Quick Tips for Finding Rare Coins in Rolls and Pocket Change

By Tyler Rossi for CoinWeek …..
Searching through change and coin-roll hunting can be an interesting and accessible entry into the hobby of coin collecting.

It’s fake: Henning nickel reverse.

With no exaggeration at all, I have probably searched through $5,000 to $10,000 worth of coins over the years as part of my coin-roll hunting hobby. Over time, I’ve learned a number of tricks to quickly spot coins that are worth more than face value. Using them, I’ve found a Henning’s nickel, an almost fully delaminated quarter, a number of blank Lincoln cent planchets, and a small amount of discontinued silver coinage.

As an added benefit of searching coins, when you purchase rolls of coins from a bank or receive a handful of change from a store clerk you are technically not losing any money since you can always deposit the ones you don’t want in a bank or spend them.

So, what should you be on the lookout for when doing so?

First, if you’re looking for silver, then you will mainly be searching through dimes, quarters, and half dollars. But let me say from experience that there’s very little left in circulation. When I started nearly 15 years ago, there was already less than in previous decades. Obviously.

But there are nice pre-1964 pieces out there to find. To save some time, look at the edges; this is definitely easier than checking the date on each coin. On all modern circulating clad coinage, the copper core can be seen on the edges. Therefore, if the edge is entirely “silver” colored, then the coin is either silver or foreign. If you are looking through Jefferson nickels, always look for the mint mark. If it’s on the reverse, over Monticello, then it’s a 35% silver so-called “War nickel”. On Lincoln cents, look for good condition Wheat cents, any 1955s (they can potentially be a Doubled Die Obverse (DDO) error), early (pre-1930) Wheat cents, and steel World War 2 pieces.

In addition to those general rules, I always make sure to keep an eye out for glaring errors. If dramatic enough (coins with clipped planchets, lamination errors, coins that are struck off-center, etc.), they can be worth a premium. For example, I sold the Washington quarter I found with a roughly 75% delaminated obverse for over $30!

A collector looks up the value of a Mercury Dime. Image: Adobe Stock.
A collector looks up the value of a Mercury Dime. Image: Adobe Stock.

Additionally, you should be on the lookout for any discontinued coins that are still knocking about circulation. While much rarer today, it is still possible to find Buffalo and Shield nickels, Mercury dimes, Standing Liberty quarters, or Indian Head cents. As they say, the odds are very low but not zero. For one, I have found relatively nice examples of all these while coin roll hunting.

Of course, some coins are worth much more than others. So, in my experience, what are the top five coins worth more than face value still to be found in pocket change? There are so many that I’ll talk about larger categories than individual coin types.

The first category includes any high-grade or Proof coins that have nice eye appeal.

It’s almost impossible to find a truly Mint State coin while coin-roll hunting. But there will be a large number on the edge of MS. If you are lucky, either the coins will have come from a brand new original mint wrapper, that was full of freshly minted coins or from someone who was dumping a collection into circulation. Both are distinct possibilities, and I have found examples of each. The second portion of this category, Proof coinage, is rarely found in circulation. When Proof coins do pop up, they are often dumped from someone’s collection. This often happens when a relative inherits coins from a deceased family member and doesn’t know their value. Take this as a cautionary tale: even if you don’t want to tell anyone what you spent, you should keep accurate, up-to-date records.

1985-S Lincoln Cent in Proof. Image: Adobe Stock.
1985-S Lincoln Cent in Proof. Image: Adobe Stock.

Also, Mint State and Proof coinage becomes damaged through circulation very quickly and will lose most (if not all) of its value in a short amount of time. Snap it up when you find it!

The second category is one that I’ve already mentioned, and it is any coin with a discontinued design. While at this point most examples are quite worn and will only be worth between $1 and $5, you can still get lucky and find a piece in a nicer grade worth much more. While the average life span of a circulating coin is 30 years, that is only an average. I’ve found numerous 100-year-old coins while coin-roll hunting – and even in my change. Plus, if a coin sits in some form of storage and is out of circulation for years before returning to public hands, it can reappear in surprisingly good condition. While it is rather unlikely that you’ll find a rare type of mintage, you can definitely find Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, Standing Liberty quarters, and Indian head cents worth between $5-$25 or more apiece.

Next, I suggest you pull any older, pre-1930 Wheat cents that you find. As these are reaching their 100th year, there aren’t many in good condition to be found in circulation. However, most will sell for between 25 and 50 cents in local coin shops. Slightly higher grade, yet still circulated, examples can fetch between $1 and $5.

Quick Tips for Finding Rare Coins in Rolls and Pocket Change
Uncirculated 1964-D Kennedy Half Dollar in NGC holder.

Fourth on my list is all 90% silver coinage. These are dimes, quarters, and half dollars struck prior to 1964 when the United States introduced clad coinage. In my personal experience, rolls of dimes produce dramatically more silver than rolls of quarters but slightly less than halves. However, it is much harder to locate half dollars because a lot of banks don’t carry them in much quantity. Therefore, I suggest while finding a quarter or a half dollar is worth more individually and can provide a massive rush, if you’re looking for a higher gross volume of silver then you should stick to dimes. These coins are generally not collected for their numismatic value but rather for their melt. As such, these coins are often called “Junk Silver” and bought/sold by their weight. When this article was written, silver was worth $20.87 per ounce. That means a junk dime is worth $1.50, a quarter $3.75, and a junk half dollar $7.50 (the later 40% silver halves are worth $3.09). That means a $1 face value of 90% junk silver should trade for roughly $15. Many dealers will purchase these for 3% to 5% below melt and sell for 3% to 5% above.

The last category is error coinage. Through searching pocket change and full coin rolls, you can come across numerous types of errors… the vast majority of which are worth only face value. For example, coins that are very slightly off-center or with a small planchet defect.

However, if you find a coin that has a dramatic error, such as a 1955 DDO Lincoln cent or an off-metal strike, it could be worth serious money. For example, the 1943 copper cent or the silver 1965 dime are each worth thousands of dollars. These extreme errors are rare but do pop up every once in a while. Among the error coins that I’ve found are lamination errors, off-center strikes, die clashes, blank planchets, and double-struck errors.

While I’ve made probably $500 coin-roll hunting and searching through pocket change over the years, it has provided me with countless hours of enjoyment. So, whether you simply peek a glance at the change you get at the store, or you purchase a boatload of coin rolls from the bank, I would highly recommend taking the time to check. You never know what coin may be hiding in the roll.

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Potter, Ken and Brian Allen. Strike It Rich with Pocket Change: Error Coins Bring Big Money. (2021)

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About the Author

Tyler Rossi is currently a graduate student at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management and studies Sustainable International Development and Conflict Resolution. Before graduating from American University in Washington D.C., he worked for Save the Children creating and running international development projects. Recently, Tyler returned to the US from living abroad in the Republic of North Macedonia, where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years. Tyler is an avid numismatist and for over a decade has cultivated a deep interest in pre-modern and ancient coinage from around the world. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).

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  1. I always check my change from the grocery store. I have picked up silver dimes – recently a 1956-D, and several nice nickels, mint state cents (50’s – 70’s), several proof dimes, quarters, and a Pres $ (from recent years). More than anything it is fun for a change with change.

    • The “bible” is A Guide Book to United States Coins, the famous “red book”. There are also websites from numismatic agencies like PCGS etc. that provide a lot of information.

      IMHO avoid relying on non-numismatic sources like general auction sites, YouTube, etc. There’s lots of good information but plenty of bad or even dishonest info too. Unless you’re already familiar with coins it can be tough to tell the difference.

      (These are just my recommendations – I don’t get any compensation or other perks.)

    • The “bible” for collectors is A Guide Book of United States Coins, better known as The Red Book. There are also numismatic sites like CoinFacts, USACoinBook, and many others where you can find loads of information.

    • Two good sources would be the famous Red Book guide to United States Coins or one of the Krause guidebooks.

      You could also visit a local coin show and ask presenters for their thoughts.

    • Most 1976 and later $2 bills are only worth two bucks. If you have any older red-seal bills they may or may not be worth a premium but it depends on their condition, date, and what letter if any is next to the date.

  2. Finding proof coins in bank rolls and circulationon is very common…kids and their friends after school search moms and grandparents chests.desks, closets for coins and jewerly…yes the cute 7 to14 year old steal…spend at 7/11. Sometimes r olls to the bank…best times for finding are in spring and always after Thanksgiving to christmas…after t day is 8 to 1 r a tio for finding…stupid kids will spend a pre 1964 proof or silver coin at face value…parents will never sell coins when apprised at fair market prices…

  3. I once found a 1902 nickel in a roll. It’s pretty worn, but still neat that I found a 120 year old coin in circulation

  4. I found a 2000 year old Roman coin. It looks like stone but a coin dealer told me what it was and said the Roman’s use to bury their money which explains why it looks stone.

  5. I have several of coins ad would ie to speck to someone about them and I have a 1969dallor I’ll and it looks to have a D right under the year

    • You can take your coins to a local coin show or find a dealer who’d be willing to look at them.

      However there were no US 1 dollar (rather than “dallor”) coins minted in 1969. The highest denomination struck that year was a HALF dollar. Also the mint mark was above the date rather than under it. You may have a coin from another country. Turn the coin over and look at the denomination and country shown on it.

  6. I found a double headed quarter in my change yesterday it’s a 1985 Denver on one side and a 1990 Philadelphia on the other side don’t think it’s a Novelty.But two different dates and mints how can that happen.

    • Your coin’s almost certainly a novelty piece called a magician’s coin. With modern computer-guided milling techniques the seam between the two sides can be almost undetectable.

      You’re correct that it’s not possible for a coin to be cleanly struck at two different mints in two years.

  7. Thank you for your information. I enjoy looking for old coins. Now that i read your article, i know a little more. Thank you !!!

  8. Hello my name is Denise and I’m a coin collector. I have a few coins that I would like to sale but I need to know about the way I’m supposed to put them on ebay and how am I supposed to describe them. Is there a certain way to do this or what.
    Pls let me know.


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