Question: While searching through my laundry quarters for a 1989 flawed coin (missing its mint mark and the last 9 in the date, which was called "worth its weight in gold" in a recent news broadcast), I found a quarter with tails on both sides. Is this a joke coin or did the U.S. Mint make a mistake even more grievous than the above mentioned? Also, what's it worth?--D.J.R.
Answer: Your letter helps point out both the negative and positive in today's numismatics. The negative deals with the hype connected with the revelation that a 1989 quarter had been discovered with a missing mint mark and other flaws. The media immediately jumped on this story and had people all over the country checking their quarters. After all, it was said, such coins were worth as much as $300. Or as you indicate, "their weight in gold."
Unfortunately, this was not the case. In fact, it didn't take error-coin specialists long to determine that the problem was caused by a grease-filled die, a very common error indeed. So common, in fact, that this coin (plentiful, not rare) that had been touted as high as $300 only a few days earlier was downgraded to about $3. Now $3 for a 25-cent coin is still a hefty profit, but it's not the pot at the end of the rainbow.
Some dealers who paid $50 or $100 or more for these error quarters are probably still trying to recoup their losses and charging inflated prices, which is where the negative comes in. Others are taking their losses, as well they should, and moving on to more conventional coin transactions, which is the positive.
As for your quarter with tails on both sides, it's a manufactured piece made for magicians or flipping. Either way, it has no collector value.
Q: Would you be so kind as to voice your thoughts on the slow, slow delivery of the United States Mint?--L.W.
A: I know it can be very aggravating to order coins and then wait for what seems an eternity before they arrive. Complaints are lodged from time to time regarding the mint's delivery service, and undoubtedly mistakes are made when you consider the millions of requests received annually. However, I believe on balance the mint does a pretty good job. Just be patient, or order early.
Q: I would like to know the approximate worth of the coin shown below. (The rubbing appears to be a Colonial half cent from Massachusetts, 1778.)--T.B.
A: Colonial coins were issued by the original Colonies in order to facilitate commerce. Massachusetts is probably most famous for the Pine Tree pieces, but they were not officially authorized, as your coin was. It's exciting to imagine early settlers actually handling such coinage. From the description, your coin is copper (not bronze as you indicate), although they were also made in silver. Such pieces are worth $75 and up, depending upon condition.
Korean and South Korean paper money, including many notes that have never before appeared in a public sale, will highlight an auction Sept. 6-8 at the 1989 Hong Kong International Coin Show. Included is a Bank of Chosen 1945 100-yen uncirculated specimen note (pictured) estimated to be worth $500 to $600. Catalogues are $10 from Pacific Coast Auction Galleries, 1013 State St., Santa Barbara, Calif. 93101.
Earlier this year I published the list of Joel Rettew's picks for investment coins that he had submitted in competition with other coin experts. So far, Rettew is leading the pack with his selections showing a 258% appreciation. Rettew heads Rare Coin Investments, 1000 Bristol St. North, Newport Beach, Calif. 92660; telephone (714) 833-1800.
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.