Question: My husband, who died recently, had quite a collection of foreign coins. I have no idea what they're worth. Can I trust a coin dealer to tell me their value? I want to sell the entire collection.--A.H.
Answer: Your question or a variation of it is repeated to me more often than any other. How can I find an honest dealer? A reliable dealer? Someone I can trust?
Actually, what I think you and other people are saying is: "I really don't know very much about coins, and I don't want to be ripped off." Well, I don't blame you or any of the other people who face the problem of buying or selling something that is foreign.
But if you stop to think about it, it's really not much different from the problem of finding a doctor, a dentist, lawyer, auto mechanic, auto dealer or banker. We are all vulnerable in areas where we lack expertise.
The obvious solution is to gain at least enough expertise to protect our interests. It's probably easier to do this in numismatics than in many other areas. There are all sorts of books on the subject and many dealers from which to choose. In your case, the "Standard Catalogue of World Coins" by Krause and Mishler (available at most coin stores) will probably give you an approximation of what your coins are worth. If you figure that a dealer will give you about half the catalogue value, you will get a pretty close figure.
Since there are many dealers, take your collection to several of them. If you're still not satisfied, you can always consider an auction. Many are held regularly, and even here it pays to shop around because auction houses usually work on different percentage bases.
So, if you want the best possible deal, arm yourself with information. Take the time and effort to study the coin market and become knowledgeable in grading and pricing. But don't expect to squeeze the last bit of profit from your coins because coin dealers need some room for their margins of profit also.
Q: I have three Hawaiian coins dated 1883 that have been made into a necklace, joined by links soldered to each other. On one side of the coin, the following is stamped: Kalakaua I King of Hawaii. On the other side is Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka Aina I Ka Pono. The coins are half-dollar, quarter-dollar and dime denominations. A second coin is a Japanese gold 20-yen piece dated Meiji 44 (1911). It is in brilliant condition and was given to my grandmother by a member of the royal family.--G.F.
A: Hawaiian coins are usually quite desirable. However, since yours have been used in jewelry, the numismatic value is probably quite diminished. Your coins would have to be seen to determine how much damage has been done. Your gold piece catalogues for $1,500 uncirculated. You can expect to get somewhat less than the catalogue price.
Q: I recently read about a silver coin issued by Mexico called the Libertad. Where can I get these coins in the Los Angeles area?--S.S.H.
A: The Libertad is a 1-ounce, silver, legal-tender Mexican coin that is proving quite popular with investors who feel that the price of silver is low and they will be able to make a profit. That, of course, remains to be seen. But if you do believe in precious metals as an investment, the Libertad is one of the ways to go. In fact, some of the early issues are even gaining a numismatic premium. As for their availability, most coin dealers either have them in stock or have access to them without too much difficulty.
Q: Please give me information on large 1-cent pieces, 1845; 1-cent Canadian, 1882; half dollar, 1860, and a cent with a woman on the front and man on the back, 1912.--R.M.D.
A: Your various cents are worth about $1 or $2 each; the Liberty seated half dollar is $5 and up, depending on condition.
Q: I have a new $50 bill with the serial numbers and seal upside down. I also have a new $1 bill that has a blank back.--L.S.
A: Printing errors usually have premium value. The more severe and unusual the error, the more valuable the bill. Show your bills to several dealers for quotes.
Q: Please give the approximate value of the following coins and the best means of disposing of them: 1903 Indian cent, MS-65 brilliant; 1905 Liberty nickel, MS-65; 1913-D Type I buffalo nickel, MS-65; 1924 Liberty standing quarter, MS-65. Also, Morgan dollars: 1890-S, MS-65; 1897-S, MS-65 semi-proof-like; 1936 Alabama Centennial commemorative, MS-65; Switzerland 1947 1-franc proof 65; Japan 1916 50 yen, MS-65; Great Britain 1863 1 penny, toned, MS-65, and Belgium 1975 gold 20 francs, MS-65.--H.B.S.
A: You appear to be an experienced collector or investor. Mint State-65 coins are high-quality pieces, but there's a lot of quibbling that can go on in this upper region. Grading coins can be highly subjective, and quite often it's a matter of whether you're buying or selling. It's difficult to price coins of this quality without seeing them. I'd suggest that you take them to three major dealers and get their best offers. If you're still not satisfied, you might consider putting your coins up for auction.
Saturday and Sunday--The Burbank Airport Hilton, 2500 Hollywood Way, is the site of the Burbank Numismatic and Philatelic Exposition featuring coins, stamps, post cards and paper money. Hours are Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For show information, call (818) 287-6153.
Monday--The Verdugo Hills Coin Club will celebrate its 21st birthday at its 252nd consecutive meeting at 7:30 p.m. Instead of having a speaker, an auction of silver dollars is planned. The club meets in the community room of the Glendale Federal Savings Building, 2350 Honolulu Ave., Montrose.
Almost 3,000 lots will be included in the sale conducted by Auctions by Bowers & Merena June 10 and 11 in New York. Featured will be U.S., world and ancient coins. U.S. highlights include Colonial and Early American issues including a 1796 quarter (pictured on Page 24) that is illustrated on the catalogue cover. The Greene Collection Catalogue is available for $10 from Auctions by Bowers & Merena, P.O. Box 1224, Wolfeboro, N.H. 03894.
"Numismatic Bibliography" by Elvira Clain-Stefanelli, a new, 1,848-page listing of numismatic literature, is now available for serious collectors and scholars. More than 18,000 listings are included with emphasis on numismatic titles and articles published in the last 80 years. "Numismatic Bibliography" costs $75 ($2.50 more for mail orders) and may be ordered from Krause Publications, 700 E. State St., Iola, Wis. 54990.
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.