Part 1 of 3
What's It Worth?
|Coin Collecting FAQ written by Chuck D'Ambra, Mike Locke, Michael
Caver, Andrew Andison, Mike Marotta, Andrew Tumber, John Muchow, Tony Clayton,
Clint Cummins, Lou Coles, Mike Dworetsky and Rita Laws.
Last updated 17 December 2010
This FAQ may be copied for noncommercial use provided that
this notice and all credits to the authors are included unmodified.
Links on the Web to the Coin Collecting FAQ are welcome.
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Below and in Part 2 and Part 3, some of the more frequently asked questions
about coin collecting are addressed. While some of the material is applicable
to other numismatic collectibles, the emphasis here is on coins. In some
cases, more complete information is provided for U.S. coins.
This FAQ was originally written in 1995 by Chuck D'Ambra, who has
periodically updated it since then. Other contributors are credited
Inclusion of a product, dealer or company in this FAQ does not constitute
an endorsement or recommendation.
Table of Contents
- What are my coins worth?
- What is numismatics?
- What coins do people collect?
- What's the best way to get started?
- Where to find collectable coins
- How to handle coins
- What's the best way to clean my coins?
- How can one tell when a coin has been
cleaned, especially if it was cleaned long ago?
- How should I store my coins?
- Tools of the trade
- How can I protect my collection from
loss by fire or theft?
- Numismatic Newsgroups
- Numismatic Web sites
- Other numismatic resources available on
- Are lists of coin values available
- Risks of investing in coins
- Bullion coins
- Rare coins
- Numismatic Publications
- What are proof coins? What's the
between the various proof sets offered in recent years by the U.S. mint?
- What are slabs?
- How can coins be removed from slabs?
materials have been used to make coins?
Written and hosted by Tony Clayton
- What's the best way to send coins to
- Clubs and other collector organizations
used in Coin Collecting
Written and hosted by Clint Cummins
1. What Are My Coins Worth?
Because variations of this question are the most common numismatic queries
on the Net, and they are not nearly as easy to answer as you might think,
this entire section is devoted to helping you learn the value of your coins.
In general, a coin must be physically examined to determine
its authenticity, grade and the presence or absence of problems before a value
can be established.
Like anything else, a coin is "worth" what someone is willing to pay for
it. Several factors will be taken into account by a potential
buyer to establish what he or she considers a fair price:
- Identification: What country issued the coin?
What is the face value, the date and the mintmark (if any)? If more than one
design was used that year, which one is it? Usually, this information can be
determined without much difficulty. Note that if no denomination (face
value) is indicated, your coin-like object is, in fact, probably a
privately minted token or medal.
- Authenticity: Counterfeits and alterations of
many, many coins have been made by unscrupulous persons looking to part
collectors from their money. An expert opinion may be needed to determine
whether or not a coin is authentic and is mandatory for more valuable
- Grade: A grade summarizes the overall condition
of a coin. Fair market value often varies by orders of magnitude for the same
coin in different grades. This topic is covered in
detail in Part 2 of this FAQ.
- Cleaning and other damage: In general,
collectors prefer coins which have not been tampered with, such as by cleaning
or polishing. A coin that is corroded, scratched, holed (drilled through
so that it can be hung on a chain), altered, artificially toned,
"dinged" on the edge, or simply unattractive for the grade is less
desirable than a problem free specimen. "Problem coins" are still
bought and sold but generally at a substantial discount compared to
problem free examples.
Grade and damage may have little or no effect on prices of coins which
have little numismatic (collector) value but often result in major price
differences for coins of interest to collectors.
Once you've identified a coin and have have some idea of its grade, a
guide can be consulted for typical prices. Some of the most commonly used
coin price publications include:
- The Standard Catalog of World Coins by Chester L.
Krause and Clifford Mishler. Five volumes, each covering a different
century from 1601 to the present. Each identifies and lists prices for coins
from around the world.
"The Red Book" (officially titled A Guide Book of United
States Coins), which is published annually, is a commonly used
retail price guide with a wealth of other useful information.
- More frequently published retail prices for U.S. coins are
available in Coin Values, Coin Prices and Coin
- The principal price guide in dealer to dealer transactions is the
Coin Dealer Newsletter, popularly known as "the Greysheet."
CDN also publishes the Bluesheet, which lists sight unseen prices for
certified coins, and the Greensheet, which covers paper money.
- A Handbook of United States Coins, commonly known as
"the Blue Book," is another guide dealers sometimes consult when buying
U.S. coins from the public.
- Numismatic News publishes prices for all 3 levels
(dealer buy, bid and retail).
These publications are often available in libraries, bookstores, coin
shops and through online coin dealers and booksellers.
An online price guide for U.S. coins is available at the NumisMedia
web site (prices are generally at the upper end of retail - expect to
receive offers that are substantially lower, if you're selling). An online
for U.K. coins is maintained by Tony Clayton.
Some of the other topics in this FAQ may bring you closer to finding
the value of your coins. Learning more about your coins may help you get
a better offer, should you decide to sell them, and to know whether or not
an offer is reasonable.
Frequently requested values for coins:
- Circulated U.S. wheat cents (1958 and earlier)
- Most dated 1940 or later are purchased by dealers for 2-3
cents each. Some of the earlier dates are worth more (a few cents to
several dollars), and checking a price guide
is a good idea if you have them.
- 1943 "steel pennies"
- Zinc plated steel cents were minted only in 1943. A syndicated
radio program incorrectly reported in early 1999 that these coins are
rare and valuable. In fact, more than one billion were minted. What is
rare and valuable is a 1943 cent struck on a normal bronze planchet.
Any 1943 cent that appears to be bronze should be tested to determine
if it is attracted to a magnet - if so, it's a steel cent that has been
copper plated. Steel 1943 cents, with or without a mintmark, may be
worth under 5 cents to about 50 cents if circulated, and one to several
dollars if uncirculated. Steel cents that have been "re-processed"
(given a new zinc coating) are not worth uncirculated prices.
- Silver dimes, quarters and halves
- U.S. dimes, quarters and half dollars dated 1964 or earlier are
90% silver and were made with 0.723 ounce of silver for each dollar in
face value. As some metal may have been worn off from circulation,
0.715 ounce/dollar is often used to estimate the amount of silver still
present. Even if the coin is a common date (and most dated 1934 or
later are), it's still worth more than face value because of its silver
content. The amount varies with the spot price of silver. Precious
metals spot prices are available at Kitco Inc. Multiply the
current spot price of silver by 0.715 and by the total face value. For
example, if spot is $28.00 per ounce, the bullion value for $100 face
- $28.00 x .715 x 100 = $2002
- Many uncirculated silver coins and some circulated ones may be
worth a premium over the silver value. Check a price
guide to see if you have any better dates.
- U.S. half dollars dated 1965 through 1970 are 40% silver.
- Silver dollars
- U.S. silver dollars (1935 and earlier) were made with 0.77 ounce
of silver each. These coins are popular with collectors and, unless
damaged or severely worn, can often be sold for more than their
silver value. Less common dates and higher grades can be sold for
considerably more. Check a price guide to
see if you have any better date(s).
- Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea and Presidential dollars
- If you received it as change, it's most likely worth one dollar. Proof
dollars are worth more, but proof coins are rarely found in circulation.
- Bicentennial quarters, halves and dollars
- Because billions of these coins were made, they're generally worth only
face value. A few dealers pay a small premium over face for rolls
of lightly circulated bicentennial coins and a bit more for
uncirculated ones. Special 40% silver bicentennial coins were also
minted for sale to collectors (they're easily detected by the absense
of copper on the edge). They're worth more than face value but are
unlikely to be found in circulation.
- Coin commemorating the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess
- Many millions were made by several British Commonwealth nations.
The current price range for most is $5-25.
- A coin with two heads, two tails or designs of two different
- With very few exceptions, these pieces are novelty items sometimes
called magician's coins. They're created by hollowing out one coin and
trimming down another to fit inside. A seam can be found along the
inside edge of the rim on one side. Because they're altered coins, they
have no value to coin collectors.
However, a small number of legitimate error coins known as
"mules" have been discovered since 2000. A mule is produced when dies intended
for different denominations are paired to strike the two sides of a
coin. The recently discovered mules include
- at least one specimen of a 1999 Lincoln cent with the reverse of a
- at least six specimens of a Sacagawea "golden dollar" with
the obverse (portraying George Washington) intended for a state quarter
- a single Indian cent struck by two obverse dies,
both dated 1869, has been authenticated.
If you have a coin like one described in the previous paragraph
or cannot find a seam even under magnification, a coin collector or
dealer in your area may be able to assist you in determining if it's
genuine. Once professionally authenticated, you would be well advised
to offer or consign the coin at auction to get the highest price.
- An unstruck coin
- Unstruck blanks or planchets are relatively common. Most retail for a
couple dollars or less.
- A "misstruck" coin
- There are many types of striking errors. Additionally, a lot of
coins look unusual because they have been altered after striking.
Altered coins have no value to coin collectors. Prices for legitimate
striking errors cover a broad range. Minor errors, such as a raised
crack, will generally bring little or no premium. Incomplete planchets
(known as clips) and off center strikes typically sell for a few
dollars. Rare, dramatic errors may sell for several hundred dollars.
The first step towards determining the value an unusual looking coin is
to have it examined by one or more professionals.
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