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1881 $5 Gold Half Eagle Is Not Exceptional

July 16, 1987|DON ALPERT

Question: I have a $5 gold coin. It has 13 stars and the date 1881 on the front. There's a woman with a band across her hair and the word Liberty in the band. On the back is an eagle with "United States of America Five D" around the edge, and a banner reading "In God We Trust" over the eagle's head, while under the olive branch held by the eagle is the initial S. The coin is in excellent condition. Does it have any historical value? May I have your opinion?--R.E.S.

Answer: You have a rather common $5 gold piece. Technically it's known as a Variety 2 half eagle with the motto above the eagle. There were 969,000 minted from the San Francisco Mint (that's what the S stands for). The design is by Christian Gobrecht, who was chief engraver of the Philadelphia Mint from 1840 to 1844.

Depending upon condition, your coin is worth $150 and up. The reason I have singled out your coin is that it is typical in many ways of the types of coins I'm asked to evaluate. Your coin is not particularly special. In fact, it's rather ordinary, although it does have some value and is, after all, more than 100 years old. But it is not particularly a rarity or terribly interesting historically.

Still, your coin undoubtedly would please many collectors, especially those trying to assemble a $5 date set or perhaps a gold type set. There are many facets of numismatics. For the hobbyist, finding the coin that fits into a particular set offers great satisfaction. The fun is in the hunt and learning about the characteristics of each particular piece. Perhaps that's why your $5 gold coin is worth as much as it is to this day.

Q: I have two British coins. Winston Churchill memorial crowns. The first in centuries to bear the head of a commoner. Churchill's head on one side and Queen Elizabeth on the other side. The date is 1965. These coins are uncirculated. Is there any value here?--V.H.C.

A: The commemorative Churchill piece, as you correctly state, bearing the head of a commoner (but a rather uncommon commoner at that), is a very common issue because of the large number struck. These coins are worth about $1 each.

Q: I have two Confederate States of America treasury notes ($10 and $100), very crudely printed on flimsy paper and printed only on one side. On the back of one, written in pencil and signed by my great-grandmother, is a statement that these bills were sent home by her husband while he was serving in the Union Army. Could these bills be genuine? Did the federal government print bogus Confederate money to undermine the South's economy? Do they have value? They're only in fair condition.--W.C.J.

A: Your Confederate bills have more sentimental value than collector value. But from your description they appear to be genuine and, yes, the Union did print bogus Confederate bills.

Q: What is the present address of PandaAmerica, official Olympic coin distributor?--J.R.S.

A: You can reach PandaAmerica at 23326 Hawthorne Blvd., Skypark Ten No. 150, Torrance, Calif. 90505; telephone (800) 4-PANDAS.

Q: I have 45 Jefferson nickels (one 1938-S plus 44 through 1960-D; 22 Indian head pennies, 1863 through 1908; Liberty standing quarters 1918-S, 1926, 1928 and 1939-D; 25 Washington quarters, 1932-S through 1945-D; 652 Lincoln cents 1909 through 1940-D; Liberty half dollars, 1945-D and 1936; 37 Mercury dimes, 1916-S through 1945-D; 10 Liberty nickels and nine Buffalo nickels. All are circulated.--W.W.A.

A: Your laundry list of coins is hard to evaluate unseen. Probably, your Jefferson nickels have no value, Indian cents from 1868 to 1877 are $3 each, others are 50 cents; the quarters are $1 each; half dollars are $2 each; Mercury dimes 35 cents each; Liberty nickels, 10 cents each; Buffalo nickels, face value.

Q: I have an 1895 United States $10 gold piece on which the head has been pushed forward like a cameo in relief, with several minuscule diamond chips encircled and the whole made into a pin. It was a wedding gift to my mother. I wore it last week for the first time in the more than 50 years I've owned it. A friend told me (1) it is illegal to own a gold piece and (2) it is also illegal to have defaced it. I suppose if (1) is correct, then (2) puts me in double jeopardy. I'm interested in your opinion.--F.L.F.

A: At one time, there was prohibition against owning gold coins, but that is no longer the case. In fact, the Mint is in the gold-coin business bigger than ever. As for the coin being defaced, coins have been made into jewelry as long as I can remember. Some coins are even cut out. Your coin has lost all numismatic value, however, and is only worth the gold content. I'm certain the sentimental value is considerably more than that.

Q: I have several $1 United States silver certificates and would like to know their market value.--M.J.

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