“Money makes the world go around. A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound. It makes the world go ’round.” — Fred Ebb, lyricist, Cabaret, 1962.
It is certainly true that money — whatever country you are in and whatever the currency is called — can be pretty important. You’ll have a hard time being a tourist without local money and one has a hard time making the monthly payments at home without it.
In this What’s It Worth? we answer questions about two readers’ very different types of money. One was imposed on areas overrun by a conquering force. The other is an American coin you could still spend today.
Q. This picture shows the front and back of what is a Japanese $10 bill used during their occupation of Malaya during World War II.
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I’ve had about 300 of them — in mint condition — for 35 years. Can you tell me if there is any value? Thank you. — Doug in Kennewick
A. In February 1942, Imperial Japanese forces captured Singapore and soon took control of the entire Malayan Peninsula. Shortly after, new currency was introduced. Included were the $10 bills Doug writes about.
The occupation currency is known to collectors as “banana money,” for the depiction of fruit trees on the obverse side of the $10 notes. This particular series was issued in 1942 and replaced the Straits Dollar previously used in Malaysia.
Produced and put into circulation quickly, they bear no serial numbers. That proved to be a problem for the Japanese, baecause the new bills were easy to counterfeit and bogus money soon flooded the market.
These are commonly collected, and there is even a blog and an online sales site. There also have been scholarly articles published about the impact of the new money in the conquered former British possessions.
Distributed in vast numbers from 1942 until the end of World War II, many of the bills have survived in pristine condition. They are interesting but not valuable: less than $1 each. Earlier this month, a collection of 40 identical $10 banana money notes sold online for about $15.
Q. This money clip has been in our family for quite awhile. I think the flakes may be gold but am not certain. The coin is an old penny. Will something like this have much, if any, value? — Mary in Kennewick
A. Your American coin is an “Indian Head” cent. They were issued for five decades - between 1859 and 1909. Collectors classify them as “small cents,” to distinguish these coins from the previously used “large cents.” Large cent coins began in 1793 and continued until they were replaced by the Indian Head penny.
Actually, that’s not the depiction of a Native American warrior on Mary’s coin.
It is a representation of Liberty wearing an tribal headdress. Prior to the United States Mint issuing the first 5 cent denomination coins in 1866, these pennies were often called nickels or “nicks” by the general population.
We will come to this coin’s value in a moment. Before doing that, let’s consider those metal flakes in the mounting. They certainly could be gold, as the precious metal is the kind of thing you would expect in a money clip.
Unfortunately, the only way to tell for certain would be to break this piece apart and have the flakes tested for gold content. But short of that, we can make an educated guess.
Should the flakes prove to be 14 carat gold and were to weigh, say, 3 grams, the value of the gold at last week’s prices would be $70, which might or might not make it worth destroying the piece to find out.
That depends on your point of view.
As to the worth of the coin itself, that is easier to determine. Even without professional grading (which would also require removing the penny from the money clip) we can estimate the value.
Coin guides tell us there were 79.5 million Indian Head pennies minted in 1901. That level of distribution means there are still quite a few available today. In Extra Fine condition this penny is worth about $6.50 in the collector’s market.
However the money clip itself, regardless of coin grade and minor metal value, would be fairly priced at $75 to $100.
Terry K. Maurer, Tri–Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by email to tchwhatsitworth@ gmail.com