Question: I have a round, 1853 California fractional gold coin with a Liberty head on one side; on the other side is a wreath with the words: Half Dol. California Gold. It appears to be in excellent condition. Can you tell me something about these fractionals in general? Of course, I'd like to know what my coin is worth. I'd also like to know about an 1850 eagle ($10) in uncirculated condition.--T.P.
Answer: The California Gold Rush not only sparked the Westward movement in this country, it also led to small gold coins that were privately minted because there was a general shortage of change. These coins, often known as California fractional gold, are both round and octagonal and generally resemble the designs of regular U.S. coinage. Denominations were 25 cents, 50 cents and $1. There are many varieties of these pieces, and grading and pricing are difficult.
Strangely, these California pieces, rich with the lore of the state's history, are not as popular as might be expected. Your coin, for example, is probably worth about $125. Your uncirculated 1850 gold eagle, on the other hand, is in the $500-and-up range. Both coins are from the same era, but the $10 piece is worth more intrinsically and also has more of a following even though there are undoubtedly fewer 50-cent gold pieces such as yours available. This is a good example of how the marketplace reacts to the law of supply and demand.
Incidentally, if you're interested in further study of the small California pieces, two leading works on the subject are "California Fractional Gold" by David and Susan Doering and "California Pioneer Fractional Gold" by Walter Breen.
Q: Some time in February you published information regarding a gold coin that had Queen Elizabeth on one side and St. Michael on the reverse. It was to have been released March 1. I would be interested in obtaining this coin, but dealers in my area seem to have no knowledge of it. Can you please provide further information?--D.M.V.
A: The coin is called an Angel and is legal tender on the Isle of Man. Because it is so new, many dealers are still unfamiliar with it. Details are available from Keogh-Rulau Galleries, P. O. Box 12688, Dallas, Tex. 75225, or phone (214) 492-4849.
Q: While outside recently, I uncovered from the ground an object that I thought was a plug. After cleaning the dirt off, I found it to be a 1908 nickel. Does it have any collector value or is it just worth a nickel?--M.E.T.
A: Your "plug nickel," a Liberty-head type, is worth 50 cents.
Q: I have a $5 bill, series of 1928, on which the seal and also the serial number are in red. Does this have any special value?--S.F.F.
A: Your bill has no premium value.
Q: I would like to know the value of a $10 gold coin I own. It is an Indian head dated 1910.--H.F.T.
A: Your eagle is worth $375 and up, depending upon condition.
Q: I gave you the wrong date on my flying-eagle penny. It is made in 1858 instead of 1856. Please let me know if this makes any difference.--J.T.W.
A: The difference is about the same as that between a VW and a Duesenberg. The 1856 is rare; the 1858 is worth $5 and up.
Q: I ran across some United States thrift cards in my late mother's belongings. Do they have any collector value?--J.McC.
A: Since your thrift cards are dated 1923, they may interest memorabilia collectors, but they do not fall into the numismatics area. You'll have to check with some antique dealers and the like or else save them as keepsakes.
Q: I would like your opinion of what the following are worth today and what you feel their yearly appreciation would be. They are: 1936-P Walking Liberty half dollar, MS-65, fully struck with light toning; 1937-D half dollar, MS-65, fully struck, like a semi-proof; 1939-D Walking Liberty half, MS-65, fully struck; 1941-S Walking Liberty, MS-65, fully struck, like a semi-proof; 1943-P Walking Liberty, MS-65, fully struck; 1945 Walking Liberty, MS-65, fully struck; 1945-D Walking Liberty, MS-65, fully struck; 1945-S Walking Liberty, MS-65, fully struck. And silver dollars: 1878-CC, MS-65, fully struck; 1882-O, MS-65, fully struck; 1885-O, MS-65, fully struck; 1896-P, MS-65, fully struck with deep mirror cameo, like a proof; 1898-0, MS-65, fully struck; 1899-P MS-65, fully struck; 1922-P, MS-65, fully struck, and 1885-0, MS-65, fully struck and toned.--R.H.
A: You seem to be a sophisticated collector and probably have a better idea of what your coins are worth than I ever would. For one thing, from the description, all your coins are in a high grade of preservation. This would have to be verified before any dollar amount could be placed on your collection.
Since the coin market tends to fluctuate, there's no way of knowing what sort of appreciation you might expect. If you did not overpay for your coins originally, then chances are that normal growth due to supply and demand will help them increase in value. But there's no guarantee. That's a risk you always take.