I bought a 1909-S VDB cent in an online auctions. It has a strange, non-copper color. Is that a problem? Otherwise it looks uncirculated.
A: First, any 1909-S VDB cent in uncirculated condition should be certified by one of the grading services. There are just too many altered and counterfeit 1909-S VDBs out there. Next, the color of a mint-condition coin is affected by its holder or storage. Velvet, paper, leather, wood, silk or other fabric will alter the surface color and toning. If the coin turns out to be altered or counterfeit, you hopefully have recourse with the seller via the online auction company; selling altered or counterfeit coins is illegal, and such transactions are void.
Q: In my late uncle's coin accumulation, there is a gold-colored Kennedy half dollar of 1964 and a gold-colored quarter dated 1963. What are they?
A: Anyone with plating equipment can gold-plate any coin. It does not make the coin valuable. Usually it is done to turn the coin into a jewelry accessory such as a necklace pendant. Conspiracy theorists will hold that such coins were made by the Mint and are very valuable. Not so. The same holds true for coins counter-stamped with logos, mottoes, names or symbols.
Q: I have a Stone Mountain half dollar which my grandfather got when he worked on the mountain in the 1920s. It is stamped on the back: "ARK 11." Is this of any special value?
A: Here is a rare case where a stamped coin is more valuable than not. It seems that about two dozen Stone Mountain commemorative half dollars were stamped for the various southern states, and each piece was numbered. They are known to have been made for at least 10 states. To collectors of commemorative half dollars, these pieces bring large premiums at auction. Visit heritage.com for information about previous auction prices or possibly consigning your coin for sale. If there is any paperwork, note card or a package in which the coin was issued, that adds many dollars to the value.
Q: In your column on wampum, I looked at my collection of Indian beads that I accumulated when I was a teen at summer camp in the 1950s. They look like wampum. How can I tell?
A: I've examined three of your samples. The pieces you have are glass, and thus not wampum. Milk glass beads are commonly sold at stores that cater to costume jewelry makers and jewelry kits.
Q: I have a small batch of $1 bills with the signature of Joseph Barr. I was told they have some value, because he served only about one month.
A: They have nominal value maybe $1.25 per note in mint condition. They were produced in the tens of millions and were never considered scarce.
Q: Four to six generations ago, my ancestors lived in Louisiana and Mississippi. In my family's holdings are a large number of coins which I was told are Spanish although they have Latin inscriptions. All are silver and vary in size from a dime to a silver dollar. Why do you think they had so many foreign coins, and are they of value?
A: Before the Civil War, foreign coins were more common than American coins in most parts of the country except the Northeast. The coins most often found in that era were Spanish colonial coins from Mexico, Peru and other Latin American countries. The size determined the value: A large 8 reales coin was equal to $1; 4 reales equaled 50 cents, 2 reales equaled 25 cents and 1 real equaled 6.25 cents. After the Civil War, a sufficient supply of U.S.-made coins were available for nationwide commerce, and all foreign coins were declared non-legal tender. Your ancestors probably got "stuck" with these coins, since they were no longer exchangeable for goods or services. Today, all have value depending on their condition, date, mintmark and denomination. Refer to Krause's World Coin Catalog for specifics, or make a detailed list and show it to one or more coin dealers.
Q: Are silver certificates redeemable for silver?
A: No. They were redeemable until the late 1960s, but a cutoff date was set, after which all silver certificates were just like other Federal Reserve notes. Crisp, unfolded silver certificates are worth a premium, but well-worn notes are worth only face value $1, $5 or $10.
Q: I saw an exhibit in Las Vegas about 40 years ago on Fremont Street called "The Million Dollar Horseshoe." What was in that exhibit?
A: The famous $1 million exhibit outside Binion's Casino consisted of one hundred $10,000 notes the largest hoard of the largest U.S. notes ever seen in one place. One was sold last year for $230,000. The rest will be sold by auction as the estate is liquidated.
Q: Are Buffalo nickels worth any more than five cents? I have a lot of them from when I was a boy during World War II. Most have no dates.
A: Dateless Buffalo nickels are worth about 10 cents. Those with dates vary from 25 cents for the most common dates (1935-37) to several dollars for full dates on coins from the 1910s and 1920s, especially with mintmarks on the back. Refer to Yeoman's "Red Book" ("The Official Guide Book of United States Coins") for retail prices.
Q: My coin collection consists mostly of coins I found in change from the 1950s to the 1980s. They are in coin folders. Is this the best way to keep them?
A: Not really. The coins in circulated grades are OK to keep in folders. Coins of higher grades, including near-mint (AU) or Mint State (BU) coins should be kept Mylar flips or, for expensive coins, in single, three-piece plastic cases. Long-term storage in coin folders can badly tarnish the coins, especially silver coins.
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.