Question: I have inherited a collection of coins from an elderly relative. I want to dispose of the collection but have no idea of its value. Do you have any suggestions as to the best way to sell a coin collection? I don't want to just go to dealers selected at random from the phone directory.--K.J.
Answer: It is always difficult to sell anything, especially if you are unfamiliar with it. Cars, jewelry and antiques all pose the same problem as coins. The dealer has the upper hand in these situations because he is more knowledgeable. But practically speaking, it is unreasonable to expect the seller to know as much as a professional in the field. However, there are some things you can do in regard to coins.
First, sort your coins according to denominations and mint marks. Then get a current copy of "A Guide Book of United States Coins" by R. S. Yeoman, which comes out annually; or the weekly publication Coin World. Both contain price lists that can serve as general guides.
The tricky part is the condition of the coins, which a novice is not expected to understand. Just be aware of the fact that worn coins are not worth as much as those with little or no wear. Truly high-grade coins can have considerable value.
Armed with this information, and considering the fact you are reluctant to go to a dealer at random, I would suggest a coin show, where you can go from dealer to dealer until you're satisfied you have done the best you can under the circumstances.
Keep in mind that it is actually the seller who sets the price, and you don't have to sell unless you want to. Also remember that dealers will not pay top dollar for a coin; you have to leave a little room for them to make a profit.
Coins trade on a bid-ask basis, so the difference between the buy and sell price is perfectly legitimate. However, some dealers will work on slimmer margins, and that's where you may be able to gain an advantage.
Some interesting shows will be coming up right after the first of the year. Pasadena Coin and Stamp Expos open the year, in fact, on Jan. 2 and 3 at the Pasadena Center, 300 E. Green St., Pasadena. This promises to be an interesting show, especially since it will be the first under a new banner, Numismatic Philatelic and Monetary Conference, producers of the long-running Glendale show. For information, contact NP&MC at (213) 626-4027.
Also on the agenda is the San Diego Show, Jan. 22-24 at the Holiday Inn Embarcadero. This will feature a "Classic Collectors Sale" on Jan. 22. For information, call (619) 273-3566. Another early arrival is the 10th Annual Long Beach Numismatic & Philatelic Winter Exposition, Feb. 4-7 at the Long Beach Convention Center. More than 400 dealers will participate in this one, enough to drive any potential buyer or seller bonkers.
Q: I have an 1882-CC half eagle gold $5 coin and would like to determine the worth. I also have a silver Morgan $1 1891-CC uncirculated, which has been lying on top of a blue cover book. The coin is now blue. Is there any way to get the blue off?--J.K.
A: Your 1882-CC $5 is a relatively low-mintage (82,817) piece worth $225 and up. The 1891-CC, if uncirculated, is $200 and up. The CC stands for the Carson City Mint. Do not try to remove the blue coloring. It might be natural toning, which actually enhances a coin and may increase its value.
The Professional Coin Grading Service, which is less than two years old, graded and certified its 500,000th coin on Dec. 10. The 1910 Liberty nickel (pictured, in a PCGS sealed holder) was graded MS-65 by Walt Armitage, Mark Strumpfy and Gordon Wrubel and finalized by Nick Buzohin. It is valued at about $1,000.
PCGS was founded in February, 1986, with a core of 32 dealers. Now, 209 dealers nationwide subscribe to its service. David Hall, PCGS president, said: "We are frankly a little overwhelmed to reach this milestone so soon. . . . We never could have imagined the flood of 20,000 to 30,000 coins per month that now arrive."
PCGS is headquartered in Orange County. For fees and other information, contact PCGS, P.O. Box 9458, Newport Beach, Calif. 92658; telephone (714) 250-1211.
New 1987 Israel double mint sets, limited to 15,000 in uncirculated condition, are now available. Sets consist of five denominations (1, 5 and 10 new agorot, 1/2 and 1 new sheqel) plus five similar coins with the addition of a tiny Hanukkah lamp. Coins are dated by the Jewish calendar, 5747; Hanukkah commemoratives are dated 5748. The bronze and copper-nickel coins are $12 for the set. They may be ordered toll-free at (800) 443-3232.
Because of the sellout of the Britannia two-coin and four-coin sets and the one-tenth-ounce piece, the only proofs now available are the 1 ounce, half-ounce and quarter-ounce pieces. The 1987 coins are $875, $450 and $245, respectively, from the British Royal Mint, c/o Barclays Bank of New York, P.O. Box 2570, New York, N.Y. 10164-1060; telephone (800) 221-1215.
Don Alpert cannot answer mail personally but will respond to numismatic questions of general interest in this column. Do not telephone. Write to Your Coins, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.