Everyone knows there are rare coins and currencies that are worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. What most people don’t realize is that there are coins and bills you probably see and spend all the time without realizing how much they could be worth. You should take a look at your money before you spend it next time — you could be throwing profit away.
10. Copper Pennies (1957-1981)
Before 1982, American pennies were made of 95% copper and are worth more now than their one cent face value. Copper cents are very easy to find, although they’re not currently legal to melt. Even though you can’t take them to the scrapyard with other copper scraps, there are people who buy these coins at about one and a half cents each in the hope that they’ll one day be legal to melt down. That’s a 50% profit for your efforts, and a penny saved is, after all, a penny earned.
9. Wheat Back Pennies or Wheaties (1909-1956)
One cent coins minted between 1909 and 1956 have a different reverse than the Lincoln Memorial pennies all Americans are familiar with. Wheat Cents show up in pocket change from time to time and are worth at least two to three cents each. As a general rule, one cent coins from the 1940s and 1950s are worth about two and a half cents, one cent coins from the ’30s are worth about six cents, ’20s one cent coins are worth about 10 cents, and one cent coins from 1909-1919 are worth about 16 cents. You may come across some Wheat Cents that are even rarer, so it’s always a good idea to do a little research before you sell something.
8. Dimes, Quarters and Half Dollars (1964 and Earlier)
Dimes, quarters and half dollars from 1964 and earlier are made of 90% silver. The industry term for this material is “Junk Silver.” You want to look for these coins, because they’re worth considerably more than their face value. With the market price of silver at about $17.00 per ounce at the time of writing, there’s $12.00 worth of silver in every one dollar face value of junk silver.
How do you figure out how much silver is in each dollar’s worth of junk silver? Math! Don’t worry, it’s easy math. In every one dollar face value of junk silver there’s 71.5% of one oz of silver, so you take the spot price of silver and multiply it by .715. The result is the actual value of the silver you’ve got in your hand. Not a bad way to make a few extra bucks if you come across some silver coins in your change.
7. Half Dollar (1965-1970)
Even though the United States stopped putting silver in quarters and dimes in 1964, half dollar coins produced from 1965-1970 were still made of 40% silver. The industry term for these coins is “clad,” and each one dollar face value of 40% silver contains .295 oz of actual silver. With the market price of silver at $17.00, that means one dollar face value of 40% silver is worth about $5.00.
The formula for 90% silver still works here, you just have to change the figure that represents the percentage of silver in each dollar to .295. While you won’t be getting as much money from these coins, they’re a little easier to find than the 90% silvers. You can even go to your bank and just ask for a few rolls of half dollars to see if you can find any silver. It’s fun and essentially free.
6. Error Coins
Some coins make their way out of the mint with errors. We know it’s hard to believe the American Government makes mistakes, but just because the inspector at the mint missed it doesn’t mean you should. An error coin is any coin that was minted improperly — there are a huge variety of errors, but let’s focus on coins that you may actually find in your change.
There are broad struck coins: coins that were struck outside of the collar during the minting process and therefore have a flattened and spread out look to them. There are also off center strikes: just like the name implies, these coins were struck off center. Off center strikes where you can still see the year tend to be worth a little more.
Then there are die rotation errors. Coins are struck with the obverse (heads side) opposite or upside down from the reverse (tails side). In a die rotation error, the coin isn’t exactly opposite and depending on the degree of the rotation could be worth a substantial bit of money. All error coins are judged and priced a la carte, and one should seek the advice of a reputable coin dealer before selling error coins.
5. 1972 Ike Dollars (Type 2)
In 1972 there were three different dies used to make Eisenhower dollars, each with subtle differences. The type 2 coins are potentially more valuable than one dollar. It seems there was a mix-up at the Philadelphia Mint, and a die that was meant for proof coins being struck at the San Francisco Mint was used on business strike coins. These coins can be identified by the high relief of the design, especially on the reverse side. On a regular strike the details are very poor, but on the type 2 coins the details are much bolder and more obvious. The value of these coins depend on their condition, but an average value is around $10.00. Not a bad return on your dollar at all.
4. Lawful Money Notes
If you look at the left-hand side of the front of any bill there’s a small paragraph that reads “This note is legal for all debts public and private.” Some bills from the ’50s and earlier have a different paragraph on them. These so-called Lawful Money notes read “This note is legal tender for all debt public and private and is redeemable in lawful money at the United States Treasury or at any Federal Reserve Bank.” According to the Constitution legal money includes gold and silver, and while the United States government will no longer redeem these notes for precious metals they’re worth more than their face value. Determining precisely how much these notes are worth is best left to an expert, as the grade of the bill determines the value.
3. Silver Certificates
On the top of every bill you have you’ll also see the words “Federal Reserve Note.” But the Federal Reserve wasn’t always the only institution that created currency, and you may find some bills that say “Silver Certificate” instead. Much like with lawful money notes there’s no place to redeem silver certificates for actual silver, but you may get a little extra jingle in your pocket if you find one. These notes are worth about 25% more than the face value if they’re in excellent condition. Not quite as good as trading for silver dollars, but still a tidy little profit for you.
2. Star Notes
Every bill you have ever held has a serial number. You probably knew this, but do you ever look at it? If there’s a star after the serial number that means the serial number has been used before but was damaged in some way and was replaced with a new bill before leaving the presses. These notes can be worth a good deal more than their face value — as with other collectible coins and currency it’s hard to say how much your note will be worth, but the better the condition the more valuable it will be. Older notes and higher denominations also tend to bring a little more money, although there are exceptions.
1. Fancy Serial Numbers
Since you’re already looking at serial numbers for stars, pay careful attention to the number itself. A fancy serial number could be worth thousands of dollars to the right collector. Collectors like serial numbers that are all the same number, or even two or three numbers repeated, but the notes that seem to be worth the most are “Radar” notes. True to their namesake, radar notes are the same backwards and forward. “123454321,” for example. Condition means everything, and a nice, crisp fancy serial number could be worth a whole lot of money.
So don’t just spend your money — look at it. You never know what you might find lurking in that old coffee can or piggy bank. You might just have a fortune waiting for you to discover it… or, more likely, you might just have a few extra bucks waiting for you. But hey, who couldn’t use a little extra dough?