Dr. Sol Taylor

Answers to More of Your Coin Questions

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, July 1, 2006

I heard that the Indian on the Indian head penny is not really an Indian.
A: Sarah Longacre, the daughter of the designer of the "Indian" head cent used his daughter wearing an Indian headdress as the model for his cent. The only "real" Indian appears on the nickels of 1913-1938 — with no fewer than three different Indian chiefs posing for the designer. The same design is repeated on the U.S. Mint's new one-ounce 2006 "American Buffalo" gold dollar, released June 22.

Q: I heard that in 1974, the Mint made millions of aluminum pennies and then melted them. Why did they not switch to aluminum? And why did they melt them?
A: The vending machine industry, which had one-cent gum machines in 1974, showed that aluminum cents would not work in vending machines. The Mint scrapped the idea of aluminum cents — an experiment it undertook when the value of the copper in a cent nearly exceeded the face value — and Mint Director Mary Brooks was ordered to melt all but one of the coins. However, some 15 "disappeared." Several specimens were sent to various members of Congress, but after repeated requests to return them, 15 remained unaccounted for — until last year when one showed up. According to the Treasury Department, 1974 aluminum cents are government property and illegal to own. There has not yet been a legal challenge. The one approved specimen resides in the Smithsonian Institute's numismatic collection.

Q: If aluminum were accepted for the one-cent coin, how many can be made from a pound of aluminum?
A: Depending on the final dimensions of such a coin — assuming a 19.1-mm diameter and 1-mm thickness, about 450 pieces can be made from a pound of aluminum.

Q: My aunt left me several U.S. gold coins from the 1870s to the early 1900s. She told me once, about 1970, that she tried to cash them in at the local bank and they would not take them. I thought they were still legal tender.
A: Her bank teller was asleep the wheel. Yes, they are redeemable for face value — but only the most uninformed owner would try to cash them in at face value. A common, well-worn $5 gold piece is worth more than $100. Since most tellers never saw a real gold coin, how would they know what to do if one showed up? The answer: Call the manager right away. Hopefully the manager is old or knowledgeable enough to know what kind of windfall was at his door. An honest manager would summon his friendly coin dealer to offer a quote on the coins.

Q: I own a necklace consisting of 55 coins. Most are tiny silver coins which I think are 3-cent pieces, and the middle coin is a half dollar from 1855. Each coin has two holes, and each one is engraved with either a single initial or a monogram. A few have dates, as well. It's a nice piece of costume jewelry. Does it have collector value?
A: What you have is an exceptional item known as "love tokens" or engraved coins. Figuring at the low end for the worn condition of the coins, your necklace has a value of hundreds of dollars. Take it to any coin show — not a coin shop. There are dealers at most shows who specialize in tokens of all sorts, and you would get some pretty strong offers, should you decide to sell. If you prefer eBay, make a digital image of the piece and put in online; the bidding should be very active.

Q: I inherited a small copy of the Statue of Liberty made of papier mache. The tag at the bottom says, "Made from hundreds of genuine recycled dollar bills." Is this so?
A: Figures of all sorts were made from damaged or macerated paper money for souvenirs and sold at the various Bureau of Engraving retail outlets. The practice was discontinued at least 70 years ago. Today, strips of real currency or fragments are sold stuffed into miniature pillows or other souvenirs of the BEP. They have collector value, but I cannot offer any pricing tips.

Q: I have a large sterling silver cowboy-style belt buckle with three large Mexican silver coins. Does it have any collector value?
A: Weigh the buckle and calculate the value using the current value of silver multiplied by 0.9. If the coins are 8 reales, they are worth more than the silver content. If they are middle to late 20th century, they are just so much silver.

    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.