by Scott A. Travers

All that glitters is not gold. Then again, gold isn’t all that glitters.

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.

I’ve drawn up an illustrated list of 6 fascinating coins.  Most are highly unlikely to turn up.  But all have one thing in common: They blend in readily with all the coins around them in the piggy bank or in your change because they have the same basic designs.

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.

Two years ago, media reports emerged about an Idaho man who claimed his wife spent a 1943 “copper” cent that was sitting in a pocket-change dish.  The ensuing publicity caused a nationwide frenzy, with millions of Americans searching for a 1943 “copper” cent.

Although popularly termed “copper,” this coin is actually made from bronze–an alloy of copper, tin and zinc.  By 1943, copper was urgently needed for battlefield uses.  To help conserve the supply of this critical metal, the U.S. Mint suspended production of “copper” cents and made over a billion cents instead from steel with a coating of zinc.  These “white” cents rusted rapidly and today are of little value.

Apparently, at the end of production of the “copper” cents in 1942, a small number of bronze coin blanks – possibly fewer than forty – were in the hopper and somehow got stamped along with the new steel cents in 1943.  The rarest examples carry the “D” (coin manufactured in Denver) or “S” (coin manufactured in San Francisco) Mint-marks  underneath the date.

On February 24, 2003, a Choice Uncirculated 1943 “copper” cent carrying the “D” Mint-mark sold at auction to a collector for $212,750.

The U.S. Mint officially stopped the manufacture of silver Roosevelt dimes in 1964.  So virtually every Roosevelt dime you find dated “1965” will not be silver; it will be composed of copper and nickel “clad.”  This rare 1965 dime mistake is made of 90% silver and, as such, is 1 of only a few accounted for.  You can tell silver from clad by examining the coin’s edge:  The rare silver coin has a silver edge; the common clad coin has a strip of brown around the edge. Experts believe that a small number of 1965 silver dimes were manufactured by mistake at the Mint, and many of those are still waiting to be discovered hiding in piggy banks and cookie jars. One recently found circulated example was sold at auction for nearly $9,000 in July 2003.

Doubling is visible on the front or “obverse” of the coin.  The “die” (engraved master impression that strikes the coin) was engraved twice; the coin’s metal or “planchet” was not actually stamped twice. Noticeable doubling is visible on the words LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST, as well as on the date.  Other Lincoln cents with valuable obverse doubling errors include 1955, 1969-S, 1970-S, 1984 and 1995.  Although nobody knows with certainty how many 1972 Doubled Die cents the Mint manufactured, several thousand are estimated to exist.  The demand by thousands of Lincoln cent collectors has outstripped the supply, and these coins range in value from $50 (used or well worn) to $600 (pristine Gem uncirculated).  There are other types of doubling that are not as prominent or valuable, including on these dates.  In order to command the high values, the doubling needs to be as prominent as the example shown here—and should be authenticated by an expert.

This 1913 Liberty head nickel, acclaimed as the finest of 5 examples struck, was sold privately for about $3 million in the summer of 2003. Until recently, experts could account for only 4 of the 5 specimens. A million-dollar offer led to the discovery of the “missing” fifth specimen. It had been stashed in a closet in North Carolina for many years after one of the nation’s oldest and largest coin firms looked at it in 1962 and incorrectly concluded that the date had been altered. Re-examination by a blue-ribbon panel revealed it was genuine and unaltered after all. Its owners claimed an immediate $10,000 reward and are expected to realize well over $1 million if and when they sell it.

Instead of being ejected after it was struck, this coin stayed in the coining chamber and was struck again.  This type of quarter is very much in demand and quite dramatic with its doubled Statue of Liberty.  Collectors willingly pay $3,000 or more for choice specimens such as this. This type of Mint error is rare.  Collectors eagerly snap up these “defective” coins for up to $1,000 each.  Part of the reason for these coins’ demand is that the minting process rarely produces coins with defects that are attracted to a magnet.

NEVER CLEAN YOUR COINS. Cleaning a coin will remove details of the coin’s design—details that can never again be restored.

VIEW YOUR COINS CAREFULLY. Be careful not to talk over a valuable coin.  A tiny spray of saliva can spot an otherwise pristine example.

HOLD COINS CORRECTLY. Hold the coin firmly by the edge between thumb and forefinger over a soft surface.  A perspiration-soaked hand or thumb touching a coin can significantly lower the value.  Scott Travers advises emptying your purse, wallet or piggy bank onto a piece of velvet when searching for pocket-change rarities—not holding the coins in your hands.


The Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) of Newport Beach, California certifies as genuine and grades coins on a 1-70 scale and then encapsulates them in sonically-sealed, tamper-resistant holders.  1 refers to a coin which is so well worn it is barely identifiable.  70 refers to a perfect coin.

The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) of Sarasota, Florida also certifies as genuine and grades coins on that 1-70 scale and then encapsulates them.  Coins that are contained in grading service plastic “slabs” assist consumers by allowing them to know independent, informed opinions, as opposed to the opinions of an unknowledgeable party.

Skip to content