Guest Stujoe Posted June 13, 2005 Report Share Posted June 13, 2005 Updating underway Comments & Suggestions Welcome What is this coin worth? US Coins Image from Art's Collection Probably the most frequently asked question about coins by non-collectors is "I found this coin. What is it worth?" or "How much is this coin collection worth?" This page was designed to assist the non-collector in determining the approximate value of a coin or a collection that they have found or acquired. It is not meant to give a precise value guide but more of a general guide that can be useful in determining whether a coin that has been found is worth a few cents, a few dollars or more. "What is it worth?" sounds like such a simple question but, in reality, it isn't. The value of a certain type of coin is mostly determined by collector demand, available supply, the date and type of the coin, at which mint it was made (mint mark), the level of preservation (grade), and if it is a damaged or an undamaged example. I will attempt to help explain some of these concepts to a non-collector looking for the value of a US coin. If you find something that you feel needs an expert appraisal or is beyond the scope of this type of information, here is a list of American Numismatic Association (ANA) dealers: http://www.money.org/ana_custom/dealer_search/dealer_search.cfm.Ok, so let's get started... Date: This is probably the easiest data to determine. A casual look at a US coin will more than likely reveal the date. Most US coins have the date on the obverse (heads side). Example of a year 1900 dated coin. Type: The type of coin is basically what denomination and design it is. Common examples would be Indian Head Cent (pictured above), Lincoln Cent, Buffalo Nickel or Morgan Dollar. Certain types of coins are more popular and are collected more than other types. The popularity of a certain type of coin, and its available supply, has an effect on its value through the principles of supply and demand. Example of a Roosevelt dime. Mint Mark: A mint mark on US coins is a letter on the coin that designates at which mint the coin was made. Common mint marks on US coins will be P for the Philadelphia Mint, D for the Denver mint, or S for the San Francisco Mint. A US coin with no mint mark at all also represents the Philadelphia Mint. Other mints have been used in the past. Mint marks are very important in determining the value of a coin mostly because the various mints struck different quantities of coins each year. One mint might have made millions of coins in a given year while another mint might have made only a fraction of that in the same year. Take, for example, three Lincoln cents minted in 1914, one with no mint mark (minted in Philadelphia), one with a D mint mark (minted in Denver), and one with an S mint mark (minted in San Francisco). The 1914-D would be worth several hundred dollars in low grade, the 1914-S might be worth $5.00 in the same condition and the 1914 without a mint mark would be worth less than a dollar. http://www.stujoe.com/images/worth/mm.jpg Example of an 'S' mint mark. http://www.stujoe.com/images/worth/dmm.jpg Example of a 'D' mint mark. Wow! Wait a Minute - too much information! Before going into a more indepth process there are a few helpful shortcuts you can use, especially if you have only one or two coins to evaluate. Purchase or borrow a copy of The Red Book (A Guide Book of United States Coins). Most libraries will have one. Check the coin and year that you have. Looking at the range of prices for that year in all conditions, you can get a pretty quick feeling if you're dealing with a "world cruise or cup of coffee". Looks like something great that you're willing to invest more time in? Take detailed large photos of both sides of the coin. Upload these to one of the many photo hosting sites on the internet. After that you can post a question about value, grade, special circumstances and such in the "What's It Worth" forum. It may take a few days but usually an expert in that series will come along and give you an update. Want to do it on your own? Continue with the "Grade" section next and remember to have fun at this or it's almost never worth it. Grade: A grade is a shorthand designation used to describe the level of preservation of a coin. It is meant to describe what the coin looks like taking into consideration marks and scratches in the higher grades and how much of the design has been worn away through use for lower grades. It is based on a 1-70 scale with certain adjectives such as Good-4, Fine-12 or Very Fine-20 also being used. The above is a quick and dirty definition. Grading coins is an art and can be a difficult one to master. Many things can go into determining a coin's grade including how well struck the coin was when it was minted, marks, wear-or lack of wear, and many other things. Each design type of coin will also have specific criteria for each grade level. A listing of the various specific characteristics for each grade of each type of US coin could fill a book. In fact, it has. The most accepted book on grading US coins is the Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins. This book contains over 300 pages (!) of descriptions and pictures of the different grades for each type of US coin. Grading is also an opinion and opinions can vary. Experts will not always agree on the exact grade of a given coin, although they will almost always be close to one another's opinions. An entire industry has even developed that grades and encapsulates coins for a fee. Not everyone always agrees with those professional grades either! You will not become a master grader by using the tools on this site. That would take many years of looking at various types of coin in various grades. What I have attempted to provide here is a tool that will be useful in determining the approximate value of a coin that has been found in change or in late Uncle Henry's attic. http://www.stujoe.com/images/worth/lowmor.jpg Example of a low grade Morgan dollar. Notice the lack of details (wear). http://www.stujoe.com/images/worth/highmo.jpg Example of a higher grade Morgan Dollar. Notice that there is much more detail left on this coin. It is much more "new" looking. Damage: Damage will reduce the value of a coin. Damage can be a hole in the coin, a coin that is bent, has deep scratches, pits, stains, or similar distracting and/or ugly things that could be found on a coin. Damage is a fairly straightforward concept. Just as dents, dings and scratches will reduce the value of your car, they will do the same thing for a coin. The heavier the damage, the less it will be worth. If the damage is very slight, it will affect the value less. One note on preventing new damage to a coin you have found is to always handle it by the rims and try not to touch the front or back of the coin. The oils, and even abrasion, from your skin can lead to damage on the delicate surfaces of a higher grade coin. Not dropping a coin is a good idea too! Always handle them over a soft surface. There is a saying in coin collecting that the more expensive a coin is, the more likely it is to be accidentally dropped. http://www.stujoe.com/images/worth/damaged.jpg Example of a heavily damaged coin. Cleaning: This should technically be included in the damage section above but it is so important a topic that I have decided to split it off from that section. One of the most common types of damage is from cleaning. Sometimes, the first thing that a person unfamiliar with coins will do is try to make the coin they have brighter and shinier. This is a Very Bad Idea. Cleaning a coin can leave scratches and an unnatural look that will reduce the value of the coin and make it much less desirable to a collector. Nothing can turn a possible $100 coin into a $5 coin faster than cleaning it. DO NOT CLEAN any coin that you have found. Yes, it really is that important and, yes, it really will ruin the coin and reduce its value. http://www.stujoe.com/images/worth/cleaned.jpg Example of a cleaned Lincoln cent. Notice the scratches and flat, unnatural color. http://www.stujoe.com/images/worth/mslinc.jpg Example of an uncleaned Lincoln cent. Notice the much more natural and pleasing look of the coin. Now, let's go through the various steps that you will need to do in order to determine if you have found a coin worth a cup of coffee or a world cruise. 1. Determine what date and type of coin you have. For US coins, browsing through this site, Coin Site, will help you determine what type of coin you have and the date of the coin if you do not already know it. Notes: If the coin you have is so worn that the date cannot be determined, it will typically have little to no collector value. Buffalo nickels are often found dateless even when other design details are still evident. If you have a US coin and it has a weight on it such as 1 OZ. Fine Silver or 1/4 OZ. Fine Gold, you may have an American Eagle bullion coin. 2. Determine the mint mark. The guide (Location of US Mint Marks) will help you determine the location of the coin's mint mark. One thing that the guide does not always state clearly is that if there is no mint mark, the coin was minted at the main mint in Philadelphia. Some US Mint marks: P or no mint mark - Philadelphia Mint D - Denver Mint S - San Francisco Mint O - New Orleans Mint CC - Carson City Mint 3. Determine the approximate level of preservation (grade). The guide (Generic Grading Guide) can help you determine this. I also have listed more in-depth guides for 1900 to present coins on the individual pages of this site. In order to help determine the grade of a coin, it helps to know what a coin with full, "like new" details looks like. You can go here (Coin Facts) and look up your coin. This site has many pictures of coins that have all or almost all of their detail present. At this point, you also have to decide whether your coin has any major damage. More specific guides for some coin types: Grading Indian Head Cents Grading Lincoln Cents Grading Liberty Nickels Grading Buffalo Nickels Grading Barber Dimes Grading Mercury Dimes Grading Barber Quarters Grading Standing Liberty Quarters Grading Barber Halves Grading Walking Liberty Halves Grading Franklin Halves Grading Kennedy Halves Grading Morgan Dollars Grading Peace Dollars Grading Eisenhower Dollars 4. Gather the information determined above and go to this site, PCGS Price Guide, and look up the value of your coin by following the directions located there. One note about the prices on this site is that they are high, rather optimistic, retail prices. A dealer will not offer you near this amount for a coin because he has to make a profit on it when he sells it to someone else. Most collectors will also not pay the price listed there for your coin either because they typically have sources that will sell the coin to them less expensively. Having said that, the guide is useful in giving a rough estimate of the value of a coin. If your specific grade is not shown, you can still often estimate the value based upon what grades are shown. You also need to know that a damaged coin will be worth even less. Next, let's run through an example coin: Example Coin: 1. From the site referenced above (Coin Site), we can determine that we have an Indian Head or Buffalo Five Cent piece dated 1924. 2. From the site referenced above (Location of US Mint Marks) we can determine that a mint mark would be found on the back of the coin under the words FIVE CENTS. You may or may not be able to make it out from the picture provided but that is an 'S' under the FIVE CENTS. That means it is an S mint coin and was minted at the San Francisco mint. So, now we know that we have a 1924 S Buffalo Nickel. We are making progress. 3. Looking at our coin and comparing it to what a similar coin looked like when it was new (from the Coin Facts site referenced above), we notice that our coin shows quite a bit of wear. The word LIBERTY is half worn down and weak as is the date. Overall the coin shows considerable wear with most of the design gone when compared to the way it looked when it was new. Looking at the grading guide referenced above (Generic Grading Guide), we could say that the coin probably grades Good or Very Good from the descriptions provided. Someone more experienced in grading Buffalo Nickels or someone using a grading guide specifically for Buffalo Nickels could grade it more precisely as Good. We can also look at our coin and see that is does not have any major damage that would significantly reduce the value of the coin. There are no gouges, pits, holes or discoloration and it looks un-cleaned and naturally worn. 4. Going to the PCGS Price Guide referenced above, we look under the Nickels graphic and then click on the link labeled Buffalo Nickels (the type of coin we have). From there we can go down the first column and find 1924 S (the date and mint mark of our coin) and go across the rows to match it up with the column for Good (the approximate grade of our coin). We see it lists a value of $7.15 (at the time this guide was written). If the grade of your coin is not listed, you can still estimate the value based upon one grade up or down from yours. While these prices may not be exact, we can easily see that our coin will not buy a world cruise but might buy an average lunch. -------------------- || The Stujoe Collection || Digital Photo People || Stujoe.com || NumisLinks || NumisWiki || Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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