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How do I find a coin's value?

Discover tips on how to determine a coin's value.

Rare coins often increase in value over time. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Rare coins often increase in value over time.

Coin collecting, or numismatics, is a popular hobby. The United States Treasury Department routinely distributes commemorative coins and other sets of specialty coins designed specifically for collectors. The long tradition of producing coins for more practical, monetary uses worldwide means that the number of coins available for enthusiasts to build their collections is nearly limitless. A coin collection can also be a secure repository of wealth that should maintain its value over time. In many cases, collections of rare and historic coins will increase in value.

How a Coin's Value Is Determined

The value of individual coins depends on many factors, most importantly the rarity and grade, or condition, of the coin. A coin's rarity depends on the mintage, or quantity of coins produced, while the grade is determined by the coin's condition and any traces of wear through circulation. Although grading coins is an inexact science, the American Numismatics Association's (ANA) scale is the most commonly used. The ANA scale provides ratings from "about good" (heavily worn through circulation and barely readable) to "perfect uncirculated" (shows no trace of handling or scratches and is the finest quality possible).

Publications are available for collectors, and one of the most reputable is "A Guidebook of United States Coins," commonly called "The Redbook." A coin's value varies with the market, so checking to see how much similar coins are selling for is always a good idea.

Additionally, online coin price guides are available, such as guides published by Professional Coin Grading Services and Heritage Auction GalleriesThe United States Treasury, which mints all coins of monetary value in the U.S., is also a valuable resource. Its Web site provides information about coin prices and availability.

Auction houses that deal in old or historic coins tend to specialize in this area and are reputable sources for determining the value of old coins. The Classical Numismatics Group publishes books and catalogs with old coins' value, and its Web site also contains valuable information. Antiques dealers can also be helpful in determining the authenticity and rarity of old coins, factors that play a large role in the value of these historic relics.

Gold Coins

Precious metals such as silver, platinum and gold that take the form of bars, ingots or coins are also called bullion. The value of gold coins, or gold bullion coins, is unique because it is based both on their worth as coins and on their gold content. Gold is tracked in the stock market, and its price varies from day to day, so keeping track of these changes is very important. Like other coins, the value of gold coins is also dependent on their rarity and condition. Investing in gold is a traditional method of safeguarding wealth against inflation, and a number of organizations provide resources for collectors. One of the oldest of these companies in the U.S. is the Centennial Precious Metals Corporation.

Coins Dated Before 1720

When dealing with coins dated before 1720, a collector leaves the realm of coin collecting and enters the world of antiques. Antique and ancient coins offer a bit of history and culture to a coin collection. The value of these ancient coins is generally much higher than that of more contemporary coins, and -- as they also have a tendency to be rare -- more care is taken in determining their authenticity. Like other coins, value is determined by rarity and condition - not age. Antique dealers are a valuable resource for authenticating and pricing these coins, as well as numismatics groups, such as the Classical Numismatics Group (CNG), that specialize in buying and selling ancient and historic coins. The CNG also provides coin collectors with books to help further their knowledge of ancient coins.

U.S. Silver Coins

Like gold coins, the value of U.S. silver bullion coins is based on their precious metal content as well as their rarity and graded condition. Silver prices are tracked on international stock markets, and these prices have a great effect on the value of silver coins. The current melt value, or precious metal content value, of circulated U.S. silver coins ranges from 95 cents for silver nickels to more than $13 for certain silver dollars. These prices do not reflect the additional value that rare and high-graded silver coins can have for collectors. Since the United States began minting American Eagle silver bullion coins in 1986, more than 130 million of these silver one-dollar coins have been sold - making them the world's best-selling silver coins.

U.S. Commemorative Coins

United States commemorative coins are legal tender coins minted to celebrate significant people, places and events in U.S. history. These coins are only available for sale through the U.S. Mint for a limited time after their release. The commemoratives currently offered for sale range in price from $9 to nearly $370 for sets of 2008 Bald Eagles. The value of older U.S. commemorative coins can range much higher, with demand from collectors for full sets of older, high-condition coins pushing prices as high as $200,000 or more. Certain rare gold and silver commemoratives can be worth tens of thousands of dollars individually.

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