How to Determine the Value of a Coin

By Hobbies, Games & Toys Editor

The coin market is ever-changing. Use this guide to help you, the numismatist, figure out what your coins are worth.

Learn about the particular coins you have. The 1964 Kennedy half dollar, for instance, has an odd history: So many people stashed these coins that the U.S. Mint produced over 400 million more from 1965 to 1966 - all with the 1964 date on them.

Keep some general rules in mind. Silver coins are always worth more than their face value. Mint mistakes - missing letters or numbers, for example - raise a coin's value. Designer's initials and certain mint marks also increase the asking price (see Glossary).

Look for a dealer who belongs to the Professional Numismatists' Guild. This organization is fairly strict about its members and their practices.

Check out books about coin collecting at the library (the 737 call numbers in the Dewey decimal system). Even old books can give you an idea of how common your coin is.

Remember that coin prices are determined by demand, scarcity and condition.

Understand the grading system, but keep in mind that it's rather arbitrary. FDC (fleur de coin) is a term used for ancient coins that are uncirculated. Other coin grades are Mint, Uncirculated, Proof, Extremely Fine, Very Fine, Fine, Very Good, Good and About Good. There are subgroups of these grades, and some people use other grading systems. If you bought a graded coin and kept it protected, it should remain the same grade. This will help when it's time to sell.

Study coins similar to your own that are for sale in magazines, coin shops and auctions.

Learn to identify ancient coins, which can be very valuable. These coins typically are nonuniform in thickness and are off-center due to the method of minting. Weights will be the same, but sizes of the same coin may vary considerably.

Pick up a blue book (see Related Books) at any coin shop. This can give you a rough idea of what the wholesale value of your coin is. Wholesale value is what a dealer would pay for it.

Take your coin in to a coin dealer for an appraisal. Be aware that there are two kinds of appraisals: replacement value, which is used for insurance claims, and sales value, which determines how much the coin would sell for right now. Dealers charge for an appraisal, so ask first if the dealer thinks it's worth it.

Tip

Get to know a local dealer who is also a collector, if possible. This person can be an invaluable resource and will typically be happy to help an inexperienced collector avoid getting ripped off.

Warning

Avoid cleaning coins. The patina found on ancient coins lends them authenticity, and cleaning will seriously lower their value. Be aware of the tricks that unscrupulous dealers use with unaware sellers: downgrading or listing a coin for less than its true worth; buying a group of coins for a price without identifying a particularly valuable one in the group; and showing disinterest in valuable coins, thus leading the seller into underestimating the value.