Valuable Coins Are Still Out There

You can find a fortune in the attic or piggy bank

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1974 Aluminum cent.

By Donn Pearlman

Donn Pearlman

What rare and valuable coins do you think are still out there and waiting to be discovered? 

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation’s announcement, which I helped create, about authentication of a previously unreported fourth example of the historic 1854 San Francisco Mint Half Eagle brings up this question.

In addition to any more of the only 268 minted 1854-S $5 gold coins showing up, here is a brief list of what potentially could still be found in granddad’s old coin collection, the piggy bank, or the sock drawer.

Million Dollar Pennies: During World War II, the United States Mint created Lincoln cents out of grey colored zinc-coated steel to save copper for war resources. Some 1943-dated cents mistakenly were made from the previous year’s bronze alloy composition and today are worth tens of thousands to a million dollars each depending on their mintmark and condition. A previously unreported and superb-condition 1943 bronze alloy cent made at the Philadelphia Mint reportedly sold earlier this year for more than $1 million. In 1944, when the Mint reverted to a copper alloy for cents, some were mistakenly made of the previous year’s zinc-coated steel. Those are also quite valuable.

Hundred Dollar Pennies: A 1972 minting error produced some Lincoln cents with the lettering and date seemingly struck twice, one almost on top of the other on the front or obverse of the coins. Although easily overlooked in pocket change, these doubled die cents are valued from a few hundred dollars to over $2,000 each, depending on condition. 

Million Dollars Dimes: The San Francisco Mint made a scant 24 dimes in 1894, and only about a dozen are accounted for today. Where are the others? If a previously unreported genuine example is found, it would be worth $100,000 to $1 million or more depending on its condition.

Quarter Million Dollar Quarter Eagle: In addition to only a small quantity of 1854-S half eagles, the San Francisco Mint produced just 246 quarter eagles that year. A dozen are accounted for today. A genuine 1854-S $2.50 coin was discovered as recently as 2005, the family heirloom of a Northern California woman. NGC authenticated it, and the 1854-S $2.50 gold piece sold for $253,000 at an auction several months later.

Caution: Some valuable U.S. rare coins are not legal to own. 

1933 Double Eagles: The United States Mint produced 445,500 double eagles in 1933, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s order restricting gold ownership halted official release of the coins, and they were supposed to be melted. One survivor is part of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, and another sold at auction for $7.59 million (plus a $20 “re-monetization” fee) in 2002. The federal government has confiscated all other U.S.1933 $20 gold coins that have shown up in public, including 10 that reportedly were in a Philadelphia family’s bank safe deposit box for decades. 

1964 Peace Dollars: Silver was removed from most of our circulating coins in 1965, and all the 1964-dated silver “Peace” dollars struck at the Denver Mint were supposed to be destroyed. Hobby gossip over the years indicates a few apparently escaped the melting pot, but they are not legal to own.

1974 Aluminum Cents: With the price of copper rising in the early 1970s, the Mint looked for ways to reduce the cost of making Lincoln cents. One alternative was to use aluminum, and experimental samples were made at the Philadelphia Mint – and at least one at the Denver Mint – with examples given to members of the U.S. House and Senate. The coins were later recalled, but some were not returned by lawmakers or their staff members. 

To paraphrase “The truth is out there” tagline of The X Files television program: The coins are out there. 

Former award-winning Chicago journalist and broadcaster, Donn Pearlman has written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles promoting the coin hobby and profession. He currently serves as Acting Executive Director of the Numismatic Literary Guild.

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