Rare US Coins: Collecting Valuable American Coins

by Peter Nisbet

A fascination with rare US coins and collecting valuable American coins is becoming increasingly popular as even old pennies are steadily gaining in value. Coin collecting (numismatics) is no longer the domain of youngsters, eccentrics or misers, but has become a means of investment as a well as a hobby. Because of this popularity, those collecting US coins for their intrinsic value are finding it increasingly difficult to add to their collections.

Those collecting valuable American coins are tending to turn to rare coins as an investment for the future. Current rare US coins have a presumed value that would be expected to increase with age, while it is becoming less likely that generally ‘old’ coins will be worth the investment if every man and his dog is hoarding them hoping for a windfall that will never come.

In fact, age is not the only factor that determines the rarity of coins, and just like stamps, mint or uncirculated coins are more valuable than those that have passed through many hands. So too are coins with stamping errors. However, let’s have a look at the simple half-cent coin, in circulation from 1793 to 1857.

The Simple Half-Cent

Believe it or not, Half cents sell at a minimum of $33! However, if you are the fortunate owner of a 1793 half cent piece, it could be worth from $2,300 upwards depending on its condition. An ‘Extremely Fine’ example is worth around $15,000 while an uncirculated half cent is rare and worth a lot more – you would tend find these for sale at auction rather than at a fixed price.

As more people appreciate the increasing value of rare US coins they naturally increase even more in price. One thing you must understand is that ‘old’ does not equate to ‘rare’, and an old US coin is not necessarily a rare US coin. Nor need specific coin denominations be rare, but just as there are fairly common Indian and Wheat pennies to be found in junk shops or your grandmother’s drawers, there are also coins of the same type and denomination that are valuable because of their date.

If you are seeking rare US coins, the American ‘Large Cent’ minted from 1793 to 1857 can be worth a lot of money if you find one of the earlier dates prior to 1830 – and some specific dates are of particularly high value. The same is true of most copper coins, where the value is in the rarity rather than in the value of the metal or any specific commemorative date.

Steel Pennies are Rare US Coins

For example, take the 1943 penny. Most 1943 pennies were struck in steel then coated with zinc, because the usual nickel and copper were important metals during the 2nd World War – being used in the manufacture of munitions casings. However, a few were accidentally made from copper and have a current value of $10,000 to $100,000. If you find a 1943 penny, then try it with a magnet. If the magnet fails to take then it won’t be steel, so must be copper and worth hiding away till you find a good auction where it will make the maximum sum possible!

That is a good example of rare US coins in copper that you would never believe to be worth much, no matter their rarity. What about the higher denominations such as the dollar coins? Some are worth no more than face value, such as the Suzie B dollars. Sure, there may be errors in some, but none have yet appeared, so Suzie B dollars appear to be worth not much more than their face value.

Who Knows – You Might be Lucky!

If you are very lucky, you might come across something like the 1933 $10 coin with an estimated value of $300,000 or the beautiful 1907 Ultra High-Relief Double Eagle, valued at $3 million. Only three 1833 Half Eagle $5 pieces are known to exist, and if you found a fourth you could sell it at auction for $5 million. However, nothing is likely to beat the 1933 $20 Double Eagle coin that was auctioned for $7.6 million in 2002: the only 1933 Double Eagle coin legally permitted to be privately owned by a US citizen.

So be careful when you are seeking rare US coins, and make sure that you are permitted to own them. You should also accept that you are unlikely to be in a position to come across a rare coin except by chance since the whereabouts of most known high-value coins are known.

Nevertheless, people collecting valuable American coins still seek out the whereabouts of those that are unknown. They are around and who knows, your next find could be that rare Double Eagle or even a half cent worth two million times its face value! Rare US coins are uncommon – that’s what rare means, and why they are so valuable!

It is important that you understand what you are doing when buying Rare US Coins. Many people make serious mistakes when buying valuable American coins, and end up wasting or losing their money on forgeries and worthless coins.

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