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Most Catalogue Prices Are 'Conditional' Figures

January 23, 1986|DON ALPERT

Question: I have a collection of old coins, and I would like to know their value. Could you tell me where I could purchase a book that would give me this information?--J.L.W.

Answer: Most coin stores have some basic books available. What you've failed to mention is what sort of old coins you have. Are they foreign? United States? Ancient? Chances are, your coins are American.

If so, the best general reference is R. S. Yeoman's "A Guide Book of United States Coins." It's generally called the Red Book, and it sells for about $5.95. The problem with this guide is that it comes out once a year and coin prices fluctuate daily. Also, unless you understand grading, it will not be of too much help in determining what a particular coin is worth.

For example, a 1942-S dime is priced in the Red Book at $1 in fine condition (fairly well worn) and at $40 in Mint State 65 (choice uncirculated). The basic price for dimes is about 40 cents and up from a dealer.

So, you can see the problem in determining what a coin is worth. The dealer, obviously, can't offer catalogue value. There has to be a margin for profit. Now, this is an area where sellers can bargain. There are many dealers and prices are negotiable. If you have some knowledge of how the coin market works, you have a better chance than someone with no knowledge at all.

Most dealers rely on the Coin Dealer Newsletter, called the Gray Sheet, to determine prices. It works on a bid-ask formula, similar to the stock market. It is important to remember that these are wholesale prices, limited to dealer-to-dealer transactions. But it affects the public because it sets price spreads, which ultimately determine what the public pays or gets for coins.

You don't have to be a dealer to subscribe to the newsletter, but it's fairly expensive unless you're a serious collector. Many dealers will share their Gray Sheets with customers, helping to take the mystery out of pricing. To subscribe, contact the Coin Dealer Newsletter, P.O. Box 2308, Hollywood, Calif. 90028.

To learn the value of foreign coins, the general reference is the "Standard Catalogue of World Coins" by Krause and Mishler. Nearly 200,000 coins are included. Dealers will usually pay about half the catalogue price, so you can see that it is merely a guide. Once again, it pays to shop for the best offer.

There also are many specialized guides for almost every imaginable area of numismatics. The extent of your collection and your interest will determine how deeply you want to get into the subject. The effort you're willing to put into it, the better your chances are for getting a fair price for your collection.

Q: I have a Canadian 1 cent, 1888, in good condition; a U.S. 1-cent flying eagle, 1857, in fair condition; a 1953 English sixpence; 1916 French 50 centime slightly worn, 1881-CC and 1883-CC in fine condition. Would appreciate their worth.--G.J.B.

A: Your Canadian cent is worth about $1, the flying eagle is $5 and up, the sixpence and 50 centime are $3 each, the 1881-CC $1 is $50 and up and the 1883-CC $1 is $25 and up.

Q: I have a Liberty-head silver dollar dated 1891, a dime dated 1893, an Indian-head cent dated 1904 and a nickel that is .010 (10 thousandths) of an inch thicker than standard. Do these coins have premium value?--W.E.H.

A: Your dollar is worth $10, the dime $2, the cent 50 cents, and the fat nickel is worth 5 cents.

Q: I have two miniature coins. One is an 1877 Indian-head penny, an exact duplicate of a regular penny except mine is 10 millimeters in diameter, and the regular one is 19 millimeters in diameter. The other coin also is a miniature, 10 millimeters in diameter, an exact duplicate of the heraldic eagle dime dated 1804 with 13 stars on the reverse. Both coins I would grade as fine or very fine. Are these coins novelty items manufactured for souvenirs or do they have some value?--F.V.

A: As you indicate, your miniature coins are indeed novelty items. Many copies are made as souvenir pieces, and as long as no attempt is made to fool the public, I see no harm to it. Often such pieces will be marked as a duplicate or copy. Since your coins are not to size, this was not deemed necessary. A genuine 1877 Indian-head cent can be worth several hundred dollars while an 1804 dime is worth even more. Your miniatures have no numismatic value, but they might be worth pocket change to an interested party.

Coin News

A medal honoring the 25th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inauguration is being offered by the Franklin Mint. The medal (pictured) was designed by Gilroy Roberts, who also sculpted the Kennedy half dollar. The 2 3/4-inch proof medal, in silver and bronze versions, carries the legend: Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country. The 5,000 sterling silver medals are $200 each. The bronze medal will be available all year for $27.50. Order from the Franklin Mint, Franklin Center, Pa. 19091.

Coin Calendar

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