Valuable Coins in Circulation October 03 2013

Getting The Most Out Of Your Pocket Change

While the likelihood of finding a 1909-S VDB penny decreases with each year, many rare and valuable coins can still be found in ordinary pocket change.  In this article, I'm going to point out a few of the more valuable coins to keep an eye out for.  


Old Silver Coins

Pre-1965 US dimes, quarters, and half dollars were all struck from 90% silver.  From 1965 to 1970, half dollars were struck from 40% silver.  And from 1942 to 1945, nickels ("war nickels") were struck from 35% silver to conserve nickel for the war effort.  Silver currently sits at $20/oz, which makes these coins all worth at least a few bucks (check here for the current values).  Don't feel like checking the dates of every coin you get?  You don't have to.  Because of their silver composition, these coins tend to have a  lighter color than modern copper-nickel coins.  One notable exception is the war nickels, which are often tarnished and darker.  Another way to check for silver is by taking a quick glance at the coin edges.  Modern coins are produced with a copper core sandwiched between layers of nickel—look at the edge of a dime, nickel, quarter, or half dollar, and you'll see the brown/red copper color.  Old silver coins, on the other hand, have a completely silver/grey edge. While most silver coins have been picked out of circulation over the years, many can still be found if you keep your eyes open.  


Error Coins

1982 Philadelphia "No P" dime - In 1982, a small number of dimes lacking mintmarks were accidentally produced at the Philadelphia mint.  Important note: prior to 1980, Philadelphia dimes had no mintmark.  The only dime without a mintmark that is worth anything is the 1982.  Value: $50+ (higher for uncirculated grades)





1995 Doubled Die Penny - Take a close look at 1995 pennies with no mintmark (produced by the Philadelphia mint) and look for doubling of "LIBERTY" and "IN GOD WE TRUST."  Value: $20+ (higher for uncirculated) 

Other doubled die pennies to keep an eye out for: 1969-S (doubling on all parts obverse side except mintmark), 1970-S ("LIB" and "IN GOD WE TRUST"), 1972 (all parts of obverse), 1983 (lettering on reverse).  Many of these doubled die varieties are quite valuable, with some demanding prices into the thousands of dollars.  


2004-D Wisconsin State Quarter Extra Leaf - Normal Wisconsin quarters only have two leaves on the ear of corn.  Two rare error varieties of the D-mintmark quarters (Denver mint) have an extra leaf.  Value: $100+

For an exhaustive list of error coins and varieties to hunt, check out The Cherrypickers' Guide to US Coins by Bill Fivaz. Fivaz provides a comprehensive list of valuable error coins that can still be readily found in circulation.  




Copper Pennies

U.S. pennies prior to 1982 were struck in 95% copper.  In 1982, the U.S. Mint switched to a copper-plated zinc alloy in an attempt to cut down on costs due to the rising price of copper.  Copper has continued to rise in value, and each pre-1982 penny contains approximately 2 cents worth of copper at current prices.  That might not sound like much, but many investors expect the price of copper to rise substantially in the near future.  In any case, it might be worth your while to set aside those copper pennies for now.  In a few decades or even years, copper might be the new silver.  


Some Coins That Aren't Worth So Much

Family/friends often come up to me with unusual coins they've found in circulation, hoping I'll tell them that they just struck it rich.  Unfortunately, a lot of uncommon coins aren't worth much at all.  

Dateless Buffalo nickels - While somewhat of a rare find, dateless Buffalos unfortunately are worth little more than face value (perhaps 25 cents each).  The raised design of these nickels (produced from 1913 to 1938) led to the date wearing out very quickly.  Dateless coins in general aren't worth much to collectors.  

Bicentennial quarters and half dollars - Hundreds of millions of half dollars and billions of quarters were produced to commemorate the nation's bicentennial in 1976.  Both are in ready supply in secondary markets like eBay, so circulated coins are worth only face value.  

Wheat pennies - Most of the Wheat pennies found in circulation are of later dates, with lower mintages.  Wheat pennies were struck all the way up to 1958, and 60 years isn't a very long time in the coin world.  Most Wheat pennies from the 40's and 50's are worth little more than 25 cents.  Older dates, particularly S-mints, can be worth substantially more.  

Modern half dollars + small dollar coins - Just because you've never seen one before doesn't make it valuable.  Half dollars and small dollar coins (such as the Sacagawea, Susan B. Anthony, and Presidential dollars) never see much circulation among the general public.  But such large numbers of them are minted that they are neither scarce nor valuable.  




Written by Max Breitenbach
Max Breitenbach has been collecting US, foreign, and ancient coins for over a decade, and has been writing about them for nearly as long!  Max is a regular guest blogger on  He is currently working on a collection of European silver crowns and is planning on finishing his US type set sometime within the next century. You can find him on Google+.