Valuable Coins in the U.S.: Everything You Need to Know

Numismatics is defined as the study or collection of coins, paper currency, and metals. While coin collecting can require both time and effort, if you invest in learning about valuable coins and how to collect them, you’ll find that engaging in coin collecting can be a rewarding pastime.

Coins from every era provide us with a unique look at what different civilizations and societies held culturally significant—from what languages were spoken in a geographic location to what metals were valued at the time. Additionally, who and what is featured on a type of currency provides a glimpse at what was prized by different cultures.

Whether you are interested in learning more about world history or simply enjoy the thrill of the hunt for a rare nickel from a bygone era, coin collecting can be both a fulfilling and profitable hobby if you know what to look for.

The Origins of Coin Collecting

While we don’t know exactly when the first coins were used, the first archaeological record of coinage dates back to 650 B.C. Though we understand roughly when currency became a form of trade, scholars are still unsure of where exactly the first coins were minted. Before the emergence of coins, valuable metals were used to facilitate trade; however, this method of payment quickly proved to be challenging as each transaction required that the metals were carefully weighed and verified as pure. Commerce advanced significantly once governments began to mint standardized coins that all citizens could use for transactions.

The Rise of Coin Collecting in the U.S.

Coin collecting dates back to when coins were first invented, making accumulating valuable coins one of the world’s oldest hobbies. While coin collecting has been common practice for hundreds of years, it didn’t become popular in the United States until the 1850s. Collecting coins from Mint facilities around the United States took off around 1893, when George Heaton published A Treatise on Coinage of the United States Branch Mints. Today, a coin’s mint mark is a small letter on the coin’s face, which denotes what city it was produced in. The mark is small but remains an important factor in determining a coin’s value.

5 of the Most Valuable U.S. Coins

Coin collectors know there is a large range when it comes to the value of different types and mints of coins. While the fair market value of each coin is subject to change depending on how much a particular mint is bought for at an auction at any given time, there are certain coins that command perennial interest and value. The following list includes five of the most expensive U.S. coins ever sold, and the prices they achieved.

1. 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar

Experts believe this coin was the first silver dollar coin struck by the U.S. mint and the finest coin of its time in existence today. The 1974 Flowing Hair Dollar is also an important coin historically, as it was the first dollar coin standardized across the country.

1794 Flowing Hair Dollar via Wikimedia Commons.

2. 1913 Liberty Head Nickel

  • Mint mark: None
  • Face value: $.05
  • Year sold: 2013
  • Auction house: Heritage Auction
  • Price realized: $3.1 million

An extremely small quantity of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel was produced by the United States Mint, meaning it is especially valuable to today’s collectors. Only five 1913 Liberty nickels are known to exist today, making the coin extremely rare. Two of these coins are currently housed in museums and the other three are owned privately.

1913 Liberty Head Nickel via Wikimedia Commons.

3. 1870 S Seated Liberty Dollar

  • Mint mark: S
  • Face value: $1
  • Year sold: 2008
  • Auction house: Stanford Coins and Bullion
  • Price realized: $1.3 million

The 1870 S Seated Liberty Dollar is an intriguing coin, because there is no official record of this coin existing, though 11 traced specimen supposedly exist. Among 1870s Seated Liberty Dollars, coins with the San Francisco mint mark are the most prized of this type.

1870 S Seated Liberty Dollar via Coin Trackers.

4. 1927 D St Gaudens Double Eagle

  • Mint mark: D
  • Face value: $20
  • Year sold: 2005
  • Auction house: Rare Coin Wholesalers of Dana Point
  • Price realized: $1.65 million

In 1933, former President Roosevelt recalled all gold coins. This declaration meant that all gold coins in circulation and bank vaults were converted into gold bars or melted down completely, including the 1927-D Saint Gauden’s Double Eagle. There were originally about 180,000 of these coins minted, making them one of the lowest mintage coins on the St Gaudens Double series. Today, they are even more valuable, as due to the recall it is believed that only about 11–15 remain today.

1927 D St Gaudens Double Eagle via NGC Coin.

5. 1838 O Capped Bust Half Dollar

The genesis of this coin coincides with the start of the New Orleans Mint, which was the first mint to strike silver coins. It’s believed that only 20 coins were originally struck and only nine have survived to present day, making this coin extremely valuable.

1838 O Capped Bust Half Dollar via USA Coinbook.

8 Valuable Coins in Circulation Today

In addition to valuable coins that are no longer in circulation, there are many coins still commonly used that are actually appraised at a much higher amount than their face value. While these coins won’t go for the six- and seven-figure sums like the most valuable U.S. coins listed above, if you find one of these coins in your piggy bank you can likely trade it in for much more than its face value.

1. 1943 Lincoln Head Copper Penny

  • Mint mark: S
  • Face value: $0.01
  • Estimated value: $10,000

While copper pennies are the standard today, this has not always been the case. In 1943, copper was needed for the war effort, so it was not used to create coins during this time. Instead, most pennies were made of steel and coated in steel to give them a shiny appearance. Despite this, a copper batch was accidentally created. Since very few of the copper pennies left the factories during this time period, the ones that did could be worth as much as $10,000.

1943 Lincoln Head Copper Penny via PCGS CoinFacts.

2. 1955 Doubled Die Penny

  • Mint mark: None
  • Face value: $0.01
  • Estimated value: $1,800

The 1955 Doubled Die Penny is a unique coin that features a double image due to misalignment in the minting process. Roughly 20,000 of these pennies were released in 1955, and most were distributed as change from cigarette vending machines. The bust of Lincoln remains largely unaffected, with the majority of the doubling occurring on the numbers and letters featured on the coin. If you find a 1955 Doubled Die Penny in “extremely fine” condition, it could be valued around $1,800.

1955 Doubled Die Penny.

3. 1969-S Lincoln Cent with Doubled Die Obverse

  • Mint mark: S
  • Face value: $0.01 
  • Estimated value: Up to $126,000

The 1969-S Lincoln Cent with Doubled Die Obverse is a special coin as it was the only coin to ever be featured on America’s “Most Wanted” list of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. At one point, many believed this coin to be counterfeit, as during this time counterfeiters Roy Gray and Morton Goodman began producing very similar coins that were fake and quickly came to the attention of authorities. Less than 100 authentic 1969-S Doubled Die Obverse cents were produced, allowing this coin to continue to draw a high auction price.

1969-S Lincoln Cent With a Doubled Die Obverse via PCGS CoinFacts.

4. 1982 No Mint Mark Roosevelt Dime

  • Mint mark: None
  • Face value: $0.10
  • Estimated value: $300

All U.S. coins contain a letter that represents the mint where they were made, with the letters corresponding with city names. In 1982, the Philadelphia Mint unintentionally omitted the letter “P” on the Roosevelt dime. No one knows exactly how many of these coins were distributed, but up to 10,000 have been identified. If you find a Roosevelt dime without a mint mark, you can sell it for nearly $300.

1982 No Mint Mark Roosevelt Dime via PCGS CoinFacts.

5. 1999-P Connecticut Broadstruck Quarter

  • Mint mark: P
  • Face value: $0.25
  • Estimated value: $25

The 1999-P Connecticut Broadstruck Quarter is another example of a state quarter worth more than its face value due to a factory error. The coin is known as a “broadstruck” quarter, which refers to the fact that the quarter was not properly lined up in the machine when it was produced. While finding one of these quarters won’t make you rich, they are now worth 100 times as much as their face value due to this error.

1999-P Connecticut Broadstruck Quarter via Collectors.

6. 2004 Wisconsin State Quarter With Extra Leaf

  • Mint mark: D
  • Face value: $0.25 
  • Estimated value: $1,499

The 2004 Wisconsin quarter is valuable due to an error that some speculate was intentionally caused by a mint employee. An extra ear of corn was added to the bottom of the corn cob on the tails side of this quarter. Approximately 5,000 of these quarters have been discovered in Tucson. Depending on the condition of the coin, they can be worth up to $1,499.

2004 Wisconsin State Quarter With Extra Leaf via PCGS CoinFacts.

7. 2005-P “In God We Rust” Kansas State Quarter

  • Mint mark: P
  • Face value: $0.25 
  • Estimated value: $100

While state quarters are sought after by many avid coin collectors, the “error” quarters can be particularly interesting and valuable finds. The “In God We Rust” Kansas State Quarter is another example of a mistake at the mint leading to increased value for a coin. While grease build-up errors don’t always correspond to increased value, in this case the error was in an interesting place, making the coin more valuable to collectors.

2005-P “In God We Rust” Kansas State Quarter via The Spruce Crafts. 

8. 2005-D 5C Speared Bison Jefferson Nickel

  • Mint mark: D
  • Face value: $.05
  • Estimated value: $1,265

If you find a 2005 nickel that appears to have a buffalo on the back of the coin being pierced, take a closer look. This detail is due to a deep scratch on the die when these coins were minted. Though most of these coins aren’t particularly valuable, a 2005-D 5C Speared Bison Jefferson Nickel sold at an auction for $1,265 in 2010.

2005-D 5C Speared Bison Jefferson Nickel via PCGS CoinFacts.

Determining Coin Value

There are a variety of factors that can impact a coin’s value. While some factors like erroneous printings and interesting factory mistakes can be tough to predict, there are key components to consider when evaluating whether a coin may be valuable.

  • Mintage: Mintage refers to the number of copies of a particular coin that were issued. The original number of coins produced determines the total supply and can impact how valuable a particular coin is.
  • Surviving population: After coins are minted, they are released into circulation. Some coins are lost over time because they become worn or damaged, and so they are removed from circulation. Typically, coins that have a lower surviving population are worth more than coins with a high survival rate.
  • Meltdown value: Coins made of highly valuable metals like silver and gold usually appraise for more, given the value of the materials used to make these coins.
  • Mint mark: The mint mark refers to location of the mint where the coin was struck. It’s important to note this tiny but crucial detail, as the same coins from different mints can differ in price dramatically.
  • Condition: The “holy grail” for coin collectors is a coin in such impeccable condition that it looks as though it came straight off the coining press. The highest value coins are usually those that are uncirculated, meaning they were released to the public but removed from the economy to preserve their quality. The longer a coin is in circulation can negatively impact the condition it’s in.
  • Demand: The asking price of a particular coin is also determined by its demand, which can change over time due to factors like marketing, changing trends, and collector preferences.

While valuable coins range in type, historical significance, and price, understanding what makes a coin valuable will help both established and emerging coin collectors alike build well-rounded collections. Collectors know that the value of coins can shift over time, as each auction sale defines the newfound value of a particular coin. While there are hundreds of examples of prized U.S. coins to collect, familiarizing yourself the most in-demand examples both in- and out-of-circulation will give you a head start in building out your coin collection.

Sources: Advance Loan | Coin Collecting Guide for Beginners | Coin Spot | NGC Coin | The Spruce Crafts | Mental Floss | Coin Site | Coin Week | Coin Trackers | PCGS CoinFacts | Reuters | Huffington Post | PCGS CoinFacts