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