What Are Grandma's Old Coins Worth?

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, April 15, 2006

ome readers ask pretty much the same questions. So, these questions are basically a condensation of similar questions posed by more than one reader.

Q. My grandmother died recently at age 99. As a girl, her parents and grandparents would give her coins for her birthday. I inherited these coins. How do I find out what they are worth?

A. First make a list of the coins by denomination and date. If you know about mint marks, add them to the date. Many coins have no mint mark. Take the list to any coin dealer and ask what he would pay for such coins.
    Invariably, the dealer would ask to see the coins. First, determine if he is even interested in buying the coins. If he sounds interested, bring in some of the coins and see what he offers. If you can look up these coins in a catalogue such as "The Red Book" ("A Guide Book of United States Coins," Whitman Publishing), you would have a ballpark estimate of each coin's value. But since grading is such a big part of a coin's value, you may have a very wide field of values for each coin.
    If you have a friend who is an experienced collector, have him look at your coins and give you a range of values. Dealers typically will pay 10 to 33 percent below the retail price for coins they buy. Without grading knowledge, do not try eBay.

Q. My great uncle left me a batch of memorabilia of his travels. One box contains memorabilia from the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. Included are a ticket to the inaugural ball (my uncle was a Democratic National Committee officer at the time), a signed picture postcard by FDR, a silver inaugural medal in the box, several black and white photos, some of which are signed on the back by various VIPs, and a batch of political buttons, campaign flyers, blotters and memos on DNC letterhead. Is there a market for this?

A. Yes, indeed. This is the kind of material eBay buyers wait for. If you have no eBay experience, ask someone who is familiar with eBay to help you put it on line. The prices for most items would floor you — especially anything singed by FDR and the silver medal in the box. The other option is to consign everything to a major auction firm such as Heritage Auction Galleries (heritageauctions.com). They have specialty auctions several times a year and do very well with quality historical material such as yours. Good luck.

Q. What are "no motto" notes, and do they have any value?

A. The motto, "In God We Trust," was added to the backs of our paper money about 40 years ago. The notes without the motto generally are worth face value — with very few exceptions such as "star" notes, certain serial numbered notes, and notes in crisp, new condition. Show a photocopy of such notes to any dealer for an opinion of value.

Q. When did we stop making silver coins?

A. In 1964, the Mint issued the last regular circulating 90-percent silver dimes, quarters and half dollars. From 1965 to 1970, the Mint made 40-percent silver half dollars. In more recent years, special silver proof sets were made for collectors and sold at a high premium over face value. Today, used silver coins from 1964 and earlier are worth at least five times their face value.

Q. I checked out all the coins in my old coin albums (collected from about 1955 to 1980) using a new "Red Book," and the total came to just over $2,000. I offered the collection to several dealers at a recent coin show, and the offers varied from $250 to $365. Why the difference?

A. Chances are, the numbers you looked up were for coins in mint ("uncirculated") condition, and most of your coins were probably not in mint condition. Thus they were worth much less than what you wrote down. Your collection is worth between $250 and $365.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.