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Booker T. Washington Issue Popular

March 13, 1986|DON ALPERT

Question: Recently I've come into possession of a 1946 Booker T. Washington half dollar in very good, but not mint, condition. Although I'm familiar with the exploits and contributions of the great black educator, heretofore I'd never known of the coin's existence. Could you give me a brief history of the coin, its numismatic value and where someone like myself, who knows very little about coins and their value, might sell the coin?--J.K.

Answer: The Booker T. Washington half dollar is a United States commemorative coin, part of a series of commemoratives that started in 1892 with the Columbian Exposition and continues to this day with the current Statue of Liberty issue. In between, all sorts of events and persons have been honored.

Commemoratives are a popular series with numerous collectors, and they have an active trading history. They are often highly promoted and many are quite costly. However, the Booker T. Washington issue is not particularly expensive individually, although three-piece sets from the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco mints can command respectable prices.

The Booker T. Washington half dollar was issued from 1946, the date of your coin, continuously to 1951. Relatively few were issued in 1948 and 1949, accounting in part for price variations. The purported purpose of the commemorative was to support the Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial Commission in Virginia.

The hoped-for tourist attraction never materialized. Its promoter, S. J. Phillips, was blamed by many for its failure. Nevertheless, Washington's legacy is actually the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, not a failed private promotion. And certainly the coin is a fitting tribute to a great American.

Single Booker T. Washington halves, such as yours, are worth about $8 or $9 each in circulated condition. Uncirculated versions are in the $13-to-$15 range.

As for selling your coin, almost any coin dealer, I'm sure, would be a buyer.

Q: Please tell me the value of the following: 1907 Liberty-head nickel; 1900 and 1903 Indian-head pennies; 1950 Series C and B $20 bills with the words In God We Trust omitted. Also, a copper coin with the Statue of Liberty, 11 stars, the date 1886 and the word Liberty on front. On the reverse there is the Liberty Bell with a crack, the date 1776 on the bottom and the words Liberty Bell.--A.G.

A: Your nickel and Indian-head cents are worth 50 cents each and up. Your $20 bills have no collector value because these bills were made both with and without the In God We Trust motto. Your Statue of Liberty piece is probably a medal with little or no collector value, although there may be some interest in it at this time, because the new Statue of Liberty commemoratives could attract some buyers.

Q: My grandfather, who died in 1914, was cashier of the Nephi National Bank in Nephi, Utah. I have a circulated $5 bill (about 7-by-3 1/8 inches) signed by him and the bank president and dated Nov. 21, 1906. Benjamin Harrison is pictured, and there is a red seal. The family has a second bill with a blue seal. Are either one of these bills worth more than the $5 face value? My mother, a bank employee in the 1920s, remembers cutting the sheets of arriving currency with long scissors.--N.C.P.

A: Many small banks went into receivership in the 1930s, but bills issued on their name are collected by some paper money fanciers. Your bills do have some collector value, although probably not too much. Check around with some bill specialists for a precise figure.

Q: I have a 1913 nickel with an Indian head and Liberty on one side, a buffalo on the other side and a Denver (D) mint mark. It is in what I think is real good condition. Is it possible to place any value on this coin? Also, there's an 1853 2 1/2-D gold coin, no mint mark.--A.H.

A: Yes, I can place a value on your coins. But all values are just guesswork. I try to estimate what a dealer might offer you and tend to be a bit conservative on the amount. Only a hands-on inspection can give you an accurate figure, since condition is all-important. Your 1913-D Variety I Indian head nickel is in the $5-to-$10 range; the 1853 quarter eagle is in the $200-and-up category.

Q: I have an Indian-head penny. The date is 1874. It looks like it is 100 years old. I think it would be very valuable if it could tell its history.--M.L.

A: I agree. That's what makes coin collecting so much fun. One thing your cent could tell you: At one time, there were 14 million others just like it. No one knows just how many have survived. Your cent, after all these years, is now worth about $3.

Q: I have a question I haven't seen addressed in your column. I have a $20 U.S. gold piece, 1916-D with a design under the date; seems to be in good condition. All the stars and letters on the edge are raised and legible and few surface scratches are visible under a magnifying glass. Would it detract from the value of the coin if I put it in a bezel and use it as a pendant?--N.S.

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