Are Old Coins Necessarily Rare? A Look at 100 Year Old Coins

1915 Barber Half Dollar

As a leading Atlanta coin dealer, we frequently receive phone calls and e-mails from prospective customers who are interested in selling their old coins.   A common assumption is that the coins are valuable due to their age. We’ve previously discussed factors that affect a coin’s value, and thought that it would be an interesting exercise to take a look at 100 year old coins to assess their current demand and value. While somewhat arbitrary, we don’t think that anyone would argue that coins produced a century ago are old, which is the primary reason we’ve chosen to evaluate coins from 1915. We’ll limit our discussion to copper, nickel and silver coins, as it’s obvious that any gold coins, regardless of the year produced, are quite valuable. Without further ado, below are a list of century old coins, their current interest among collectors, and estimated value.

1915 Pennies

The Denver, San Francisco and Philadelphia Mints all produced pennies in 1915. The production levels of Lincoln cents produced by the Philadelphia and Denver Mints were in excess of 20 million and are common date coins. These are the type of coins that you would expect to find in $100 face value bags of “teen” pennies, and have relatively nominal value. However, not all of the mints in 1915 produced coins in the eight figures. The San Francisco Mint produced approximately 4.1 million coins. While this sounds like a substantial amount, and certainly is when compared to other key date coins, this is considered a lower mintage or semi-key date coin. According to the most recent greysheet, the value of a 1915 San Francisco-issued penny is $14, which is nothing to sneeze at. While not necessarily in high demand, this coin is occasionally missing from penny coin albums and needs to be purchased by coin collectors to help complete their set.

1915 Nickels

We’ve heard many terms for nickels produced in 1915, such as “Liberty nickels,” “Indian nickels,” and “Native American nickels,” but the term most commonly used in the industry for these coins is “Buffalo nickels.” As was the case with pennies, the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mints all produced nickels in 1915. The mintage of coins from the Philadelphia Mint was in excess of 20 million coins; however, the production levels from the Denver and San Francisco Mints were quite a bit less. The Denver Mint produced approximately 7.5 million nickels in 1915, which are currently valued at $15.50 by greysheet in good condition. We’re also seeing our first higher priced coin, with good condition 1915 San Francisco issued nickels reaching the $40 mark. Thus far, coins produced by the San Francisco Mint have had the lowest mintage counts and highest values. Let’s see if this holds true for dimes, quarters and half dollars as well.

1915 Dimes

Dimes produced in 1915 are commonly referred to as “Liberty” or “Barber” dimes, but “Barber” is the most commonly used term in the industry. The coins are named after Charles E. Barber, the chief engraver and the designer of the coins. Unlike the previously mentioned pennies and nickels, only two mints produced dimes in 1915 – the Denver and San Francisco Mints. If you guessed that San Francisco-issued dimes were the lowest production coins, you’d be right! While the Denver and San Francisco mintages were only 5.6 million and 960,000, respectively, both coins are valued at $5 or less in good condition. As you can see, a relatively low mintage doesn’t always translate into a large dollar amount.

1915 Quarters

Similar to the dimes, 1915 quarters were designed by Charles E. Barber and are referred to as “Barber” coins. All three mints produced quarters in 1915. The San Francisco Mint produced approximately 700,000 coins while the Philadelphia and Denver Mints both produced in the range of 3.5 million coins. For all intents and purposes, the Philadelphia and Denver minted quarters are considered common date coins and can be had at a slight premium over the melt value of the coins in good condition. The San Francisco issued quarter from 1915 is the lowest mintage coin that we’ve evaluated thus far and has a value of approximately $22 in good condition. In general, Barber quarters tend to have a good bit of wear, so higher end examples of this coin can run in the three figures.

1915 Half Dollars

Charles E. Barber also made his mark on the half dollar, as 1915 issued Barber half dollars are referred to as “Barber” half dollars or halves. All three mints produced half dollars in 1915, but unlike the previously discussed denomination coins, the Philadelphia Mint was the low producer in 1915. A total of only 138,000 half dollars were produced by the Philadelphia Mint in 1915. This is the lowest minted coin of all of the coins that we’ve highlighted thus far and not surprisingly is also the most valuable. 1915-P Barber half dollars in good condition are valued at just under $70. High end examples, such as those that are in uncirculated condition, can reach upwards of $1,000 or more!

Summary

In conclusion, we evaluated all of the 1915 coins minted for general circulation, with the exception of gold coins, and found that in some cases hundred year old coins were somewhat valuable while others were fairly pedestrian. In general, coins produced by the San Francisco Mint were lower mintage and subsequently more valuable coins; however, that trend was broken with the half dollars, as only 138,000 half dollars were produced by the Philadelphia Mint in 1915. What we learned is that not all old coins are valuable, but there are certainly a decent share. As a collector, you may be interested in accumulating a 100 year old coin set. If so, this can be had for under $200.

Tony Davis
Tony Davis