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'So-Called Dollar'--Just What Is It?

January 08, 1987|DON ALPERT

Question: A co-worker who regularly follows your column advised me to write you about a coin I've owned for years. It's an American commemorative or token of some kind that my grandfather obtained, maybe in the 1940s. It doesn't appear in several current books of American coins. Enclosed are a couple of photos showing both sides of the coin. It seems to be made of a copper/bronze material.--D.P.

Answer: What you own appears to be a commemorative medal or token, not a coin in the true sense of the word. The obverse depicts a sailing ship and the words Frigate Constellation, 1797. The reverse depicts an eagle, shield and nautical design and the words: This coin struck from parts of the Frigate Constellation, the first ship of the U.S. Navy.

I suspect that your medal would fall into the category known as "so-called dollars." This is a term used to designate medals of near-dollar size and includes commemoratives from expositions and other related events. There are categories and subcategories, and certain kindred pieces are swept in just because they seem to fit. "So-Called Dollars" by Hibler and Kappen (1963) was an attempt to organize pieces and place a value on them. Other works have followed, not all agreeing on what constitutes a so-called dollar.

Additionally, there are many types of medals, ranging from military decorations to commemorative pieces. I suspect your medal was a fund-raiser of some sort. There are many medal collectors. Someone who specializes in ships or military material would probably prize such an item.

Most items such as yours have a relatively small mintage, but prices are comparatively modest. Your best bet to determine its market value would be to contact a dealer who specializes in medals or perhaps consider placing it in a numismatic auction. You can start with a local dealer or attend a major coin show where you could contact the right dealer or someone who could point you in the right direction.

Q: I have a silver certificate $1 bill Series 1957 B. Can you please tell me the value of this bill?--T.B.

A: Unless your bill is crisp and uncirculated, it only has slight premium value.

Q: I have 13 Bicentennial Kennedy half dollars and 20 Bicentennial Washington quarters. I also have three $2 Jefferson Bicentennial bills. The coins are in extremely fine condition. The bills are in fine condition. Please tell me how much they are worth.--J.B.

A: Sorry, but your bills and coins are only worth face value.

Q: Could you list the current value of the following gold coins, which I recently inherited? A 1909 $2 1/2; 1911 $5; 1849 $1; 1803-1903 Louisiana Purchase Exposition $1; 1822-1922 $1 with Ulysses S. Grant on one side; 1915 $1 Panama Pacific Exposition; 1915 $2 1/2 Panama Pacific Exposition.--M.S.

A: You've inherited a nice sampling of United States gold. The 1909 $2 1/2 is $150 and up, the 1911 $5 is $200 and up, your 1849 $1 is $175 and up, the Louisiana Purchase $1 is $250 and up, the Grant $1 is $300 and up, the Panama Pacific $1 is $250 and up while the $2 1/2 Panama Pacific is $400 and up. "Up" refers to condition. The better the state of preservation, the more valuable the coin.

Coin News

A medal (pictured) honoring the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution is being issued under auspices of the United States Capitol Historical Society and the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution. The medal, designed by sculptor Marcel Jovine for this year's observance, adapts a painting by Howard Chandler Christy of the signing on the obverse while the reverse symbolizes the three branches of government--legislative, executive and judicial. The medals have been struck in antique bronze in three sizes: 1 1/2-inch ($8), 2 1/2-inch ($25) and 3-inch ($30). It's also available in 1 1/2-inch sterling proof ($50), 3-inch sterling silver ($250) and 1 5/16-inch 18-karat gold ($575). Order from the United States Capitol Historical Society, 200 Maryland Ave. N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002.

More than 1,200 coins will be sold in a two-day auction conducted by Stack's on Jan. 14-15 at the Omni Park Central Hotel in New York. A catalogue of the United States Gold, Silver & Copper Coins is available from Stack's, 123 West 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019; call (212) 582-2580. Mail bids will also be accepted.

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