Q.

Years ago an uncle and aunt of mine came over from Italy and settled in New England where, for my uncle, the farming was impossible. He had never had to battle cold weather in "the old country." He went to work in a factory. The years were very lean.

Later, all the children went off to their own careers, the old folks died and the house was sold. A young couple restored it, including the boarded-up fireplace (which my cousin had told me was boarded when his folks had bought the old place.) Well, laid into the concrete were pure silver coins, tureens, urns, utensils and serving plates, all dating back to the Civil War!

"To think of all the years we starved there!" my cousin remarked.

When my sons built a fireplace for me in 1970, I placed an old Mason jar with snapshots, tickets, newspaper pages and more into the foundation. And, yes, we put in a secret hiding place for valuables; so far, it has nothing but air.

We've since gotten permission to dig in long-abandoned farm trash pits. We've uncovered many interesting antique bottles and artifacts.

Construction today is so fast and cold, much of the past is buried to make way for the new. Our collection is not valuable in a monetary sense, but, the events that took place around them! Mrs. N.S., New England

A.

I love it! Everyone has dreamed about buried treasure or secret stashes; for you it became a reality. I hope people don't go randomly demolishing fireplaces, but it proves that treasure's all around us. All we need is a little luck and logic. I also know how you feel about the bottles. I've discovered some worthless "treasures" that I wouldn't sell for anything. (Okay, okay; maybe for a half a million. Uh, make that a million.)

Q.

I would like to know if a duck stamp that has a name written across the front is any good for resale. My husband collected stamps and has many like that. L.W. Portland, OR

A.

Absolutely. Many times people assume that a stamp that has been used is of no value. Believe it or not, in some cases (German stamps in particular) some used stamps are more valuable.

The value of a used duck stamp depends heavily on its condition. Because it was affixed to a hunting permit that was carried by a hunter, many used duck stamps show significant wear. That discounts the value. However, one with a signature (the means of validating it for use by a hunter) that isn't too large can be worth more. Collectors prefer more stamp than signature.

Earlier duck stamps have smaller printings and higher values. The rarest one, from 1935, lists at $125. Prices drop substantially after 1944, with used duck stamps bringing only a few dollars. But they all add up. It's worth a trip to a dealer to see how big or small your fortune may be.

Q.

I have an old oversized penny that is 137 years old! It was minted in 1850 and is in good (but not uncirculated) condition. I know it has value. Can you tell me how much? E.W. Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

A.

The collecting of "large cents" was one of my earliest fascinations because of their substantial size, appearance and affordability. Today, the same attributes hold true. Retail prices for "good" to "fine" large cents minted between 1840 and 1857 (when we switched to the smaller Indian Head cent) range from $5 to $12. So, even though it's old, and may not be worth as much as you think, I'd hang onto it as an historic keepsake. That's where its real value lies.

Write to Peter Rexford c/o Weekend, Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, DC 20071.