Rare Coins Worth Money: A Comprehensive Guide
Many people want to know which rare coins are worth money. 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.
Here we provide a list of some of the rarest and most valuable coins. We'll 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.
|1909-S||VDB Lincoln cent||$650+|
|1914-D||Lincoln Wheat cent||$175+|
|1955||Lincoln DDO cent||$1,000+|
|1969-S||Lincoln doubled die cent||$25,000+|
|1972||Lincoln doubled die cent||$300+|
|1937||3-legged Buffalo nickel||$450+|
|1916||Standing Liberty quarter||$2,800+|
|1921||Walking Liberty half dollar||$125+|
|1921-D||Walking Liberty half dollar||$190+|
|1938-D||Walking Liberty half dollar||$50+|
|Pre-1933||U.S. gold coins||$150+|
1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent: $650+
1909-S "VDB" Lincoln Wheat cent
The Lincoln cent featured the initials of the designer, Victor D. Brenner, in its first year of issue (1909). Due to a bizarre controversy, the lettering was removed after just one year. It remains one of the classic collectible coins in United States history.
1914-D Lincoln Wheat Cent: $175+
1914-D Lincoln Wheat cent
The 1914-D penny had one of the lowest mintages in the entire series. Only 1,193,000 were struck at the Denver Mint that year.
1955 Lincoln Cent Doubled Die Obverse (DDO): $1,000+
1955 doubled die obverse Lincoln Wheat cent
Die doubling is a well-known type of error that can happen at the mint. The 1955 Lincoln penny is perhaps the most famous example of this kind of error in the history of U.S. coins.
1969-S Lincoln Cent Doubled Die: $25,000+
1969-S Lincoln Memorial cent
A small portion of the 1969-S penny mintage from San Francisco also exhibited the doubled die error.
1972 Lincoln Cent Doubled Die Obverse (DDO): $300+
1972 doubled die obverse Lincoln Memorial cent
Yet again, die doubling was a problem with some of the Lincoln pennies struck in Philadelphia in 1972.
1937 Buffalo Nickel 3-Legged: $450+
1937-D 3 Legged Buffalo nickel
An over-polished die resulted in a "missing leg" on Buffalo nickels minted in 1937 and 1938. Along with the 1955 DDO penny, the 3-legged Buffalo nickel is one of the most famous American coin errors.
1916-D Mercury Dime: $800+
1916-D Mercury dime
1916 was the first year the Winged Liberty Head dime was minted. The design quickly earned the nickname "Mercury dime" for its resemblance to the Roman god of war. 1916-D is by far the lowest mintage in the series, with only 264,000 coins minted.
1901-S Barber Quarter: $3,500+
1901-S Barber quarter
The Barber coinage of the late 19th century and early 20th century was unpopular at the time it was minted. However, these coins have become much more scarce and collectible in the hundred years since.
1916 Standing Liberty Quarter: $2,800+
1916 Standing Liberty quarter
The Standing Liberty quarter remains among the most collectible old coins ever made by the U.S. Mint. 1916 was the year this design made its debut. Amid controversy, partway through the 1917 mintage, the design was altered so that the exposed breast on Lady Liberty was covered with chain mail.
1932-D Washington Quarter: $85+
1932-D Washington quarter
1932 marked the first year that George Washington appeared on the quarter. The mintage total from Denver was a paltry 436,800 coins. The new design was intended to be a one-year commemorative, but it has stayed on the quarter coin ever since!
1932-S Washington Quarter: $80+
1932-S Washington quarter
Like its counterpart in Denver, the San Francisco Mint produced a very small number of Washington quarters in 1932. Only 408,000 were made.
1938-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar: $50+
1938-D Walking Liberty half dollar
The Walking Liberty half is still considered one of the most beautiful designs ever to grace a U.S. coin. Today, the same image is used for the American Silver Eagle bullion coin.
1921 Peace Dollar: $125+
1921 Peace silver dollar (High Relief)
1921 was the first year for the beloved Peace dollar. All of the coins from the 1921 mintage were produced with a High Relief design. Although beautiful, this artistic design was inconvenient for everyday use, so the relief was subsequently lowered.
Pre-1933 U.S. Gold Coins: $150+
1906 Coronet Liberty Head quarter eagle gold coin
Prior to 1933, gold coins were minted as regular money in the United States. They are 90% pure gold and included face values of $1, $2.50, $3, $5, $10, and $20. These old gold coins are pursued by collectors and gold investors alike.
What About Rare Coins That Are Really Old or Worth Millions?
You have virtually no chance of finding one of these coins in circulation. You are also 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 AV Solidus||$17,500+|
|Circa 1509||Italian gold doppio ducato||$125,000+|
|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+|
|1913||Liberty Head nickel||$2,500,000+|
|1928||Japan "Auto Dollar" 1 yen||$20,000+|
|1933||Great Britain penny||$80,000+|
|1943||Lincoln Head copper penny||$1,700,000+|
The Connection Between Rarity & Value
It's common to assume all rare coins worth money are extremely valuable. 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. It 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. 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.
With all of this in mind, it's advisable to compare different rare coin values and find the best deal for your collection.
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.
That’s certainly the case with some rare coins. They may 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:
- 1832 Classic Head half cent (51,000 minted) that sells for $60+
- 1886 Liberty Seated quarter (mintage of 5,000) worth $400+
- 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. Some famous rarities with higher mintages (or survival statistics) have 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. 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 your coins, and they can help you to sell your coins online as well!
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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