How to Tell If You Have a Rare Coin

Whether you're new to coin collecting or whether you’ve been collecting for years, we're all hoping to find one coin that we can sell for a real profit.

Maybe you’re a collector, perhaps you've been fortunate enough to inherit a huge collection, or came across some old coins in an attic and believe some may hold significant value. 

While you likely don't have a $1 million coin in your pocket, if you were given a collection, some of those coins may be worth a lot of money—especially if you find a rare coin in good condition.

But how can you tell if you have a rare coin? And if you find one, how do you go about selling it? 

That’s what we’re going to cover in this article. 

Determine What Coins You Have

How do you identify the difference between a regular penny and a rare 1943 penny valued at more than $2 million? 

The first step to determining the value of your antique coins is to identify what kinds of coins they are. If they are from the United States, you can look them up on the United States Old Coins Identification chart. 

Old US coins will always include the words "United States of America" on them, though this may be truncated on very old US coins. 

If the coin is not on the chart and is from the United States, it is most likely a commemorative coin rather than a circulating coin. Remember that just because a coin has the words "United States of America" on it does not make it a legitimate United States coin.

Get a copy of "The Guide Book to United States Coins" for assistance with vintage commemorative coins. This is often referred to as the "Red Book." This is a comprehensive list of US coins and their values.

If you are unsure whether your coin is genuine, you can also consult a coin dealer.

Here Are Some of The Most Valuable Coins in America

Collectors of American notes and coins will frequently pay high prices for rare pieces in mint condition. Some of these rarities can bring millions and, in some cases, break records.

Here are some of the most valuable coins in America:

  • 1804 Silver Dollar 

  • 1879 $4 Gold Stella

  • 1894-S Barber dime

  • 1943 Copper Penny

  • Flowing Hair dollar

  • Morgan silver dollar

  • 1913 Liberty head nickel

  • Sacagawea Cheerios dollar

  • 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle

  • 1927-D Saint-Gaudens double eagle

  • 1955 doubled die Lincoln penny

  • 1943-S Lincoln wheat penny

  • 1972 doubled die obverse Lincoln Memorial cent

  • 2004 D Wisconsin quarter (extra leaf low variety) 

  • 2005-D 5C speared bison

  • 2005 Kansas “In God We Rust” state quarter

  • 2008-W silver eagle reverse of 2007

Examining the Coin & Lettering

Once you have identified the type of coin you have, the next step is to examine the coin and  start looking at the lettering. 

Look for flaws, cracks, edge flaws, and missing parts; fake coins can be identified if your coin appears to be made from two coins linked together. 

Examine your coins carefully, giving special attention to anything that stands out. Look for missing or doubled-up letters, as well as unusual inscriptions, and thoroughly inspect both sides. Set away everything that stands out.

Determining the Value of Your Coin

After you have figured out what type of coin you have and examined its condition and lettering, you will need to determine the value of a coin. 

Coins are usually valued based on the following variables:

  • The number of initial mintage: This refers to the number of coins that were originally struck and were available on the market.

  • The grade of a coin: The condition of your rare coins is quite important, not just for aesthetic purposes, but also for the value it has. The better the condition of your coin, the more valuable it will be. The grade of a coin is normally decided by six criteria: strike, preservation, luster, color, attractiveness, and, on rare occasions, the country/state in which it was produced. 

  • The authenticity of the coin: A considerable percentage of counterfeit coins are marketed as genuine coins to naive purchasers by unscrupulous people. Because of the vast amount of counterfeits produced in China, this is a particularly difficult challenge nowadays. Fake coins are valued significantly less than genuine coins, assuming they have any value at all.

  • The quality of the coin: Obviously, not all coins are equal in value or quality. Some coin designs, such as the high-relief Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, are usually regarded as more attractive than others. The preference for these designs has a considerable impact on the value of the coins bearing them. The same is true for graded (certified) coins; in general, the higher the grade, the more valuable the coin is compared to its lower-graded counterpart. Despite being similar on paper, some coins grade at the top of their rating while others grade at the bottom. These grade distinctions are usually minor, but they are noticeable to an expert eye and are an essential determinant of quality and worth. Coins of a higher grade always sell faster and command higher prices. 

Price is Highly Influenced by Supply and Demand

All coins, like other commodities and collectibles, are priced according to the basic rules of supply and demand. 

Check with the United States Mint to see if your coin is still in circulation. If your coin is no longer in circulation, the general rule is that it will be worth more.

In general, a smaller mintage rate generates more demand, driving up the market price of a coin. 

Unfortunately, the old saying "the more of anything there is, the less it's worth" definitely applies to coin value. As a result, the value of a coin is directly related to scarcity.

Ultimately, if a coin is relatively easy to obtain, its value is usually lower. Similarly, a scarce coin will typically sell for significantly more.

Important: Don't Wash or Clean Your Coins

Last but definitely not least, if you have a coin and you think it might be a rare one, don't clean it! This will remove luster and patina from the coin's surface, lowering its value.

A coin's value is not diminished simply because it seems dirty. Rare and valuable coins should be handled with extreme caution. 

Should you decide to clean your coin, it might be in your best interest to figure out if and how to clean it properly. When cleaning your coins, use coin folders, flips, or albums made of materials that will not damage your coins, such as non-PVC flips. However, trusting a reputable and certified coin dealer is the most reliable way of ensuring your coin is cleaned and handled correctly.

Make sure you hold the coin by the rim to keep your fingers and thumbs from leaving markings. Cotton gloves are commonly used by collectors and are recommended when handling coins.

It is also critical to maintain and keep your coins safe to avoid dings, rim dents, scuffs, and scratches, and to keep them as close to pristine condition as possible.

Consider Having Your Coins Appraised

Getting an expert to appraise your coins remains the most recommended option for knowing the value and rarity of any coin.

We invite you to get in touch with us at Infinity Coins, we are now the premier coin dealer in Idaho Falls and were initially founded with the goal of creating an environment for any collector or investor, big or small, to discover exactly what they need. 

We can assist with the final item of a collection or the start of their investment portfolio. 

We have a loyal customer base that continually returns due to our honesty, knowledge, and integrity with you, the consumer. You will know exactly what you will pay when you buy and what you will receive when you sell at our competitive prices.

We are here to meet the demands of all coin collectors, large and small, by offering a vast range of coins and cash in all grades and price levels. We also have a wide range of accessories to help you store and process your collection. Maintain and grow your collection the proper way by contacting us today.

Published online: Nov 29, 2022