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Why Your Pocket Change May Not Be as Valuable as you Think

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4 Reasons Why Your Pocket Change May Not Be as Valuable as you Think

 

Over the years, there have been countless articles written on pocket change that may be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. While it’s always great to bring new folks into the fold of coin collecting or numismatics, the reality is that most of these articles are over hyped and the likelihood of finding anything in your spare change that is worth more than the coin’s face value is slim.

In today’s article, we’re going to discuss four reasons why you’re unlikely to find coins of significance in your pocket change and will address many of the common questions that we’ve received over the years.

 

Error Coins are Not Prevalent

The most recent example of a pocket change article that made the headlines is an error 1999 Georgia state quarter potentially worth thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars. The only issue is that the general public failed to investigate what the error was and why it was potentially so valuable. Before we knew it, we received a wave of phone calls from prospective customers wanting to sell their Georgia state quarters for thousands of dollars.

In this case, and in most other cases, a potentially valuable coin highlighted by the media is truly a rare error coin with few examples known to exist. In other words, not everyone and their mother has one. In the case of the error 1999 Georgia state quarter, it was minted on a Sacagawea coin planchet. In other words, the blank disc that is used to produce “gold colored” Sacagawea dollar coins was mistakenly used for a very limited number of 1999 Georgia state quarters. The error state quarters are larger, heavier and have a golden patina to them when compared to a standard state quarter. Unless you have a coin that stands out from this perspective, then unfortunately your state quarter is only worth .25.

The important thing to remember is that there’s typically much more to a valuable error coin than meets the eye. Our suggestion is that you do some research to identify what potentially makes the coin valuable before contacting your local coin dealer.

Another recent example is a 1970 US proof quarter struck on a 1941 Canadian quarter planchet. When this story made the news, much like the 1999 Georgia state quarter, we received a rash of phone calls.

Unfortunately, there are only a few of these coins known to exist, and none of our callers have had this 1970 quarter stamped on an 80% silver Canadian quarter.

 

Most Coins Have Been Picked Through Already

While it’s important to remember that most valuable error coins are few and far between, another factor to take into consideration is that most coins that you receive from the bank or as change have likely already been searched multiple times. This means that any potentially valuable error coin has likely been identified by someone that is familiar with error coins.

Some of our customers are proud cherry pickers and are familiar with the most well-known and recognized error coins. In fact, it’s such a popular pastime that the industry has devoted a few books to the subject. The most popular of which is the “Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins,” which is more commonly referred to as “The Cherrypickers’ Guide.”

Tens of thousands of these books have been sold over the years. In other words, it’s not uncommon to see a copy of this book on the bookshelf of most coin collectors. Furthermore, many individuals regularly go to the bank, request rolls of whichever type of coin they’re targeting, thoroughly search the rolls, tape them back up and return them to the bank. In other words, there’s a good chance that the rolls of coins that you’re searching through have already been through multiple hands already.

Precious Metal Coins No Longer Regularly Circulate

In the U.S. gold coins used to circulate up until 1933 and silver coins up to and including 1964. We’ve touched on this subject in the past, but for new readers of our blog, FDRExecutive Order 6102 signed Executive Order 6102 in 1933 making it illegal for U.S. citizens to own gold coins. This ban was in effect until 1974, but by then, the U.S. was no longer on the gold standard, so gold coins were no longer used in general circulation. However, they could be purchased as investment coins beginning in 1974, which is still the case today.

The story with respect to silver coins is not quite as remarkable. Essentially, the price of silver became too expensive to continue to use in the mintage of our coins. This was due in large part to inflation, deficits and a devaluation of our currency. Because it was no longer financially viable to use silver in the production of coins, the Coinage Act of 1965 was passed. This allowed the government to replace the 90% silver/10% copper composition with a combination of nickel and copper, which is still the case today.90% US Silver Coins

While silver wasn’t made illegal like gold, Gresham’s Law applied, which states that “bad money drives out good.” This was evidenced by people squirreling away 90% silver coins issued in 1964 and earlier and instead, choosing to use the newly replaced nickel-copper or clad coinage. In fact, we have heard plenty of stories from people who were of investment age at the time that went to the bank and exchanged as many bills as they could for silver coins and stashed them away. In fact, many of the silver coins that we purchase today are from individuals or their parents who did just that.

This is not to say that it’s impossible to find silver coins today. In fact, it’s much more likely than finding a valuable error coin. Individuals from the Greatest Generation, including Baby Boomers, grew up or had parents that grew up during the Depression. Considering that 9,000 banks failed during the Great Depression, many individuals were distrustful of banks and chose to keep their cash and coins stored away at their homes. When someone is tasked with the responsibility of emptying out the homes of these individuals when they eventually pass, they frequently come across 90% silver coins. Not realizing what they have, they roll them up and take them to the bank, so on occasion these coins make their way into circulation.

 

Valuable Coins are Bought, Not Found

We’ve already touched on this subject in the preceding paragraphs, but it’s important to remember that almost without exception, valuable coins are bought, not found. There are a few caveats, which we’ll address in this section.

Over the past fourteen years, rarely does a day go by that we don’t receive a phone call from a

Fake 1943 "copper" (steel) Penny coin
Fake 1943 “copper” (steel) Penny

prospective customer interested in selling their “gold” dollars, “silver” bicentennial coins, or their rare 1943 penny.  If we conservatively assume that we work 250 days a week, which is likely much more, we estimate that we’ve received over 3,500 such calls over that time. That doesn’t include the multiple emails we receive on the subject.

Except for $1 Liberty Head and Indian Princess Head gold coins issued from 1849 – 1889 and a limited number of classic commemorative $1 gold coins issued in 1922 and earlier, it’s safe to say that any $1 gold coins that you might have in your possession are gold in color, not gold in content.

The most common calls we receive concerning $1 “gold coins” are Sacagawea and Presidential dollar coins. The coins have the appearance of gold, but they’re composed of manganese, which is a base metal. These are coins that you’ve likely received as change at some point in time and aren’t coins that you purchased for investment purposes.

Presidential Dollar Coins
Presidential $1 Dollar Coins – (not gold coins, worth their face value or $1)

The same applies to bicentennial coins, state quarters and 1943 pennies. The bicentennial quarters, half dollars and silver dollars issued in 1976 are composed of nickel-copper. This includes the highly popular Eisenhower dollar, which is only 40% silver if produced by the San Francisco Mint. These coins were never produced for general circulation purposes and were only available by direct order from the San Francisco Mint. Additionally, much like the error coins that we highlighted above, approximately 1 billion steel pennies were issued in 1943, so it’s likely at some point in time you’ll come across one of these coins. Keep in mind that the valuable 1943 is a copper coin, with only a few known to exist.

While we noted above that valuable coins aren’t found, but purchased, this doesn’t necessarily apply to a coin collection that you received as an inheritance by a parent, grandparent or even great grandparent. In the past, we’ve purchased multi-generational coin collections that were first started in the mid to late 1800’s. All coins, including currency, were valuable at that time, so if your collection consists of these types of items, it’s possible that they weren’t originally purchased, but found.

 

Summary

In conclusion, we’ve shared with you four reasons why your pocket change may not be as valuable as you think. We began our discussion with rare error coins. The term “rare” implies that there are few in existence, so it’s highly unlikely that you happened to just stumble across a thousand-dollar coin. We suggest that you do a bit of research to find out the specifics regarding the coin you came across before reaching out to your favorite coin dealer.

Regarding error coins, cherry picking is a common practice – especially among retirees. It’s not uncommon for individuals to request hundreds of dollars of rolled coins from the bank, search them for errors or misprints and return them to the bank. There’s a high likelihood that the coins you’ve received from the bank or as change have already been searched. Most likely, multiple times.

Another important factor to consider is that gold and silver coins are no longer used in general circulation. While it may be possible to find a silver coin in your change on rare occasions, the likelihood of finding a solid gold coin in circulation is about as good as winning the lottery.

This brings us to our last point, which is valuable coins are bought, not found. The coins you have in your possession that you received as change over the years may be gold and silver in color, but they’re not gold and silver in content. Coins composed of precious metals were purchased as investments, or on occasion, can be found in the collection of a loved one, who has passed on.

 

We hope that today’s article helps to shed a bit of light about pocket change and the value or lack thereof in most cases.

Do your research to see if you potentially have a valuable coin, and if everything that you’re seeing or reading leads you to believe that you do, you may be one of the lucky few that may be able to cash in. We do our best at Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers to help with what can at times be a confusing industry and welcome you to contact us if we can be of any assistance.

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Picture of Tony Davis
Tony Davis
Tony Davis is the owner of Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers, a full service Atlanta based coin and bullion dealer specializing in buying, selling and appraising coins and coin collections of all types and sizes. Tony frequently writes on various economic and numismatic related topics affecting the coin and bullion markets and has been published on some of the industry’s leading websites, including Coin Week, the American Numismatic Association, Coin Collector, Coinflation, and Coin Auctions Help, just to name a few. Visit Atlanta Gold & Coin’s website at atlantagoldandcoin.com to obtain additional information on the products, services and educational resources offered by his company. Tony can be reached at sales@atlantagoldandcoin.com or at 404-236-9744

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