Finding a treasure hidden in an old dresser drawer or the attic is the stuff of dreams. So is rooting through your jars of coins and coming up with a rare one that’s worth serious money. Striking it rich is a remote possibility for folks who have built up a sizable collection of coins, but you may still be able to find some loose change that’s worth a significant amount more than you would otherwise expect.
Many of the coins in the list below are not likely to be hiding in your attic, since they are tremendously rare, but not all of them are super expensive either. Some more recent examples (coins from the 20th century) may be relatively affordable and those are more likely to be tucked away someplace quiet or in a safe deposit box at your parents’ bank.
Before you rush out to buy these coins – if you have a spare million sitting around for some of them – you’ll want to hear from an expert coin collector, a numismatist, as they’re called.
Educate yourself – watch out for fakes
“Coins are both a hobby and [an] investment,” says Warren Zivi, head numismatist and president at American Rarities, a coin dealer based in Boulder, Colorado. “You have to make good choices in what you pick.”
For those getting into the field, it’s important to understand what your goal is – to have a good time with your collection as a hobbyist or try to make some money as an investor.
Either way, says Zivi, you want to know what you’re doing. His motto for new entrants to the field is “Buy the book before you buy the coin.” The book he’s referring to is “A Guide Book of United States Coins,” known among experts as the “Red Book.” He also recommends a subscription to Coin World, which includes current information on the state of the industry.
Zivi says that there’s a lot of misinformation on the internet now about coins, with scammers taking a common coin and trying to sell it as a valuable coin on an auction site.
“There are tons and tons of fakes,” he says, so it’s important to get access to expert knowledge, especially as you’re starting out, so that you know what you’re buying is indeed authentic. Still it can be difficult to spot a fake, even for the pros.
“Recently I had two individuals send us coins that were graded by a nationally recognized grader, and they turned out to be fake,” says Zivi.
More valuable coins offer the potential for higher profits for scammers, of course, but such coins are also very rare. Even if you’re not paying millions of dollars for a coin, you want to know that you’re getting what you pay for.
“It’s easier than ever before to get an opinion on authenticity and valuation,” says Zivi. “Buyers or sellers can send in pictures or even whole collections.”
7 of the most valuable coins in the world
Below are some of the most valuable coins in the world, but they’re not all limited to museums and wealthy private collectors. A couple of these might just turn up in your couch cushions.
1. The 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar
The 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar may sit atop the rankings of the most expensive coin ever sold, at least for now. Some experts believe that it was the first silver dollar struck by the U.S. Mint. The front features a profile of Lady Liberty with flowing hair, while the reverse shows an American eagle. Fewer than 1,800 of these coins were ever produced, and one expert puts the number of remaining coins at between 120 and 130, so it’s quite rare.
The coin sold at auction for just over $10 million in 2013.
2. The 1787 Brasher Doubloon
The Brasher Doubloon was made by Ephraim Basher, a New York City goldsmith and silversmith, in the late 18th Century. The front of the coin shows a state seal with a rising sun, while the reverse shows the American eagle with a shield. The coin is already rare, but certain versions of it have fetched various prices, depending on their specific characteristics.
A 2011 sale saw a version of the doubloon with Basher’s signature EB on the breast go for nearly $7.4 million. A 2018 private sale of another doubloon with the signature EB on the bird’s wing went for more than $5 million, according to Coin World.
3. The 1787 Fugio cent
The Fugio cent hasn’t set the kind of astronomical records as the first two coins on this list, but it can still be a pricey collectible, and it has an interesting history to it. The Fugio cent, also known as the Franklin cent, after founding father Benjamin Franklin, may have been the first coin circulated in the newly formed United States.
In line with Franklin’s humor, the coin shows a sun and sundial with the Latin motto “fugio,” suggesting the sun and time are flying. At the bottom, the coin says “mind your business,” an invocation for the bearer to literally pay attention to their business affairs. The reverse of the coin has the motto “We are one” with 13 links in a chain to symbolize America’s first 13 states.
Zivi suggests you could buy a Fugio cent for a few hundred dollars, making it relatively accessible for a coin with such an interesting history. Coins in better condition may go for a few thousand dollars and perhaps as high as $10,000, while extremely rare variants may sell for tens of thousands.
4. The 723 Umayyad Gold Dinar
The 723 Umayyad gold dinar is one of the most prized Islamic coins, and it was struck from gold mined at a location owned by the caliph. The coin bears the marking “mine of the commander of the faithful” and it’s the first Islamic coin to mention a location in Saudi Arabia. About a dozen examples of the coin are in existence, according to experts.
In 2011, the coin fetched 3.7 million pounds (about $6 million) at auction, the second-most expensive ever sold at auction. In 2019, another version of the coin was sold for the same amount in pounds, but the dollar value came to about $4.8 million.
5. The 1343 Edward III Florin
Another one of the world’s most expensive coins is an oldie and goldie. The 1343 Edward III Florin is just one of three such gold coins known to exist. Two examples are housed in the British Museum in London, both of which were found in the River Tyne in 1857. The third coin was found by a prospector with a metal detector in 2006.
The front of the coin shows King Edward III on his throne with two leopards’ heads on either side, while the reverse shows the Royal Cross inside a quatrefoil. Because of its design, the coin is also known as the Double Leopard.
The coin found in 2006 was sold at auction for 480,000 pounds, or about $850,000 — a record at the time for a British coin. It’s now estimated that the coin is valued around $6.8 million.
6. The 1943 Lincoln Head Copper Penny
Here’s another coin that you just might find tucked inside a dresser sometime, and it’s the conditions surrounding its production that make the 1943 Lincoln Head Copper Penny interesting and valuable.
While pennies were normally made of copper and nickel, the U.S. needed the metals for war efforts, so the mint started using steel to produce the coin. But it mistakenly still struck a batch of pennies with copper, potentially because blanks remained in the press when the mint began making new steel pennies. Experts estimate that about 40 pennies of these exist, though some say fewer than 20 examples remain.
The U.S. Mint says these coins are frequently counterfeited because of the relative ease of coating steel pennies with copper and altering the date on coins struck in 1945, 1948 and 1949. But to see if the coin is actually steel, you can see if it sticks to a magnet.
While a regular steel 1943 Lincoln penny might fetch you 30 or 40 cents – again about 30 or 40 times more than its face value – the special copper versions fetched $204,000 at a 2019 auction. This specimen of the coin had been held by a man for some 70 years since boyhood after he found it at his school cafeteria.
7. The 2007 $1 Million Canadian Gold Maple Leaf
The $1 million Canadian Gold Maple Leaf coin is a novelty coin, if there ever were one, and it tips the scales at a whopping 100 kilograms or about 220 pounds. Only six of the nearly pure gold coins have ever been made, as of early May 2020, and each has a face value of $1 million. They were used as a promotional showpiece for the mint’s one-ounce Gold Maple Leaf coins.
In October 2007, the Guinness Book of World Records certified the coin as the world’s largest gold coin. The coin’s front shows Queen Elizabeth II, while the reverse shows a Candian maple leaf. The coin is 50 centimeters (about 20 inches) wide and just over an inch thick.
The coin was sold at auction in 2010 for 3.27 million euros, or just over $4 million at the time.
BONUS: Check your change jars for these pre-1964 American silver coins
The “silver” coins of today are not really made of silver, but these low denominations at one time were! Silver coins minted before 1964 contained 90 percent actual silver, and of the coins on this list, these are the most likely to be found floating around your house or in an old garage, tied up in a shoebox or a coffee can.
Such coins include the Morgan silver dollar, the Mercury dime, and even Washington quarters, says Zivi.
While some of these coins may have collectible value independent of their silver content, such as some of the Morgan silver dollars, the value of common coins is boosted by their bullion value. Some speculators focused on owning real silver may buy these coins for their precious metal content, rather than for their collector value.
Coin collecting can be a fun hobby, as you collate and sift through coins. But don’t forget that making money on collectibles creates a tax liability, too. So before you decide to turn your hobby into a business — even a side gig — examine what taxes you’ll owe on your profits. Unfortunately, a collectibles tax rate of 28 percent can be higher than rates on stocks and other financial assets.
(Featured image by MEIR JACOB / Getty Images.)
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