What’s My Coin Worth?

whats it worth

Many of us have an accumulation of old or strange coins tucked away in a kitchen drawer or an old cigar box, and what wonder they are and what they’re worth. You’ve seen the ads from local jewelers and out of town outfits that set up at local motels for a day or two and then disappear. They say they’re offering top dollar for you coins, but you wonder if they might be taking advantage of you. The Dayton-Kettering Coin Club wants you to know how to calculate what your coins are worth so you won’t get ripped off.

Face Value – Face value is the value each coin has stamped on it: the nickel says “five cents”, the quarter says “quarter dollar”, etc. With one exception, all coins issued by the United States since 1789 are worth at least their face value.  That means a dime issued in 1795 is still worth 10 cents and a silver dollar dated 1921 is still worth a buck. That’s not true in most countries, where old coins are periodically declared worthless and replaced with new ones.

silver bars and coinsMetallic Value – The United States issued gold coins for circulation until 1933. Silver dollars were last issued in 1935, silver dimes and quarters continued through 1964, while half dollars had some silver in them until 1970. The value of these coins is tied to the value of the metal – if gold and silver prices rise or fall, these coins are worth more or worth less. Silver, for instance, sold for $30.57 an ounce as of January 11, 2013. At that price, a common silver quarter was worth $5.52. When silver sold for $10.00 per ounce in late 2008, that same quarter had a metallic value of $1.81.

There’s a great web site you can use to calculate your coin’s metallic value. Coinflation.com is constantly updated with information regarding metal prices, and does the math for all U.S. coins as well as a bunch of other countries.

Collector’s value – Coin collectors are often willing to pay a premium for coins that are rare or popular or in superior condition. How much, though, depends on the specific coin.

Rarity reflects how many coins of a particular type are available. A 1916 Winged Liberty dime minted at the Philadelphia mint with1916 dime very light wear is worth about $25. The same coin made at the Denver mint that year will set you back $9,200! Why the big difference? There were a lot of the Philadelphia coins minted; with a mintage of over 22 million coins, it’s relatively common. The Denver mint, though, made very few – only 264,000 and not many have survived – so it’s a pretty rare coin.



Popularity also figures into a coin’s value. The Morgan Silver Dollar was minted from 1878 to 1921 in huge numbers. Many of these large, heavy silver coins have survived and are avidly sought by collectors. Because of this prices for these coins, particularly for rarer coins in excellent condition, can quickly head into big numbers. There are other coin series that are much rarer (like the nickel Liberty Head Three-Cent coin minted from 1865 to 1889) but, because many fewer people are interested in them, are worth much less.

Condition is an important. Coins that are heavily worn are usually not as valuable as those with 1959 franklinlittle wear or no wear. If you have a 1959 Franklin half dollar minter in Denver, for instance, a well preserved uncirculated specimen might be worth upwards of $90. The same coin, with some wear on it from passing from hand to pocket to purse while it did its job, might only be worth its metallic value of around $11. (A quick note for beginning coin collectors; DO NOT CLEAN YOUR COINS!!!! It actually lowers the condition and value of your coin. Collectors HATE cleaned coins).

2013 Red bookFiguring out collector’s value for a coin can be a tricky thing. There are some excellent books, though, that can speed up the process. Many collectors use the most popular of United States coin books, A Guide Book of United States Coins, better known as the Red Book, to look up information regarding rarity and retail price. You can find the Red Book at most books stores, coin stores, and libraries. The Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins is a well know reference for grading American coins and, like the Red Book, is widely available.




standard catalog world coinssForeign coin values are determined by the same standards as American coins. The extra fun, though, comes from the fact that you have to figure out where they’re from. The best resource for the serious collector is the Standard Catalog of World Coins series issued by F + W Publications. Popularly known as the Krause-Mishler catalogs, they consist of a series of five telephone directory size books covering world coins by century; 1601-1700, 1701-1800, 1801-1900, 1901-2000, and 2001-present. The books aren’t cheap. Luckily, though, they’re usually available at the local library. You can also go on line and get help determining where your coin is from at the NumisMaster web site, run by the same folks who produce the Krause-Mishler catalogs.

The Dayton-Kettering Coin Club hopes this quick course in understanding what your coin is worth helps you if you ever go to sell your collection. With coins, knowing the basics will put more money in your pocket. If you have more questions or are interested in coin collecting as a hobby, send us an e-mail at daytonketteringcoinclub@gmail.com or come to one of our monthly meetings; club members will be happy to share their advice with you.