What is My Old Coin Worth?

Coins have been around for more than 5,000 years. Early Roman Emperors gave Silver coins that featured their likenesses to their best generals and troops as a reward for bravery. Coin collecting became popular in Europe in the 1500s. In the United States, collecting coins didn’t really begin until the 1850s but by 1950s, it was one of the most popular hobbies. Many children and parents amassed nice collections.

Ancient Gold Coins

Old Coin Value

Coins always have some sort of value. They all have value equal to the face value stamped on them, but many have added collectible value, which can come from any number of factors. Some have value because they are old or scarce and are in remarkable condition. Some have value because they contain Silver or Gold or some other Precious Metal. Some coins have all of those attributes.

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Factors Affecting a Coin’s Value

There are a variety of reasons one coin may have higher collector value than another. How can you determine whether the coins you have are valuable or not? Let’s discuss the factors that affect value:

  • Age
  • Rarity
  • Condition
  • Supply & Demand
  • Precious Metal Content

Below we break down each of these factors to help you better understand your coin’s value.

Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars
  1. Age is never a sole determining factor of value. For example, you might think an American Silver Dollar from the 1880s, which is more than 130 years old, would always be less valuable than a Roman Silver coin, which is well over 2,000 years old. In many instances, that is not the case. A common-date Silver Dollar with lots of detail is valued at around $40. A common Silver Roman coin in decent condition is valued at $35 even though the Roman coin is more than 15 times older than the Morgan Dollar.
  2. Rarity is another factor contributing to a coin’s value. How is rarity determined? Rarity looks at the date of the coin and where it was made. Many U.S. coins have what is called a Mint mark, which is a tiny letter strategically placed on the coin to tell you at which mint the coin was made. Once you know the denomination, date and Mint mark (if any) of a U.S. coin, you can start to determine the coin’s rarity. A big factor in determining rarity is to look at the number of coins that were minted for that date at that mint. The number of coins struck is called the mintage. Once all coins are struck, the supply is fixed and no more of that date and Mint mark will ever be produced. Mintages for U.S. coins can be obtained in the Guide Book of United States Coins, also called the “Red Book.” For Silver and Gold coins, the mintage numbers may no longer be accurate if the coin was in existence during 1979-1980 or 2008-2012, as those were years when Gold and Silver prices were very high and many coins were melted simply for their bullion value. The surviving mintages of those coins could be a tiny fraction of the original mintage.
  3. Condition is another factor in determining the value of a coin. Coins are graded on a scale from 1 to 70, with 1 being Barely Identifiable and 70 being absolutely perfect. This scale is known as the Sheldon Grading Scale, named for Dr. William Sheldon who invented it in 1949 as a way to grade Large Cents. The closer a coin is to perfection, the higher it will grade on this scale. The non-sequential numbers between 1 and 58 are reserved for coins that have some actual and visible wear (a little bit to a great deal) on the details of the coin. The higher numbers, 60 through 70, are reserved for coins without wear, but these coins may have a few to many marks on them.
  4. Supply and Demand is often more important than the actual age of a coin. If there is a greater supply than there is demand for the coin, the price will drop or stay low. If the supply is inadequate to meet the demand then prices rise until the demand slows. This is Economics 101, but it does play a significant role in the valuation of a coin. The supply can be somewhat determined by mintages and the published certified population numbers, if applicable. Demand is gauged by the number of “Buy” messages on the trading networks for these items, how quickly these coins sell out of dealers’ inventories and, for more expensive coins, prices obtained at auction. Supply and demand can be a regional anomaly too. For example, U.S. Large Cent coins can be in great supply to East Coast coin dealers but in short supply in the rest of the country, so that is a variable that must also be considered.
  5. Precious Metal Content is yet another factor in determining the value of a coin. Some coins have Precious Metals as part of their metallurgical makeup and some do not. If a coin does have some Precious Metal content, the coin is always worth the value of the metal, at a minimum. This is called the coin’s intrinsic value. Numismatic coins made of Gold, Silver, Platinum or Palladium have the Precious Metal intrinsic value as well as added numismatic or collectible value.

The Sheldon Grading Scale

Grading Abbreviation Description Grades
MS Mint State 60-70, sequentially
AU About Uncirculated 50, 53, 55, 58
XF Extremely Fine 40, 45
VF Very Fine 20, 25, 30, 35
F Fine 12, 15
VG Very Good 8, 10
G Good 4, 6
AG About Good 3
FA Fair 2
PR Poor 1
90% Silver Dollars

The Elimination of Silver from our Coinage

U.S. Silver coins, in different denominations, have been minted since 1794. The U.S. Silver coins vary from 3 Cent Silvers to half dimes, dimes, quarters, half dollars and dollars. All of these coins have varying amounts of 90% Silver. The earliest varieties of Silver coins beginning in 1794 have a Silver fineness of .8924. This was upgraded to .900 Fine in 1837 and that remained unchanged until 1965. Starting in 1959, there were significant coin shortages across the United States. The 1960s saw an unprecedented increase in the industrial use of Silver.

This put significant pressure on the price of Silver, which was capped at $1.29 per ounce by U.S. government sales. The Silver content in a dollar’s worth of coins was suddenly worth more as Silver bullion than as actual coinage. The price of Silver coinage increased to $1.40 per $1 face value of 90% Silver coins. As the public realized this, there was widespread hoarding of Silver coins. The price of Silver had risen and was exceeded by its melt value. At that point the Treasury decided they would no longer make Silver Dimes or Quarters. The Half Dollar coins would continue to have Silver but instead of a 90% Silver content, it was reduced to 40%.The clad coinage era had begun.

Silver Half Dollars

The Coinage Act of 1965 eliminated Silver from circulating coinage as described above. The 40% Silver in the half dollar was subsequently eliminated by a 1970 coinage law. Also placing pressure on Silver coinage was the demand for the 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar, honoring the recently martyred president. As coins were released they were pulled from circulation. 90% Silver coins circulated with their new clad counterparts until all Silver coins had been withdrawn.

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1964 Kennedy Silver Halves
European Gold Coins

Gold in our Coinage

Gold has served as a form of currency throughout recorded history. With the discovery and settling of America, many foreign Gold coins served as currency for the as-yet-unborn country. Gold coins from Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Spain dominated the U.S. economy. These foreign Gold (and Silver) coins were legal tender in the United States until 1857. United States Gold coins have been struck from 1795 until 1933, the year the Gold Standard was abandoned by President Franklin Roosevelt. That is why U.S. Gold coins from this time are referred to as Pre-33 Gold coins.

Changing Gold Content

When first struck in 1795, Gold coins were composed of .9167 fine Gold and a .0833 Silver and Copper mix. In the late 1830s the mix was changed to .900 fine Gold, depending on the issue. Some coins had small minor variations, but it is safe to say from the late 1830s to 1933 all U.S. Gold coins were comprised of .900 fine Gold and .100 Copper. No one knows how many Pre-33 U.S. Gold coins were melted during 1979-1980 and 2008-2012, as the spot price of Gold and Silver reached historic new highs during those periods.

Pre-33 Gold Coins

Major U.S. Coin Types

Here is a table of the major types of U.S. coins, along with an estimate of their value at two different conditions. This table is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a guide when looking to buy or sell any U.S. coins.

Half Cents

Called the “Little Sisters” by early U.S. collectors, the Half Cent series is widely collected and an important denomination of early U.S. coinage. Though considered an unusual and insignificant denomination today, the Half Cent was important during the day when working wages were $1 per 10-hour day. They are the smallest denomination of coins ever minted by the U.S. Mint.

Coin Type Average Circulated Typical Uncirculated
Half Cent – Liberty Cap – 1793-1797 $500 – $10,000 Rare
Half Cent – Draped Bust – 1800-1808 $20 – $500 Rare
Half Cent – Classic Head – 1809-1836 $20 – $100 $300 – $600
Half Cent – Coronet Type – 1840-1857 $30 – $100 $150 – $300

Large Cents

Large Cents are very widely collected in America. They are the link to our Founding Fathers and represent a beautiful series of coins. An important issue is the 1793 Large Cent, one of the first coins struck by the U.S. Mint. This coin comes in three types: the “Chain” Cent, the “Wreath” Cent and the “Liberty Cap” design. Large Cents were minted between 1793 and 1857.

Coin Type Average Circulated Typical Uncirculated
Large Cent – Flowing Hair Chain – 1793 $5,000 – $30,000 Rare
Large Cent – Flowing Hair Wreath – 1793 $1,000 – $5,000 Rare
Large Cent – Liberty Cap – 1793-1796 $200 – $1,000 Rare
Large Cent – Draped Bust – 1796-1807 $100 – $500 Rare
Large Cent – Classic Head – 1808-1814 $100 – $500 Rare
Large Cent – Matron Head – 1816-1835 $5 – $100 $200 – $2,000
Large Cent – Braided Hair – 1839-1857 $5 – $100 $100 – $300

Small Cents

The first small cent to be struck for circulation was the 1856 Flying Eagle cent. The Flying Eagle cent didn’t last long as a design, but it will forever hold the distinction as the first small cent produced in the United States. In 1859, the small penny began a 50-year journey with the Indian Head cent, which has grown to enjoy a near-legendary status in American lore. Finally, the Lincoln Cent was first produced in 1909 and still stands as the longest running obverse design in United States coinage history.

Coin Type Average Circulated Typical Uncirculated
Small Cent – Flying Eagle – 1856 $3,000 – $5,000 $6,000 – $8,000
Small Cent – Flying Eagle – 1857-1858 $10 – $50 $100 -$200
Indian Head Cent – 1859-1909 $0.25 – $10 $15 – $30
Lincoln Cent – 1909-Present Face value – $10 Face value – $50
Lincoln Cent – Steel w/ zinc plating – 1943 Face value – $0.05 $1 – $3
Lincoln Cent – Copper – 1943 $20,000 – $50,000 $80,000 – $110,000

Two-Cent Pieces

Issued in 1864, the 2 Cent Piece has the distinction of being the first coin to bear the inscription “In God We Trust.” One of the most interesting coins in this series is the 1864 issue. There are both Small and Large Motto varieties. The Small Motto is significantly rarer than the Large Motto variety, being worth more than 10 times the price of the Large Motto.

Coin Type Average Circulated Typical Uncirculated
Two-Cent Pieces – 1864-1873 $8 – $25 $80 – $100

Three-Cent Pieces

Proposed in response to the decrease in postage rates from five to three cents, three-cent Silver pieces are the lightest-weight coins ever minted by the United States. Before the Three Cent Nickel release in 1865, it was believed that coins had to be worth as much as their Precious Metal content. The Three Cent Nickel helped the population see otherwise. This helped to alleviate the need for small change as Silver shortages led to widespread hoarding of all Silver coins.

Coin Type Average Circulated Typical Uncirculated
Three-Cent Silver – 1851-1873 $10 -$20 $100 – $450
Three-Cent Nickel – 1865-1889 $5 – $20 $75 – $100

Nickels

Nickels have become one of the staples of American coinage. They were introduced after the Civil War, which made them an important part of the exchange. The first iteration of the nickel, the Shield Nickel was widely popular, followed by the Buffalo Nickel and Jefferson Nickels. These nickels, plus more, can give you a glimpse into our American heritage.

Coin Type Average Circulated Typical Uncirculated
Five Cent Nickel – Shield Type – 1866-1883 $10 – $30 $75 – $150
Five Cent Nickel – Liberty Head – 1883-1912 $0.15 – $15 $40 – $100
Five Cent Nickel – Liberty Head – 1913 N/A $3,000,000
Five Cent Nickel – Buffalo Type – 1913-1938 $0.15 – $15 $20 – $100
Five Cent Nickel – Jefferson Type – 1938-Present Face value Face value
Five Cent Nickel – War Time Alloy – 1942-1945 $0.50 – $1 $5 – $10

Half Dimes

Before the nickel five cent coin’s introduction in 1866, the five-cent denomination was known as the half dime. The half dime was one of the original denominations introduced when the U.S. coinage system began in 1792. There are a variety of designs and types of Half Dimes available, making them fun to search for and collect.

Coin Type Average Circulated Typical Uncirculated
Half Dime – Flowing Hair Type – 1794-1795 $500 – $2,500 $5,000 – $8,000
Half Dime – Draped Bust (Small Eagle) – 1796-1797 $750 – $3,000 $7,000 – $20,000
Half Dime – Heraldic Eagle – 1800-1805 $450 – $2,000 $5,000 – $6,000
Half Dime – Capped Bust – 1829-1837 $15 -$100 $200 – $300
Half Dime – Liberty Seated – 1837-1873 $10 – $50 $150 – $300

Dimes

Beginning with the Draped Bust design of 1796, there have been numerous varieties of United States dime designs. Following the Draped Bust were the Capped Bust, Liberty Seated, Barber, Mercury and Roosevelt designs. Each design has its own unique beauty and numerous varieties.

Coin Type Average Circulated Typical Uncirculated
Dime – Draped Bust (Small Eagle) – 1796-1797 $1,000 – $2,500 $6,000 – $9,000
Dime – Heraldic Eagle – 1798-1807 $450 – $1,000 $3,500 – $6,000
Dime – Capped Bust – 1809-1837 $25 – $350 $500 – $3,500
Dime – Liberty Seated – 1837-1891 $5 – $250 $100 – $350
Dime – Liberty Head (Barber) – 1892-1916 $1 – $60 $80 – $400
Dime – Winged Liberty (Mercury) – 1916-1945 $1 – $10 $5 – $40
Dime – Roosevelt (Silver) – 1946-1964 $1 – $1.75 $2
Dime – Roosevelt (Clad) – 1965-Present Face value Face value

Twenty-Cent Pieces

For a very brief period, these unusual