Are my old coins worth anything?

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Are my old coins worth anything?

Imagine you're rooting around your couch cushions and find a penny. But this isn't any normal penny. It's a penny worth 25 million times its value. As in $253,000.

We're not making this up: In 2013, an extremely rare Canadian penny was sold at a U.S. coin auction for that jaw-dropping price. It was dubbed the 1936 “dot cent” penny, well known in coin-collecting circles as one of only three such items known to have been produced that year by the Royal Canadian Mint. These rare pennies differentiate from the millions of other 1936 pennies minted in the final year of King George V’s reign by the tiny dot placed below the date on the “tails” side of the coin.

You might not have a $253,000 penny but you might be wondering how to recognize the value of your old coins, and how to cash in on your coin colleciton.

First, it's important to recognize the economics of coins. They are similar to like every other tradable commodity which follows the model of supply and demand: the stronger the demand for a coin, the more expensive it will be. Collectors often instigate the demand for a coin, and this demand can be so striking it adversely affects the price of the coin.

This demand may help to explain why some old and rare coins are very valuable in comparison to their more common new counterparts. For example, look at how some experts value the 1944 Lincoln steel wheat penny more than they do the 2007 Lincoln cent.

Just like the demand for a commodity changes over time, the same can be said in the numismatic market. These changes also influence the value of a coin, as more collectors search for coins that were initially thought to be worthless.

A prime example would be the boosted interest in double die coins such as the 1955 perfect Lincoln penny. This rarity used to be just a little more valuable than its face value. As more collectors started hunting for ways to make their collections unique, its price soared to its current average four-figure value that promises to keep rising with time.

The grade of a coin is the condition that the coin is in and it can be another integral determining factor in the value of a coin.

Coins are graded on a scale of 1-70, with coins that are in much more impressive condition getting a grade closer to 70. Mint condition coins or uncirculated coins are usually rated between 65 and 70 and are considered very desirable to most collectors.

The main aspects that are taken into account when a coin is being graded include:

  • The strike of the coin (in plainspeak: the minting process)
  • The aesthetics or eye appeal of the coin
  • Colouration of the coin
  • The luster of the coin
  • Damage the coin may have due to exposure to the elements or use.

Some coins are more valuable than others because of what they are made of. Many coins minted before the Great Depression were minted from silver and gold, and these coins have been seen to be much more valuable than their copper, bronze and steel brothers and sisters.

Why? Silver and gold values have increased in the last 150 years, rippling into the value of coins that were minted in these precious metals. A striking example would be the 1794 silver dollar, which sold for more than US $10 million at auction in 2013.

The age of a coin also holds some significance when determining the value of a coin, though it is not always as important as some of the other factors on this list. Some older coins are more valuable than examples that are more recent. Case in point being the Draped Bust quarter from 1804, which is more valuable than any of the 50 state quarters that were minted between 1999 and 2008.

However, this is not always the case, as some newer coins sell for much higher prices than older coins of the same series. This is made apparent when you look at the prices of pennies. The 1943 wheat head penny is a lot more valuable than the 1873 Indian head penny though this is mainly due to the consideration of other factors such as strike quality and rarity.

Also, don't forget about the design of an old coin. Look at how the the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle is considered valuable not because of rarity or age, but due to its design aeshetic. That coin has sold for more than $1 million in the last 10 years.

Now, let's look at some Canadian examples, particularly pennies (remember those?). Between 1876 and 1919, Canadian pennies were much bigger than the pennies that people used decades later. Although they were composed of only 95.5% copper, as opposed to the 98% in future years, they feature a whopping weight of 5.67 grams, making them more than two times as heavy as the worthless modern steel and zinc pennies. 

After 1920, pennies shrunk in size, thus making pre-1920 pennies quite rare and valuable.

Do your Canadian pennies have the image of King George V or King George VI? Make sure you separate those pennies from your hoard because those items are quite rare.

If you have Canadian pennies minted in the years 1980 and 1981, don't throw them out! Besides their weight of 2.8 grams, they have a copper content of 98%, which was never replicated since. 

When it comes to American old coins in your stash, this U.S. coins guide identifies several categories to look for:

    • Pennies made before 1959 (these include wheat pennies, Indian pennies, and several rare dates)
    • Nickels made before 1955
    • Dimes made before 1965, 
    • Quarters made before 1965 
    • Half dollars made before 1971, usually composed of silver

While we could wax on for pages about more old coins to uncover, these are the basics and should provide you with solid footing to help find the value from your coins. 

Muzeum staff is available to assist you in determining the value of your coin stash, so feel free to get in touch with us to schedule an appointment.



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