Caitlin E. writes: I have a 50 dollar American 10oz gold coin that is 1 1/4 inches in diameter. the year is MCMLXXXVII. It has ridges on the edge. One side depicts a woman with flowing hair holding an olive branch and a torch and says United States of America across the top. The other side depicts an eagle with an olive branch about to land in a nest with another eagle and a baby eagle with MB and JW below the nest very small. What kind of coin is this and what is it worth? Thank you very much, Caitlin
Not 10 ounces but a one ounce American Eagle $50 gold coin dated 1987 (Roman numerals MCMLXXXVII). This is a bullion coin, that is, a way of holding gold. The U.S. American Eagle gold bullion coin program began in 1986 and continues today. Roman numeral dates were used from 1986 thru 1991. Beginning with the 1992 issue, the dates were in Arabic numbers. Versions in tenth-ounce ($5), quarter-ounce ($10) and half-ounce ($25) were also made.
The coin’s obverse design was modeled after the classic “Standing Liberty” used on the U.S. Saint Gaudens $20 gold coin issued from 1907 thru 1933. The reverse design, the “Family of Eagles” motif, symbolizing family tradition and unity, was created by Mrs. Miley Frances Busiek. Her initials, MB, are below the eagle’s nest on the left, with the original engraver’s initials (JW) to the right.
The coins are made as regular business strikes or as proofs (“W”, West Point NY) mint mark). The regular issues contain exactly one troy ounce of pure gold though the total alloy is 91.67% gold, 3% silver and 5.33% copper. The coin weighs more than a troy ounce to accommodate the added alloy.
The coins usually trade at about 5-7% over the gold content. Proof examples bring an additional premium. Certified examples also bring premiums. Many thousands of these coins have been graded and encapsulated by third-party grading services. Most receive the grades MS or PR 69. Some even receive the supposedly “perfect” grade of MS or PR 70. While the quality differential between 69 and 70 is barely, if at all discernible, that doesn’t stop promoters from asking, and many enthusiastic buyers from paying, seemingly exorbitant prices for that “70” number on the holder. Whether these large premiums are justified remains to be seen.
I.R. writes: What can you tell me about a copper Lincoln inauguration coin dated March 4, 1861?
The original medal you have described was struck at the Philadelphia Mint and has the following description: size: 76 mm. OBVERSE: Bust of Abraham Lincoln to right with the legend around ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
REVERSE: Ornate banded wreath of oak and laurel surrounding the inscription INAUGURATED PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES MARCH 4. 1861. SECOND TERM MARCH 4, 1865. ASSSASSINATED APRIL 14, 1865. Beneath the inscription there are sprays of pine and cedar encircled by a serpent biting its tail, the Egyptian symbol of immortality.
The medal was first struck in the late spring of 1886 but records are not clear who actually authorized the medal. Those examples with MORGAN on the truncation of the bust were probably struck after 1917 when Morgan became the chief Mint engraver. The wreath on the reverse of this medal was also used for the commemorative medal of President Garfield’s assassination.
The medal was struck in gold, silver and copper. The copper examples have a deep chocolate color. “Brassy” color examples are modern Mint made copies that vary from the above description.
Larry C. writes: In the 1960’s I bought a Lincoln Cent from a Coin dealer in Evansville, Ind. It was called a “poor man’s double die”. It is a 1955 and you can only see the double strike with a good magnifying glass. I think I gave a dollar for it. Do you have any information on this coin and any idea of it’s value today. It is in very good condition. Thank You, Larry
Minor die doubling is fairly common since the working die was struck multiple times from the master hub. There was always the chance that the die being prepared might rotate slightly before receiving additional blows from the master hub. Current die preparation techniques, unfortunately for us devotees, have mostly eliminated double dies.
All coins struck from a doubled die are exactly the same. The die used to strike the famous 1955 double die Lincoln cent was extremely rotated and that was the cause of the quite unusual 1955 cent example. The “Poor Man’s” double die is from another die with a more common minor rotation. These are not particularly valuable (about $1 in average circulated condition) but they still are a source of pleasure for those that enjoy studying die variations.
Roy C. writes: Doc, The Official Red Book of United States Coins and The Official Blue Book of United States Coins, by Whitman, published by St. Martin’s Press. Question: What is the difference between the two books, and which of the two has the most accurate overall prices?
Both the Red Book and Blue Book show approximate “retail” prices in grades that the coins are most often seen. The prices might be different since the books are published using data from different sources and may be a year or so behind the current market. The books usually do not address values in gem grades except for the most modern coins and even then, usually the highest grade considered is MS65.
From the stand point of coin value, the books are less about retail prices and more about relative rarity. One can compare prices within a series to identify rare dates and mint combinations. Actual prices may be a quite different when you actually go out and buy specific coins.
If you want access to more than just prices, the Red book is the right choice. Much more detailed and encompassing than the Blue Book, the Red Book is used by both collectors and dealers on a daily basis. It’s considered the “Bible” for U.S. coins.
The “Black book” is the wholesale version of the books above and shows relative wholesale values (when you sell coins into the market). Again the data is generally out of date even for the latest issue but it does give you an idea of relative value in a handful of grades.
The best source of current coin pricing is to monitor the market for the coins you collect in hobby publications and auctions.
Mike K. writes: I am trying to find out any information I can about a penny that I have. It is a 1972S penny. It is worn in the high spots and show a silver metallic coloring. I have asked local coin dealers about it and they think it is a copper clad aluminum penny. I ran elemental analysis (X-ray Fluorescence) on the penny an got some unusual results. The analysis showed that the penny is clad in copper and nickel with the silver colored portion identified as niobium. I am extremely interested in any information you can provide me with about this penny. Thank you for time and effort.
Lincoln cents from 1962-1982 were struck on planchets whose composition was .950 copper, .050 tin. None of the strip from which the planchets (blanks) were cut had another composition nor were copper plated zinc cents struck until 1982. You can prove this simply by weighing the coin. Copper cents weigh 3.11 grams. Any deviation from this would indicate another composition.
There was an experimental run of aluminum cents dated 1974 as a proposal to replace the escalating price of copper in the cent but the idea or the law authorizing aluminum cents didn’t exist until far into 1973. All but 12 of the aluminum cents were destroyed. The extant pieces were probably held by congressmen who were given samples but refused to return them. It is questionable whether the 1974 pieces are legal to own.
Advertisers often plate coins or treat them chemically to make them look different. The coins are then used in some promotion. Gold plated or silver plated cents are often seen. I suspect that some of the supply of these altered coins might have been victims of high school chemistry experiments.
There are also examples of U.S. coins accidentally struck on scrap metal, not coinage blanks. These coin are usually not complete and possibly other shapes than round. These will not weigh 3.11 grams.
If you wish, you can have your coin authenticated by any of the 3rd party grading services. To learn how to do this, see the CoinSite Links page for the Web sites of NGC, PCGS or ANACS.
Cody G. writes: The ink on this bill has smeared and bled through the bill. Watermark and all other security features are present. The only information I could find about this kind of error were websites about counterfeit money. Can you tell me what this error would be classified as and how much the bill would be worth? Thank you.
You have a type of offset printing error specifically known as a “partial wet ink transfer.” Wet ink transfers happen when, in error, a sheet of currency paper does not enter the press, the inked printing plate will contact the impression cylinder. When the next and subsequent sheets enter the press, they receive both the intended printing on the correct side and an impression on the opposite side from the ink left on the cylinder. The transfer becomes lighter with each sheet and usually disappears within 8-12 passes. The first few passes have the boldest impressions of the error and they’ll bring higher prices.
Partial or incomplete errors occur when the impression cylinder receives just part of the design because of a tear or defect in a sheet of currency paper, thereby exposing only part of the cylinder to the ink. These partial transfers are worth less than complete wet ink transfers.
There’s not a lot of premium for wet ink transfer notes that are both partial and with a relatively light impression. I would estimate your note is worth about $105-110.
Steve W.writes: I have been unable to locate any information on why 90% “junk silver” coins have an actual silver content of approximately 71%. Can you enlighten me? Thanks. Steve
Good question – one a lot of people have been asking lately.
U.S. 90% silver coins are commonly sold in bags of $1000 face value. $1000 face value in brand-new (unworn) coins will contain 723 ounces of pure silver. Because of wear, the value of bags of circulated coins are figured at slightly less – 715 ounces. Accordingly, each $1 in face value of U.S. 90% silver is considered to contain .715 oz of pure silver.
Here’s the math: The gross weight of $1 in U.S. 90% minor silver coins is 25 grams. (12.5 grams in a half dollar, 6.25 grams in a quarter, etc.). 90% of that weight is pure silver: 90% x 25 = 22.5 grams. 22.5 grams = .7234 oz.
Brian R. writes: Is there a website where I can find out information about what the US Federal Reserve Banks/Mints do with the coins that are deemed as “Unfit” or “Mutilated”? I know that they are destroyed, but I am wondering if there is anywhere I can find out how the coin is destroyed and what is done with the coins once they are destroyed. I know that the Federal Reserve Notes are shredded, but I can’t find any information on what happens to Unfit or Mutilated Coin.
The US Treasury has a service by which they redeem mutilated coins. Mutilated coins are coins that have been bent, clipped, defaced or just worn out where they are no longer acceptable in the normal course of commerce.
Last time I checked the Treasury pays 80% of face value for the coins. The coins are then melted and the alloys extracted and recycled. Contact the U.S. Treasury in Washington D.C.