Part 1 of 2: What's It Worth?
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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 and Mike Dworetsky.
FAQ Maintained and Master Copy is Hosted by:
Last updated 27 November 2001
This FAQ may be copied for noncommercial use provided
that this notice and all credits to the authors are included unmodified.
This FAQ addresses a few of the most commonly asked questions about coin
collecting. It is intended only as an introduction to the hobby. Years of
research and even entire careers have been devoted to in depth study of
specialized topics, and many detailed reference works have been published
(a few are listed in Part 2). 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.
Inclusion of a product, dealer or company in this FAQ does not constitute
an endorsement or recommendation.
1. What are my coins worth?
2. What is numismatics?
3. What coins do people collect?
4. What's the best way to get started?
5. Where to find collectible coins
6. How to handle coins
9. What's the best way to clean my coins?
10. How can one tell when a coin has been
cleaned, especially if it was cleaned long ago?
11. How should I store my coins?
12. Tools of the trade
13. How can I protect my collection from
loss by fire or theft?
14. Numismatic Newsgroups
15. Numismatic Web sites
16. Other numismatic resources available on
17. Are lists of coin values available
18. Risks of investing in coins
19. Bullion coins
20. Rare coins
21. Numismatic Publications
22. What are proof coins? What's the difference
between the various proof sets offered in recent years by the U.S. mint?
23. What are slabs?
24. How can coins be removed from slabs?
25. What materials
have been used to make coins?
Written and hosted by Tony Clayton
26. What's the best way to send coins to someone?
27. Clubs and other collector organizations
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 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 coins.
- 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. Four volumes, each covering a different century from
1601 to 2000. Each identifies and lists prices for coins from around the
- "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 World, Coin Prices and Coin Age.
- 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. You don't have to be a dealer to get these publications,
but they're ordinarily available only by subscription.
- 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. An online price
guide 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 less than 2 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 up to a dollar or two 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 $4.00 per ounce, the bullion value for $100 face value is
- $4.00 x .715 x 100 = $286.
- 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 usually 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
- Susan B. Anthony dollars
- If you received it as change, it's most likely worth one dollar. Proof
SBA 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 about 10% 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 Diana
- 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 coins
- With 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"
were discovered in 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 a1999 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
- In addition, a single Indian cent struck by two obverse dies, both
dated 1869, was recently 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
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