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Coin Collecting: What To Look For In Your Change

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( Published 1963 )

When a friend learns that you collect coins, about the first thing he or she will say is:

"What coins are you looking for? What are the good dates? I'll be glad to look over my change every day. Just tell me what you want and I'll save them for you."

About 2 out of every 5 such friends actually mean itthey will really try to help you round out your collection. The other three (if, for instance, you should happen to mention that a 1916-D dime is worth from $40 up) are likely to make a mental note that, if they should come across some "goad" dates, they'll dash with them to the nearest coin dealer. Not that they mean to be dishonest or unhelpful, but, after all, didn't they find the coins and aren't they entitled to the profit, if any?

But, for those 2 friends who may really want to help you, these skeletonized lists may be useful. They are far from complete and are not intended to be a substitute for any good standard catalog of coin values.

First of all, realize that in the long series that goes back to the days of the Young Republic, there are three principal classifications into which coins can be put, so far as finding them in change:

1. Impossible. 2. Unlikely. 3. Possible.

For instance, what are the chances of finding either an 1877 or a 1909-S Indian-head cent in change these days? They're well-nigh impossible.

Let's break it down. The chance of finding any Indian Head cent in change today is about one in 100,000. So the odds here are considered Unlikely. Then, once having hit the jackpot and found an Indian cent, what are chances that it'll be an 1877 or 1909-S? Possibly one in some 2,000,000. With these compounded adds, it's safe to call the 1877 "find" impossible.

The chance of finding a 1931-S Lincoln Head cent in change is Unlikely, but far from Impossible. And the same thing can be said for certain other lesser "key dates:"

So let's go through the various series and classify them as to chances of finding examples in circulation today.


INDIAN HEAD CENTS (1836-1909) . Unlikely.

But a friend may have an assortment of Indian cents he inherited or that was put aside by his grandmother. What are certain of those worth? The valuable ones (in Goad condition, the lowest collectible state) and the catalog ranges might be listed:


1877$47.59 to $65.00

187113.00 to 17.50
1872 16.00 to21.00
1908-S9.50 to 11.50
1909-S 45.00 to 55.00

It must be remembered that these prices are those which dealers will charge you for such coins in Good condition; it does not mean they'll pay you that much for them. On certain coins (usually the slower-moving ones), you may get 50 per cent of catalog value, or even less. On the "keys" in circulation, the chances of finding them might be called Unlikely. Such Lincoln cents and their retail values (in Good condition) are:


1909 SVDB $50.00 to $70.00
1911-S (Plain)3.50 to 5.00
1914-D25.00 to32.50
1922 (plain) 7.00 to12.50
1924-D3.00 to 4.50
1931-S9.00 to12.50

A peculiarity of the Lincoln cents coined in 1931 at the San Francisco and Denver branch mints is that the 1931-D in Good condition has a catalog value of a mere dollar and a half, but in Uncirculated condition it's rated a $45 coin, or $2.50 higher than its Uncirculated brother from San Francisco.

One accident in the Lincoln series, the 1955 doubleddie cent, is quoted at from a hundred dollars or so in Extremely Fine to well over $200 in Uncirculated state. If you find one in circulation, you'll not have much difficulty indentifying it; you'll get the impression that someone stuttered badly when stamping the coin, particularly in the area of the date.

There are no 2-cent bronzes or 3-cent pieces (either nickel or silver) in circulation today, so you can cross those coins off as Impossible to find in change.

The shield type nickel 5-cent piece (1866-1883) is usually classified as Impossible.

Liberty Head nickels (1883 through 1912) are Unlikely but not Impossible. When you do encounter one in change, chances are that it will be so well-worn that it is a struggle to call its condition Good.

Valuable dates in Good condition:


1885 $40.00 1886 20.00 1912-S 15.00

Again, these are the retail selling prices which you can expect a dealer to charge you, not what the dealer will pay you. The other Liberty nickels in Good condition range in retail worth from 40 cents to a high of $4, with the majority in the lower price range.

Don't bother to search for a 1913 Liberty Head nickel, no matter what outfit advertises it will pay thousands of dollars for an example. They simply are not now and never were in circulation. There are 5 specimens known and all are accounted for. While produced in the mint, they were not officially issued by the mint.

Buffalo nickels (1913-1938) are still occasionally to be found in change. Often the date is worn to the point of doubt, if not extinction, and any mint mark has suffered a like fate. But sometimes a passable specimen will be encountered.

The price range for the better dates in Good. condition:


1913-S Var. I $3.00 to $6.00
1913-S Var. II 16.00 to25.00
1913-D Var. II 9.00 to10.00
1915-S3.50 to4.50
1918/17-D65.00 to80.00
1921-S6.50 to9.00
1924-S3.50 to4.00
1925-D3.00 to5.00
1937-D (3-legged) 12.00 to15.00

Half dimes are, of course, Impossible; they haven't circulated in the United States for many years, although their Canadian cousins were in use until about 30 years ago.

In the dime division, you're not likely to find any before the Liberty Head (Barber) type, starting in 1892 and continuing through 1916.

Good dates for this series in Good condition:


1892-S $34.00
1895 20.00

In the Liberty Head series, the most valuable one you could find in circulation-the 1895-0-had a total issue of only 440,000. Each coin on the list had a total minting of under one million, so, even if you're very lucky, you'll probably not encounter one every week or even every year Others have been looking for those desirable dates for some 60 years plus.

The next series is the Winged Head Liberty (best-known as Mercury Head) dime. Despite the fact that the head looks very much like that of the Mercury of mythology, the designer said he intended the wings crowning the cap to symbolize liberty of thought.

Coins in this series, which started in 1916 and continued through ig45, are currently to be found in circulation, often in better than Goad condition. Thus far it is an underrated series which may be due for a real boom one of these years. The ones to look for, even in Good condition, are:

Mercury Dimes (Winged Head Liberty)

1916-D$47.50 to $55.00
1921 4.00 to 5.00
1921-D5.00 to 8.00
1942/137.50 to 40.00

The 1942-over-1 Overdate is one of only a few to have occurred in modern United States coinage. It has been located in recent years with considerably greater frequency than the 1916-D.

The short-lived United States 20-cent piece, issued only from 1875 through 1878, naturally belongs in the Impossible category.

Early quarter dollars can be classified as Impossible, while those of the Seated Liberty type, starting in 1838 and continuing with modifications through 1891, are most Unlikely.

Occasionally Barber quarters (1892 through 1916) are encountered in change. Almost without exception they are well-worn, and few manage to have enough design left to qualify as in Good condition. But there's always the chance that some valuable Barber quarters will get into circulation quite by accident. So here's the lookout list:


The 1901-S quarter is rated at $130 for one very goad reason-there were only 72,664 of them minted. Yet the 1913-S, which is even rarer from the standpoint of total made (40,000), catalogs a mere $55.

Standing Liberty quarters (1916-30) still may be encountered in change. Unfortunately, most of them are so far gone that the dates are practically obliterated, even though a mint mark (when present) can be made out.

But, if you should come across a Standing Liberty or two, here are the "good" dates and their values in Good condition:


1916 $100-00 to $125.00
1918/7-S75.00 to 125.00
1919-D 12.00 to17.50
1919-S 18.00 to20.00
1920-D7.00 to8.00
1921 11.00 to12.00
1923-S20.00 to24.00
1927-S5.00 to6.00

There are many who believe that the Standing Liberty quarter, when well-struck and in Uncirculated condition, is one of America.s most beautiful silver coins. Sometime you might stop in at a coin shop and ask to see an Uncircula.ted example. Don't be surprised if you are captivated by the coin's beauty and possibly decide to make this series your specialty. But, be warned: it's one of the most difficult (hence expensive) series to put together in Gem Uncirculated condition.

The Washington quarters (starting in 1932) are regularly encountered in change. There are only two dates that thus far have any premium value in Goad condition, the 1932-D ($5) and the 1932-S ($3). All the rest must be Fine or better to be worth much over face value, and most must be Uncirculated.

Very early half dollars-from. 1794 through about 1840 are Impossible to find in change. The Seated Liberty type, starting in 1839 and continuing through 1891, is Unlikely. But, if you should happen to encounter one, here are the good dates and their catalog values in Good condition:


1866-S (no motto) $35.oo
1870-CC 50.00
1873-CC (no arrows) 30.00

1873-CC (arrows at date) 20.00


The CC halves were made at the branch mint in Carson City, Nevada. They were produced in relatively small numbers (only 62,000 in 1878), and they apparently were warn out rapidly in the rip-roaring days of the old West. The San Francisco half dollar of 1878 commands a fine, fat premium because the total made in that year was only l2,000. Seated Liberty half dollars, dated from 1879 through Ago, are most difficult to locate and vastly underpriced in almost every catalog. Here was a series (minted only in Philadelphia) where the total each year ranged from a low of 4,400 in 1882 to a high of only l2,000 annually for the three "big" years of 1888, 1889, and 1890.

Now, the average coin catalog says that, in Good condition, these are worth from $11 to $2l each. But try to buy them from dealers in any condition except Proof. For some reason, Proofs of these dates are relatively easy to find offered for sale, with catalog prices ranging from $6o for the 1879 ( 1,100 made) to $l00 for the 1886 Proof (886 minted).

Barber half dollars (1892 through 1915) are to be found from time to time in change. Most of those which are still circulating are well-worn and don't make the grade of Good. Here are some of the better dates and mint marks to look out for:


1913 7.50
1914 7.50
1915 9.00

Barber half dollars in lesser condition currently are not in hot demand. So, don't be surprised if the dealer isn't interested in buying your coins for more than about a third of catalog. He knows they'll be in his display case for quite some time before a customer for them comes along. Walking Liberty halves (1916-1947) are still circulating, and one can put together a complete set without too much difficulty. The key dates you should look far, and their price range in Good condition:


igi6-S$7.50 to $10.00
1917-S (on obverse side)4.50 to5.00
1921 6.50 to8.50
1921-D6.50 to8.50

Only two Franklin halves (series starting in 1948) are worth premiums in less than absolutely Uncirculated condition. In Extremely Fine condition, the two dates and their catalog values are 1948 (95 cents) and 1949 ($3). All other dates in this series must be Uncircula,ted to have any value above the face value.

The moral of all this appears to be that a person can have a lot of fun building a good collection of United States coins in the current and recent series through daily inspection of his pocket change. But his chances of finding really rare and valuable coins among such change are dim indeed-the rarities appear simply to have been removed from circulation.