Question: I have a sterling silver set of six medals issued in 1979 for the Los Angeles Bicentennial of 1981. Can you tell me what this set originally sold for? What is it worth today? Also, how many sets were issued? I also understand that a few sets were issued in gold. Do you have this information?--E.J.G.
Answer: Governments issue coins. Almost anyone can issue a medal or a token. Therefore, it's always much easier to document a coin and evaluate it than it is to do the same for a medal. That's why I continuously suggest that if you want to buy a medal because it is attractive or because it marks a particular event or has sentimental value, then by all means buy it. Look at it. Enjoy it. Put it in a drawer or frame it and mount it on a wall. Whatever the cost, you'll probably get your money's worth because of the memories it will evoke.
But don't buy the darn thing if you intend to make a profit. Most medals sell at a premium in order to finance a particular project, event or cause. Few become true collectibles. I doubt that too many people outside of Los Angeles are interested in the Los Angeles Bicentennial medal. So the secondary market is weak to non-existent. The original selling price for these sets (not sterling) was in the $10-to-$18 range. Now, the coin dealers who happen to have them sell the sets for $1 to $5. Your sterling silver set is worth its silver value. I don't know how many silver or gold sets were actually sold; I doubt that any exact figures were ever released.
But it really doesn't matter, unless your intention was to make a profit. In that case, stick to properly graded, fairly priced coins with a proven track record.
Q: Please tell me the historical, sentimental and intrinsic values of a British "bun" 6-pence and a "bun" penny (1863), both of which depict Queen Victoria with her hair pinned high into a bun on the back of her head. Both coins, alas, have had tiny holes drilled for wear as pendants.--E.G.
A: Actually, your description just about says it all. The bun penny is the second type of Queen Victoria's "young head" pennies and the first in bronze (the earlier type was struck in copper). It was issued most years from 1860 to 1894, and the name, as you suggest, is from the queen's hair style. Because your coins have been damaged by the drilling, they probably have little or no numismatic value. Otherwise, as the British might say, they could be worth a tidy sum.
Q: Could you let me know how much my $20 gold pieces are worth? I have some United States St. Gauden double eagles, 1905.--G.A.
A: Your double eagles are worth $500 and up, depending on condition.
Q: I would appreciate any information regarding a coin I have. It is smaller than a dime, and the markings have a man's head circled with 13 stars and the date 1858 on one side. The reverse has California Gold written in large letters, the fraction 1/2 in the center, and at the bottom is the California bear. I have checked several coin books.--T.S.
A: You do not have a genuine coin at all; you have a token. The giveaway is the bear. Many of these were made as souvenirs. While they resemble California fractional gold, they are not genuine. If these pieces have any value at all it is only quite negligible, perhaps 50 cents or so.
Q: Please tell me the value of a German coin that has a date of 1849. The head is of Ernst August Koenig von Hanover. I also have a silver dime, 1943, with a W on it and a 50-cent piece dated 1945.--A.B.
A: Your German coin is worth about $20. The dime is worth about 60 cents. Your half dollar is worth about $2.50.
Q: I have an English penny dated 1917 with a female figure on one side holding a three-pointed spear, and a head of Georgius V on the other side of the coin. How much is it worth?--E.Y.
A: Your English penny is worth about 50 cents.
Q: I have a $2.50 gold U.S. coin dated 1853, which, I am told, was once encased as part of a watch fob. I was given a valuation of $115 by a local coin dealer. Is that a fair valuation?--B.C.D.
A: If the coin was indeed part of a watch fob, then it is probably well worn. If so, the price is fair.
Q: I ran into some interesting coins and would like to know their values. They have face values of 50, 20 and 10 centavos and seem to have originated in the Philippines. The bottoms of the coins bear the inscription Filipinas and the reverse reads U.S. of A. They're mostly wartime issues, 1943-45; one is from 1918. Are they silver or some type of alloy? All bear the mint mark of D or S.--M.J.Y.
A: Your coins were issued when the Philippines were a U.S. possession. Those from 1903 to 1919 were struck at Philadelphia and San Francisco; the 1944 and 1945 pieces were struck at Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco. Coins from 1920 to World War II were minted in Manila. Your coins are indeed silver, and they're worth from 50 cents to $4.50 each.
Q: I recently came across a coin such as the one I have sketched. It is copper and dated 1790. My son-in-law said he got it from his mother, and her mother gave it to her. He thought it was from Pennsylvania or Philadelphia or perhaps another state. What is its value, if any? It is not as large as the Kennedy half dollar.--L.G.
A: I don't know what it's worth, but it appears to be a token rather than a coin. It will take a lot of research to determine its specifics. Start with a local dealer who can guide you to someone well-versed in tokens. Some are quite collectible; others make nice souvenirs.
Artist Yaacov Agam has been commissioned by the government of Israel to design a unique holographic medal (pictured). Each "And There Was Light" medal carries the artist's signature and is individually serial-numbered on the edge. There will be a maximum of 12,000 bronze editions, 5,000 sterling silver in one-inch size and 5,000 in two-inch size; 5,000 22-karat gold in almost one-inch size, and 2,500 in 22-karat gold in 1 1/2-inch diameter. To obtain an Agam medal, contact: Israel Government Coins and Medals Corp., Liaison Office for North America, 350 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10118.
Themes for the 10 Olympic silver coins designed to commemorate the 1988 Olympic Winter Games have been unveiled by the Royal Canadian Mint. Downhill skiing, speed skating, hockey, biathlon, cross-country skiing, free-style skiing, figure skating, curling, ski-jumping and bobsledding will be portrayed. The series will be launched in mid-September. Coins will be issued in pairs at about six-month intervals with the combined mintage for all 10 sterling silver coins with a face value of $20 limited to 5 million.
Saturday--The California Exonumist Society is marking its silver anniversary with an all-day collectible show from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Griswold's in Fullerton. Displays will be featured along with dealers buying and selling such items as political buttons, tokens, medals, canceled checks, movie memorabilia, world's fair items and other collectibles.
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.