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New Look at Columbian Half Dollar

May 18, 1989|DON ALPERT

Question: I have three coins--one is a Columbian half dollar of the World's Columbian Exposition, 1893, Chicago, rather rubbed down. Another coin depicts Woodrow Wilson with the words "Inaugurated President of the United States Mar. 4, 1913 Second Term 1917." There are many large scratches all over this gold-colored coin. The last is Independence Mall, United States Mint, Philadelphia, August 14, 1969. It is gold-colored and tarnished in areas with minute scratches in several places. How much are these coins worth?--D.H.O.

Answer: You have a mixed bag, and they all seem to be circulated or at least worn. Of the three, only one is a coin, the World's Columbian Exposition half dollar. It is also the most interesting.

The Columbian coin was issued in conjunction with the Chicago World's Fair, which was scheduled to open in 1892 to observe the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America (actually some Caribbean islands). With the 500th anniversary fast approaching, some dealers and collectors are putting aside some of these pieces in anticipation of renewed interest and the possibility that a new commemorative will be issued.

In any event, the Columbian half dollar is the first United States commemorative. Many have followed, and some collectors try to assemble complete sets. The Columbian is dated 1892 and 1893, even though the fair didn't open until 1893. The coins were intended to help subsidize the fair with the 50-cent-face-value piece selling for $1. Many remained unsold and were melted or released for circulation at face value.

Two distinguished engravers participated in designing the Columbus piece. The obverse was designed by Charles E. Barber, who used imaginary portraits for his prototypes. George T. Morgan, better known for the silver dollar design that bears his name, designed the reverse, featuring Columbus' ship, the Santa Maria.

Your coin, most likely one of those released for circulation, is probably worth about $6 to $10.

Both your other pieces appear to be medals. The Woodrow Wilson medal is probably in the $5 to $10 range; the Treasury medal has to be seen to be evaluated but probably is of less value.

Q: What risks might be involved, if any, in placing a coin collection in a bank safety deposit box for safe keeping?--V.T.S.

A: Well, I guess in a worst-case scenario, the bank might burn down or be destroyed in a nuclear attack. Actually, I would say there's very little risk involved. It's a sad commentary, but many dealers and collectors with substantial holdings keep their coins at a bank because the risk is considerably higher if you do otherwise.

Coin News

Gold bullion coins got a big boost several years ago when China introduced the Panda. The lovable animal captured the hearts of many collectors and investors, some of whom had little or no interest in numismatics. The 1989 Panda (pictured) will once again be issued in gold proof and brilliant uncirculated condition and in 1-ounce to 1/20-ounce versions. Uncirculated Pandas are expected this month, proof Pandas in June. For information on pricing and availability, contact PandaAmerica Corp., 23326 Hawthorne Blvd., Skypark 10, Suite 150, Torrance, Calif. 90505; telephone (800) 472-6327 or (213) 373-9647.

The five-day Four Landmark Collections auction netted $6.8 million in New York. Prices (including a 10% buyer's fee) included $66,550 for a 1797 half dollar; $12,100 for a proof-65 1868 $1; $38,500 for an 1827 MS-63 gold $5; and $19,800 for a MS-64 Lewis and Clark gold $1. Catalogues and prices realized are $20 from Auctions by Bowers & Merena, Box 1224, Wolfeboro, N.H. 03894.

Three catalogues detailing a marathon auction conducted by Superior Galleries have just arrived. The auction leads off with more than 3,800 pieces May 28-30 in the Fred J. Casterline and Brooks Hall Collections Sale and the Robert E. Matthews Collection. Also on May 30 is the Worrell Family Collection Sale. The activity concludes May 31. All sales take place at Superior's auction gallery, 9478 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, Calif. 90212-4246; telephone (213) 203-9855.

Coin Calendar

Friday, Saturday and Sunday--Reports from coin shows around the country indicate a very active market, which should carry over to the Glendale Pavilion Coin and Stamp Expo this weekend. Coins, stamps, baseball cards, jewelry and collectibles will be featured, with buying and selling taking place Friday from noon to 7 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The address is Glendale Civic Auditorium, 1401 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale. Admission is $1. For information, contact the sponsor, Century Coins, at (213) 626-4027.

Sunday--The 28th Annual Coin-o-rama sponsored by the Covina Coin Club will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Joslyn Center, 815 N. Barranca, Covina. Free admission. For information, contact Chuck Ham, (714) 599-0064.

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.

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