Millions of Americans save their old coins. Some actively collect the coins and are always on the lookout for missing pieces to complete their collection, while others merely set aside silver quarters or old pennies given to them as change. A coin does not have to be old to be valuable; double-strikes over the year, die errors and other manufacturing flaws have made some newer coins much sought after.
Inspect your old coins to determine their condition. Use a good magnifying glass and look for such things as scratches, fingerprints, wear on the front and manufacturing errors, such as the doubled Monticello on the 1939 nickel.
Assign a grade to each of your old coins. Visit the Coin Collecting Guide for Beginners (a link is provided in the References section) for a detailed description of each grade. The most important part of collecting old coins is to know how to properly grade them.
Research the rarity of your coins. Your public library should have several books on coin collecting that provide more details than a book that lists only current values. Rarity creates more demand for your coins and increases their value.
Assess the value of your collection by visiting a website such as the United States Coin Pricing Guide (see References). This site has photos of each coin and easy navigation.
Buy a current-year book that lists the values of coins if you cannot spend hours on the Internet researching a larger collection. Although the current prices may be slightly different than at the time of printing, they still offer a good estimate of the value.
Check the selling prices at several recent auctions to establish an average value for your old coins. Choose auctions that had many coins for sale, as this would have attracted professional collectors. Bowers and Merena is a major numismatic auction house for rare coins and paper money (see References). An Internet search will list many auction houses so you can compare prices.
Visit a coin show and talk to the dealers about your collection. Since old coins are their business, the dealers may be able to offer an expert opinion.
Visit your neighborhood coin shop for a professional appraisal of your old coins. There may be a fee for the service since you will be using the shop worker's time and talent. A professional appraisal may be necessary, however, if you want to insure your collection as a rider on your homeowner's insurance.