How To Spot Rare US Coins In Your Pocket Change



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Curious how to spot rare US coins? It’s a little simpler than you may think — but you have to know what you’re looking for…

The 1913 Liberty nickel is one of the rarest coins.

In fact, 1 of the 5 known 1913 Liberty nickels sold at auction for a whopping $3.7 million!

While the 1913 Liberty nickel may not wind up in your hands anytime soon, there are several types of rare United States coins you should be looking for:

Here’s more about each of the above coins and why they are considered the most popular rare coins that collectors go gaga over.

And these are just a few of the rare US coins that you may find either in pocket change or in estates.

Rare US coins are hard to find, but here are a few tips that may make your search a little easier:

  • Check in rolls of coins from your bank.
  • See if there are any old coins in your attic or basement storage.
  • Peruse estate sales — they are great places for buying rare U.S. coins.
  • Always check your change for old, rare US coins!
  • Use a metal detector — that’s how one person found a rare 1652 Massachusetts sixpence coin worth more than $400,000 in a potato field!

Joshua

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!

56 thoughts on “How To Spot Rare US Coins In Your Pocket Change

  1. Joshua, I have a 1942 Mercury head dime and I know some with high grades are worth a lot, but don’t know for sure what the grade would be on it.Iknow it isn’t a ms68 or even from 61-70 grade. It does have ware with several dirt spots , but all the lettering is visiable on the obverse and reverse sides, It doesn’t have a mint mark by the right of the E in the word ONE on reverse side.. It also doesn’t appear to have on the date the number 2 stamped over the number 1. I want it apraised by a repitable and honest person, but I don’t know who to contact. Please help!!!!!!!!!

    1. Hi, Carl —

      I’m glad to help. First off, great job trying to check for the 1942/1 overdate. It sounds like you have a nicely circulated 1942 Mercury dime, probably grading from Fine to Extremely Fine. Those are worth around $3 (more or less).

      If you’re interested in selling it, you could always go to a coin dealer or sell it on eBay if you don’t live near a coin dealer.

      All the best,
      -Joshua

      1. Hi Josh, Thank you for sending me the info on my mercury dime. If it is worth $3 or so thats great and I will look into it to see exactly what it is worth and whatever it is worth ….” I’ll take it” ,,lol. thanks again for responding to my question… carl

        1. You’re welcome, Carl. Yes, the value is roughly $3 in a moderate to lightly worn grade. The plus or minus aspects of price will depend on the coin’s actual grade.

          Take care,
          -Josh

    1. Hi, Karlene —

      While you don’t find Lincoln cents with Kennedy’s head everyday, these are not really rare coins. In fact, Kennedy’s head wasn’t even stamped on that penny at the U.S. Mint. These are actually novelty coins that were sold by a private company many years ago.

      Yes, the Lincoln cent itself is genuine — it’s just the Kennedy head that isn’t an official U.S. Mint design on this piece.

      Here’s some more information on the Lincoln-Kennedy novelty cent: https://coins.thefuntimesguide.com/lincoln_jfk_kennedy_penny/

  2. Hi Joshua, I was looking in the site on About.com and they showed a picture of a 2006 LIBERTY nickle with a grease, or mint goop spot on it saying it is an error coin. I have a 2005 LIBERTY coin with the same grease spot on it in the same area of the picture on the obverse side. The reverse side has nothing. The spot is around the word LIBERTY and a small one on his forehead by the eyebrow. Nothing was mentioned about value of the coin. Does it have any?

    1. Hello, Carl —

      I tried looking for the coin you mentioned on About.com and can’t seem to find it. But I can tell you, based on your description, that it sounds like you and About are discussing what is known as a filled-die coin. Filled-die error coins are fairly common in terms of error coins.

      What makes a filled die error valuable (or not valuable) is the severity (or lack thereof) of the area missing and what part of the coin has been affected.

      Most filled die error coins are worth $3 to $5, some more, many less. A number of filled die error coins with very little missing design aren’t worth any more than if the coin was regular in all respects.

      Now, if a filled die error has a whole word or phrase missing, or a substantial or important part of the design missing, such a piece can be worth more. The value would be based on how spectacular the error is. Demand is also an important matter in determining the value of most coins, including those with errors.

      I hope this helps!

  3. Joshua, To see what page in about.com I’m talking about, just type in the search bar this;( Rare Coins In Circulation ) You don’t have to type in( about.com.)… and it should show the picture of the 2006 LIBERTY nickle with the grease spot on it. PS. I use yahoo as my search bar.

    1. Great, Carl! Found it. I don’t usually use a Yahoo search bar, so it took me a little while. Thanks for giving me the phrase… Here’s the link: https://coins.about.com/od/errorcoinsdievarieties/ht/find_error_coin.htm

      The 2006 Jefferson nickel with the wavy surface is essentially a ‘relative’ (my term) of the traditional ‘filled die’ error many may think of — where a letter is missing or a part of the design is obliterated. The kind of error here is a called a ‘strike through.’

      Strike throughs also vary in price, but normally the more surface area affected, the higher the value. Minor strike throughs can bring a couple dollars if the buyer is enthusiastic about errors.

      However, coins where much or most of the surface is interrupted can be worth $5 to $10 or more, especially to a person specializing in error coins. Also, the type of die obstruction can actually affect the value.

      Grease is a pretty common issue with dies. These errors are often worth less than a die that struck a coin through more dramatic (and less common) media — say, cloth, large chunks of metal, or other foreign material. Depending on the severity of those types of strike throughs (and how much of the coin was affected), you may be looking at $50 to $100 or more in the right market.

      1. Joshua, Good you found the site. Now I know more about that kind of coin, and other people will also. Thats whats good about this site. we learn from other people’s questions, and then from the person who knows.( My coin does not have anything missing on it.) Oh well I’ll keep looking. thanks for the info.

        1. Thanks for the kind comment, Carl.

          Good luck finding the coins you’re searching for. Please let us all know if you find anything interesting, and feel free to come back if you have any more questions in the future!

  4. Joshua, Recently I found (outside on the ground), a 1994-D lincoln cent in good shape that someone or something struck in the center of the coin a perfect ( what looks like an angel or a ghost). I’m not asking any value because I guess there isn’t any, I just thought it was unique the way it was struck so perfect and smoothe around the edges and perfectly centered. I don’t know how to show a picture on here so I just wanted you to know what I found. What or who do you think could have done this person or machine? Just curious….

    1. Hi, Carl —

      Neat find! Many gift and novelty companies counterstamp images on pennies. I would think this would be the case with your coin, as you describe the image being so perfectly stamped on yours.

  5. i have a 1943 legit copper penny for sale it dont stick to any magnets and it has been checked by a local coin dealer he said it is in very shape is anybody looking to maybe buy it for around 10 grand

    1. Have it authenticated first. then you’ll be guaranteed a fair sum and can defend its authenticity. Thats probably your best bet. Use ANACS, PCGS or any of the other thrid party graders specializing in authentication of ultra rare, ultra low mintage rarities, such as the one you posses. you can also try to put it up for auction with Christies Auction House or Sotheby’s. Forget EBAY. They ( Christies and Sotheby’s) will get the most cash for you and the coin will end up in the collection of a collector who can truly appreciate what you have. Good Luck !

      1. Joe Monkey —

        I completely back USRareCoinsInc’s suggestion. If things seem to verify with your coin so far, get it authenticated and submit it for auction.

        Good luck!

  6. Hi Joshua, I have a 1989 (no mint ) lincoln cent that is in near uncirculated condition and I think it has a “OFF CENTERED ERROR”. This is hard to explain but will do my best.. On the obverse side there is what I believe is an indention or groove, on the left side of the inner rim that starts under the word “LIBERTY” and goes all the way up and around to the words “IN GOD WE TRUST” and ends after the word TRUST. From the word “IN” the outside rim gets real thin and goes to the word “TRUST” and stops. The rest of the rim goes back to normal thickness to the word “LIBERTY”. Also the indention on the planchet looks like it was struck first and then the letters were struck over the indention because the word”IN” & “GOD” are both almost unreadable,and also they look like they have a double die.The reverse is normal. In your expert opinion do you think this was done by the die machine or by something else and could it be a valuable and rare find? Sorry for the lenghty comment…. Thanks

    1. Hi, Carl —

      Thanks for your question. You definitely have an off-center error, though it sounds like it’s off by only 2% to 3% at most, which unfortunately in your case wouldn’t warrant much — if any — extra value over face. Most off-center errors start attracting attention (and added value) once the coin approaches 5% to 10% occlusion or more.

      The grooves sound like a common situation I have seen with modern Lincoln cents. To be perfectly frank, the quality of Lincoln cents from the 1980s and 1990s is often subpar, and the result is a number of contact marks, spots, bubbles in the surface (due to the copper plating not properly adhering to the zinc core), and other issues. I have personally handled dozens of uncirculated 1980s and 1990s Lincoln cents with minor rifts or grooves near the rim and these are typically viewed as common defects and really don’t attract positive coin collector attention.

      Now, as for the doubling, you MAY have a doubled die, but without viewing the coin I really can’t say. It may be hub doubling, which is seen more as a worthless defect than a valuable error (but I can’t say which without viewing the coin in hand). I’d be inclined to say that chances are it’s an issue of hub doubling (if there really is doubling on your coin), but I don’t want to say for certain.

      If you want to verify the nature of the doubling on the coin as well as any other issues you see, you might be best served to take your coin to a local coin dealer (not a pawn shop or jeweler) to give you a sight-seen inspection of the coin.

      I do appreciate your very detailed description. I hope I have been able to at least point you in the right direction as to what is going on with your coin.

      Good luck on the coin being a doubled die!

  7. Joshua, Just my luck, I thought I really found something good and worth something ( on the 1989 lincoln cent) other than face value… LoL. Really … It was so close to the percentage point of being a true OFF CENTERED ERROR COIN.Well thanks for being honest with me Joshua. This summer up north from where I live is a coin dealer which I will be going to see him about a possible double die. Well this is really fun and interesting looking for coins, and being able to ask your opinion and cant wait for the results, and glad I found this site. Thanks again.

    1. Hi, Carl —

      You’re quite welcome! I’m not ruling out that your coin may be a double die, but the tricky thing is that hub doubling is so much more common in a relative sense and, yet, it can often look just like a double die.

      Yes, please make sure your coin is inspected in person because it’s quite possible that it may really be a double die. Checking for doubled dies can present challenges because when you’ve got the real thing, values normally shoot way beyond face value or ‘fair market value’ for what would be a typical coin. Hub doubling (also called machine doubling) on the other hand normally adds negligible value to a coin.

      As for the off-center aspect, you could say your coin is an off-center error. The only issue is that because it sounds like yours involves just the rim (or little more), that makes it a rather common type of off-center error with nominal, if any, extra value.

      As for the indentation, again it sounds like a common defect. In-person diagnostics may say otherwise, but the description sounds like the state of many modern Lincoln cents.

      I’m glad you stopped by here to ask questions, though. Please come back to ask anything else down the road. I’ll always try and help to the best of my ability!

      Good luck on the site-seen evaluation of your 1989 cent!

  8. Hi Joshua, I think I found “DIE SCRATCHES” on a 1996 (no mint) lincoln cent. It starts on the obverse side, above the date going up to lincoln’s neck and continues up all around the outline of his face,hair, back of head, and down to his collar of his suit he is wearing. They are small scratches like electricity is coming from his head (He saw a ghost)… lol. nothing on the reverse side.The coin is in good condition. Are die scratches of any value?…… Also I have a 1988-D lincoln cent that has what looks like tiny water or air bubbles over 90% of both sides of the coin. What could that be, and also is it of any value/ Thanks

    1. Hi, Carl —

      Die scratches are a curiosity to some coin collectors who are into coin peculiarities, but they generally tend to slightly lessen the value of the coin (however, they don’t lessen the grade).

      The tiny bubbles on your 1988-D Lincoln cent are an unfortunate result of poor quality on the copper-coated zinc pennies. You’ll actually find this is a common problem with the zinc pennies of the 1980s. It seems to me the U.S. Mint has gotten a handle on this issue as I don’t seem to notice this issue as often on many of the newer one cent coins.

  9. Hi Joshua, I have a coin that looks like the Liberty Nickel picture on the article “How to Spot Rare US Coins.” How can I tell if my coin is “rare.”

    1. Hi, L Garcia —

      In the case of a Liberty nickel, you’ll be able to tell if your coin is rare based on its date. Outside of the extremely rare 1913 Liberty nickel worth millions, the other 3 rare dates in the series — and their approximate values are:

      1885 $600 and up
      1886 $250 and up
      1912-S $125 and up.

  10. Hi Joshua, I have a 1951S roosevelt dime in worn condition, and it has on both sides of coin what looks like sun rays all around the coin and very close together but not touching each other. It starts in the center of the coin with a small circle with straight lines or scratches protruding out from the middle of the coin and right to the rim. Some go right over some letters and up on the rim. Its the same on both sides of coin.The mint mark (S) is very worn but for sure thats what it is. The rest of the coin has worn letters but visible except the words “IN GOD WE TRUST” The “I” in IN is completely missing. I think because of being worn.What do you think caused this? Thanks

    1. Hi, Carl —

      The sun rays were added by somebody after the U.S. Mint made the coin and therefore has no added value.

      The missing ‘I’ could have been caused by either a weak die (not enough pressure or striking quality to produce a strong image) or a filled die (grease in the ‘I’ part of the die). Neither would cause the coin to be worth anything more than typical. Your dime, however, is worth about $1.50 to $2.

  11. I have a 1909 wheat penny that has 2 small craters one in Lincolns cheek, the other just below his chin. The one Below his chin was deep enough to distort the (t) in the one cent on the back side. would this flaw add any value to the coin..

    1. Hi, Guest —

      What you’re describing sounds like a heavy hit to the coin that has created some significant damage to it. Such flaws actually lessen the value of a coin. Your 1909 wheat penny is still worth 50 cents to $1 or so, though, even with that damage.

  12. Hi , I have found 2 2009 pennies with what looks like doubled earlobes, is this common? I have compaired them to several others and it is quite clear that it is very different than the other ones I have, thanks jef

    1. Jeff,

      There were wide reports of 2009 Lincoln pennies with doubled thumbs (the formative years pennny, with Lincoln reading a book), but I’ve not heard of a doubled earlobes variety. I looked this up and don’t see a thing about that, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t such a variety. Unfortunately, I can’t say whether it’s particualrly common and I also can’t find a value for such a piece.

      I would definitely hang onto those and see if that variety is attributed and hopefully, then, a book value and estimated population may be established.

  13. I have a 1921 morgan dollar with “occluded gas”planchet error on it.how much is it worth.I know the error is very rare

  14. i just found a 1806 quarter in a mill i was doing construction in… and its in real good condition… it was left in a cabinet at the mill.

    1. Hi, Angel –

      An 1806 quarter, even in the most well worn condition is worth over $100. Amazing find!

    1. Hello, Sean —

      Based on the condition of your 1802 large cent, its value is anywhere from about $25 for a well-worn damaged piece to $60 for a problem-free specimen in Good, to $1,500+ in the upper circulated grades.

      All the best!
      Joshua @ TheFunTimesGuide

    1. Hello, Joshua —

      Usually that phrase simply refers to if the purchase or transaction is being made in a place where you can physically hold the coin (storefront coin dealer, for example, which is a sight-seen purchase) or by mail or online (such as bidding for a coin on eBay. Generally sight unseen, because you can’t guarantee the coin seen in the photo is the one you’ll ultimately receive, unless told so in the listing).

      So, to boil it down, sight-seen = in-hand inspection of coin

      sight-unseen = not seeing the coin in-person.

      I hope this helps!
      Josh

  15. I found a few pennies that may be worth something i really dont know much about coins but on one of them a 2008 penny there is a slight space in between the 0 and the 8.

    thanks , Cas

    1. Hi, Cas —

      Would you please post a photo of this 2008 Lincoln cent with the extra space?

      Thanks,
      Josh

  16. I was given a vintage obsolete set. it has a 1900 silver 1/2 $, a 1885 bronze coin with a 2 on it , 1911 V cents, 1945 one cent,1941 silver one dime can anyone tell me anything about these. Thanks Barbara

    1. Hi, Curtis —

      The dime is real, but the gold plating was done by a post-mint individual or company. This piece, now viewed as an altered coin, would have a nominal value of 25 to 50 cents as a novelty piece.

      Cheers,
      Josh

  17. Hi Joshua, have you any idea what this blob is doing on my Kennedy half dollar? It seems to meld into the surface. Solder?? If so, could I remove it with some (limited) heat?

    Regards
    Cedric

    1. Hi, Cedric —

      It appears to be either solder or epoxy. Start by trying to remove it with acetone, following all safety precautions and using it in a properly ventilated area.

      Good luck!
      Josh

      1. Thanks for the quick response Joshua. Seems to be definitely a metal (there’s more along the edge behind the head). While I can find out the melting point of solder, would you know to what temperature I could take the coin (high silver content we must remember) before I risk endangering the coin’s appearance (Celsius if you can :)? Regards
        Cedric

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        1. Hello, Cedric —

          I’m not terribly well-versed in metallurgical science, but I can tell you that the melting point of silver is 961.8 degrees Celsius, whereas the melting point for common tin-lead electrical solder is only 188 degrees Celsius. One thing to consider with applying heat to a coin is that it will darken the surface. A common tip used for darkening cleaned coins is to place one in a paper envelope and insert it into an oven heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Of course, there is also a sulfur reaction, not to mention other chemicals, involved with that experiment.

          Another coin doctoring tip says placing a copper coin on a hot lamp for 30 minutes yields darker colors. I don’t know precisely at what temperature you will see changes occur on the silver half dollar’s surface, but I can tell you this — the hotter the temperature and the longer the coin’s exposure to heat, the darker it gets. So I’d be as conservative as possible with this.

          Good luck and stay safe!
          Josh

          I hope this info is helpful!
          Josh

  18. Hi Joshua I have found 3 New Hampshire state quarters that have no mint mark I wanted to know if they are rare?

    1. Hi, Jim —

      Would you please submit a photo of these mintmark-less New Hampshire quarters? You can upload the image here to the comments section.

      Thank you,
      Josh

        1. Hello, Jim —

          The “weird” mintmarks appear odd due to surface wear and damage, but I think the no mintmark piece appears to have been weakly struck.

          The Wyoming quarter is very interesting… I do see signs of an incuse, or embedded, image. I think that piece, or perhaps both, should be inspected in-hand for variety/error consideration. You might consider submitting them for here: https://www.doubleddie.com/228401.html

          Good luck!
          Josh

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