Coin Collecting FAQ - Introduction

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.

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

Coin Collecting FAQ

Introduction to Coin Collecting FAQ

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.

Table of Contents

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 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 and on Coin Grading pages.
  • Coin 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. This topic is covered in more details on Coin Cleaning page.

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.

Price Guides

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 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 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 US Coins is available on our US Coins Values page and information about world coins values is on our Coin Values page.

We also suggest you to try this coin collecting software - CoinManage. It's an indispensable coin collecting software with coin values and images for more than 20,000 coins, as well as market prices for these coins in most of the grades. Download it here. It has complete database of coins and coin values, sets, collector coins and bullion coins from USA, UK, Canada and it's Provinces.  As well as coin values for Australia, Belgium, British West Africa, East Africa, France, Jamaica, Mexico, Philippines and Switzerland.

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 Gold Coin Prices. 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 better date(s).
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 Roosevelt dime
- 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 professionals.

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