Are there valuable coins in your pocket?
Updated: Sep 30, 2021
On a business trip to New Jersey a few months ago, I stopped by my aunt’s house for a visit and a good meal. As dinner was cooking, she brought down a small box of coins that were given to her by my grandfather. She said that she didn’t have any interest in coin collecting and wanted to see if there was anything worthwhile in the box. Inside of 5 minutes, I found the most valuable coin in the lot – a $20 gold piece from 1900. It later sold for $1700 and was part of the nearly $5000 worth of coins in that small box.
Coin collections I look at typically consist of rolls or baggies of old US coins. Sometimes, I’m just given a pile of various coins to pick through. In order to sort the coins into different values it helps to know what you’re looking for.
Silver Coins Pre-1964 are Golden
Many U.S. coins made in 1964 and earlier have a high silver content – 90% to be exact. The Dollars, half dollars, quarters, and dimes from this period are typically what hold the greatest value. For example, an old Roosevelt dime from 1950 may not look like much, but at current silver prices, they’re worth about $1.70 each. And since a lot of people have rolls of these old dimes, at 50 dimes per roll, they’re worth at least $85 from the silver content, versus the $5.00 face value.
Unless they’ve been obtained by a serious collector, most coins are likely to have been used and are in circulated condition. If they are made of gold or silver, they are always worth at least the gold or silver content that they contain. A good website to help determine a basic value of your old coins is coinflation.com , which has a calculator that includes current gold and silver values.
Like any collectible, the better the condition the coins are in, the more valuable they tend to be. Numismatics (those who collect and study coins and currency) utilize a scale to assign grades to coins, which ranges from poor (PO01) to mint state (MS65). The U.S. Mint also produced higher-grade proof coins, which are usually distinguished by their mirror-like finish and extremely crisp detail.
Aside from their gold or silver content, scarcity can also be a driver of prices. Even something as common as a Lincoln penny can be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, if you’re lucky enough to come across a rare find in good condition. If you think you may have something that’s rare or valuable, set it aside from other coins in a plastic baggie to minimize additional wear, until you get a chance to research it or have it evaluated. And whatever you do, don’t trade in those old coins for crispy new dollar bills, as you may be getting a lot less that they’re worth!