virgo seem to always be on the auction sites. Most of the time they are in circulated condition with quite a bit of toning. I find the designs for these to be the most beautiful of all the Lucky Pendants and they are my favorite good luck charms of all I have found so far.
It is also possible to find the exact same coins without the central "Southern Comfort - Your Lucky Drink" Circle slogan in the middle of the reverse and finished in gold plating. These are quite beautiful and are very rare and they were sold as legitimate jewelry pendants.
Anodized Aluminum Starry Set
This aluminum set appeared sometime in the 1980s and there are some references to these being trade tokens, but to me, they seem like collectible lucky pocket pieces. I see them come up from time to time in the auction sites, but to my recollection, they are fairly rare. Being that they are aluminum, they get beaten up pretty quickly. They do come in a number of colors and finishes. There are a number of misspelled words that makes this set unique among the other lucky charms...not!
Ron Landis Gallery Mint Zodiac Sets
From Ron's Facebook page: "Starting in 1982, I traveled for ten years doing renaissance festivals and built several exhibits on early coin making techniques. I later became somewhat well known in the field of numismatics (coins) after reviving some ancient and obsolete coin making methods. I won all the major awards...blah blah blah.. I got my second 15 minutes of fame when I donated my time to make the original prototypes for the new "golden dollar" that helped convince Congress to vote for the legislation to create the new coin."
Ron is still active in the coin making community and is very well known for his hobo nickels...look em' up.
As far as I can tell, he created two separate zodiac sets during his renaissance days in 24mm and 28mm designs and stamped them on the spot for people in copper, brass and sometimes silver. Circulation numbers would be impossible to get. I really like his designs and style and I became aware of these sets only a few years ago. Because Mr. Landis can stamp them any way he likes, you can find them with different reverses, as pendants and quite often with a hole in them so they can take a necklace. I prefer to keep them in a close to pristine condition as I can find them and I am still looking to complete my 24mm set of zodiacs. Hey, Mr. Landis, can you help a collector out? Examples below:
1915 Pan Pacific Expo Zodiac Charms
These were possibly sold within the "Zone", the somewhat infamous amusement area that formed part of the Expo's attractions. Their specific origin is cloudy, but they are definitely associated with the Expo. Fairly scarce, as they seem to have not sold well back in 1915. All I have seen or am aware of are Uncirculated, which suggests that the survivors are "remainders". Groups of various size have been offered on eBay, which tends to support this conclusion. The medals are all thick bronze, 26.7mm and 9.2 grams with reeded edges. I have heard that they have several bags of these in a warehouse in San Fran that gets used to still sell these to collectors. Examples Below:
Avon? Jewelry Bronze Pendant Set
I am only about 20% sure that these were sold by Avon back in the '80s. I have very limited information on this set and I don't see them very often. I have managed to get about 8 of the 12 and as far as I know, they were only done in antiqued bronze. One peculiar thing about these medals is that the dates shown on around the outside don't agree with those in the main medal design. The outside shows August, 23rd (actually 8.23) as both the last day of Leo and the first day of Virgo, plus September, 23rd (9.23) is shown as both the last day of Virgo and the first day of Libra. Examples Below:
Lorac® Pendant Set
These were manufactured and sold by the Lorac® Corporation back in the 1970s. A few years ago I bought a medium sized box of these that contained hundreds of these medals and pulled out the best examples in bronze and the silver ones. The silver ones are actually white metal that has been plated over the bronze medal, but the finish does not seem to tarnish. They have a bold Yin-Yang symbol on the reverse and the designs of the fronts are classic 1970's folk art. I have found these inset in pendants and also with a gummy like coating on them to protect them as necklace pendants and sometimes they are enamel painted. Seems like they would be kind of heavy to wear on the neck, and perhaps that's why they didn't sell so well. I sold the ones I had left over a few years ago and I had little trouble selling them all. These are 38.5mm at about 23grams and are mostly seen in uncirculated condition and there are smaller 31mm ones that do not have the Lorac ®.
Bronze Medal Details
Silver Heart Pendants
These were stamped before 1980 and I am currently looking into who created these and how many were minted. The heart shape is unique and this set crosses the boundaries between bullion collectors, zodiac collectors, and the heart shape often appeals to those who collect oddly shaped coinage. They are all marked as .999 silver at one Troy ounce. There is a small RW at the bottom in a circle of the fronts and I assume this to be the artist or the Roger Williams Mint Mark. The backs are common. "For Someone Special" with a good space to have the name engraved. They seem to bring a good price, going for two to four times spot silver.
Wilhelm Becker Zodiac Pendants
To date, I have not found much biographical information on Mr. Becker other than he was French and produced a great many medals during the first half of the 20th century. He is primarily known for his work on religiously themed medals and pendants that are worn all over the world. He was an amazing Art Deco artist who also was influenced heavily by the Art Nouveau style as well. I have recently found this set of zodiac medals that he designed, reportedly from the 1920s. Originally produced medals have the zodiac symbol on the reverse with his name stamped in. More recently produced medals from SAGA in Paris are sometimes blank on the reverse. These seem to have been mostly done in 18K gold and are rare to find on the open market fetching a premium price.
Single Pendants & Talismans
How to Organize a Coin Collection > or maybe how not to...
Single Luck Charms, Good Luck Pocket Pieces, and One-Offs
There are many un-dated zodiac medals, but one can tell from the artistry generally what time period they are from. I have often seen these types of charms and medals, but rarely are there any dates or mint marks associated with them. They often come from Europe and sometimes oriental countries as well. It's very difficult to know unless there is writing on them that might give away a country of origin. They are usually made of copper, brass, pewter and pot metal, but sometimes you can find them in silver or bronze. With the proliferation of private mints and custom coinage, I have been surprised that there has not been many more of these on the market. Most of the designs for these types of pieces are pre-WWII. Having said that, sometimes symbols on them, like the swastika, do not have the same connotation today that they did back when the pieces were made.