Look at the date on the coin. In general, the older the coin is, the more it will be worth.
- Not all coins have dates on them. Modern dating for European coins dates back only to the early 17th century.
- Among coins that display dates, not all those dates are according to the Gregorian calendar. Israel and India each follow different calendars, and much of the Arab world uses the Islamic calendar. If your coin comes from a country that uses a calendar other than the Gregorian calendar, you’ll need to use a date converter such as that at CalendarHome.com to find the equivalent Gregorian year.
- Also, be aware that not all coins are minted during the years they display. American silver dollars showing an 1804 date were actually minted in 1834 and 1835 as proof coins, while silver dollars minted in 1804 actually show an 1803 date because the dies were still good.
Know the country of issue. Which country issued the coin can have an impact on the coin’s value, depending on how prominent the country was historically or how able it was to mint coins. Many countries display the name of the country on either the obverse (heads) or reverse (tails), although it may be in the country’s native language or in Latin, or using an alphabet other than the Roman alphabet.
- You can look up a country’s local name at Nations Online to find the name it’s known by in English. (The site displays names only in the Roman alphabet, however.)
Note how rare the coin is. How many of a particular type of coin exists also determines the coin’s collector value, in many cases more than the age of the coin itself. A coin’s rarity depends on several related factors:
- How many of the coins were produced to begin with. The 1914D (“D” for Denver Mint) Lincoln penny is a sought-after coin because only 1,193,000 of them were minted. Proof coins are similarly rare because only a small quantity of them need to be made to test the dies. Only 6 examples of the 1930 Australian proof penny exist today; the total number produced was probably not much greater.
- Where the coin was minted. While certain mints produce coins for general circulation, other mints may produce only commemorative coins or be in existence for convenience. The Carson City, Nevada mint was established in 1870 to be near the silver produced in Nevada’s mines and ceased operation in 1893, when the mines stopped producing silver in quantity. It produced fewer coins than the other U.S. mints, reaching a maximum of 2,212,000 Morgan silver dollars in 1878.
- If the coin’s design has changed. In its first year of production, 1913, the design on the reverse of the Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel changed from showing the buffalo on a raised mound to depicting it on a recessed line of prairie grass. Fewer of the recessed line coin were produced that year, and so they are more valuable than those with the raised mound, even though the recessed line design was used during the rest of the coin’s 25-year production run.
- If the coin’s composition changes. The 1943 Lincoln penny was minted with steel because copper was in short supply due to World War II; the pennies of the following 2 years were made from spent shell casings. (A few 1944 pennies were supposedly minted from steel but never placed into circulation.) The United States abandoned silver coinage in 1965 because of the rise in the price of silver, replacing silver dimes, quarters, and half-dollars with copper-nickel clad coins, although some silver-clad half-dollar and dollar coins were produced in the 1960s and 1970s.
- If the coin has been recalled. A coin may be recalled if it was produced in error, as was the 1913 Liberty Head nickel; only 5 are known to exist. It may also have been recalled for other reasons, such as when the United States recalled gold coins from circulation and melted them down; only a single 1933 $20 double-eagle is known to exist.
- If the coin displays minting errors. Generally, coins with striking errors, such as the die striking the coin planchet off-center or incompletely transferring the coin design, are weeded out by inspectors and destroyed, but some are released into circulation anyway. These error coins are prized by some collectors.
- Demand for a given coin can also vary according to where in the world a given coin collector lives or vary over time as the coin’s popularity with collectors varies.
- The Sheldon Scale grades coins from one to 70, with one being the lowest grade and 70 the highest. Although it is used worldwide, some coin experts prefer the use of descriptive adjectives.
- Descriptive adjectives range from the lowest grade of “Poor” to the highest grade of “Mint State,” with intermediate grades ascending from “Fair” to “About Good,” “Good,” “Very Good,” “Fine,” “Very Fine,” “Extremely Fine,” and “About/Almost Uncirculated.” The step from Poor to Fair on the Sheldon Scale is small, one to two, while Good ranks no higher than six, Fine no higher than 15, and Very Fine no higher than 35.
- A good reference for U.S. coins is R.S. Yeoman’s “A Guide Book of United States Coins,” popularly known as the “Red Book” for its cover.
- A good reference for world coins is Krause’s Standard Catalog of World Coins.
- Familiarize yourself with the terms an appraisers’ group uses for its membership. The ISA divides its membership into members, who are credentialed appraisers, and associate members, who are not. Members are further subdivided by their level of training and experience, with certified members ranking higher than accredited members.
- You can expect to pay a fee for an appraiser’s services.