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Curious what the most valuable coin is?
No, I’m not talking about the Top 5 or Top 10 most valuable coins that you can find in your pocket change.
I mean THE most valuable coin ever sold!
The honor of being the most valuable coin ever has passed from one rare U.S. coin to another over the years…
Previous Most Valuable Coins
There is the 1804 Draped Bust dollar — otherwise known as “The King of American Coins.” In 1885, a specimen of the rare and valuable 1804 silver dollar became the first coin to trade for more than $1,000.
In 1996, the rare 1913 Liberty nickel was the first coin to break the million-dollar barrier, fetching $1,485,000 at auction.
It took 17 more years for a rare coin to reach the next major price milestone. An outstanding example of the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar (the first silver dollar ever made by the United States Mint) commanded just over $10 million in a 2013 sale.
And in 2021, the only 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagle legally obtainable by private coin collectors smashed more records. How much did it sell for? Nearly $20 million!
How The 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle Became THE Most Valuable Coin In The World
The story behind the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle started off ordinarily enough…
The double eagle gold coin had been made almost every year for decades — and 1933 was to be no exception.
While it was during the heart of the Great Depression, there was still a need for large-denomination gold coins like the Saint-Gaudens $20.
The U.S. Mint had already struck 445,500 Saint-Gaudens double eagles in 1933 when an executive order from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt banned private ownership of gold bullion, gold certificates, and most gold coins.
Along with the new law came the official order for the U.S. Mint to stop making gold coins. All of the gold coins that had been made but not yet distributed were melted. And there was a recall of any 1933 double eagles that had already entered circulation.
Virtually all of the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagles that had been made were melted under the executive order, but a few had managed to escape the U.S. Mint — including one that had been ordered by King Farouk of Egypt in 1944 under a special export license. The license was accepted just before the government discovered that some of the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagles that had exited the U.S. Mint were actually stolen. The United States tried working with the Egyptian government to confiscate the coin, but World War II and geopolitical problems overseas got in the way.
After King Farouk was deposed in 1952, many of his personal effects got lost in the shuffle — including the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle. It turned up decades later in 1996, when a coin dealer named Stephon Fenton produced it.
Even though the U.S. permitted open ownership of gold again beginning in 1974, the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle was still illegal to own. So, the United States Secret Service took possession of the coin — which was suspended in legal limbo for some time as the U.S. government determined what to do with the rarity.
The most valuable coin in the world — the 1933 double eagle — actually sat in a vault at the World Trade Center just weeks before the New York City landmark collapsed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001!
In a court settlement, the U.S. government worked out a deal whereby it temporarily regained ownership of the coin — but would uniquely “issue” and monetize it by way of a special document. Thus, making it legal for the public to buy, sell, and own.
The coin sold at public auction in 2002 for $7,590,020 — which set a new world record for the most expensive coin ever sold. The coin was bought by famous shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, who collects coins, stamps, and other rare pieces.
After years of owning the coin, Weitzman offered the coin for sale through Sotheby’s auction house. They sold the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle on June 8, 2021, for a stunning $18,872,250, which is a new world record for the most valuable coin to ever sell at public auction — and $8 million more than the previous record held by the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar, mentioned above.
Most Valuable U.S. Coins By Denomination
Okay, so the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle is the world’s most valuable coin. But what are some of the other outstanding prices paid for other U.S. coins?
Let’s take a look at the most valuable U.S. coins for each denomination — from one cent through one dollar coins…
Most Valuable Penny
The most valuable of the modern-era pennies (since the introduction of small cents in 1856) is the 1943-D copper Lincoln penny. Accidentally made on a copper planchet that was intended for 1942 pennies instead of the steel blanks for 1943 pennies, this rare penny is truly unique as only one is known to exist! In 2010, the most valuable penny sold for $1.7 million.
Most Valuable Nickel
The world’s most expensive nickel is no stranger to the limelight. It’s the 1913 Liberty nickel — an example of which once guest starred on famous 1970s TV action show Hawaii Five-O. The 1913 Liberty nickel has only 5 known specimens — the most valuable of these crossed the auction block in 2018 for $4,560,000.
Most Valuable Dime
The most expensive dime to ever trade hands via public auction is the 1894-S Barber dime — of which only 24 examples were struck. The most valuable of these is a specimen that sold in 2016 for $1,997,500, making it the most valuable U.S. dime.
Most Valuable Quarter
The first circulating United States quarters were struck in 1796 — which just so happens to be the date on the most valuable quarter that ever sold. A particularly exceptional 1796 Draped Bust quarter clinched $1,527,500 in 2015, securing its spot as the most valuable U.S. quarter.
Most Valuable Half Dollar
You don’t see half dollars too often in pocket change anymore, but one really took the cake when it sold for over $1.5 million many years ago. One of the rarest half dollar coins is the 1797 Draped Bust half dollar. An example in top condition fetched $1,527,500 when it traded hands in 2015, making it the most valuable half dollar coin.
Most Valuable Dollar Coin
The King of American Coins may not be the world’s most valuable coin anymore like it once was decades back, but in value it still reigns supreme among silver dollars! An example of the 1804 Draped Bust dollar that realized $4,140,000 in 1999 was the world’s most expensive coin for years and is still the most valuable silver dollar coin.
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I’m the Coin Editor here at TheFunTimesGuide. My love for coins began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I’m a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) and have won multiple awards from the NLG for my work as a coin journalist. I’m also the editor at the Florida United Numismatists Club (FUN Topics magazine), and author of Images of America: The United States Mint in Philadelphia (a book that explores the colorful history of the Philadelphia Mint). I’ve contributed hundreds of articles for various coin publications including COINage, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, Coin Dealer Newsletter, Coin Values, and CoinWeek. I’ve authored nearly 1,000 articles here at The Fun Times Guide to Coins (many of them with over 50K shares), and I welcome your coin questions in the comments below!