How to Tell If You Have a Rare Coin

Whether you want to expand your coin collection or get started with the hobby, discovering rare coins is a valuable pastime in more ways than one. Rare coins aren’t only found in antique stores, pawnshops, and auctions. They may be hiding in your pocket change. 

How do you know if you have a rare coin? Read on for some important identification tips before you start sifting through your change. 

Sort Them Out

The very first step in identifying whether a rare coin is in your possession is to empty your pockets and start sorting. Putting nickels, pennies, dimes, and quarters in separate piles will not only keep things organized, but the more coins of one type your eye scans, the easier you’ll identify any abnormalities or unique features. 

Best to know

The worth of rare coins increases when the coin is in mint state condition. Cleaning coins will not bring back the mint state condition, only make them shiny, eliminates the mint luster (patina) and will actually decrease their value. Within the last 50 years, there are not many coins that are valuable based on mintage, because most circulating coins were produced in the 100’s of millions and even billions.  Among those however could be rare and valuable coins, because of some type of mistake in the minting process.  A good example would be the 1955 doubled die cent which in average circulated condition is worth about $1,000 to $2,000 and in uncirculated mint state full red condition. Rocky Mountain Coin would happily pay you $25,000 or more.

55 error
72 error

Look Them Over

Some rarities are tricky to spot right away.  Perform a cursory inspection to notice anything that seems off or special. Sometimes, rare coins are easy to recognize such as the 1955 doubled die cent. Others have rarities that require a closer inspection. During this basic examination, keep an eye out for anything that stands out on the front and back. Take a look at the portrait and global appearance, noting any cracks, anomalies, or missing details.

Perform an Inspection


In order to determine whether a coin is truly rare, take a magnifying glass or look closely at a few key details.

  • Lettering: Carefully examine all lettering on both sides of the coin, looking for any missing letters, unusual inscriptions, or curious doubled-up lettering. Many doubled-die coins only feature errors in one or more letters within a word. 
  • Date and mint mark: To find the mint mark, just locate a small symbol or letter that indicates which mint the coin was formed. Variations in the date or mint mark of a coin are the quickest way to spot a rare coin. Re-punched or over-punched mint marks, along with doubled text, are valuable things to look for.
  • Die rotation: You can identify errors in die rotation by inspecting the front and reverse of a coin to check for alignment. Die rotation errors happen when one die is improperly oriented and the coin is struck improperly by one side. You can flip over typical coins to reveal the reverse image right side up at the same angle. If it seems a few degrees off, set it aside.
  • Edges: Finally, take a look at the edges of the coin, looking closely for any lines, missing reeded edges, and seams. Some rare coins may never have been given a reeded edge, but reeded edges are often worn down and may appear dull. Coin edges take lots of wear and tear, so compare any peculiarities closely with similar, typical coins.

Consulting a Professional

Think you have a rare coin in your possession and want to find out more?  Before you take any coins that look like a mint error to a qualified dealer to inspect, do some homework, as dealers may charge you for their time and expertise.  Best source of free information would be the internet.  There are numerous modern U.S. error coins sold or offered on websites such as ebay and etsy. Use search engines, key word “Mint error coins” or purchase a reference book such as the Guidebook of U S. Coins, or for more detailed error coin descriptions, the Official Price Guide to Mint Errors, available on Amazon or at Rocky Mountain Coin

For a free opinion and inspection of your coin, or to expand your growing coin collection, contact Rocky Mountain Coin today. Our 45 years of business and  professional expertise can help you get started building a solid, valuable collection, or purchase any interesting rare coins you may have. Good Luck in your hunt!