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Heads or Tails, U.S. Coins Due for a Major Face Lift

July 07, 1988|DON ALPERT

There will be a change in your change by this time next year.

That's the prediction of Diane Wolf, commissioner of the United States Commission of Fine Arts. A bill authorizing the redesign of all circulating coins passed the Senate last month by a vote of 96-0. It is expected to havesimilar success in the House and then, after differences are ironed out, final passage should permit the new designs to be in circulation "by July or August of next year," according to Wolf.

Denominations will remain the same, but the legislation calls for new reverse designs on the cent, nickel, dime, quarter and half dollar. There will be a special two-year reverse--the "tail"--on one of the coins in honor of the Bicentennial of the Constitution. The same Presidents will remain on the obverses--"heads" (Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson and Kennedy). But each portrait will be modernized.

"Aesthetically, it'll be great," the commissioner said by telephone from Washington. "Coins are America's calling card. Tell your readers it was made possible by public participation. The American people really deserve credit for this."

She referred to the "grass-roots effort" that "actually started with letters. It's incredible." In addition, according to the Treasury, "we'll make a profit of more than one-quarter-billion dollars in the first six years," with significant increases later on, Wolf said.

Under the law, the secretary of the Treasury has final authority on the new designs. The Commission of Fine Arts serves in an advisory capacity. Wolf said she intends "to invite competition" for the new designs.

According to a Commission of Fine Arts fact sheet, cent, nickel, dime, quarter and half-dollar designs have been changed 33 times, beginning with the 1794 half dollar.

The last design change for the cent was a new reverse in 1959; the nickel hasn't changed since 1938, the dime since 1946, while the quarter and half dollar had new reverses in 1975-76.

"People are starved for new coins," Wolf said.

At this time next year, it should be a feast.

Question: I have a $100 bill, 1928, that says "redeemable in gold." Any value over the $100?

--S. L.

Answer: 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 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 business people who must make a profit, just like other business people. 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.

Coin News

The bicentenary of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Morocco and the United States, called the longest continuing treaty relationship in U.S. history, is being observed with a commemorative (pictured) featuring the American and Moroccan flags. The 200 dirham coin, limited to 5,000 mintage, bears the Christian date 1987 and the Hegira date 1408. King Hassan II is on the obverse.

The British Royal Mint is producing the sterling silver proof coin for the Central Bank of Morocco. Each coin is $44.95. Contact 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.

More that $3.6 million (including a 10% buyer's fee) was realized at the recent Everson and Faught Collections auction. Highlight of the sale was a 1795 Washington oval Indian peace medal that fetched $73,700. Other prices include $49,500 for an 1838 $2 1/2 graded as MS-66 to MS-67; and $29,700 for a small-size 1933 $10 bill. Catalogues and prices realized are available for $15 from Auctions by Bowers & Merena, Box 1224, Wolfeboro, N.H. 03894. The next Bowers & Merena auction is Sept. 13-15 in New York City.

The 17th edition of "Photograde," a standard illustrated grading guide that many collectors and professional numismatists rely on as a reference, is now available. This latest edition has been revised and expanded. It also includes new sections on cleaning, die characteristics and a glossary of numismatic terms. Copies are $9.95 plus $2 for handling from Bowers & Merena, Box 1224, Wolfeboro, N.H. 03894.

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