The $4 gold U.S. proof coin, a 1880 Coiled Hair Stella, sold for $2,574,000 recently at Bonhams Los Angeles.

Fotolia The $4 gold U.S. proof coin, a 1880 Coiled Hair Stella, sold for $2,574,000 recently at Bonhams Los Angeles.

Q: I recently came across this commemorative coin for the presidential election of 1864. The image of George McClellan is on one side; his running mate, George Pendleton, is on the other. Value? Is value more significant now that the anniversary of the election is approaching?

A: Our reader adds that his coin is not mint, but “after 150 years, what is expected?”

I can tell you this: Passage of time or no, any smart collector looking to buy that piece expects mint condition or darn close.

First, a short history lesson. The 1864 election during the Civil War was Abraham Lincoln’s first campaign for re-election. The Democratic Party candidate was George B. McClellan, whom Lincoln had removed from war command. His VP candidate was George H. Pendleton of Ohio.

McClellan, of New Jersey, ran an anti-Lincoln and anti-Emancipation Proclamation campaign.

Buoyed by Union battlefield wins, the election was a close win for Lincoln, whose second inaugural address had the celebrated lines “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”

The reader’s “coin” is also called a campaign token. Narrowing it down, it is a ferrotype. Ferrotype is a photo emulsion laid onto a sheet of iron. Tintypes were a later variant.

We asked Ted Hake, owner of Hake’s Americana and Collectibles in York, Pa.,, to look over the images sent. A specialist on all things collectible in pop culture, TV and character collectibles, advertising, campaign memorabilia and other categories, Hake runs regular Internet auctions. He also sells from the site. His next auction, No. 210, features a major campaign item collection.

“Value for these is determined by popularity of the candidate,” Hake told us. When you think about it, there’s just no contest: For value, Lincoln ferrotypes win hands down. Yes, a similar Lincoln-Johnson exists. On the flip side, rarity is also a factor, and “this is one of the rarer McClellan varieties.”

A major determinant of value is condition. In his Political Buttons Book III 1789-1916, Hake lists McClellan items, including the reader’s ferrotype. Normally, they list in the $500 range.

But — and this is a big caveat — that value is for a ferrotype with no damage. The reader’s has crazed emulsion with small spots of emulsion loss. That, adds Hake, drops value to around $200. The sum is a retail quote; selling it may bring less or more, depending on how and where it’s sold.

The upcoming anniversary of the election will not affect the value.

FYI: See Hake’s website for info on his many price guides. On, we viewed 1864 Lincoln ferrotypes sold at auction recently for $400 to $1,150 for a pristine example. On we saw a pristine McClellan ferrotype that sold last February on eBay for $300.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send e-mail to