HomeCollecting StrategiesRare Coins Worth Money That You Can Find in Pocket Change

Rare Coins Worth Money That You Can Find in Pocket Change

The 1999 Wide AM is an example of a rare coin that can be found in pocket change. Image: CoinWeek / Adobe Stock.
The 1999 Wide AM is an example of a rare coin that can be found in pocket change. Image: CoinWeek / Adobe Stock.

By Tyler Rossi for CoinWeek …..
 

Both coin roll hunting and searching through pocket change can be interesting and accessible entry points into the hobby of coin collecting. It’s also a good way to make a little extra money… if you know what to look for.

Even a Henning nickel cn be found in a coin roll or pocket change
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 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, when you purchase rolls of coins from a bank or receive a handful of change from a store clerk you’re technically not losing any money–you can always deposit the coins you don’t want back in a bank or just spend them.

So, what should you look out for when coin roll hunting or in your pocket change? Some coins are worth much more than others, after all, so if you’re looking to maximize the returns on your investment of time and money, then I suggest specifically looking for the following categories of coins.

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.

Look for Eye Appeal in Pocket Change and While Coin Roll Hunting

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 that are on the verge. If you’re 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 typically happens when a relative inherits coins from a deceased family member and doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the 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!

Discontinued Coin Designs

The second category is one that I’ve already mentioned, and it is any coin with a discontinued design that is still knocking about circulation.

Now at this point in time, most examples are quite worn and will only be worth between $1 and $5. But you can still get lucky and find a piece in a nicer grade that’s 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’s rather unlikely that you’ll find a rare type of mintage, it is still possible to find Buffalo and Shield nickels, Mercury dimes, Standing Liberty quarters, or Indian Head cents worth between $5-$25 or more apiece. I have found relatively nice examples of all these while coin roll hunting.

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.

Also, hold on to any Lincoln cents dated 1955 (they could potentially be Doubled Die Obverse (DDO) errors) and steel cents from World War II.

Pre-1964 Silver Coinage

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, which is 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.

But also, 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).

Therefore, I suggest that, 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 (the value of the metal they contain that could be retrieved by melting the coin). As such, these coins are often called “Junk Silver” and are bought and sold by weight. As of November 22, 2023, silver is worth $20.87 per ounce. That means a junk dime is worth about $1.79, a quarter $4.38, and a junk half dollar $8.70 (the later 40% silver halves are worth $3.56). Many dealers will purchase these for 3% to 5% below melt and sell for 3% to 5% above.

To save some time when checking your change or hunting through rolls, 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.

As for 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”.

Dramatic Errors in Pocket Change and Coin Rolls

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 an off-metal strike or the 1955 DDO Lincoln cent mentioned above, it could be worth serious money. For example, the off-metal 1943 copper cent and 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 (I sold the Washington quarter I found with a roughly 75% delaminated obverse for over $30!), 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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Sources

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

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Tyler Rossi
Tyler Rossi
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 U.S. 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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42 COMMENTS

  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.

  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.

  9. My brother passed away and he had a bicentennial quarter with a crazy double die reverse so bad it made you dizzy just to look at it, he always said he got lucky with that find and had it in a lock box and someone came and broke into his house after he had passed away and stole it, I can’t tell you how bad i miss my brother that coin ment so much to him.
    I hear it a whopping $19,000???

    • @Bruce: The mint mark on Lincoln cents is below the date on the _obverse_, not the reverse side: blank or P = Philadelphia, D = Denver, S = San Francisco. Without seeing your coin it’s impossible to say, but my suspicion is that the mark you’re seeing on the back is a tiny “FG”, the monogram of Frank Gasparro who designed the Memorial reverse.

  10. I have a uncirculated 1964 d Kennedy half dollar… I’ve had it since 1964… it’s in mint condition,….how much is it worth….

  11. Where can I buy a good book about coins world wide, as I have traveled the world over many years and have many old coins which could be worth something on the market

  12. I have a 1969 s double die reverse penny I have a 1970s Penny double die I have a 1974 sweetheart I have a dying Roosevelt dime 1965 no mint mark I also have a 1978 Roosevelt died no mint mark and also have a I have a lot of coins that I need to get sold but little money right now trying to get on social security benefits pretty good money can help me out but surely appreciate it thank you and God bless

  13. All you folks who are asking about what your coin is worth and how to sell them. Look on Your tube at Blue Ridge Silver hound videos or Couch Collectibles. They have taught me tons. I inherited part of my father’s collection and fund them helpful with all the above questions.

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