October 1, 1995
All that glitters is not gold. Then again, gold isn't
all that glitters.
Contrary to popular belief, there are golden
opportunities to find worthwhile coins in pocket change today
--even though there is little or no silver, much less gold,
in the coins that now appear in Americans' pockets and
Pay very close attention to the coins that pass through
your hands, and you may be pleasantly surprised--and greatly
enriched financially--by what you discover.
That lesson has been driven home within the last few
months by the widespread appearance of 1995 doubled-die
Lincoln cents in Americans' pocket change. More of these
coins continue to turn up every day--and many more
undoubtedly are still out there somewhere, waiting to be
discovered by lucky finders.
I've drawn up a list of 10 top pocket-change finds--
worthwhile coins that you should be looking for in your
change. Some are more likely than others to turn up, and some
are more valuable than others. But all have one thing in
common: They blend in readily with all the coins around them
because they have the same basic designs, and the same
metallic composition, as other current circulating U.S.
Buffalo nickels and silver Roosevelt dimes, for example,
also would be excellent circulation finds--and both might
well turn up in your change some day. But both of these
differ in design or composition from the everyday coins now
in use. The coins on my list, by contrast, look substantially
the same as other pocket change at first glance.
Here, then, is my list of 10 top pocket-change finds:
This coin has stirred tremendous excitement since it was
discovered earlier this year--for here is a coin that is at
the same time scarce enough to command a significant premium
yet available enough to give collectors realistic hope of
finding it in their change.
The 1995 doubled-die cent isn't as dramatic as its
famous Lincoln counterpart from 1955; the doubling doesn't
jump right off the coin and hit you between the eyes. It's
readily discernible, though, on close inspection--and obvious
at once under even the lowest magnification. The first place
to look is the word LIBERTY on the obverse. Doubling can
also be seen on the motto IN GOD WE TRUST.
When it first showed up, this coin traded for $300 or
more in Mint State-65 condition. Since then, many more
examples have been found, and the same coin would bring
substantially less--$75 or so, as this is written. There's a
bright side to this, however: While the rising population
tends to bring down the price, it makes collector interest
even higher. And that, in the long run, will help SUPPORT the
price level, after the initial period of adjustment is
Circulated examples of the '95 doubled-die cent
currently bring $20 to $30 apiece. And that's still a pretty
penny for a coin that you can find at face value.
In 1970, Lincoln cents produced at the San Francisco
Mint came in two varieties--with large and small dates--and
the "small-date" version has proven to be quite elusive.
It's so scarce, in fact, that it now commands a premium of
$20 or more in mint condition.
Actually, it might be worth even more if it weren't such
a difficult coin for many collectors to spot. The difference
between large- and small-date cents of this date is so subtle
that even experienced hobbyists sometimes have trouble
telling the two apart.
On the small-date '70-S cent, the bottom of the 7 in
1970 is aligned with the bottom of the 0, and the top of the
7 is aligned with the top of the 0. On the large date, by
contrast, the tail of the 7 descends below the 0 and the top
of the 0 extends above the top of the 7.
Small-date cents also can be found in 1970 proof sets,
and these are worth even more: approximately $50 apiece. So
be sure to check not only your pocket change, but also any
proof sets you may have put away.
The '70-S small-date cent is a very important variety,
and one that you stand a good chance of finding. But you have
to know what you're looking for, and you have to examine your
coins with great care.
Until recent years, coins produced at the Philadelphia
Mint almost never carried a mint mark. Their origin was
denoted not by a tiny P, but rather by the ABSENCE of any
mint mark. In 1979, the U.S. Mint deviated from this policy
by placing a P on Susan B. Anthony dollars made in
Philadelphia--and in 1980, it extended the new practice to
every other coin except the cent.
Everything was fine at first--but then, in 1982, sharp-
eyed collectors noticed that the mint mark was missing from a
few of the newly minted dimes from Philadelphia. Someone at
the Philly Mint had forgotten to punch the P into one or more
of the dies for the '82 dime.
The error of omission was embarrassing for the Mint, but
it was wonderful news for enterprising collectors. The no-P
dimes have brought substantial premiums right from the very
beginning, and they currently are valued at $50 to $150,
depending on their state of preservation.
Some are still out there; it's just a matter of tracking
Doubled-die errors have occurred on Lincoln cents more
often than you might realize. Not all have received the same
extensive publicity as the 1995--and, as a consequence, they
haven't been pursued with the same intensity.
One such error took place 11 years ago, when small
numbers of cents produced in Philadelphia left the mint with
doubling on the obverse. The doubling isn't dramatic, but
it's easy enough to spot--even with the naked eye--if you
examine one of these error coins closely. For one thing,
you'll see two distinct earlobes on Abe Lincoln's portrait.
For another, you'll see doubling in his beard.
Perhaps 2,000 of these coins have shown up so far, but
others are undoubtedly still in circulation, or hiding out in
mint-state rolls of '84 Lincoln cents that dealers and
collectors have set aside. In uncirculated condition, this is
about a $50 coin--so it's well worth searching for. And
because it's underpublicized, and therefore a bit of a
sleeper, your chances of locating one are better than you
Unlike the doubled-die cents discussed in this article
up to now, the 1983 error coin has the doubling on the
reverse. It's readily discernible in the inscriptions E
PLURIBUS UNUM and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
People tend to concentrate more on the obverse of a
coin, so the doubled-die '83 cent--while well known to
Lincoln collectors--often eludes detection by more casual
coin detectives. That's a major oversight, for if you were to
find one of these coins in your change, you'd be not only
seeing double, but sitting pretty: They're worth about $125
in high mint-state grades. Even in very fine and extremely
fine condition, these coins are worth close to $50.
Many people know about this variety--but, for some
reason, some don't seem to be pursuing it too aggresively.
That's all the more reason for you to put it high on your
list of targets.
Some numismatic purists refuse to recognize this offbeat
Washington quarter as a true minting variety. But that's of
no concern to you: The only thing that matters is that this
is a coin with premium value, and you can make a tidy little
profit if you find one.
Unlike the no-P Roosevelt dime of 1982, the no-P
Washington quarter of 1989 isn't missing a mint mark because
of a mistake in the Mint's engraving department. Rather, it
appears that one or more dies got gummed up with grease in
the area of the P--and that caused the mint mark to strike up
only faintly or not at all.
This particular oddity got a major initial boost when
The New York Times showcased it on its front page. The only
comparable send-off for any other U.S. coin error of recent
years was the Page 1 article that appeared this year in USA
Today announcing the existence of the '95 doubled-die cent.
As with a number of other important mint errors, the '89
quarter turned up in the largest quantities in Pennsylvania--
especially in the Pittsburgh area. There's an obvious
explanation: The mint itself is in that state, and these are
early stops in the distribution chain. Multiple findings also
were reported in North Carolina during the coin's early days.
Coin dealer Harry Forman, himself a Pennsylvanian,
touted this coin on the television program "Hidden Rewards."
A number of viewers who watched the show checked their change
afterward, found no-P quarters and sent them off to Forman.
Some may turn their noses up at these coins, but consider
this: They're worth anywhere from $25 in circulated condition
to $60 in MS-65. To me, that suggests the sweet smell of
More than two decades have passed since the 1972
doubled-die cent hit the scene, so collectors have had ample
opportunity to scour their pocket change in search of this
rarity. As a result, you're far less likely to find one of
these than, say, a '95 doubled-die cent. They do turn up from
time to time, however, and they're well worth the time and
effort it takes to track them down.
In terms of importance, the '72 doubled-die ranks near
the top of the list, for it played a pivotal role in
rejuvenating interest in circulation finds a generation ago,
just when many collectors were abandoning the search--and
giving up hope, as well. It reinvigorated the hobby in the
Seventies, just as the '95 doubled-die is doing in the
Nineties, by offering the prospect of instant profit not only
to confirmed collectors, but also to outsiders who know
nothing at all about coins. In that respect alone, it's a
highly significant pocket-change coin.
The doubling appears on the obverse of this coin and is
readily detectible in the date and the mottos LIBERTY and IN
GOD WE TRUST. Finding one isn't easy, but the payoff is
great: The '72 doubled-die is worth about $160 in MS-65, and
even a circulated piece is worth close to $100.
Unlike the other coins mentioned so far, the small- and
large-date 1960 cents aren't scarce and valuable. In fact,
they're both readily available, and neither brings much of a
premium, even in mint condition. The scarcer variety, the
small-date version, has modest extra value--but neither will
get you out of the starting blocks on the road to riches.
I choose to include these coins simply because they ARE
out there and CAN be found--for while their premium value may
be slight, they do possess (at least in the case of the
small-date version) value above one cent. And that's an
important stimulus for people seeking coins in circulation.
The big fish won't come along very often, but small fry such
as these give people something to look for--and something to
actually find--in the meantime. And since both are recognized
varieties, they also fill holes in most Lincoln folders and
The easiest way to differentiate between small-date and
large-date 1960 cents is to check the 6 in the date. In the
large date, the 6 is quite prominent and its tail extends
well above the tops of the other numbers; in the small date,
the tail is considerably shorter, even though it, too, rises
above the other numbers.
Small- and large-date cents also were produced at the
Philadelphia Mint in 1960, and the small-date Philadelphia
cents have always been considerably scarcer and more valuable
than their Denver cousins. In the early 1960s, rolls of '60-P
small dates were selling at one time for $400 a roll--about
$8 per coin. The P-mint small dates are much harder, though,
to find in circulation. And to me, the '60-D--while less
valuable--is much more significant, since it brings our hobby
a lot of new collectors.
In designing the reverse of the Kennedy half dollar,
engraver Frank Gasparro placed his initials FG to the right
of the eagle's tail feathers. The letters are small and
inconspicuous, and hardly anyone noticed them--that is, until
1982, when sharp-eyed hobbyists noticed that on some '82
Kennedy halves, the initials were not just inconspicuous but
conspicuous by their absence.
Apparently, overzealous die-polishing had removed the
initials from one or more dies--and that, in turn, had
resulted in their absence on coins produced from those dies.
Once the omission was noticed on '82 half dollars, collectors
began checking earlier coins as well, and soon discovered
other Kennedy halves without these letters.
These coins are not considered major rarities. The '82
half dollar without the FG--the coin that started it all--is
worth just a few dollars more than an '82 Kennedy half on
which the initials appear. Nonetheless, they're interesting
and they do have premium value. And those are two good
reasons for seeking them out.
To conclude my list of 10 top circulation finds, I've
chosen a coin that dates back farther than the rest: the 1949
Jefferson nickel with a D mint mark punched over an S. I've
done so for two reasons: First, it makes the point that
Jefferson nickels, not having undergone permanent changes of
design or composition since their inception in 1938, offer a
longer time frame for circulation finds than any other
current U.S. series. And second, I know this particular coin
can be found since I found one myself in pocket change just a
few years ago.
The '49-D-over-S nickel was struck at the Denver Mint
with a die originally meant for San Francisco. For reasons of
economy, the Mint decided to punch a D over the S in one or
more dies and use them in Denver instead.
You'll need a magnifying glass--five- or possibly even
10-power--to detect the multiple mint marks. The letters are
small to begin with, and the people who cut the dies were
trying to conceal the original mint mark. But if you look
closely, you'll see part of the S directly beneath the D.
You'll also see dollar signs, for this coin is worth $50 or
more in mint condition.
The example I found in 1986 was quite worn. Even so, it
was worth about $6--and that represented a very healthy
profit, since my "outlay" was only five cents.
You may not always enjoy the thrill of discovery, but
you're bound to derive pleasure and satisfaction from the
And who knows: If you seek, you just may find!