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Rare Coins Worth Money

Wouldn’t it be a dream come true to find an old piggy bank in your attic filled with rare coins worth millions? Let’s be honest, that’s not a very likely situation to happen. Nevertheless, the United States Mint has been producing American coinage since 1794, so I guess you never know.

Gold and silver were basic metal compositions until the 20th century during the bimetallic standard. Gold was only banned from coinage after Executive Order 6102 in 1933, and Silver would go on as commodity money in the U.S. until the early 1970s. So, it is not entirely crazy to assume you could find some coins worth money at the back of an old drawer or in your grandparent's safe deposit box.

In this article, we will analyze how rarity can influence a coin’s value and separate some examples from common mint years (for instance, Junk Silver), from real treasures and some of the most valuable coins in the United States. We will make a list of the rarest coins worth millions of dollars, and also some valuable coins that you might actually come across in your pocket change. They might not be worth millions, but you could fetch yourself a good buck.

Rarity & Value

The connection between how rare and, as a consequence, how valuable a coin is, is as simple to understand as the law of supply and demand. Numismatists all over the world look for and compete to obtain the rarest specimens to survive the passing of time and the perils of circulation.

So, the more unique and historically rich a coin is, the more valuable you can expect it to be. They might be one of the first specimens of silver coins ever produced by the US Mint, or they might have belonged to a King of Egypt’s private collection. 

There are different reasons why a coin should be that appealing to avid coin collectors, but rarity, in other words, the number of surviving examples of that specific mintage, is arguably the most important one.

If a lot of people want something that is scarce in the world, you can expect high prices for it. In other words, rarity will not be the decisive factor if the demand for it is not high as well.

Take into consideration a regular strike 1799 Draped Bust Silver Dollar. It had a mintage of 423,515, which was pretty high at the time and has a survival rate of approximately 8,000 specimens. On the other hand, an 1840 Liberty Head Quarter Eagle had a mintage of only 18,859 and a survival rate of only 80 across all grades. Although the 1840 Quarter Eagle is rarer, its record price was $31,625 in 2011. A considerable amount indeed, but not as much as the record sale for the less rare 1799 Silver Dollar of $822,500! The possible explanation is that many more people collect Silver Dollars than they do Quarter Eagles.

1840 Quarter Eagle1799 Silver Dollar

1840 Quarter Eagle (Source) and 1799 Silver Dollar (Source)

Rare US Coins

In this section, we are going to list 15 of the rarest American coins. Unique specimens that are alike very few others, or none at all. This is not a specific list of the most valuable coins, but rather some examples of coins so rare and unique that they got on the seventh or even eighth digit’s worth.

1792 Silver Center Cent J-1 (Special Strike)

1792 Silver Center Cent J-1

Source

Mintage: unknown

Survival estimate: 25

Face Value: 1 cent

Composition: Copper with a silver center

Record sale: $2,520,000

This was a pattern coin minted in 1792, before the minting of the cents in 1793. The US Mint was testing designs and compositions, prior to the beginning of the mintage. The silver center would be abandoned for regular strikes.

1795 Eagle BD-4 13 Leaves $10 (Regular Strike)

1795 Eagle 13 Leaves

Source

Mintage: unknown

Survival estimate: 20

Face Value: $10

Composition: 91.7% Gold, 8.3% Copper

Record sale: $2,585,000

The BD-4 13 Leaves is a variation of the Eagle Coin ($10), the largest denomination minted at the time. And this variation is from the first year of mintage for this denomination, in 1795. The finest specimen, a PCGS rated MS66+, famously sold in 1980 for the amount of $130,000 for the Pogue Family. Part of their coin collection, including this specimen, was sold in 2015 and this coin got the astounding bid of $2,585,000.

1907 Extremely High Relief Double Eagle $20 (Proof)

1907 Extremely High Relief Double Eagle

Source

Mintage: from 16 to 22

Survival estimate: 15

Face Value: $20

Composition: 90% Gold, 10% Copper

Record sale: $3,600,000

Bearing one of the most iconic designs in American coinage history, sculpted by artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the Double Eagle ($20) is a numismatic dream. In February of 1907, very few proof versions were minted to test out the dies. Most of them contained lettered edges, but one unique specimen (probably the first one minted) has a plain edge and is owned by a prominent Eastern coin collector.

1913 Liberty Head Nickel (Proof)

1913 Liberty Head Nickel

Source

Mintage: 5

Survival estimate: 5

Face Value: 5 cents

Composition: 75% Copper, 25% Nickel

Record sale: $4,560,000

In 1913, the US Mint replaced the Liberty Head design on the US 5-cent coins for the Indian Head Nickel, also known as the Buffalo Nickel. Thus, no Liberty Head Nickel was officially minted that year. Somehow, five of these coins showed up at a numismatic convention in 1920. One theory is that these were pattern coins, produced in late 1912 to test the dies for the following mintage before the change in design took place. The theory more favored in the numismatic community is that they were illegally made by Mint officials and smuggled through the back door. One example of these coins even showed up in the 1970s hit series Hawaii Five-O.

1804 Class I Draped Bust Silver Dollar $1 (Proof)

1804 Class I Draped Bust Dollar

Source

Mintage: 8

Survival estimate: 8

Face Value: $1

Composition: 90% Silver, 10% Copper

Record sale: $7,680,000

Although dated 1804, 8 of these Silver Dollars were minted in the 1930s for a series of diplomatic trips through Eastern Asia. Diplomat Edmund Roberts took these coins in a Proof Set as a gift to representatives of the countries he was about to visit, including Japan, Conchinchina, and Muscat. After collectors found out about their existence and interest grew among the numismatic community, some new specimens were illegally made and privately sold. But only the original 8 are known as the Class 1 1804 Draped Bust Dollars and they can be identified by their proper edge lettering.

1944-S Steel Lincoln Penny 1C (Regular Strike)

1944-S Steel Lincoln Penny

Source

Mintage: Unknown

Survival estimate: 2

Face Value: 1 cent

Composition: Zinc-coated Steel

Record sale: $408,000

Due to the war effort, in 1943 all copper had to be used for artillery, weapons, vehicles and other equipment needed in the battlefield. As a response, the US Mint had to substitute the copper penny for a steel one in that year’s mintage. The 1943 steel cent is pretty common, but some steel blanks ended up in the pressing machines in 1944. These 1944 steel Lincoln Cents are quite rare. And only two specimens bearing the San Francisco mint mark, the letter “S” under 1944 on the obverse are known to have survived.

Read more about the Steel Pennies here..

1943-D Bronze Lincoln Wheat Cent 1C (Regular Strike)

1943-D Bronze Lincoln Wheat Penny

Source

Mintage: Unknown

Survival estimate: 1

Face Value: 1 cent

Composition: 95% Copper, 5% Tin and Zinc

Record sale: $840,000

Equally rare, but even more coveted by collectors, is a 1943 bronze Wheat Penny. This Cent coin was probably struck with leftover bronze blanks from 1942, as 1943 pennies should have been struck with steel blanks that year. Only one specimen with the Denver mintmark, the letter “D” under 1943 on the obverse, is known by the numismatic community. Many believe it was hand-fed to the pressing machines by a mint employee who took it to himself.

Keep reading about the history of the cent composition in our article “What are Pennies Made of?”

1787 Brasher Doubloon $15, Breast Punch (Regular Strike)

1787 Brasher Doubloon

Source

Mintage: Unknown

Survival estimate: 1

Face Value: $15

Composition: approx. 89% gold; approx. 6%, silver; approx. 3% copper; trace elements, 2%

Record sale: $2,990,000

Before the establishment of the United States Mint, each State could commission the production of their own coins from private refiners. Ephraim Brasher was a jeweler and metalsmith in New York. He made a proposal to the New York Assembly to issue copper coins for the State. In order to better demonstrate his artistic prowess, he created a handful of gold coins to better exemplify the designs he was proposing for the State’s coinage. His proposal was rejected, but some of the Brasher Doubloons survived to make history.

Only one coin bearing his initials “EB” on the breast of the heraldic eagle is still known, but the other 6 with the same punch on the wing have also survived. The one with the “EB” on the breast sold in 2005 for $2,990,000. One specimen with the EB punch on the wing sold in march of 2021 for a whopping amount of $9,360,000, making it one of the most valuable coins made in the United States!

1838 Seated Liberty Quarter 25C, No Drapery (Proof)

Source

Mintage: 3

Survival estimate: 1

Face Value: 25 cents

Composition: approx. 89% gold; approx. 6%, silver; approx. 3% copper; trace elements, 2%

Record sale: $381,875

There is a considerable list of quarters worth money, but this proof version of the 1838 Seated Liberty Quarter stands out as one of the rarest. This proof coin was a test run of the new design and contained no drapery on Lady Liberty’s left arm. The design would change slightly for the circulating version and only one of this proof coin has survived.

1885 Trade Dollar T$1 (Proof)

1885 Trade Dollar

Source

Mintage: 5

Survival estimate: 5

Face Value: $1

Composition: 90% Silver, 10% Copper

Record sale: $3,960,000

The Trade Dollar was a quasi bullion coin issued by the United States Government to facilitate international trades and compete against other trade coins that were getting popular in Asia and Europe. The US Mint produced business strikes until 1878 but kept making proof versions until 1885. Both the 1884 and the 1885 versions are quite rare and have fetched millions of dollars in auctions.

1804 Eagle $10 Plain 4, Deep Cameo (Proof)

1804 Eagle

Source

Mintage: 6

Survival estimate: 3

Face Value: $10

Composition: 91.7% Gold, 8.3% Copper

Record sale: $5,280,000

Same as the 1804 Class 1, this valuable coin was probably minted in the 1830s as a diplomatic gift. There is one known specimen with a deep cameo effect that sold at an auction in January of 2021 for the impressive value of $5,280,000.

1861 Double Eagle $20 Paquet Reverse (Regular Strike)

1861 Double Eagle Paquet Reverse

Source

Mintage: 2,976,453

Survival estimate: 2

Face Value: $20

Composition: 90% Gold, 10% Copper

Record sale: $7,200,000

In 1861, Mint Engraver Anthony Paquet proposed some slight changes to the reverse of the Liberty Head Double Eagle coin. The most noticeable change was to the font inscriptions on the outer rim. Only two specimens are known to exist and for a long time, numismatists believed them to be pattern coins as the modified reverse never made into circulation. However, recent discoveries showed that millions of units were minted and intended for public release, but were recalled and melted down. Only two samples from the Philadelphia Mint survived.

1822 Capped Head Half Eagle $5 BD-1 (Regular Strike)

1822 Capped Head Half Eagle

Source



Mintage: 17,796

Survival estimate: 3

Face Value: $5

Composition: 91,7% Gold, 8,3% Copper

Record sale: $8,400,000

The 1822 Half Eagle sold at an auction in March of 2021 for the then-record price of $8,400,00, becoming the most valuable gold coin at the time. That specimen is the only one to have survived at the hands of a private owner. The other two are permanent residents of the Smithsonian Institution, in the National Numismatic Collection.

1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar $1 (Special Strike)

1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar

Source

Mintage: unknown

Survival estimate: 1

Face Value: $1

Composition: 90% Silver, 10% Copper

Record sale: $10,016,875

This has been one of the most famous coins in US history. Many believe this pattern specimen to be the very first Silver Dollar ever minted by the US Mint. In fact, of the entire 1794 Silver Dollar population, this is the only one to display proof-like reflectivity, proving it to be a pattern strike indeed. For 8 years, this beautiful piece of American history held the number one position among the most valuable coins ever sold with the bid of $10,016,875, until the next coin on the list showed up at a Sotheby’s auction in June of 2021.

1933 Double Eagle $20 (Regular Strike)

1933 Double Eagle

Source

Mintage: 445,500

Survival estimate: 16

Face Value: $20

Composition: 90% Gold, 10% Copper

Record sale: $18,872,250

In an attempt to control the rising inflation, on April 5, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 6102, prohibiting the hoarding and ownership of gold to a certain extent. It demanded the confiscation of gold coins and forbade banks to pay out any gold bullion or gold certificates.

The 1933 Double Eagle, famously designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, was the last gold coin ever minted by the US Mint before the country left the gold standard. There was a recall and melting of the entire mintage. Or so they thought. Somehow, a few examples survived and there are some accounts of them being bought and sold throughout the 20th century. 

The most famous example, and the one that sold in June of 2021 at Sotheby’s, belonged to King Farouk I’s private coin collection. King of Sudan and Egypt, Farouk was able to obtain an import authorization for the coin, as no one at the Customs Department realized a 1933 Double Eagle as an illegal coin.

When his regime was overthrown, the particular coin disappeared until Federal agents found it at the hands of a British coin dealer, Stephen Fenton. After a long legal dispute, an agreement was settled that the coin would be legally issued by the United States Government and sold at an auction and the earnings split between the Treasury Department and Fenton.

In other words, this is the ONLY 1933 Double Eagle to be considered legal tender. There is also one specimen at the Smithsonian Museum. Numismatists believe others have survived, but as it is illegal to own them, they can’t appear on any auctions.

Rare Coins You Could Actually Find

Let’s face it: it would be a dream to stumble upon any specimen of the many coins found on the list above, but it is very unlikely that one of these most valuable coins in the world would be lying around in your coin jar. However, there is a list of rare coins worth a good value that you could indeed find at an old safe deposit box or piggy bank, or even in your pocket change.

The thing is, some error coins (coins with some sort of problem during the minting process), or coins from specific branches of the US Mint that had a shorter mintage, will, in fact, stand out among common coins. You won’t find these in any list of the most valuable coins in the world, but spending them at the bakery is not a good idea. Here are 20 examples of these valuable coins you should be looking for, especially if you are interested in coin collecting, that could be worth hundreds, or even tens of thousands of dollars:

Cents

Coin Image

Name

Value in circulated condition

Value in uncirculated condition

1877 Indian Head Cent

1877 Indian Head Cent

$600+

Up to $130,000

1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent (Wheat Reverse)

1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent (Wheat Reverse)

$675+

Up to $65,000

1914-D Lincoln Cent (Wheat Reverse)

1914-D Lincoln Cent (Wheat Reverse)

$160+

Up to $11,000

1955 Lincoln Cent Doubled Die Obverse

1955 Lincoln Cent Doubled Die Obverse

$1,600+

Up to $30,500

1969-S Lincoln Cent Doubled die Obverse

1969-S Lincoln Cent Doubled Die Obverse

$13,000+

Up to $45,000

1972 Lincoln Cent Doubled Die Obverse

1972 Lincoln Cent Doubled Die Obverse

$250

$800

Nickels

Coin Image

Name

Value in circulated condition

Value in uncirculated condition

1886 Liberty Head Nickel

1886 Liberty Head Nickel

$150+

Up to $65,000

1937-D 3-legged Buffalo Nickel

1937-D 3-legged Buffalo Nickel

$375+

Up to $135,000

1942-D/D Jefferson Nickel

1942-D/D Jefferson Nickel (Horizontal D)

$100+

Up to $8,000

Dimes

Coin Image

Name

Value in circulated condition

Value in uncirculated condition

1901-S Barber Dime

1901-S Barber Dime

$100+

Up to $27,500

1916-D Mercury Dime

1916-D Mercury Dime

$350+

Up to $40,000

Quarters

Coin Image

Name

Value in circulated condition

Value in uncirculated condition

1901-S Barber Quarter

1901-S Barber Quarter

$1,500+

Up to $500,000

1913-S Barber Quarter

1913-S Barber Quarter

$500+

Up to $180,000

1916 Standing Liberty Quarter

1916 Standing Liberty Quarter

$1,750+

Up to $55,000

1932-D Washington Quarter

1932-D Washington Quarter

$285+

Up to $85,000

1932-S Washington Quarter

1932-S Washington Quarter

$100

Up to $47,500

Half Dollars

Coin Image

Name

Value in circulated condition

Value in uncirculated condition

1921 Walking Liberty Half Dollar

1921 Walking Liberty Half Dollar

$50+

Up to $55,000

1921-D Walking Liberty

1921-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar

$125+

Up to $150,000

1938-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar

1938-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar

$30+

Up to $45,000

1948-D Franklin Half Dollar

1948-D Franklin Half Dollar

$25+

Up to $45,000

Morgan Dollars & Peace Dollars

1889-CC Morgan Dollar1927-D Peace Dollar

1889-CC Morgan Dollar (Source) and 1927-D Peace Dollar (Source)

Any Morgan Dollar or Peace Dollar silver coins will be worth, at least, their weight in silver according to the silver spot price. However, some key dates carry a lot of numismatic value and could be collectibles. You can find out more about how much Morgan Dollars are worth today in our article.

A record sale for a Morgan Dollar is an 1889-CC MS68 example that got the amount of $881,250. The highest selling common Peace Dollar is a 1927-D MS66+ specimen that sold for $176,250.

Conclusion

The United States Mint has been producing coinage for the country since 1792. Each example listed in this article is a testament to the country’s rich history and cultural expressions. American coinage portrays the values of the Founding Fathers and the ideals of equality and freedom of thought, personified by Lady Liberty, along with other symbolic figures. 

Although finding some of these rarest and expensive coins would be like winning the lottery, because the country’s economy has always been the same, it is possible to find some valuable pieces still in circulation today, in old coin collections, or even in our daily transactions. There are some coins out there that would definitely be worth quite a few bucks to a coin collector or a coin dealer.

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James Anderson
James Anderson
Content Director

A bullion buyer years before the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, James Anderson is a grounded precious metals researcher, content creator, and physical investment grade bullion professional. He has authored several Gold

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