King Kalakaua I Returns to Limelight

Question: I am very anxious to know about my Hawaiian coin. It is an 1883 dollar with King Kalakaua I on the obverse. The denomination is on the reverse, expressed as ID. Can you help me real soon?--F.W.

Answer: Hawaiian coinage is rather sparse but interesting. The first Hawaiian coin was a cent, minted in 1847. It was followed by a nickel in 1881. Then a wealthy merchant, Claus Spreckels, was responsible for having coins worth $1 million face value minted with the 1883 date, according to Q. David Bowers in his “History of United States Coinage.” There were 250,000 dimes, 500,000 quarters, 700,000 half dollars and 500,000 silver dollars. In 1903, the United States government called for redemption of Hawaiian silver coins at face value in exchange for U.S. coins, and the Hawaiian pieces ceased to be legal tender after Jan. 1, 1904.

It’s estimated that about $200,000 face value worth of Hawaiian coins were retained by the public. Those coins are worth considerably more than face value today. No one knows the exact number of these pieces in private hands, but they are not terribly plentiful. On the other hand, they are not considered to be great rarities. Your dollar, depending on condition, is worth $150 and up.

Q: I have silver coins that were damaged in a flood. They are tarnished from the water. Please advise me how to clean them. They are large Mexican silver coins named after an Indian whose name I cannot spell.--R.M.C.


A: Your Mexican coins were probably named for Cuauhtemoc. I never recommend cleaning coins. That should be left to experts. More coins are ruined by cleaning than enhanced. It’s true that many dealers clean coins. They’ve usually learned how to do it by trial and error. There is more than one way to clean coins. Silver and copper coins are not cleaned the same way. If you insist on cleaning your silver coins, just work on one at a time. One way to go about this is using a solution of baking soda and water. Pat the coins dry with a soft towel.

Q: I have three $2.50 gold pieces. Two are Indian heads, 1908 and 1915. The Liberty head is dated 1905 in excellent condition. I also have a California half dollar. It has a Liberty head and 1853 on it. What are they worth, and is the California half dollar rare?--M.M.K.

A: The Indian-head quarter eagles are worth $150 each and up, the Liberty-head quarter eagle is $200 and up. The California half dollar is undoubtedly fractional currency. There are many varieties, both octagonal and round. It would have to be seen to be properly evaluated. They start at $25.

Q: I have a silver 1944 Republic of Portugal coin, 50 centavos. I have been told that it could be worth something. Could you tell me its value?--R.S.


A: Your Portuguese coin is worth about $10.

Q: I have a $100 silver certificate bill dated 1934, in excellent condition in a plastic envelope. What is it worth, and whom can I contact who will buy it?--W.G.H.

A: Some of these notes carry a slight premium, depending upon the signatures and condition. However, it is an area of rather low-level activity. There are several catalogues available that can serve as price guides. One is the “Standard Catalogue of United States Paper Money” by Krause and Lemke; the other is “Paper Money of the United States” by Robert Friedberg. Some dealers specialize in this area, and there are many collectors who appreciate the intricate designs. Usually, it is the earlier issues that generate the most interest and are the most valuable.

Q: I have an 1853 half dime in very good condition. What is its approximate value?--J.H.I.


A: Your half dime in good to very good grades (rather low quality) is worth from $5 to $10.

Coin Calendar

A new Bicentennial medal (pictured) honoring Benjamin Franklin, who was one of the drafters of the Constitution in 1787, is being released jointly by the United States Capitol Historical Society and the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution. The medal, the ninth in a Bicentennial series, was designed by Michael Iacocca, U.S. Mint sculptor. The reverse has the quotation: “He snatched lightning from the heavens, the scepter from tyrants.” Medals will be available in early May in 1 1/2- and three-inch bronze, 1 1/2- and three-inch sterling, and 1 5/16-inch gold, plus a 2 1/2-inch bronze. For information, contact the United States Capitol Historical Society, 200 Maryland Ave., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002.

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.