Rare Coins Worth Money: The Most Valuable Rare Coins
Many people want to know which rare coins are worth money, and there are undoubtedly many valuable coins out there. Of course, telling a rare coin apart from a common one isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do. Some of the rarest pieces seem to have few if any apparent distinctions that would make them stand out in the eyes of the newbie collector.
What we’re going to do is provide a list of some of the rarest and most valuable coins and explain why rare coins are so often valuable—and why some aren’t.
1804 silver quarter, bearing the same design as the Draped Bust dollar.
Rare Coins You Should Be Looking For
What follows is a rundown on rare coins that you’re more likely to find in circulation (pocket change) or heirloom collections. You'll notice that "D" and "S" coins—from the Denver Mint and San Francisco Mint, respectively—make up the bulk of the list. Several are error coins from the 20th century, and about half of these United States coins contain precious metals. Interestingly, several types of small cents, including Indian Head pennies and Wheat pennies, also make an appearance on the list.
- 1877 Indian cent – $750+
- 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent – $650+
- 1914-D Lincoln Wheat cent – $175+
- 1955 Lincoln doubled die obverse cent – $1,000+
- 1969-S Lincoln doubled die cent – $25,000+
- 1972 Lincoln doubled die cent – $300+
- 1885 Liberty nickel – $350+
- 1937 3-Legged Buffalo nickel – $450+
- 1916-D Mercury dime – $800+
- 1901-S Barber quarter – $3,500+
- 1913-S Barber quarter – $1,100+
- 1916 Standing Liberty quarter – $2,800+
- 1932-D Washington quarter – $85+
- 1932-S Washington quarter – $80+
- 1921 Walking Liberty half dollar – $125+
- 1921-D Walking Liberty half dollar – $190+
- 1938-D Walking Liberty half dollar – $50+
- 1921 Peace dollar – $125+
- Pre-1933 U.S. gold coins – $150+
What About Rare Coins That Are Really Old or Worth Millions?
You have virtually no chance of finding one of these coins in circulation and are extremely unlikely to inherit any of the rarities that follow in the list below. However, it’s still fun to know what some of the rarest and most valuable coins are. All of these old coins were minted before the end of World War II, and in many cases predate the Civil War.
- 37-41 AD Roman Empire AV Aureus Caligula – $25,000+
- 685-695 AD Byzantine Empire Justinian Empire AV Solidus – $17,500+
- Circa 1509 Italian gold doppio ducato – $125,000+
- 1787 Brasher doubloon – $9,000,000+
- 1793 Chain AMERI cent – $5,000+
- 1794 Flowing Hair dollar – $10,000,000+
- 1804 Draped Bust dollar – $3,000,000+
- 1825 Russia silver ruble pattern – $2,500,000+
- 1894-S Barber dime – $1,500,000+
- 1913 Liberty Head nickel – $2,500,000+
- 1928 Japan “Auto Dollar” 1 yuan – $20,000+
- 1933 Great Britain penny – $80,000+
- 1943 Lincoln Head copper penny – $1,700,000+
The Connection Between Rarity & Value
Those who aren’t necessarily avid coin collectors might not understand why some rare coins could be worth $1 million, or $5 million, or even $10 million. It all comes down to the age-old law of supply and demand.
Think about it for a moment… If something is scarce and many people want it, won’t its value generally be on the higher end of the price spectrum? Yes! And the same applies to rare coins—scarce pieces are usually going to bring a high price tag. We say “usually” because rarity doesn’t always equate to high value, which is something we’ll examine more shortly.
Some of the rarest coins are worth hundreds, thousands, and even millions of dollars. Take, for example, the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle, which saw a mintage of 445,500 pieces before Executive Order 6102 was ordered by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. During the darkest moments of the Great Depression, this executive action banned the private ownership of most gold bullion. The law took effect in spring 1933 and required the melting of the entire existing production of those coins.
The infamous 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle.
The government spared only two examples for the Smithsonian Collection, but it turns out about a dozen escaped the United States Mint. Only one is legally obtainable for private ownership, and it was once owned by Egypt's King Farouk through a private transaction. It has twice sold since the year 2000 as one of the world’s most expensive coins. Its sale in 2002 yielded a then-record hammer price of $7,590,020, and its June 2021 offering fetched $18,872,250 to reaffirm its place as the most valuable coin in the world.
Exceptions exist with some gold and silver coins that are comparatively rare yet go virtually unnoticed by much of the coin collecting community. We’ll touch on that in the next section of the article. The opposite happens, too: Some very common coins, like mint sets and proof sets, are still worth much more than their face value. But when it comes to the general dynamics of the coin market, small supply and big demand generally equals higher prices.
What About Rare Coins That Aren’t Worth Money?
There’s so much talk about rare coins being valuable that the perception among many seems to be that all coins with low mintages or survival statistics must be worth the big bucks. Amazingly, that’s not the case at all.
Remember we were talking about the value of coins being dictated by supply and demand? Well, if there’s no demand for a particular coin, its value probably won’t be all that high. And, that’s certainly the case with some rare coins that offer relatively few specimens but cater to niche groups of collectors or are not commonly collected by date and mintmark.
This is true with exonumia—tokens and medals and the like. Many obscure tokens and medals have only a few known survivors, yet their prices trail those of the coins we’ve listed above. Perhaps more familiar to collectors of U.S. coinage are the examples of some 19th-century coinage that are rare but not nearly as valuable as certain more-common famous counterparts.
Consider the case of the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent, one of the most famous rare coins. It’s worth around $650 and up and saw a mintage of only 484,000 pieces—the lowest mintage of any regular-issue Lincoln cent. But that’s a relatively high production figure as compared to many 19th-century coins that sell for a fraction of the 1909-S VDB cent price, such as the 1832 Classic Head half cent (51,000 minted) that sells for $60+, 1886 Liberty Seated quarter (mintage of 5,000) worth $400+, and 1866-S No Motto Liberty Seated half dollar (60,000 struck) valued at $425+.
1909-S "VDB" Lincoln Wheat cent. Image: USA CoinBook
Another example comes from modern world coins, like the State Quarters series in the U.S. One particular error on the 2004 Wisconsin State Quarter resulted in an extra leaf on the design. (The mistake came in "High Leaf" and "Low Leaf" varieties.) Only a few thousand exist, but over time collector interest in the pieces waned. They were still rare, but no longer especially valuable.
If one had the time and desire to research this further, they would find many other comparable examples of famous rarities with higher mintages (or survival statistics) and larger values versus much rarer coins worth mere fractions of those values. You can find evidence of this by looking at prices realized in coin auctions through Sotheby's, Heritage Auctions, and Bowers & Merena.
On top of that, how collectible coins are currently valued is a matter of some subjectivity. Someone may only want to add coins in good condition to their coin collection, regardless of its absolute rarity.
The bottom line? Know what you’re collecting. There’s an old saying that goes, “buy the book before the coin.” Yes, you should definitely seek numismatic books that help you build your knowledge base. Every collector should have at least a basic library of coin books, like A Guide Book of United States Coins (known as The Official Red Book).
You may also want to invest in a good magnifying glass to closely inspect the obverse (heads side) and reverse (tails side) of coins you are interested in. But don’t forget informative websites like the one you’re on here, and always be sure to seek out knowledgeable professionals such as the experts at Gainesville Coins. They can tell you what your coins are worth when you're ready to sell coins.
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.
More information about coin values from the expert authors at Gainesville Coins:
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