Ultimate Guide to Coin Hunting

When I looked at my change, I saw they had given me a Mercury Dime! I couldn't believe my eyes but WOW!

Ultimate Guide to Coin Hunting
Photo by perfectpics . / Unsplash

How many times do you feel that you must've touched a silver dime in your pocket change only to give it away without knowing about it?  Maybe you found an odd-looking coin in an old house and thought it was fake because it didn't look like a regular US coin?  Maybe you're a coin roll hunter already and are getting strange looks from you bank? Whatever the reason, there are many ways to hunt for coins! Building wealth through coin hunting is easy but it does require some knowledge. This is my guide to coin hunting!

Why Coin Hunt?

Ever since I was a kid I loved finding value in other people's 'junk.' I think I was one of the first 'treasure pickers' out there and I am still a believer in the old saying that one man's trash is another man's treasure. I didn't get hooked on coin collecting (numismatics) until I was about 6 years old and we moved into my parent's house. As we were moving in the furniture, my mother was hanging up our clothes in the closet when she noticed there was a small piece of loose carpet in what would become my sister's closet. She lifted it up and there were 8 large coins underneath it.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that they were valuable coins to someone, so much so that they hid them under this carpet as a careful ruse to would-be thieves. It turned out that these coins were Morgan Silver Dollars and made with 90% silver, or 0.77345 troy ounces of Silver.

Back in 1976, the price of Silver was trading at about $4.00, not counting the collector's value of the coins, those 8 Silver Morgan Dollars were worth about $24.75. In today's dollars for just pure silver melt, they'd be worth $154! That's not chump change back then and it's not today. Those coins are valuable and I felt like we had stumbled across some long-forgotten treasure!

I'm an adult now and I still love finding treasures like this. Last year I was up at a ski lodge watching my kids learn how to snowboard. I'm not a skier or snowboarder so I decided to get a coffee at the lodge and just hang out at the bonfire. I order my coffee from Starbucks and paid for it with cash. When I looked at my change, I saw they had given me a Mercury Dime! I couldn't believe my eyes but WOW!

For those that don't know about Mercury Dimes, their face value is 10 cents BUT they were minted between 1916 and 1945 and are comprised of 90% Silver (just like the Morgan Dollars). They have 0.07234 troy ounces of Silver, so with Silver trading around $18 an ounce, my dime wasn't worth 10 cents BUT it was worth $1.30! I didn't include the numismatic collector's value but that's a bonus!

It's for the simple thrill of finding something so ordinary-looking that is a small treasure in disguise that keeps me treasure hunting today!

Coin Hunt for Metal Value and Collector's Value

Before you even start coin hunting the best thing to do is to be aware of the coins that have silver in them. Very rarely will you ever find a gold coin in circulation these days. You might find them metal detecting or at auctions but in circulation? Never. However, silver coins are easier to find in circulation so you need to know about:

  • War Nickels
  • Silver Roosevelt Dimes
  • Silver Half Dollars
  • Mercury Dimes
  • Morgan Dollars
  • Liberty Dollars
  • Accidental Silver Proofs

This is not an exhaustive list but you'll typically get change as pennies, nickels, and dimes so it pays to keep an eye out for silver nickels and dimes.

On top of this, you should always inspect any change for error, variety, and rare mintage coins. While pennies are not made of Silver, many pennies fetch a hefty price for collectors. Especially a 1944 D/S wheat back double die coin can fetch over $20,000!

What are errors? Errors are when something went wrong at the mint. Sometimes the coin got stamped twice and the letters on the obverse (front of the coin) or reverse (rear of the coin) gets doubled and offset. Other times there are special varieties such as the Steel Pennies of 1943, which can fetch several 1,000 dollars at auction!

In other words, be aware of the metal and collector's value of the coins you find!

Types of Coins to Hunt for

Some people focus only on coins with Silver or Gold and others concentrate on Error and Variety coins. I say, do both! You never know what you're going to find but here's how I do it.

If I pay cash and get change from my purchase, I always put the change in my pocket for later review. I can see if they're a special type of dime or nickel (I make note of the year) and then I save them for later inspection. Once I get home I take them out and use my jeweler's loupe to inspect them.

I make sure to inspect any recent mintage coins, especially pennies for errors. If there's nothing, then I add them to a coin box which I'll take to the bank when it gets full to exchange for dollar bills. If anything is interesting in the bunch I'll cross-reference it with A Guide Book of United States Coins 2021 for the approximate value. Then I put it aside and save it.

Pocket Change

The easiest way to start coin hunting is to start with your pockets. Start looking at the coins you get when you buy stuff and hold on to them for later inspection. If you work at a cash register, be aware of the coins that people give you and swap out the interesting ones for yourself. Note, I'm not saying to steal but exchange a normal dime for a mercury dime. I used to do that all time.

One evening I was working an overnight shift at a convenience store. Some guy came in to buy a pack of cigarettes that cost $2.25 a the time. He pulls out of his pocket a grungy looking dollar, a quarter, and a Morgan Silver Dollar. The Morgan Silver Dollar had a face value of $1 so he had the $2.25 face value to pay for his smokes. I took the money, swapped out the Morgan Silver Dollar with a single dollar bill I had in my pocket, and left my shift feeling like I had won the lottery.

Always go through your loose change and always be aware of what kind of money people are giving you. This way you can build your collections and wealth smartly and easily.

Coin Roll Hunting

Coin Roll Hunting was something only a handful of people did in the old days. Now it's all the rage and banks are getting annoyed. If you go on YouTube or do a Google Search you'll find so many videos or articles on how to do coin roll hunting.

DON'T BE SEDUCED!

Coin Roll Hunting is when you go to a bank and ask for rolled coins. They can be rolls of pennies, dimes, nickels, half dollars, etc. Then you break them open and look through them for errors, varieties, and metal value. Once you're done then you take the loose change to another bank and exchange it for dollar bills again. You repeat this process over and over again. Coin roll hunters have 'pick up' banks where they only get rolled coins and 'drop off' banks where they return the loose coins. Then they start the process over again.

Recently I asked for a roll of Kennedy Half Dollars. I get a roll or two every year so I can give them away to my young nephew whenever he does something good. The bank teller told me that they were out, someone just came by and snagged the last rolls. She then asked me if 'there was something she should know about' and why there was all this demand for rolled coins all of sudden.

The reason? Because these annoying coin roll hunters. I don't coin roll hunt because banks get hip to this method fast and then you become that annoying 'coin guy.'

My suggestion, look where others are not looking. Don't annoy your bank but consider buying from people looking to sell old collections and rolls. Try finding old rolled coins instead. People used to roll coins themselves and forget about them because they're sitting in a box. Then something happens and the box is forgotten until years later. Consider putting an online ad in your area saying that you're looking for old rolled coins and willing do exchanges. You never know WHAT you'll find!

Estate Sales

One of my favorite ways to find rare and interesting coins is through Estate Sales or Garage Sales. My wife loves Estate Sales and lets me know if there are any coins for sale. I then look them over and estimate a maximum bid for them. I can tell right away if the people selling them don't know enough about the coins and their starting bids are mispriced. For example, someone was selling off Morgan Silver Dollars and started the bid at $10 each. I knew that for pure Silver value at the time the coin is worth at least $15 and the different mintages would increase the value per coin. The trouble was, I didn't know the mintages at the time, so it was a crapshoot that I had to account for.

In the end, I won the coins for about $14.50 per coin, just under my maximum but beating out other coin collectors. Much to my surprise was when I discovered I had a Carson City minted coin! It wasn't the rarest year but its collectors value ended being worth 1/2 of what I paid for all the coins! Zing!!!

What about garage sales? Garage sales are a bit harder to find coins but they're often overlooked. You can find coins there but more often it's people selling the junk out of their garage and not liquidating their entire Estate. I waste more time at garage sales than I do at Estate Sales. So consider this carefully when you make your plans.

Metal Detecting

The one new method of coin hunting that I want to try is metal detecting. I was always fascinated by people metal detecting at the beach and find jewelry and other stuff. Nowadays people are using metal detectors at old farms and other areas to find old coins.

I plan on getting a metal detector soon and poking around old revolutionary war areas. In my neck of the woods, there were a lot of Colonial Era buildings, properties, and road networks. There's bound to be stuff hidden in the ground just a mere inches. Even if I don't find stuff I'll just be that metal detecting guy at the beach next year!

End Notes

As always, don't break the law or do anything stupid. Just remember that you can start today with your pocket change and find a treasure hidden in plain sight. That's the beauty of coin hunting, you never know what you'll find!