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Help Me Find the Question
December 13, 2007

I had a phone call yesterday that had an Alice in Wonderland quality about it. The conversation lasted 15 minutes and I am still not sure what prompted the call in the first place.

It began routinely enough. A fellow said he had inherited a collection when he was very young back in 1947. It had been assembled during the prior 30 years.

So far so good. I was prepared for the follow-up question: how do I sell it?

Didn't happen. Suddenly we swerved off into state quarters. How could you tell what they were worth, he asked? He had Numismatic News and Coin Market. The problem was he couldn't say whether the coins were circulated or uncirculated.

I told him circulated coins were coins that showed some evidence of wear and that they would be worth face value. Uncirculated coins would have no signs of wear. I referred him to a listing of roll offerings by a major Numismatic News advertiser.

I said take half of the retail price and that would be a good place to start a negotiation, though no dealer is ever compelled to buy something he either doesn't need, or at a price he doesn't want to pay.

The man seemed to indicate that he got his rolls at a bank. My presumption being that he was doing this as each design was issued, but he never said as much.

Then we swerved again to coins of 1965-1969 that he was selling for silver. I said, "Oh, you are selling Kennedy half dollars." He said no. Quarters. I said there were no silver quarters of that period. He insisted they were 30 percent silver and he had gotten that information from Numismatic News.

I said there was no silver in the quarters, but if he was selling these to someone who was paying more than face value, they must be uncirculated, or the buyer thought they were.

He gave me no more information.

It is very difficult to provide any kind of useful information if a caller doesn't provide enough background. I was basically stumped.

The call ended with a request for a coin dealer in his home area. I gave him the name of a local shop. I know the dealer there won't spend 15 minutes with him unless he gets to the real point.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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