In This Instance, a Part Is Worth More Than the Whole

Question: Why does the Red Book list proof sets (1958 and 1960) at one price, yet the Franklin half dollar by itself is listed at twice the proof’s quoted price? Also, I’ve seen several ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine collections floating around at apparently decent prices. Are they worth securing? Finally, I’d like to know the value of the following: 1896 gold $2 1/2 Coronet, light scratches or possible bag marks, sharp detail throughout; 1916 Buffalo nickel, MS-60; Iranian 1304 one-quarter krona, and 1913 Netherlands 5 cents.--J.E.F.

Answer: You’re absolutely right on the way the Red Book (“A Guide Book of United States Coins”) prices the 1958 and 1960 United States proof sets and the individual half dollars of the same date. It doesn’t make sense that one coin from a set would be worth more than the entire set. Quite often, however, proof sets and mint sets will be broken up because they contain a key coin, and that particular coin will enhance the value of denominational date sets.

Still, the sum total of the whole should be worth more than any of its parts. The Red Book is an invaluable tool and belongs in every collector’s library. But it is not without fault. Grading and pricing are the twin numismatic bugaboos. True pricing is done on a dealer-to-dealer and dealer-to-customer basis. The Red Book, which comes out once a year, is simply a reference point. Dealers and advanced collectors rely more on the Coin Dealer’s Newsletter (commonly known as the Gray Sheet), which comes out weekly. Other price guides are available in the weekly numismatic press. But even here, there is considerable disagreement.

If you’re a buyer, try to get the best value for your money. Do this by studying the various price guides and comparing one coin to another. If you’re a seller, price your coins fairly or there won’t be any takers.


As for buying ancient coins, that’s entirely personal. It’s a fascinating area of numismatics that has a loyal but specialized following. A coin with one emperor on it can lead to hours and hours of study and historical perspective.

As for your 1896 $2 1/2 gold piece, it’s probably worth about $175, considering the scratches you describe. Coins must be seen to be properly evaluated. Really nice specimens can be worth several thousand dollars. The same problem exists with the 1916 Buffalo nickel. It could be in the $5-to-$90 range, if accurately graded. Your Iranian krona is worth about $22; the 1913 Netherlands 5 cents is worth about $3.

Coin News

For the first time, nine coins will be included in a British proof set. This is due to the inclusion in 1989 of two 2 coins (pictured) commemorating the Tercentary of the English Bill of Rights and the Scottish Claim of Right. Proof sets are limited to a total of 100,000 mintage. Uncirculated sets and a special double 2 presentation folder are available in unlimited mintage. The 1989 proof sets are $44.95 in a leather case, $34.95 in a leatherette case, $9.95 uncirculated. The 2 presentation folder (two coins) is $10.95. Order from the British Royal Mint, P.O. Box 2570, Woodside, N.Y. 11377-9864; telephone (800) 221-1215.


Free copies of Rare Coin Review, an information-packed magazine, are being offered to collectors and investors. Issue No. 73 contains 96 pages of numismatic lore and a lively question-and-answer forum. Numerous coins for sale are also catalogued. To order the free Review (normally $5), send $1 for postage and handling to Bowers & Merena Galleries, Department NR-139, Box 1224, Wolfeboro, N.H. 03894.