Question: Could you please tell me the value of a 1912 $2 1/2 gold coin in excellent condition?--F.L.
Answer: This is a relatively simple question, but it serves as a good jumping-off point for a discussion of coin grading, a key element to pricing coins.
Your coin is not particularly rare or scarce, although only 616,117 $2 1/2 quarter eagles were minted in 1912. But because the coin is gold, it has some intrinsic value that adds to its total worth. The total number minted is another factor, as is the condition of the coin. You can also add to this the popularity of a particular series. United States gold has long had wide appeal to collectors; and the quarter eagle would be essential to type collectors or those attempting to complete a quarter eagle date set, assembling a series that ran from 1796 to 1929.
Your quarter eagle is an Indian head type, minted from 1908 to 1929. Many collectors have difficulty grading this piece because the design has no raised features and it is essentially carved out. Still, there are telltale areas that detect wear while sharpness in the war bonnet is desirable.
For an accurate appraisal, a coin must be seen and examined. Even so, not all professional numismatists will agree, so it is wise to get more than one opinion. If your coin is graded extra fine (Mint State 40) it will be worth about $150; if it's graded almost uncirculated (Mint State 50) it's in the area of $165, and if it's uncirculated (Mint State 60) it's worth about $300.
Grading is considered an art, not a science. But attempts have been made to codify it. To pursue this further, a good reference is the Official American Numismatic Assn. Grading Standards for United States Coins. Each coin is illustrated and written descriptions are given. Even so, there's room for disagreement. And even coins graded alike can still vary considerably in price due to other factors, the most important of which is probably eye appeal.
Q: One of my hobbies is collecting coins. One of the oldest I have is marked 1893, 1 florin, 2 shillings. The opposite face is marked Victoria . dei . gra . Britt . Regina . Fid. Def. Ind. Imp. How much is this coin worth now?--M.F.C.
A: Your coin is British and worth about $3.
Q: I recently came across a coin in my collection from the Cayman Islands. It is called the Six Queens. The face is Elizabeth II, 1975. The backside has faces of Victoria I, Mary I and Mary II, Elizabeth I and Anne I. I would like to know its value.--A.M.G.
A: Your coin is worth about $125.
Q: Several years ago I inherited a bank note or draft dated 1840 and issued in the amount of $1,000. Coin dealers have been unable to suggest what this might be worth. Photocopy enclosed.--T.W.
A: Your bill, if genuine, has a retail value of $10 to $12. Many copies exist, so it is important first to have it authenticated. A paper money specialist should be able to help you.
Two Cayman Islands commemoratives marking visits 500 years apart have been struck by the British Royal Mint in limited quantities. Available are a Columbus commemorative (pictured) in silver (10,000) and gold (500). The 1988 visit by Princess Alexandra (pictured) is also available in silver (5,000) and gold (150). Queen Elizabeth II's likeness is on the obverse of both coins. The Columbus gold proof is $495; it is $44.95 in silver. The royal visit is $1,150 in gold, $45 in silver. To order, contact the British Royal Mint, P.O. Box 2570, Woodside, N.Y. 11377-9865; telephone (800) 221-1215.
A medallion honoring the first birthday on June 23 of the panda You-You is being released by the China Gold Coin Corp. The medal has Heisei 1 inscribed on it, along with a portrait of the panda. The 1/10th-ounce gold piece will have a mintage of 30,000. The distributor is National Coin Investment Inc., 233 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 310, Santa Monica, Calif. 90401; telephone (213) 458-4588.
Yet another pricing guide is now available. The 1989 Coin World Guide to U.S. Coins, Prices and Value Trends by the editors of Coin World is a handy reference work and will prove to be an especially useful tool when used in conjunction with Coin World's weekly publication. The guide is published by New American Library in a handy pocketbook format. It's available for $4.50 from Coin World, P.O. Box 150, Sidney, Ohio 45365; telephone (800) 253-4555.
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.