Starting on Ground Floor in Collecting

Question: Now that coins are intrinsically valueless, how would you advise a beginning hobbyist to start a collection?--J.J.

Answer: At one time it was possible to find very collectible coins in change. The chances of that happening now are about as great as the chances of winning big in the California lottery. Still, a lot of old-time collectors check their change regularly, hopefully looking for a winner.

People begin collecting for all sorts of reasons. Some are purely interested in investment; others want a hobby; sometimes it's a combination of the two. Coin collecting as a U.S. hobby was popularized through the use of holders that left a blank space for each date and mint mark. The idea was to fill up the blanks.

Usually, collectors began with cents and would work up through nickels, dimes, quarters, halves and dollars. But as coins became more and more expensive, collectors became more selective. Instead of trying to own each date, collectors decided to have a specimen of each type of coin; this led to type collections and placing an emphasis on quality.

Now, collectors are into everything from silver to gold, tokens to medals, United States to world, ancient to new issues. There virtually are no limits. How do you start? Read up on the subject. Talk to collectors and dealers. Join a coin club. Be comfortable and then take the plunge. You might make a few mistakes along the way. So what? The fun and possible rewards will make it all worthwhile.

Q: My foreign coin is at least 200 years old and about one-eighth-inch thick. It is not quite round. How much is it worth? I can't find it pictured in any book.--L.S.

A: Your coin is a Netherlands crown. It's worth between $65 and $100.

Q: I have a 1983-D penny that I found in my change. It is misprinted where it reads In God We Trust. Please tell me where I can get more information other than from a dealer. I read not too long ago that there had been some misprinted 1983 pennies and they were worth some money. I forgot how much, but I'm sure it was much more than a penny. Since I read about it I have been looking, and now I think I found one, but I can't be sure. I'm 71 years young and on Social Security. So if I'm lucky with that penny I could go to Hawaii.--M.V.R.

A: I'm not sure what you mean when you say the motto on the cent was misprinted. Some coins are definite errors and command a premium. Some minor errors, however, have little collector value. I suspect your cent might have a weak strike, in which case it would actually just look worn on a letter or word and not get you any closer to Hawaii than you are now. It will really have to be seen to be evaluated. If you don't wish to show it to a dealer, you will have to find someone to tell you what it is worth.

Q: I have a coin found 23 years ago in Ohio. I'd like to know its value and where I can get in touch with the person's last kin. It has a picture of Franklin Pierce, 14th U.S. President, and dates 1853 and 1857. The reverse says: Poor Pierce, congressman, United States senator, brigadier general in Mexican War, greater soldier than statesman, favored slavery until outbreak of Civil War, Fires of Civil War lighted.--J.E.

A: What you have is a token, not a coin. It's the sort of item you see every four years during presidential-election time at coin stores and antique shops. It's probably worth about $3 to $5. I have no idea how you can contact President Pierce's kin. Perhaps a university's history department can be of some help.

Q: I would appreciate your judgment on the following gold coins: Hungarian 20 korona, 1905 and 1915; Austria 10 korona, 1906 and 1912; Italy, 1885 20 lire; England, 1891, 1898 and Victoria (denomination not given); British Virgin Islands, $100, 1975; and a $1 U.S. silver certificate series of 1899.--E.O.W.

A: Your Hungarian 20 koronas are worth $75 each, the Austrian 10 koronas are $50 each, the Italian gold piece is $75, the British sovereigns are $80 each, the $100 Virgin Islands piece is worth $100 and the 1899 silver certificate is $25 and up.

Q: I have a medallion that was handed out by Mamie Eisenhower the day the Nautilus--our first nuclear submarine--was launched. It was given to the different manufacturers who had helped in its design and building. Does it have any collector value?--E.G.

A: Chances are the medallion has little or no collector value. It would help to know whether the medal was made of gold or silver and just how many were issued. Collectors for such pieces are not as well organized as numismatic collectors and documentation is not as plentiful. Under these circumstances I doubt that you'd find a ready buyer.

Coin Calendar

Sunday--An auction by Michael Aron Rare Coins will be conducted at the Van Nuys Masonic Hall, 14750 Sherman Way, Van Nuys, beginning at 12:30 p.m. More than 600 lots can be viewed beginning at 10 a.m. The U.S. coins in the auction run the gamut from half cents to commemoratives and include several pieces that have been highly graded to others that are circulated and would appeal to less picky collectors.

Coin News

There were 10,008 Hawaiian half dollars (pictured on Page 20) minted in 1928. A consignment of 137 of these commemorative pieces, which originally sold for $2 each, will be auctioned at the Numismatic Assn. of Southern California convention Jan. 23 to 25 at the Airport Hyatt Hotel. These uncirculated half dollars have remained in a bank vault since they were issued and most grade Mint State 65. Capt. James Cook, who explored the islands, is depicted on the obverse while a Hawaiian chief is on the reverse. The Hawaiian consignment will be presented in a separate catalogue, along with one featuring the Ezra Cole Collection. The catalogues can be ordered for $10 for the pair from Auctions by Bowers and Merena, Box 1224-NR, Wolfeboro, N.H. 03894.

The last coin in a Hanukkah series initiated by Israel in 1962 will feature a 16th-Century lamp from Ashkenaz in central and eastern Europe. The lamp is depicted on two 1985 silver coins, a 1 shekel and 2 shekel. There will be a maximum of 14,000 brilliant uncirculated shekels and 12,000 proof shekels. For information, contact the Israel Government Coins and Medals Corp., 350 Fifth 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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