U.S. & World Coin News and Articles

Rarities in Your Change - 10 top Circulation Finds

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 purses.

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. coinage.

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:

(1) The 1995 doubled-die Lincoln cent.

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 concluded.

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.

(2) The 1970-S small-date Lincoln cent.

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.

(3) The 1982 no-P Roosevelt dime.

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 them down.

(4) The 1984 doubled-die Lincoln cent.

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 might imagine.

(5) The 1983 doubled-die Lincoln cent.

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.

(6) The 1989 no-P Washington quarter.

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 success.

(7) The 1972 doubled-die Lincoln cent.

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.

(8) The 1960-D small-date and large-date Lincoln cents.

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 albums.

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.

(9) The 1982 Kennedy half dollar without the designer's initials.

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.

(10) The 1949-D-over-S Jefferson nickel.

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.

There you have them: my 10 top pocket-change finds.

You may not always enjoy the thrill of discovery, but you're bound to derive pleasure and satisfaction from the hunt.

And who knows: If you seek, you just may find!

Scott A. Travers ranks as one of the most influencial coin dealers in the world. His name is familiar to readers everywhere as the author of six bestselling books on coins: The Coin Collector's Survival Manual, The Insider's Guide to U.S. Coin Values (annual price guide), One-Minute Coin Expert, Travers' Rare Coin Investment Strategy, The Investor's Guide to Coin Trading and How to Make Money in Coins Right Now. Mr. Travers appears frequently on television and radio and has served as COINage magazine contributing editor since 1984. He invites Coin Universe visitors to read free excerpts from some of his books.

PCGS Library