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Spanish Piece of Eight Found in Shipwreck


Question: I am wondering if you could give me any information regarding the silver coin appearing on the attached photo copy. My brother-in-law, who has been a sports diver in Cape Town, South Africa, retrieved this coin from a Dutch wreck, the Reygersdal, which sank about 30 miles north of Cape Town in the early 1800s. I would appreciate any information regarding its origin (Spanish, I believe) and present value.--M.M.

Answer: Indeed, your coin is Spanish, although it is the first coin listed in R.S. Yeoman's "A Guide Book of United States Coins." Why would a Spanish coin lead off a book on U.S. coinage? Because it was the major circulating coin in Colonial America; in fact, it gained wide acceptance worldwide.

The coin is officially known as a Spanish milled dollar and also called a piece of eight. It was produced from about 1500 to 1900 and is considered by many as the world's most successful trade coin. Early versions were made of silver and were the equivalent of eight reales. It was the predecessor of the thaler and later the dollar, which followed the same fractional monetary arrangement (a quarter is two bits).

Early pieces of eight were handmade and known as cobs. Machine-made versions are of a higher quality. There are various varieties of this coin, versions of which were minted in Latin America as well as Spain. Spanish milled dollars are worth about $50 to $350. If you can substantiate that your coin is from a treasure ship, that might enhance its value. A certificate of authenticity would be required and would appeal to treasure buffs.

Q: I would value your comments on the $1 bill in my possession, the picture of which I enclose. Please note the variation of numbers on either side of the picture of George Washington. The two coin dealers I have contacted have no idea of its monetary value.--M.J.W.

A: My sources tell me your bill has retail value of about $3 to $5. Only one number is changed on your bill, which is an error but not considered that uncommon. The two dealers you showed your bill to are probably not paper money specialists. Most of the larger shops could probably help you. Otherwise, attend a coin show where many dealers with expertise in different areas of collecting will be on hand.

Q: Can you please tell me how much these special coins are worth? There's a 1986 Liberty platinum coin, a 1986 Marshall Islands proof set of 1/10th, 1/4 and 1 ounce gold; and a 1987 Panda set consisting of 1-ounce gold and 5 ounces of silver.--D.McQ.

A: Your platinum coin is worth about $500, the Marshall Islands set is also worth about $500 and the Chinese Panda set is about $450.

Q: My husband for 35 years has been collecting Franklin Mint coins, United States proof sets and uncirculated sets. We are at an age where we'd like to cash them all in but do not know where to go to get the best value. Your help would be appreciated.

A: Your coins should not be difficult to sell. Prices are fairly standard for U.S. proof sets and uncirculated sets. The Franklin Mint material may be more difficult, because these are more collectible than tradable. Still, everything has its price, and while a secondary market is not as well established for Franklin material as it is for coins, it does exist. Most dealers, however, will just offer a slight premium over the value of the metal content.

It's not necessary for you to take your coins with you. Just make a list and check with several dealers. If you wish, attend a coin show and shop for the best offer.

Q: I have a 1796 quarter that had been graded by ANACS of Colorado Springs, Colo., a few years ago. I am considering selling it and would appreciate your evaluation of its worth. It was graded AU 55/55 in 1984.--M.S.R.

A: You have a very desirable coin. It is the first year of issue for a quarter and only 6,146 were minted. A coin such as yours should be seen to be evaluated. ANACS (the highly respected American Numismatics Assn. Certification Service) has undergone considerable change since your coin was graded as Almost Uncirculated. Assuming the grade is correct by today's standards, your 1796 quarter is in the $12,000 to $15,000 price range.

Coin News

Guernsey is continuing its series of coins featuring English monarchs with its 1989 set featuring Henry I (pictured), younger son of William the Conqueror, whose 900th anniversary was marked in 1987. This 2-pound commemorative is available individually in sterling proof (2,500 minted) and cupro-nickel uncirculated (5,000 minted). In addition, there's an eight-piece proof set (2,500 minted) and uncirculated set (5,000 minted). The 2-pound silver proof is $44.95; the proof set is also $44.95, the uncirculated set is $16.95 and the uncirculated 2-pound commemorative is $9.95. Order from the British Royal Mint, P.O. Box 2570, Woodside, N.Y. 11377-9864; telephone (800) 221-1215.

Two interesting auctions are on the Stack's sales schedule. The first, Nov. 29 and 30, features the James A. Stack Sr. (no relation) collection of half cents and half dimes, U.S. gold coins and a major silver dollar collection. The second, Dec. 7 and 8, features ancient and foreign gold, silver and copper coins. Both auctions will be in New York. For catalogues, contact Stack's, 123 W. 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019; telephone (212) 582-2580.

Lincoln Sense, the publication of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors, is now available with some interesting insights into the popular coin. Membership is $10. Contact Sol Taylor, P.O. Box 5465, North Hollywood 91616-6465. Also available from Taylor for $14.95 plus 6 1/2% sales tax is the second edition of the Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent.

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