Question: Could you please help me? I would like to know where to buy the most affordable coins. Are they most affordable at coin shows, through mail-order ads in coin magazines or at local stores?--T.H.
Answer: You've asked a very good question, and I think I've attempted to answer it piecemeal in the past. When you say "affordable," I take it to mean coins that you can afford and also coins that are fairly priced. So I think the answer is on two levels.
Insofar as what you can afford is concerned, I'd suggest that you budget for your hobby the same as you would budget for other expenses. Put away a certain amount each week or each month. Obviously, you have to take care of your basic needs first.
But most people have discretionary funds for things like dining out, entertainment and vacations.
Decide how important coin collecting is to you, then budget accordingly. Your purchases will depend on what you can afford and the area of collecting in which you are interested. If you decide to collect higher-quality coins, for instance, you'll make fewer purchases because these coins are more expensive, but the appreciation factor is greater. Gold coins, high-quality coins (Mint State 60 and better) and certain rarities can be quite a challenge.
As far as fair pricing is concerned, that depends to a great extent on your knowledge and expertise. The more expert you become, the greater your opportunities. There are no real secrets in the coin hobby. Anyone can figure out whether a coin is rare or not. The trick is to understand characteristics for each mint and date. Grading is unscientific and essentially a matter of opinion. There's often a tendency for the person selling a coin to grade it higher than the purchaser. If you don't learn anything else but understand that, you can go a long way with your coins. It's not necessary to denigrate the coins that you're buying; just make sure that you and the seller agree on the condition. The price is pegged on that condition.
Now, to get what you might consider a fair price, I'd suggest that you cultivate one or several dealers who will get to know you personally, know your interests and buying habits. Most dealers will work with regular customers and will give them a better break than someone they'll never see again.
One of the reasons that I stress coin shows is that you can meet a wide range of dealers at one and also do some comparison shopping. Usually no two coins are alike, and no two dealers are alike, either. When it comes to being a successful coin hobbyist, the responsibility rests as much on the collector as it does on the dealer.
Q: I have a token found in an old burned house. It says California Gold 1/2, has a bear on the back and has Liberty, 1853, and 13 stars on the front. I know that it is not fractional gold because it does not say cent or dol. on the back. But please tell me the value and the content. Is it made of gold or what? Also, I would like to contact someone who had a coin mentioned in your column. How can I do this?--R.S.S.
A: Last things first: I have been asked from time to time to get various buyers and sellers together. I cannot act as an intermediary. The place for people to buy and sell coins is through coin clubs, coin dealers and at coin shows. Some coin dealers have bid boards, or a person could advertise. But this column is a consumer service and not a sales outlet. Sorry, but you'll have to buy or sell your coins elsewhere.
As for your coin, it sounds like a copy of California fractional gold. If so, it has no numismatic value. Many of these were produced as tokens. The bear is the giveaway. There is a place for copies in this world; not all of us can afford a Picasso original, and I've seen many interesting prints. Sure, they might even cost a bunch and look nice on the wall, but they're not likely to have any resale value. The same is true with coin copies or replicas. When you buy a coin, make sure it's the real thing.
Q: On a business trip to Frankfurt some time ago, I discovered a strange-looking copper coin. On examination I found it to have a spread eagle clutching a wreath in its claws with a swastika in the center. Below it is written Deutches Reich 1938. On the flip side it says Reichspfenning, and below that is a partial wreath and the number 10. Obviously this is a Nazi coin. It is in excellent condition as far as I can see. Does it have any value?--E.B.
A: I suspect your coin has a 1 instead of a 10. But it is a piece made during Nazi control of Germany. They were first made in 1936. Your coin is worth about $5.