Your Questions: From 'V' Nickels to 1780 Thalers

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, June 10, 2006

Q: I was told that the nickels of the early 1900s had a "V" for "Victory" on the back. Is that true?
A: No. The "V" is the Roman numeral for 5. The "V" (Liberty Head) nickel does not commemorate any victory.

Q: Can I redeem some old silver certificates? It says on each note, "redeemable in silver."
A:You cannot redeem them for silver. That time passed in 1969, when the Treasury Department would redeem silver certificates ($1 through $10) for silver bullion at specified locations. Since then, the notes are worth face value, as other currency. In new condition, they are worth a premium to collectors. We no longer have silver (or gold) certificates.

Q: When and why did we switch from silver coins to clad, copper-core coins?
A: The last of the silver coins (10 cents through 50 cents) were minted in 1964. The cost of silver made the coins worth more for their silver content than their face value. From 1965-70, half dollars were made of 40-percent silver instead of the previous 90-percent silver content. Since 1965, all dimes and quarters, and since 1971 all half dollars, have been made of the clad composition, including the later-issued Eisenhower and Susan B. Anthony dollars. Every nation that once issued silver coins for circulation has dropped silver coinage for the same reason.

Q: I read that in 2009, there will be commemorative Lincoln cents. If so, why?
A: The year 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. A commission was founded a few years ago to consider an appropriate way to honor that event, and one outcome will be a set of four redesigned Lincoln cents, each honoring a different phase of Lincoln's life. The coins will be 95-percent copper — unlike the current zinc cents with copper plating. There will be also be additional commemorative coins not for circulation that will be sold by the Mint to collectors. News stories of the new coins should be plentiful by next year or so.

Q: In Lebanon in 1946, my dad, who died in 1960, bought a large silver coin dated 1780. I recently showed it to several dealers, and each offered me less than $10. Why is such an old silver coin worth so little?
A:Your coin is a Maria Teresa thaler issued by Austria for the past 200 years with the same design and date (1780). It is sold for its bullion (silver) value. It is not an "old" coin. As silver is soaring to new highs, your coin is also rising in value.

Q: I am a novice to coin collecting. I was told that collecting a "type set" is a good idea — as well as a potentially good investment. How do I get started?
A: You're right on both counts. It is probably a good investment and a good way to collect. Probably a good way to start is to buy "A Guide Book of United States Coins" (the "Red Book," an annual price guide) and a quality bookshelf-styled "Type Set" album. There is a space for each type of coin minted by the U.S. Obviously the newer coins can be inserted immediately, even in mint condition. The challenge will be to fill in the holes of obsolete coins, many of which are expensive in every grade — such as the 1793 Chain cent or the 1796-97 Bust half dollar.
    The idea for most type set collectors is to buy the highest grade you can afford for each type. For 20th-century coins, most can be found fairly readily at any coin show, even in mint condition. For 19th-century type coins, the choices are more limited, as the prices may be more than your budget. For coins of the 18th Century — well, that's a whole other issue. Or you may limit your type set to one denomination such as cents, 1793 to date. Good hunting.

    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.