Coins are generally unique to their country of origin. A United States penny is not the same as a British or Canadian penny. The coins of different nations come in a variety of denominations. Virtually all modern coinage is decimal—that is based on multiples of 10 or one-tenth of the nation’s primary monetary unit. Coins may be made of precious metal, or base metal, or some combination of the two. National origin, denomination and metal content all affect the relative value of coins.
The value of most modern, base metal coins continually fluctuates in relation to that of coins in other currencies. Many of the world’s currencies are traded daily on international exchanges, such as FOREX and IMEX. A British pound might be worth $1.60 at one moment, and $1.62 the next. An American dollar might bring in 90 or 95 Japanese yen. In the first situation, the British pound coin would be worth $1.60, while the British 2 pence coin—representing a value of 1/50 of a pound-would be valued at 3.2 U.S. cents. In contrast, because of their low value, Japanese coins are issued in multiples of yen: 1, 5, 10, 50, and so on. Each would worth that many times the current rate of exchange.
Numerous nations also issue gold and silver coins. The value of these coins is based directly on the current price of precious metals. Exchanges, like MONEX and COMEX, largely set the going prices for gold and silver bullion. Recent issues of bullion coins are worth their bullion value, or slightly more, depending on collector demand. Some issues, such as the South African Krugerrand, are especially prized because of the purity of their gold. The 2009 1 troy ounce Krugerrands can be purchased for as little as $30 over the spot price of gold, with 1/2 ounce Krugerrands available for around $15 over the spot price.
Historical issues of base metal coins are prized for their rarity and collector appeal. Many feature defunct denominations, or images and symbols no longer in use. The British pound was worth 20 shillings, or 240 pence, prior to 1971. Today, these pre-decimal coins are worth much more than their face value. A 1966 shilling that was once valued at 1/20 of a pound, is worth 1 pound today. 1959 shillings in extremely fine (EF), condition command 5 pounds.
Coin collectors also seek out historical gold and silver issues. Though worth, at bare minimum, the value of the bullion they contain, they normally fetch much higher prices. British gold sovereigns, once worth one pound, vary in price according to demand. The rare “Old Head” Queen Victoria gold sovereign contains a little less than 1/4 of an oz. of gold. Minted from 1893 to 1901, an 1893 London minting in almost EF condition is worth at least $367.
Old foreign coins can vary considerably in price. Gold and silver change value frequently. Several years ago, both metals were worth far less than they are now. Collectors must follow current bullion prices, and other market trends. Coins may change value depending on their condition and setting. Auction sites, like eBay and BizRate, may offer Old Head Queen Victoria sovereigns set as jewelry, or in various different conditions. These are often priced well below the current cost of the gold.