Ancient Chinese Money Raises Cautions


Question: Could you give me an idea of the value of--and who to contact to sell--Chinese money called knives and spades, about 2,000 years old? They are slightly different in sizes and are in sets.--N.U.

Answer: I wouldn’t even attempt to price knife money and/or spade money. Both are early cast forms of currency used in ancient China. There is not even general agreement about when knife money came into being; perhaps the 9th Century BC or earlier. The Chinese call such pieces tao , and they were shaped like a knife. Similarly, spade money is believed to be shaped like real spades. They also share similar characteristics such as decreasing in size and weight through the years; also early knives and spades lack inscriptions, but later ones have inscriptions.

Both existed about the same time. Many copies of this ancient money have been cast, and it is difficult to tell them from originals. Buyers are cautioned to avoid pieces that seem underpriced and to demand a certificate of authenticity and/or a return agreement from the seller.


I don’t believe too many dealers handle this sort of material. You might try Superior in Beverly Hills, Joel Malter in Encino and the Money Co. in Woodland Hills.

Q: This summer I am planning a trip to Denver, and I’d like to know if the Denver Mint offers public tours and the mint’s address so I may obtain some further information.--B.D.

A: I’m not sure about tours of the mint facility, but the Denver Mint does have a museum open to the public. The address is 320 W. Colfax Ave., Denver. While in Colorado, you might also want to tour the American Numismatic Assn. Museum in Colorado Springs. It’s at 818 N. Cascade Ave.

Q: I have recently purchased two Statue of Liberty double eagle commemoratives layered in .999 pure silver. I am considering buying more layered commemoratives such as those listed in the enclosed brochure (a Dwight D. Eisenhower double eagle commemorative and a John F. Kennedy double eagle commemorative). Please advise me if you believe there will be any potential value in these commemoratives.--R.A.P.

A: The material you are considering is from a private organization that “pledges to repurchase it from you upon demand, any time within the next 50 years, for the full cash price you paid.” You might want to take them up on their repurchase offer and see what you get. I’m sure there is no secondary market for such material at the moment since it is so new and no one can predict the future. If past performances are any criteria, the potential profit picture for similar material has not been great.

Q: Please let me know the current value of the 1964 half dollar.--L.M.M.

A: Your 50-cent piece is worth $2.75.

Q: Please give me the value of the following: mint sets--1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970; proof sets--1968, 1971, 1972, 1973; silver dollars--1882, 1883, 1886, 1966.--M.S.S.

A: Your mint sets are: 1964, $13; 1965, $4; 1967, $7; 1968, $2.50; 1969, $2.50; 1970, $22. Proof sets: 1968, $6; 1971, $3; 1972, $5; 1973, $6. Your silver dollars are $10 each and up except the 1966, which doesn’t exist.

Q: I have a $20 bill that obviously has a restrike on its face. I have enclosed a copy. As you will notice, the restrike is most pronounced at the lower left-hand corner. My question is: Is this currency worth only face value, or is it possibly of value to a collector? If so, how would I go about marketing such an item?--D.H.

A: Your $20 bill is a printing offset error worth about $35. Check with several dealers to see who will give you the best price.

It is a mistake to try to sell coins or bills privately, since there is an element of risk involved. Many sellers have had negative experiences ranging from being paid with bad checks to robbery and violence. Many buyers, likewise, have sadly discovered that their purchases have not been authentic or what they had been led to believe. That’s why it’s important to work with legitimate dealers who will back up their sales and purchases with their expertise, written guarantees and any other information necessary to satisfy the customer. Most people in private transactions are unable to satisfy such requirements.

Q: Could you tell me the value of $5 gold coins dated 1855 and 1887? Each has been set in cuff links, but they have never been used. In other words, the coins are in mint condition. I also have two silver pendants with the face of Pius XI and a picture of St. Peters on the back, which I can’t seem to identify. I would also like to know whether a gold coin struck in Austria for President Nixon’s visit there in 1972 has any value except for its gold content. I haven’t been able to find a listing of it in commemorative pages of a large coin book.--D.M.

A: The gold half eagles set in cuff links are worth $150 each and up, depending on their condition. Although the jewelry has not been worn, I suspect the coins still were handled along the way, which would take them out of the “in mint condition” category. The pendants are probably either from the Vatican (the “Pius” is Pope Pius XI) or religious medallions and would have to be seen to be identified and priced. The Austrian piece is probably a commemorative and worth only its gold content.

Q: A number of years ago I purchased a few lightweight silver coins with Mussolini on one side and the inscription Italia 20 L on the other. The coins are 1 1/2 inches across. Are they real or fantasy coins? And what is the approximate worth?--M.G.

A: Your Italian coins seem to be genuine and are worth $2 each and up, depending upon condition.

Q: I am writing in the hope that you can tell me the value of two coins my mother found in Guelma, Algeria, in 1935. She believes that they are Roman coins. They are worn, but the outlines of the faces are visible. I would appreciate your opinion on their possible desirability, authenticity or value.--L.M.

A: Sorry, but there’s no way to evaluate your coins from the information you’ve supplied. First, you’ll have to find out exactly what your coins are. Take them to several dealers and try to get them identified. Once you know what your coins are, you’ll be in a better position to find out what they’re worth. Offhand, however, I suspect they’re not very valuable.

Q: I have acquired a Rapid Transit District Olympic coin (token) set. Would you tell me the value of this set? Will it make a good investment?--N.U.

A: The RTD sets are nice presentation pieces and serve as reminders of the 1984 Olympics. Prices when they first came out ranged from about $24 to $27. They’re now selling for about $8.50 a set, about a third of the original price. That doesn’t sound like a good investment to me. However, there’s always the possibility that they may increase in value in the future. But such acquisitions should not be considered investments in the first place. If you liked them when you bought them, if they remind you of the Olympics, if you still find them attractive, then they are worth what you paid.

Q: I have a 1944 copper penny, no hint of a mint mark. Is there any value to this wartime coin? I also have 1889-0, 1935, 1928 and 1922 silver dollars.--D.W.G.

A: Your Lincoln cent has little or no collector value. Your silver dollars are worth $10 each and up.

Q: From your column I have noticed that more often than not paper money is seldom worth more than face value. Nevertheless, I’d like to know if a $10 bill, National Currency 1929 (photocopy attached), has any premium value.--M.B.J.

A: Sorry, your bill issued by the City National Bank & Trust Co. of Gloversville, N.Y., has no premium value. There does seem to be some truth to what you say about inquiries on the value of the bills, but only because I’m seldom asked about those that are indeed valuable. And believe me, many are. Most, however, have earlier dates than yours.

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.