Question: In December, 1987, I purchased a 1988 Seoul XXIV Olympiad coin set and two 1987 New York platinum proof Nobles from a coin dealer. The Olympic set consists of a 5-ounce silver coin, 1-ounce palladium coin, half-ounce platinum and half-ounce gold coin. The Nobles are one-quarter-ounce platinum and have a special privy mark of the Statue of Liberty on them. Each coin was minted by the Pobjoy Mint and comes with a certificate of authenticity. There were 2,000 of the Seoul Olympic sets minted and 1,000 of the platinum Nobles. I paid $2,500 of the Seoul Olympic set and $500 each for the Nobles. Was the choice of these coins a good investment? Did I pay too much? How long should I wait before I cash in on this investment?--J.L.
Answer: The questions you've raised are basic to collecting and investing. However, these are questions you should have asked before you bought your coins.
There is a big difference between investing and collecting. Investors want to turn a profit. Collectors want the pleasure of ownership and the challenge of completing various sets. What you have is low-mintage, privately made bullion. And bullion is worth the metal value plus perhaps a small premium for design and rarity features.
There are many such pieces in the market. New issues seem to come out daily. Most are in silver or gold. Most are low mintage. Most are treasured by their owners. But they are not necessarily good investments, because they have little potential for gain compared to investment pieces with proven track records. Coin prices are easily traced through auction records and price guides.
Your purchases, on the other hand, are out of the mainstream and will appreciate or depreciate mainly with the ebb and flow of the metals market. There are other, less expensive ways to buy bullion, such as the new American Eagles, Canada's Maple Leaf, England's Britannia, Australia's Nugget and China's Panda. None of these carry the premium that your coins have.
So, did you make a good investment? I don't think so. Did you pay too much? Probably. When should you sell? When you need the money, can find a willing buyer or wait for inflation to drive up the value of precious metal.
Q: I have an 1864 Indian Head cent in which the 1 cent on the reverse is upside down, opposite to my other coins. Any explanation?--D.A.
A: What you have is known as a rotated die. It is rather common and qualifies in some circles as an error but is unlikely to add any premium value to your coin.
Q: I have a gold coin minted in 1905 with a man on a horse trampling a small dragon. On the other side is printed Victoria D:G: Britannia: F:D, encircling a woman's face. Can you tell me where this coin is from and how much it is worth?--S.H.A.
A: It is a British bullion piece. If it's a sovereign, it's worth about $110; a half sovereign is about $50.
Q: I have a $100 bill, 1928, that says "redeemable in gold." Any value over the $100?--S.L.
A: Circulated bills, such as yours, are worth just face value because we are no longer on the gold standard. Uncirculated bills will carry a premium.
Q: I have several 2- and 4-ounce silver ingots stamped either Wells Fargo & Express or Miner's Bank, San Francisco. The Wells Fargo bars are also stamped with a figure of either a man, a train or a dog sitting on a locked box. The Miner's Bank bar bears the date 1849. Do these have any numismatic value other than silver content?--W.M.F.
A: Your bars are most likely copies of originals. If so, they are also likely to be made from lead. It'll be necessary to have them authenticated and assayed to learn the true value.
Q: Please give an approximate value of the following coins: 1937 Australia crown; 1901 Mexico peso; 1857 Uruguay 40 centesimos. Would you also include tips on how a novice can find a reputable coin dealer?--N.N.
A: Your Australian crown is in the $15-to-$25 range; the Mexican peso is $5 and the Uruguayan 40 centesimos is $2.
You find a reputable coin dealer the same way you would find a reputable lawyer, a reputable used car salesman or a reputable banker. Ask friends, comparison-shop, learn as much as you can about the subject. Reputable is a subjective term. Coin dealers are businessmen who must make a profit, just like other businessmen. But they work at different profit margins. It's true that there are some who gouge and others who might misrepresent the quality of a particular coin. You can protect yourself by insisting on a written buy-back guarantee. Beware of telemarketing. Attend coin shows. Enjoy.
Auction '88, marking the 10th anniversary of four major firms joining forces in a combined sale, will take place July 16 and 17 at the Hyatt Regency in Cincinnati. Previous auctions have totaled almost $80 million in rare-coin sales. This auction will contain nearly 100 proof gold coins, pre-1834 gold in all denominations and many pre-1858 proof coins. The sale opens with Superior on July 16 at 12:30 p.m., followed by Akers at 7 p.m.; Stack's at 12:30 p.m. July 17 and Rarcoa at 7 p.m. July 17. For catalogue information contact Superior at 9478 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, Calif. 90212; telephone (800) 874-3230.