Extra! Extra! Read all about it! An old couple discovers a hidden fortune in gold coins underneath their porch, making them instant billionaires! A young woman finds out that the broach her grandmother gave her belonged to Queen Elizabeth I! A toddler digging in the dirt finds an ancient treasure thought to be lost forever!
Headlines that sound much like those listed above can be found on various news sites all over the internet. You may have dreamed of stumbling upon a hidden fortune in your own backyard, but what you may have not considered is that rare coins could be hidden in plain sight. Many rare coins are found in the wallets of everyday people.
You may be thinking, “I think I’d notice a golden doubloon in my wallet.” That’s true, but many rare coins look the same as regular pocket change to the untrained eye. Use the information in this post to find out if you have been carrying around a small fortune without knowing it.
Normal coins with specific errors are quite valuable to collectors, and many of these coins are still in circulation because identifying these errors requires examination.
Gather the following materials before beginning the process:
Your pocket change will work. If you really want to search, you can consider getting rolls of coins to look through as well.
- A quality magnifier or loupe:
A 10x power is ideal, but a 7x power can be used as an absolute minimum.
- Coin guide books (optional):
While this post provides basic guidelines, a professional coin reference book can help you more easily discern valuable coins from regular pocket change.
Your coins should be sorted by denomination. It is easier to check all of your pennies, then your nickels, then your dimes, and so on and so forth. This method will make it easier to notice any subtle discrepancies between each coin. Look at the same side on each coin in a denomination before examining the reverse side. Set aside any coins that contain any potential errors.
What to Look For
Certain errors will fetch a higher price than others. As an overall rule, if the error hard to see with a 10x power lens, it is not significant enough to be very valuable. Use the following checklist to identify valuable errors:
Examine the Obverse Inscriptions
This basically means look over the words on the “heads” side of the coin. Look for anything that seems out of place. Look for missing letters, die doubling (essentially, it will look like words or parts of words were stamped on twice), letters that are spaced too far apart, reversed letters, inscriptions in the wrong place, and other oddities.
Pay special attention to the mint mark (the small letter that identifies where the coin was made) and the date. Common mint mark letters include “P” (Philadelphia), “D” (Denver), and “S” (San Francisco). If there is no mint mark, assume the coin was minted in Philadelphia. For some historically issued coins, you may find a “CC”, which stands for Carson City.
Examine the Images
Die doubling can occur on images as well. Common places to notice such an error include the chin, eyes, and ears. Look for any cracks, cuds (or blobs covering an image, word, date, etc.), or missing elements on the images.
Check the Reverse and Edge
Turn the coin from top to bottom (no, side-to-side will not work), if your coin was right side up before, it should be right side up now. If it is rotated in any way, it can be quite valuable. A 180 rotation is the most valuable rotation error.
Perform the same examination on the reverse side of the coin as listed in the above instructions.
Finally, examine the edge. Essentially, the seams, reeded edges (the bumpy edges on quarters and dimes), and any other oddities should be noted.
Specific, Valuable Coins to Look For
Full Doubled Die obverse on a 1972 Lincoln Penny
This 1972 coin should have a full doubled die with no mint mark. There should be a small gouge close to the edge located above the D in “UNITED.” Only one side of the coin should show doubling, or this coin is not very valuable. This coin is worth approximately $500.
Lettering Errors on a Presidential Dollar
All of these coins should have a date of 2007 or later, as that is when the first Presidential Dollar, featuring George Washington, was released. Reported errors include the lettering on the edge of the coins. This lettering sometimes was placed multiple times, and other times it is completely missing.
If the lettering is not fully stamped around the circumference of the coin once, and only once, you can fetch between $50 and $3,000 depending on the featured president.
Doubled Die Obverse on a 1970-S Lincoln Penny with a Small Date
The errors for this penny are very specific. First, the doubled die is most prominently featured on “LIB” and “IN GOD WE TRUST.” Second, the date should be noticeably smaller than the date on other 1970 pennies. And last, but not least, the coin must be minted in San Francisco, noted by an “S” mint mark.
When a coin meets these requirements and is in good condition, it can be worth up to $3,000.
Full Doubled Die Obverse on a 1969 Lincoln Penny
This is the most valuable error coin in this article. Essentially, this is a 1969 penny that has everything but the mint mark doubled on the “heads” side of the coin. The secret service collected most of these pennies, and there are many counterfeits out there, but if you can manage to get your hand on the genuine coin, it can be worth up to $35,000.
While you won’t likely make millions of dollars, identifying error coins can be a lucrative, enjoyable endeavor. Taking a few minutes every couple of days to examine your new pocket change could end up being quite profitable. Happy hunting!