Deep Pockets Needed in Collecting Gold

Question: In 1979, we purchased for investment a gold, 12-coin type set from a dealer who is no longer in business. The grade is BU (brilliant uncirculated). The set cost a large amount, and we have reason to believe that we may have been ripped off. Assuming the grading is correct, what should this set be worth? The coins are: $20 1903-S, $20 1924-P, $10 1893-P, $10 1932-P, $5 1886-S, $5 1915-P, $3 1886-P, $2.50 1888-P, $2.50 1910-P, $1 1853-P, $1 1855-P and $1 1860-P.--A.L.D.

Answer: United States gold type sets are fun to assemble and highly desirable. The purpose of collecting type sets is to have a specimen of each design in a particular series. As you know, you have samples of the Liberty and St. Gaudens $20; Indian and Liberty $10, $5 and $2.50; the $3 Princess, and Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3 $1 pieces. Some collectors are adding the new Olympic $10 coins to their gold type sets; others include some commemorative pieces, and there's always pioneer gold, private gold and other ways to go, such as collecting by dates and denominations.

The main problem with collecting gold is that it's so expensive. And the finicky collector who wants to assemble a set of coins in matching condition, top grade, better have very deep pockets.

If this is an area that you're going to get into, it's best first to understand grading or to have a dealer you can rely on.

As far as grading is concerned, brilliant uncirculated is a term that indicates a high-grade coin, but it is very imprecise. Coins grade on a scale of 1 to 70; uncirculated coins range from Mint State 60 to MS-70. The price difference of a coin grading MS-63 and one grading MS-65 can be substantial. The difference between MS-65 and MS-67 can even be greater. And an MS-70 coin (some claim none exist) can be astronomical.

None of this, mind you, takes in the rarity factor, because even relatively common-date coins can be considered quite rare in the upper grades. So, there are many factors involved in determining what your coins are worth.

Any sort of accurate appraisal requires a close personal examination of each coin. However, here is an approximation, keeping in mind all the factors I have mentioned and also the fact that grading standards are more strict now than they were when you bought your set: the 1903-S $20 is $550 and up, the 1924-P $20 is $650 and up, the 1893-P $10 is $375 and up, the 1932-P $10 is $850 and up, the 1886-S $5 is $275 and up, the 1915-P $5 is $800 and up, the 1886-P $3 is $3,500 and up, the 1888-P $2.50 is $675 and up, the 1910-P $2.50 is $325 and up, the 1853-P $1 is $700 and up, the 1855-P $1 is $4,000 and the 1860-P $1 is $650.

Q: I have a Klan talisman that was my stepfather's. He died in 1926. He had joined the Ku Klux Klan about five years earlier. It is about the size of a half dollar. On the face it has an eagle, the letters A K A, an eye and the phrase United We Stand, Divided We Fall. On the other side is a cross and the statement: A chivalric head, a prudent tongue, a compassionate heart, a courageous will. Could you tell me its value and how to dispose of it?--Y.R.

A: Collectors don't necessarily have to approve of the Klan--or Nazis or Communists, for that matter--to have an interest in certain memorabilia. People collect everything, and, after all, this does have some historical value. Its value is what the market will yield. Try selling it to some dealers or at an antique show. If all else fails, try a garage sale. Put a price on it, perhaps $10 or $20, and see what happens.

Q: You had a photo of Jerry Buss' 1913 Liberty-head nickel in The Times some time ago. I have a 1910 Liberty-head nickel and was wondering what it would be worth.--C.C.

A: What a difference a couple of years make. The Jerry Buss nickel was a rarity with only five known. His nickel sold for $385,000. Your nickel is one of more than 30 million. It's worth 10 cents or more, depending upon condition.

Q: I have a story dating back to about 1930 that may be of interest. I was about 14 at the time and used to watch a neighbor in his basement workshop. In his living room he had a glass display case with an 1804 dollar resting on a velvet cushion. One evening he discovered it was missing, so he asked his mother where it was. She had taken it to the bank and opened an account with it, so it wouldn't be stolen. Would it be possible to trace the coin to the teller involved?--M.H.H.

A: The 1804 dollar is one of America's most celebrated coins. There are about 15 known, and the one owned by Jerry Buss sold this year for $308,000. I suspect that if your story is true (and I have my reservations), the man who owned the 1804 dollar knew what it was worth, even then, and is probably still in prison for what he did to his mother. As for the bank teller, that person is probably still living the good life in Brazil.

Q: I have a 1971 penny. On the Lincoln side is a portrait of President Kennedy, facing Lincoln. On the other side is a buffalo. Do you think it is authentic, and if so, is it valuable?--I.K.

A: Your cent is a novelty item manufactured as a souvenir. It has no numismatic value.

Q: I have two Canadian silver dollars. On one side is a totem pole and the phrase British Columbia, 1858-1958. The other side has Queen Elizabeth II. I also have a half dollar, 1776-1976, with President Kennedy on one side. On the other is Independence Hall. And there's a silver coin (the size of a dollar) minted for the 25th anniversary of Queen Julianna's reign, dated 1948 4 September 1973.--E.E.H.

A: The Canadian dollars are worth $5 each; your commemorative Bicentennial half dollar has no collector value because of the number minted; the Netherlands commemorative is basically worth its bullion value.

Q: I have a Series 1963 $5 bill. Our bank teller said it might be worth more than face value. Do you think that it is?--M.B.

A: Sorry, your bank teller is wrong. Either spend it or deposit it and collect interest.

Coin News

A traveler's medal, similar to the St. Christopher medal worn by many Catholics, is being issued for the first time by the government of Israel. The "May You Go Safe" medal (pictured) is available with custom bezels-- chai (life) , dewdrop, Star of David and the traditional hamsa (hand). Sterling-silver editions in two sizes are available for $24 for collectors and $23 as jewelry. There's a bronze edition for $7.50 and a 22-karat gold version with bezel for $126. To order, contact the Israel Government Coins and Medals Corp., Liaison Office for North America, 350 5th Ave., New York, N.Y. 10118.

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.

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