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CONSUMER ALERT

The flip side to coins advertised by ‘mints’

By Mitch Lipka
Globe Correspondent / January 30, 2011

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If you’re a channel clicker or magazine reader, there’s a good chance you’ve seen ads hawking shiny coins made by some outfit whose name includes the word “mint.’’ It might not be what you think.

If you look closely, there are disclaimers saying there is no connection between these coins and the US Mint. Indeed, there isn’t.

Let’s not confuse these so-called commemoratives with any legal tender. They’re not really money, even though one being promoted now says “One Dollar’’ on the back. Again, look closely: It also says “Republic of Liberia’’ on the eagle that’s on the coin. That dollar will cost you about $30 (plus shipping and handling), but it can’t be used to buy a candy bar.

Last week, Senator Charles Schumer and US Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York made a big to-do about one of these coins sold as a memorial to the Sept. 11 attacks, and urged that their sales be halted. The US Mint issued a warning about them.

So what, exactly, are these things?

Mint is just part of the name of the companies that make this type of coin. They are basically souvenirs. Some look pretty. They often come with a boast of some amount of gold or silver content — but it is of no significant value.

Unlike collecting US coins, which will always be worth at least their face values, these coins are only worth as much as someone else will pay for them. Coin collectors warn their actual value in precious metal is virtually zero, and selling them to someone else for just the original purchase prices would be unlikely.

If you want to invest in coins, this would not be where to sink your money. But if you think the coin is attractive and you’d like to have one to look at and you think the price is fair, that’s fine. Just don’t think buying one these commemoratives, as the ads try to get you to believe, is coming at a bargain price with a value that will grow.

Mitch Lipka is the Consumer Ally for AOL’s WalletPop.com and lives in Worcester. He can be reached at ConsumerNews@Aol.com.