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Family Heirlooms And Antiques - Part 4

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( Originally Published 1963 )

The custom of exchanging decorative cards at Christmastime originated in England. The first one is attributed to W. C. Dobson, one of Queen Victoria's favorite painters. In 1845 he sent lithographed copies of one of his paintings to friends. Printed Christmas cards were made first in this country in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1874. There Louis Prang had established his lithographing and printing business, for which he perfected the use of as many as twenty colors. Prang's cards were noted not only for their excellent coloring but also for their good design.

Victorian Christmas cards seem to turn up in smaller quantity than Valentine cards and do have at least a nominal market value. In the 1880's, few cards displayed the motifs now considered typical of Christmas. In fact, some of them could be mistaken for Valentine cards. Many sent at Christmastitne were double-faced cards pasted back to back, with a silk fringe edging them. Less elaborate ones were printed on paper.

The habit of sending picture postcards seems to have been much more widespread and general around 1900 than it is at the present time. A one-day excursion on a trolley car was enough to warrant mailing a card to the folks at home. Yes, there are people who collect postcards too. For this reason, cards have been classified, somewhat as buttons have been, into groups, such as early airplanes, automobiles, boats, California before 1900, state capitols, comics, expositions and fairs, horseshoes, views or areas, Tuck postcards, etc. Only cards printed before 1915 have monetary value. A postcard displaying an early airplane may sell for as much as 45 cents now, and those in other categories have a market price from 5 to 20 cents each. If you don't want to take time to sort out an album or box stuffed with old postcards, the whole thing can be sold for a dollar or two.

Once in a great while, the canceled stamps will have more value than the postcard or letter to which they were affixed. If you think this may be the case, leave the stamp on the envelope -do not cut it off or attempt to loosen the adhesive. No one but an expert can tell you whether or not a stamp has any market value, let alone whether it might bring a premium price.

Stamps were first used in England in May, 1840, and in the United States in 1847. The first adhesive United States stamps were a five-cent one with Benjamin Franklin's picture and a tencent one with George Washington's portrait. Nowadays, it is possible to buy an 1847 Franklin stamp of high quality for $25 or a little more, and a Washington one in excellent condition for perhaps $75. The fact that a stamp is old or rare does not necessarily mean that it can be sold for a sum of money much greater than its face value. Certain issues are in demand because they are scarce, and at the present time collectors are interested in stamp oddities. However, the situation may change in another year or two.

It is true that an 1856 one-cent stamp of British Guinea, which is insured higher than any other stamp at shows and exhibits, was found by Vernon Vaughn when he was looking through old papers in an attic in 1873. Such finds occur perhaps once in a century. Legends have flourished about the value of stamp collections, perhaps because some famous persons are known to have had extensive ones.

It's entirely possible that a book in which has been placed every stamp of every country might have no interest except to another stamp collector. Every stamp in the book might beworth no more than face value-or less if it has been canceled-because all of them are common stamps. By the same token, sheets of commemorative stamps also have been mistakenly though commonly regarded as an investment. Commemoratives are especially designed and usually are colorful. Therefore, they are attractive, particularly when blocks or sheets are filed in a stamp book. Billions usually are printed of each commemorative stamp, so (in the words of one stamp collector) they may as well be used up for postage. For a sheet of 100 fourcent commemorative (United States) stamps, a dealer's offer is likely to be only $3.

Both stamps and coins are time-honored hobbies. In recent years, coin collecting has grown phenomenally, spurred perhaps by occasional newspaper stories of an exceptionally high price paid for a certain coin. To find one that can be sold for more than its face value, a person has to develop the habit of looking sharply at loose change in pockets or purses and all coins that pass through his hands. The usual accumulation of circulated coins from foreign countries and old ones minted in the United States is as likely to contain only odd ones worthy of use as lucky pieces or pocket pieces as it is anything of real financial value. How much a coin can be sold for depends on rarity, condition, and demand. Many inexpensive coin catalogues are available that will alert a person to possible values. Catalogues quote prices for the several conditions in which a coin may be found, but it must be remembered that these are selling rather than buying prices. Furthermore, according to some dealers in old coins, the average retail selling price is a little less than that quoted in catalogues.

Cleaning or polishing an old coin will not increase its value. As a matter of fact, unless cleaning is done by an expert, the coin may be damaged and its value reduced. Dealers usually pay higher prices for coins left in the condition in which they were found.

With reference to condition, dealers classify coins as poor, fair, good to very good, fine, very fine, extremely fine, uncirculated, and proof. "Proof" is a carefully and especially struck coin with a brilliant mirrorlike surface. A coin is considered to be in poor conditon when the design, inscription, and date are almost illegible. A coin in this condition must be very rare indeed to be worth more than its face value.

On United States coins the mint mark may add to the value. These marks are "CC" for Carson City, where a mint was in operation between 1870 and 1893, "C" for Charlotte, North Carolina, where only gold coins were struck from 1838 to 1861, "O" for New Orleans, opened in 1861 and discontinued in 1909. "D" on a gold coin stands for Dahlonega, Georgia, where a mint was in operation from 1838 to 1861. "D" on other coins means Denver, where a mint opened in 1906 and is still operating. "S" refers to the San Francisco mint, which opened in 1854 and closed in 1955. Coins struck in the mint at Philadelphia, which opened in 1793, may be stamped "P" but are likely to have no identifying mark. A mint set of United States coins consists of a cent, nickel, dime, quarter, and halfdollar struck in all three mints-Philadelphia, Denver, and San Franciscoin the same year (in some years not all mints struck all of these coins).

There is considerable interest now in Indian head pennies, which were made of copper and nickel or bronze from 1859 to 1909. For example, a 1909 "S" mint Indian head penny may be worth from $3.50 to $10, depending on its condition. A Lincoln penny minted in 1909 in San Francisco with the initials VDB; for the designer Victor D. Brenner, is worth more than other Lincoln head cents of the same year. One of these may be sold for as much as $10.

It's fun to find one of the large cents coined from 1793 to 1857 except for the year 1815. Those minted in certain years are worth, according to condition, from 50 cents to $50, but the majority with other dates only 25 to 50 cents. A smaller one-cent coin known as the flying eagle is worth from $50 (good) to $150 (the latter for a proof coin) if minted in 1856; an 1857 one, from 40 cents to $1 or more according to condition. (Millions were minted in 1857). Half-cent pieces, large cents, two-cent and three-cent pieces, and half-dimes are now obsolete but not rare coins, and their value depends on their condition.

Half-dollars struck between 1807 and 1836, with the exception of 1815, can be purchased for only a few dollars. This is true also of commemorative half-dollars such as the Illinois Centennial piece struck in 1918, the Alabama and Missouri Centennial ones in 1921, the Lynchburg, Virginia, Sesquicentennial in 1936, and dozens of others. Many of the commemorative half-dollars are handsome pieces, but the prices quoted are for extra fine or uncirculated coins, and at that you can hardly expect to sell one for quite as much as the catalogue price.

Silver dollars still are given in change in Rocky Mountain and West Coast states, and banks elsewhere in the country can supply them on demand in return for a one-dollar bill. Silver dollars were coined from 1794 to 1935 with the exception of 1805 to 1835, 1837, 1874 to 1877, and 1905 to 1920. A silver dollar stamped in one of the years of the 1800's may still be worth no more than one dollar, or if the condition ranges from good to extremely fine, may bring $2 to $5 or more.

A coin marked "Trade Dollar" on the reverse side under the eagle has not been accepted as legal tender since 1887, but it does have value among collectors. Trade dollars were minted from 1873 to 1885 for export use, chiefly in China.

Gold coins do not have to be turned in to the United States Treasury Department if you have only a very few of them. They may be kept or may be sold. There is an almost constant demand among dealers for gold coins, which, of course, are no longer minted. The market prices fluctuate.

Civil War tokens, about the size of present-day pennies, were issued by various merchants as a patriotic gesture. About 14,000 kinds exist, all of them dated 1863, 1864, or 1865 and displaying various slogans. Dealers sell these tokens for about ZS cents each, so you would be paid less than that by a dealer. A "Hard Times" token or "Jackson cent," struck during 1837 and 1838, is about the size of the large cent. Like Civil War tokens, these were minted privately to alleviate the shortage of United States cents. Wooden nickels also were issued from time to time by various counties, cities, and organizations, usually as a commemorative item. Actually, they could be used at face value in place of money where they were issued. Because they are colorful and unusual, wooden nickels appeal to collectors.

Roman coins 1,500 years old may be worth less than a rare American coin only 150 years old. As a matter of fact, the rare coin that can be sold for a good price looks at first glance no different from the run-of-the-mill coin. It takes a numismatic or coin expert or dealer to point out the differences.

The tokens issued during the War Between the States (1861-65) are the least valuable and important of the mementos that may be found packed away, North and South. Now, a hundred years later, collectors are interested in almost anything issued to, worn by, or made by a soldier on either side. Federal or Union items are more plentiful than Confederate ones. This is understandable, since so much of the Confederate soldiers' equipment was surrendered or destroyed. Furthermore, anything still serviceable was put to good use in the South after the war.

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