How to Price Old Coins

By Kent Ninomiya

People often find old coins hidden in their possessions or among items previously owned by a relative who passed away. The first question asked is, "Is this coin worth anything?" Pricing old coins is a straightforward process. First, you must determine what kind of coins you have and their condition. Once you do, there are many resources available to help you figure out approximately what the coins are worth. It is a good idea to confirm this with a seasoned coin expert.

Handle old coins carefully. The quality of a coin is one of the major factors that affects the price. Any touching will negatively impact its quality. Use coin tongs or gloves when handling a coin. Oils on your fingers will cause damage, especially if it is in "brilliant uncirculated" condition. Place the coins in plastic coin flips so you can handle them without risk.

Figure out exactly what kind of coins you have. Use a magnifying glass to see the coin's small details. First determine what country it is from. It will say on the coin. If it is a foreign coin the country may be written in a foreign language. Take note of the denomination. For example, is it a half dollar, quarter or nickel? Next, record the year and mint mark. The mint mark will be a small letter or two indicating the place where the coin was made. For example, "P" indicates Philadelphia, "D" indicates Denver, "CC" indicates Carson City. American coins with no mint mark were made in Philadelphia.

Be on the lookout for coin varieties. Sometimes a small batch of coins have irregularities that make them rare and more valuable. Look for anything that doesn't look right. Occasionally old coins were stamped twice. These "double dies" look like they have images over images. Sometimes coins are missing details because the dies were polished too much. The most famous example of an irregular coin is the three-legged buffalo nickel.

Determine the condition of the coins. The higher the coin's "grade" the more it is worth. If the coin is shiny, has perfect detail and looks brand new then it may be "brilliant uncirculated." If it is worn down to the point that you can barely see the design, then it may be "about good" or "fair." Most old coins fall between these extremes. There are many resources like coin books and websites that will help you determine a coin's grade.

Find the listed price of the coins. Coin books and websites can also help you get a rough estimate of what old coins are worth. You must have all the information on the coin before looking up an approximate price. Small differences in details can make a huge difference in value. For example, an average grade 1909 penny might be worth $50 while the same coin with the engraver's initials "VDB" could be worth $600 or more.

Consult seasoned coin collectors or coin dealers to confirm the price of the old coins. Book prices for coins are approximations. The actual price could vary significantly. This is why someone experienced in coin grading and identification should examine your old coins. Opinions vary so, seek several opinions.

About the Author

Kent Ninomiya is a veteran journalist with over 23 years experience as a television news anchor, reporter and managing editor. He traveled to more than 100 countries on all seven continents, including Antarctica. Ninomiya holds a Bachelor of Arts in social sciences with emphasis in history, political science and mass communications from the University of California at Berkeley.