Jump to: 12 - 1740 Silver Rouble | 11 - 1885 Trade Dollar | 10 - 1899 Single Pond | 9 - $1 Million Gold Maple Leaf | 8 - 1804 Bust Dollar | 7 - Brutus AV Aureus | 6 - 1913 Liberty Head Nickel | 5 - 1804 Proof Eagle | 4 - Umayyad Gold Dinar | 3- Brasher Doubloon | 2- 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar | 1 - 1933 Double Eagle
For thousands of years, mankind has been making coins as a way of currency. The notion of attaching a value to an object that could be traded for goods and services was definitely a turning point for society. Coinage allowed for the creation of armies and the foundation of empires.
Those who learned to appreciate the rich history and uniqueness of each specimen of coin understand that their value doesn’t come simply from their metal content. Their worth is based on their rarity, condition, and cultural significance as well.
Every coin from this list has a unique background. These are the 12 most valuable coins based on past auctions and real transactions. No coins with only an estimated value are taken into account (for instance, coins donated to museums). In addition, only the highest-selling specimen from each coin is included.
12 - 1740 Ivan VI Pattern Silver Rouble
Since the 14th century, the currency in Russian territories has been called the “Rouble” (or Ruble). It was the currency used by the Russian Empire and still to this day by the Russian Federation.
Coins from Tsarist Russia usually fetch really high prices on auctions. And the 1740 Ivan VI Pattern Silver Rouble is the highest selling one of all times.
Ivan VI was crowned at a very young age. This coin was minted in the St. Petersburg Mint when he was still a baby. For that reason, the obverse does not contain his portrait, as it wouldn’t be appropriate. It depicts his monogram instead.
There would never be a coin portraying Ivan VI’s bust as he was swiftly overthrown by Elizabeth, the youngest daughter of Peter the Great. Ivan would spend his whole life in captivity and die at the young age of 23.
The inscription on the obverse around the outer rim says “Ivan VI by the grace of God the emperor and autocrat of all Russia”. And on the reverse, it says “1740 Coin Rouble”
This coin is sometimes referred to as one of Russia’s greatest rarities, along with the 1825 Constantine Ruble. It sold for an incredible amount of $3,858,850 at a public auction in 2012, a record for any Russian coin.
11 - 1885 Trade Dollar
In 1873, Congress passed a Coinage Act that allowed for the production and issuance of Trade Dollar coins. These coins were, essentially, bullion coins that could be used in international transactions in exchange for other goods or services. However, they were also considered legal tender within the United States.
These coins were only produced until 1885, and only five samples were made in the last mint year. All of which are still known to exist.
The Coinage Act of 1965 re-monetized these coins and they quickly became an object of great desire for many collectors. William Barber, famous Mint Chief Engraver from 1869 to 1879, designed both verses of this coin.
A specimen was sold at an auction in January of 2019 for the amount of $3,960,000.
10 - 1899 Single Pond
If you are asking for a truly unique coin, this South African Pond from the turn of the century is what you are looking for.
In 1899, the South African Republic (Transvaal Republic) was at war to keep its independence from the British Empire. That came to be known as the Second Anglo-Boer War. President of the South African Republic and statesman Paul Kruger was decided to strengthen his country’s currency. In his view, a strong currency was paramount for his country's independence and development.
There was only one problem, though. The South African Republic did not have the necessary equipment and materials to manufacture the dies for the 1899 mintage. So the President had to order their products from Germany.
Unfortunately, as the freshly produced dies were being transported from Germany to South Africa, the ship was intercepted by the British Armada and the dies were lost.
Still decided to have new coins minted, the solution was to use the existing dies from the 1898 mint year and punch in a single number “9” on the obverse indicating the new mintage (hence the moniker “single 9 pond”). However, the added number “9” turned out to be too big and protruded on the bust of Paul Kruger. Only one coin was minted that way, making it the rarest coin in South African history. The subsequent coins were minted with smaller and double “9” on the obverse.
The coin was gifted to United States Consul General, C.E. Macrum. Since then, it has belonged to Egypt and Sudan King Farouk I. It was auctioned with King Farouk’s private collection once his rule came to an end and sold privately a few times ever since. In May of 2010, the South Cape Coins intermediated a private transaction for this coin in the value of 20 million ZAR (at the time, equivalent to US$4,000,000).
9 - $1 Million Canadian Gold Maple Leaf
In 2007, the Royal Canadian Mint launched a new line of one troy ounce .99999 fine Maple Leaf Gold coins. In order to celebrate and promote the new product, they produced six 100-kilo (3,215 troy ounces) coins with a face value of one million Canadian Dollars. The coins have 50 cm (20 inches) in diameter and 3 cm in thickness.
The last one was publicly auctioned, sold for 3.27 million euros in 2010 (USD 4.02 million, at the time). Interestingly enough, at today’s spot price, this coin’s melt value alone is worth more than 5.5 million dollars!
8 - 1804 Bust Dollar - Class I
In the 1830s, U.S. diplomat Edmund Roberts left America to go on a series of trips to Siam, Muscat, Japan, and Conchinchina. As a gift to representatives of those countries, Edmund took these 1804 dollar coins on proof sets as a symbol of America's friendship. Sadly, Edmund passed away in Macau, before he could deliver the coin sets to Japan and Conchinchina, and for quite some time these coins went unnoticed by the numismatic community.
In 1842, though, Jacob R. Eckfeldt and William DuBois, two US Mint employees, signed a publication in A Manual of Gold and Silver Coins of All Nations, which contained a picture of the coins originally used in the proof sets of Edmund's diplomatic mission almost 10 years before.
The picture sparked questions amid coin enthusiasts, as for their knowledge, no Bust Dollar coin had been minted in 1804.
In fact, the coins Edmund took as gifts weren't minted in 1804, but probably in the early 1830s, specifically for his trips. These coins are now referred to as Class I 1804 Bust Dollar coins.
After the publication in 1842, many collectors started pressuring for a new mintage of those coins and a few mint employees actually produced some and either sold or gave them to coin dealers at the time. These new 1804 Bust Dollar coins didn't have the proper lettering on the edges and are known as the Class II 1804 Bust Dollars.
This practice of backdating coins actually caused quite a scandal and an investigation in Congress. Some Class II 1804 Bust Dollars were confiscated and destroyed. Others were given lettering on the edges to try and pass them as originals. Those coins with the added inscriptions are referred to as Class III 1804 Bust Dollar coins.
Only fifteen of any of those variations are still known to exist. They have sold for millions of dollars on multiple auctions, but the highest selling one was a Class I 1804 Bust Dollar sold in 1999 for the whopping amount of $4,140,000!
7 - Q. Servilius Caepio (M. Junius) Brutus AV Aureus
On the 15 of March of 44 BC, Gaius Julius Caesar, Dictator of the Roman Republic, strides into the Senate Chamber. There, he finds a group of conspirators, led by Brutus and Cassius, who were plotting his assassination. Caesar’s death then spirals a series of events that would culminate in the ending of the Roman Republic and the rise of Augustus Caesar as Emperor to the new Roman Empire.
In the aftermath of the “tyrannicide” and before the formation of the new Empire, a civil war raged the country as different political figures tried to take control. Two years after Caesar’s demise, Brutus ordered the minting of gold and silver coins to celebrate the success of the endeavor. Similar to previous Caesar Coins, Brutus commanded the coins to bear his bust on the obverse. As for the reverse, the coins were engraved with a cap between two daggers and the inscription EID MAR (Eidibus Martiis – on the Ides of March) underneath.
Only three specimens of this gold coin have been found. One is part of the British Museum collection, another one belongs to the Deutsche Bank. The third one sold at an auction for $4,174,950 in October of 2020.
6 - 1913 Liberty Head Nickel
In 1920, numismatist Samuel Brown attended the American Numismatic Association's annual convention and displayed five of these coins to the public. The shocking detail and the fact that made those coins a real treasure is that 1913 was the year the US Mint replaced the Liberty Head design for the Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel. In other words, there weren’t supposed to be any 1913 Liberty Head nickels and no Mint’s registry supported their existence.
Brown stated that he had bought the coins and paid $500 for each. But many theories were created to explain how five 1913 Liberty Head nickels were minted. One possibility is that the US Mint produced them in late 1912 to test the dies for the following year before the change in design was decided. However, the theory that the numismatic community tends to favor is that Brown produced these coins himself. Brown used to be, in fact, a Mint employee. In addition, that wouldn’t be the first time a clandestine coin had been produced (taking, for example, the case of the 1804 Bust Dollar).
A 1913 Liberty Head Nickel was once the first coin to sell for more than $100,000 in 1996. But the highest-selling specimen sold in 2007 for $5,000,000.
5 - 1804 $10 Proof Eagle
Only four of these coins were minted for diplomatic reasons, along with the 1804 Bust Dollar Class I. As we have mentioned before, in the mid-1830s, Robert Edmund, a diplomat for the U.S. Government, went on a series of trips to strengthen the relationship with the countries of Siam, Muscat, Cochinchina, and Japan.
He took with him a series of presents, which included a personalized package of maps, a telescope, pistols, clocks, and the proof coin sets. Edmund had time to deliver the presents in Siam and Muscat but unfortunately passed away in Macau, before he could give the presents in Cochinchina and Japan. His ship returned to the US and the undelivered presents returned to the State Department.
This coin is now known as the 1804 Plain 4 Proof Eagle. This iconic rare coin is a testament to America’s rich history and was designed by Robert Scot. The obverse portrays the bust of Lady Liberty wearing a Phrygian Cap, surrounded by 13 six-pointed stars and the word “LIBERTY”, along with the mint year 1804.
Although dated 1804, it is now known that the coin was minted in the early 1830s specifically to be given as a present in Robert Edmund’s diplomatic trips. The reverse shows the heraldic eagle design under a cloudy sky and 13 six-pointed stars. On the outer rim is the name of the country, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”.
This coin was sold at a Heritage Auction in January of 2021 for the impressive amount of $ 5,280,000.
4 - Umayyad Gold Dinar
The Gold Dinar was a gold coin used during the Umayyad Caliphate. According to scholars, it started being minted around 696-697 AD (AH 77 in the Islamic calendar).
This coin is unique because it is one of the earliest coins in Islamic society not to bear a religious inscription, but rather the location where its gold was actually mined. The inscription says: “Mine of the Commander of the Faithful in the Hijaz”, or “Ma‘din Amir al-Mu‘minin bi’l-Hijaz” in the original.
This coin weighs 4.25 grams or 1 mithqal. That was the unit used at the time and region for measuring precious metals.
The highest selling Gold Dinar sold for $6,029,400 at a Morten & Eden auction in April of 2011.
3- Brasher Doubloon - EB on Wing - MS-65
The United States Mint was only established in 1792, but before that each of the 13 states of the Federation was responsible for providing their own currency. And, more often than not, they would resort to private refiners.
Goldsmith and Jeweler Ephraim Brasher were some of the finest names of the industry in New York State at the time. In 1787, Brasher made a proposal to the New York Assembly asking permission to issue copper coins for the state.
To better demonstrate his ability to work with precious metals and his views on the coin’s design, Brasher produced a few gold coins, which he named Gold Doubloons. The coin weighs 39.4 grams and, at the time, it was worth $15 for its gold content.
The coin really does show Brasher’s creativity in designs. The obverse portrays a rising sun over a mountain and a river. Right below the river is his name, BRASHER. The scene is encircled by dots and a Latin inscription on the outer rim, which says “NOVA EBORACA COLUMBIA EXCELSIOR”, meaning “New York and America Ever Upward”, linking to the symbolic meaning of the rising sun on the design.
The reverse is one of the earliest renditions of the heraldic eagle in a United States coin. Inscribed near the edge is the country’s motto “E PLURIBUS UNUM”, or “out of many, one”. This particular specimen contains the assay-mark “EB”, for Ephraim Brasher, on the eagle’s right-wing.
Brasher’s proposal was not approved by the New York Assembly. Yet, some of these Gold Doubloons lived on to become some of the rarest pieces of American history.
A few variations of these coins have earned big bucks in different auctions throughout the years. A specimen graded AU-50 with the “EB” punch on the breast of the eagle, rather than its wing, has sold for $7,395,000.
However, in January of 2021, an MS-65 Brasher Doubloon, with the “EB” mint mark on the wing, sold for an impressive bid of $9,360,000.
2- 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar
In 1792, President George Washington made a speech to the United States Congress, urging for the creation of a federal mint institution. Washington longed to create a strong, unified coinage system that would benefit especially the lower classes.
On April 2nd of 1792, Congress passed the first Coinage Act, creating the US Mint’s first branch at the nation’s Capital in Philadelphia and providing resources and guidelines for the minting of the first coins.
1793 saw the first copper coins produced by the mint. As it was Washington’s desire, smaller denominations were urgently needed to get the economy stabilized, so cents and half-cents were the first coins minted.
The following year, though, in 1794, the mintage of silver coins began and the Federal Government issued the first Dollar coin. The new currency was based on the Spanish Dollar, already largely at use in the country at the time.
Both verses of the US Dollar were designed by Robert Scot, 1st Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint. The obverse portrayed a bust of Lady Liberty and the reverse contained an eagle. Both symbols were required by the 1792 Coinage Act. The final design saw fifteen stars surrounding the bust of Lady Liberty on the obverse, and her hair flowing in the wind, hence the moniker “Flowing Hair” given to the coin. A wreath was added surrounding the eagle on the reverse, along with the country’s name “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”.
In January of 2013, Stack's Bowers Galleries auctioned a specimen of the 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar silver coin. The winning bid was the impressive price of $10,016,875, which was a record for any coin in the world until the following coin on this list was auctioned in June of 2021.
1 - 1933 Double Eagle
Arguably one of the most controversial coins in U.S. history is the 1933 Double Eagle. Its enticing story begins with the economic depression of 1929. As the country saw hyperinflations across different markets, then recently elected President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, penned an Executive Order ending the gold standard in the United States and putting a halt to all gold coin mintage in the country. Roosevelt also ordered the confiscation of private gold ownership (with a few exceptions).
Nonetheless, the US Mint had already struck 445,500 units of the Double Eagle, bearing the 1933 mint year, yet not released to the public. Most coins got melted down and turned into gold bullion bars to feed the Federal reserve. But a few of them survived. They were either smuggled out of the Mint’s facility before being melted or stolen.
Then, in 1944, King Farouk of Egypt and Sudan bought the coin and imported it to his country. He was able to obtain an export license because no one at the customs department noticed that a 1933 Double Eagle was actually illegal. Ironically, the theft from the U.S. Mint’s vault went unnoticed for more than 10 years and was only discovered mere days after the coin left the country to join King Farouk’s collection.
In 1952, though, during the Egyptian Revolution, Farouk was forced to abdicate and his private collection was auctioned. Among a number of collectible items, was the smuggled 1933 Double Eagle. The United States Government made a diplomatic request to Egypt asking for the return of the coin. The new Egyptian government actually agreed to return it, but the coin disappeared once again.
Lost for over 50 years, the 1933 Double Eagle resurfaced when Federal agents arrested Stephen Fenton, a British coin dealer, in possession of the illegal coin. After 5 years of dispute in court, they reached a settlement. The coin should be auctioned and the earnings split two ways between Fenton and the Treasury Department.
An interesting fact about the settlement is that the US Government had to legally issue and monetize the coin before auctioning it, making this specimen the only legal tender 1933 Double Eagle.
The auction was held in 2002 and it sold for $7,590,020, but the buyer remained anonymous. 19 years later, on March 10 of 2021, an article came out in the New York Times disclosing Stuart Weitzman, owner of a luxury shoe brand, as the investor and coin collector owner of the 1933 Double Eagle. He had decided to auction a few items of his private collection, which included the famous gold coin.
The 1933 Double Eagle was auctioned again at Sotheby’s auction house for the record price of $18,900,000, making it the most expensive coin in the world.
Interesting story aside, the Double Eagle has, without question, the most iconic and popular designs in U.S. coinage history. It was designed by brilliant sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The iconic obverse was revitalized in 1986 and used on the modern American Gold Eagle bullion coin. It is famously referred to as the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle.
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