Top 15 Best Coins To Collect: A Definitive List
Everybody has their opinion on what the best coins to collect are. Although it's a subjective question, we've compiled the definitive list for coin collectors to reference. You won't have to search through dozens of different answers after consulting this guide!
A coin collection
Below we'll look at 15 of the best United States coins worth collecting.
It’s challenging to slim a binder of hundreds of potential candidates down to just 15. This list consists of a diverse array of U.S. coins, including valuable rarities, common circulation coins, and a few that many collectors seem to forget. Any or all these coins would make terrific additions to a collection of United States coins. They are presented here in the order of denomination, beginning with the one-cent coin.
1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent
1909-S VDB Lincoln Wheat cent
Is there any coin more famous than the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent? Sure, numismatists call the 1804 Draped Bust dollar the “King of American Coins,” but “the 1909 Lincoln penny” holds that title in the public imagination. A 1909-S VDB penny is the necessary key date for any Lincoln cent collection.
There were only 484,000 coins minted, with perhaps 50,000 survivors today across the grade spectrum. While both of those figures may seem rather high for a “rare” coin, millions of people want a 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent. So, demand far outstrips supply, and this has been the case for generations. Today, a 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent has a value of at least $600, even in well-worn grades.
The 1908-S VDB Lincoln cent has a storied past. Production ended only weeks after its release, due public outcry over the prominent letters “VDB” on the reverse. These letters represent the initials of designer Victor David Brenner. The furor centered on the size and visibility of his initials. People accused Brenner of self-promotion on America's coins. Previous artists had included their initials on U.S. coin designs, but most were hidden or less conspicuous.
1943 Lincoln Steel Cent
1943 steel Lincoln Wheat cent
One of the most unusual United States coins is the 1943 steel Lincoln cent. Struck for one year only, the steel penny was made to help save copper for World War II munitions. So, all 1943 steel cents serve as precious relics of this most trying period in American history.
The oddness of the 1943 steel cents often lead many new collectors and non-numismatists to believe that they must be rare and valuable. The truth is, more than 1 billion steel Lincoln pennies were made in 1943 between the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco Mints. They are still plenty common in coin shops and coin shows. It’s also still possible to find these silver-colored pennies, worth about 20 cents to $1 in worn condition, in circulation.
1864 Two Cents
1864 two cent piece (Large Motto variety)
Did you know America once had a coin with a face value of two cents? Not only that, the 1864 Two Cents was the first United States coin to carry the now-famous national motto “IN GOD WE TRUST.” Many two cent pieces are scarce and valuable, but the historic 1864 issue were hoarded when they came out.
They can be bought today for less than $50 in moderately circulated condition. Not only do they make a terrific acquisition for any United States coin collection, but they’re just as wonderful a conversation piece, too.
1883 “No Cents” Liberty Nickel
1883 Liberty Head nickel
Talk about conversation pieces... When the 1883 Liberty Head nickel was first released, some unscrupulous individuals began passing them off as $5 gold pieces!
The original design used a Roman numeral "V" for the five cent denomination, without the word "cents." It wasn't long before crooks realized that the nickel was about the same size as a $5 quarter eagle gold coin. Without the word "cents," they could gold plate the nickel and pass it off as a $5 coin. Some attempts were more successful than others.
One commonly told tale involves the story of Josh Tatum, a deaf mute, who used gold-plated V nickels to buy items that cost five cents. In doing so, he often received $4.95 in change. The law soon caught up with him, but Tatum couldn’t be convicted of any crime. Nobody could testify that he ever once claimed the coins to be $5 gold pieces, because he couldn't talk. Tatum may have ridden off to the sunset, but his legacy lives on with the phrase “I was just Joshing you.”
Today, one can buy an 1883 No Cents Liberty nickel in well-worn condition for less than $10.
1942-P Jefferson Silver Nickel
1942-P wartime Jefferson nickel
Much like the 1943 Lincoln steel cent, the Jefferson nickel also underwent a wartime change in composition. To save nickel metal for the war effort, the nickel was changed from the standard 75% copper, 25% nickel composition, to 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese.
This change was instituted late in 1942. Nickels struck earlier in the year were made from the standard composition. This meant that there were "regular" and silver nickels bearing a 1942 date. How do you tell them apart? The easiest way is by looking for a large “P,” “D,” or “S” mintmark above the dome of Monticello.
These large mintmarks are only seen on the silver-based wartime Jefferson nickels made from 1942 through 1945. In the case of the 1942-P war nickel, is was the first coin to carry the “P” mintmark signifying the Philadelphia Mint. War nickels are generally worth the value of their silver content. They can still occasionally turn up in circulation.
1916-D Mercury Dime
1916-D Mercury dime
It’s time to turn our eyes to another important rarity, and this one ranks high on most collectors’ lists of all-time great United States coins. The 1916-D Mercury dime was minted during the first year of production for this beloved series designed by Adolph A. Weinman.
It saw a mintage of only 264,000, and has an estimated survival of approximately 10,000 pieces across all grades. This makes the 1916-D Mercury dime even scarcer than the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent. The 1916-D Mercury is the top key date for the series and runs about $1,000 and up in worn grades.
1796 Draped Bust Quarter
1796 Draped Bust quarter (Small Eagle variety)
The quarter-dollar is the workhorse of the American economy. This denomination has been in production since 1796. The first quarters ever produced for circulation were the 1796 Draped Bust quarter.
Carrying the iconic Draped Bust design by Robert Scot, the first quarters were minted in small quantities of just 6,146 pieces. All early quarters are rarities, but the 1796 is especially sought-after as the first-year coin of the denomination. Any example of this important 18th-century United States coin qualifies as a national treasure. Even a Good-4 specimen will run about $10,000.
1876 Liberty Seated Half Dollar
1876 Seated Liberty half dollar
The Liberty Seated design was the “face” of American coinage for most of the 19th century. Also known as "Seated Liberty," it appeared on the obverses of most United States silver coins from the late 1830s through early 1890s. While several denominations feature this Christian Gobrecht design, many of these coins are scarce and quite valuable. This leaves anyone wanting to collect coins with limited options for buying an example of this important type.
Still, numerous affordable options exist. One of them is the 1876 Liberty Seated half dollar. A moderately circulated example of the 1876 Liberty Seated half dollar can be bought for less than $100. Prices fall to less than $50 in grades of Good-4 or Very Good-8!
1938-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar
1938-D Walking Liberty half dollar
Many consider the Walking Liberty half dollar the most beautiful silver coin ever produced by the United States. Like the acclaimed Mercury dime, it was designed by Adolph A. Weinman. The Walking Liberty half dollar ran from 1916 through 1947.
Several scarce dates were struck throughout this long-running series. Many collectors will find the key dates to be financially out of reach. There is one rare issue in this series that can be obtained for less than $100 in circulated grades. The 1938-D Walking Liberty half dollar, which saw a mintage of 491,600, is a sought-after key date. Those wishing to see the 1938-D Walking Liberty design in all its glory can purchase an uncirculated example for about $500.
1964 Kennedy Half Dollar
1964 Kennedy half dollar
One of the most widely collected silver coins of all time is the 1964 Kennedy half dollar. This coin was introduced mere months after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas.
The 1964 Kennedy half dollar was the last circulating half dollar to contain a 90% silver composition. It was a major hit with the public and widely saved as a souvenir of the fallen commander-in-chief. More than 400 million examples were struck between the Philadelphia and Denver Mints. Many survive today – often tucked away in old dresser drawers and cigar boxes.
Circulated examples are only worth their silver melt value, making this significant silver coin affordable on nearly any coin collecting budget.
1921 Morgan Dollar
1921 Morgan silver dollar
Just about everybody seems to know about silver dollars. The most popular silver dollar series of all is the Morgan, or “Liberty Head” type, designed by George T. Morgan and in production from 1878 through 1921.
Many collectors spend an entire lifetime building their Morgan silver dollar collection. In part, this is because so many dates are hard to find and super expensive. But every collection of United States coinage needs at least one example of this classic American coin. One of the most affordable dates is the 1921 Morgan dollar, representing the last year of the series.
More than 86 million Morgan dollars were struck in 1921 before production shifted to the Peace silver dollar. A nice uncirculated specimen with gorgeous cartwheel luster can be had for less than $50.
1979 Susan B. Anthony Dollar
1979-P Susan B. Anthony dollar (Narrow Rim variety)
Few American coins were as short-lived as the Susan B. Anthony dollar, which was struck only from 1979 to 1981. It was produced once more in 1999 to fill a dollar coin shortfall before the Sacagawea dollar hit the streets in 2000. The “Susie B.” was widely confused with the Washington quarter, making it unpopular with the public. The Susan B. Anthony dollar also represents several firsts:
- it was the first circulating United States coin to carry the likeness of an actual woman (instead of a representative figure, such as Lady Liberty),
- it was the nation’s first small-size dollar coin, and
- it was the first U.S. coin to carry an 11-sided rim.
The 1979 Susan B. Anthony dollar was the first year of these much-maligned, but historically important coins. Gem Uncirculated examples can be purchased for less than $5.
1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle - Arabic Numerals
1907 Saint-Gaudens gold double eagle (low relief, Arabic numerals variety)
Prior to 1933, the United States minted legal-tender gold coins for circulation, in denominations ranging from $1 to $20. There were many designs, but one reigns above all others. Widely held to be the most beautiful coin ever produced, the gold Saint-Gaudens double eagle was minted from 1907 through 1933.
Named for its designer, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, this $20 gold coin remains one of the most beloved American coins. First-year issues from 1907 are among the most desirable. A handful of different issues were struck in 1907. Some bear the date in Roman numerals and, with their high-relief strike, are extremely rare and valuable.
However, the United States Mint also turned out more than 360,000 low-relief examples with Arabic numerals (declaring “1907”). Low-relief 1907 Saint-Gaudens double eagles sell for a little above spot value in circulated grades. Uncirculated specimens can be bought for nominal amounts over that. This makes them one of the most popular pre-1933 gold coins.
1892 Columbian Commemorative Half Dollar
1892–1893 Columbian half dollar commemorative
The United States launched its first commemorative coin program in 1892, coinciding with the 400th anniversary of explorer Christopher Columbus’s landing in the Americas.
The 1892 Columbian half dollar was authorized by the United States Congress to help pay for the 1892 Columbian Exposition celebrating the occasion. This event is better known as the 1892 Chicago World's Fair. Expo management sold the silver commemorative halves for $1.As the first official U.S. commemorative coin, the 1892 Columbus half dollar is a landmark coin. Yet, along with its incredible numismatic history, it is also an affordable coin. Circulated specimens sell for small premiums above melt value, while nice uncirculated pieces start at around $50.
1986 American Silver Eagle
1986 American Silver Eagle
A new era in United States coinage took flight in 1986 with the release of the nation’s first official bullion coins. The United States Mint kicked off its bullion program with five different American Eagle coins of silver and gold. A one oz .999 fine American Silver Eagle was issued alongside four 22K Gold American Eagle coins in various sizes.
The obverse of the American Silver Eagle resurrects the 1916 Adolph Weinman Walking Liberty design. The reverse features a modern heraldic eagle design by John Mercanti. While 1986 American Silver Eagles are common, they are also in high demand as the important first-year coin in the series.
As a result, they normally sell at a significant numismatic value over spot. However, paying a little extra for this specific silver coin is worth it. The 1986 American Silver Eagle changed the face of silver bullion investment. The “ASE” series is now easily the world’s most widely recognized and sought-after modern bullion coin.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Collecting Coins
Which Coins Will Increase In Value?
It's impossible to predict precisely which coins will increase in value. Frankly, some coins will not.
The best advice in this regard is to pursue coins that are in exceptionally good condition, such as mint state (also called "uncirculated"). The highest-grade coins usually offer the greatest potential for price appreciation.
What Coins Are Collectors Looking For?
There are a handful of factors that coin collectors consider:
- Is the coin relatively scarce, such as a low mintage or a rarity?
- Is the coin made from precious metals like gold or silver?
- Is the coin very well-preserved (i.e. in uncirculated condition, also known as mint state)?
- Does the coin exhibit some kind of error, such as a doubled die or off-center strike?
Individual taste should also be taken into account. Perhaps you collect coins that have a design or theme that you enjoy. Maybe you search for coins from a specific year that is meaningful to you, such as the birth year of a family member. You can never go wrong in coin collecting if you look for coins that appeal to you on a personal level.
Is Coin Collecting Profitable?
Yes! Many collectors simply love the hobby, and aren't in it to make big profits. Yet collecting coins and holding them for several years is often a viable investment strategy.
This may be due to the melt value of the coins rising over time (if they are made of silver or gold). Coins can also appreciate in value due to their popularity or because of a limited mintage (scarcity).
As a general rule of thumb, it's advisable to collect the highest-grade coins (i.e. coins in exceptionally good condition) that you can afford. These are the coins that tend to have the highest profit potential.
How Can You Tell If A Coin Is Rare?
You will usually have to consult a numismatist or numismatic expert to ascertain the rarity of a coin. The numismatist will be able to identify what type of coin you have, and determine whether it is a rare coin or commonplace.
How Do I Know If My Coin Is Worth Money?
You will have to correctly identify what coin you have to figure out its value. Once you know what the coin is, there are many price guides you can reference to get a general idea of how much the coin is worth. Here are some of the most reliable price guides used by collectors:
- A Guide Book of United States Coins (known as The Official "Red Book"), updated each year by Whitman Publishing
- PCGS Price Guide
- NGC Price Guide
- USA CoinBook
The information on this page does not constitute an offer to buy or sell the coin(s) referred to. Prices mentioned are for illustrative purposes only.
Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a journalist, editor, and blogger who has won multiple awards from the Numismatic Literary Guild. He has also authored numerous books, including works profiling the history of the United States Mint and United States coinage.
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