By far, the call we get most frequently is about coins someone found in their pocket change or while hunting through coin rolls from the bank. The coin is usually “different” in some way that makes it seem unique, and therefore the person wants to know if that difference makes the coin valuable.
In order to give you a full answer about whether searching through change or coin rolls is “worth it,” it’s first important that you know more about those anomalies that make a coin appear strange. Those anomalies are called post mint damage (PMD), die variety, or an error coin.
Post Mint Damage (“PMD”)
Post Mint Damage is, simply, damage that happens to the coin after it leaves the mint.
Not long after the first one cent coin was minted in 1793, people have, intentionally or unintentionally, abused, damaged, mutilated, altered, or otherwise failed to properly care for coins. This can include anything from being scratched, hammered, shot with a projectile, placed in a vice, painted, corroded, glued, and more – the list is as lengthy as humans are creative (or, in some cases, accident prone)! The result of such mistreatment is that these coins tend to stand out from others, especially when found in commercial use.
Are PMD coins collectible?
Unfortunately, not typically. Collectors aren’t interested enough in coins with PMD to pay extra to own them. Basically, the thing that makes a PMD coin unique is man-made, so there isn’t any real rarity associated with it. There is nothing about PMD that speaks to the mint process, mint history, or any other aspect that usually draws collectors to coins. And PMD coins are abundant: they account for nearly 75% of the calls we get.
Die Variety / Striking Variation
A die variety is an anomaly or design feature that was made into the die itself during the hubbing process.
To make a coining die, a larger master die goes through a process of “hubbing,” which essentially copies the design of the main die into the much smaller coining die. This is the die that strikes the coins after being inserted into a press.
Sometimes something happens during the hubbing process that results in a dramatic variation to the finished coin. During the hubbing process the mint engravers may fine tune elements of the coin’s design, repair flaws, change the mintmark position, or the equipment just may not be quite finely tuned enough. The end result can be a dramatic die variety. For example, the entire date may be struck twice into the coin die, as was the case in the famous 1955 double die and the 1969-S double die pennies.
Are die varieties collectible?
They can be, but not necessarily.
By the 1900s the mint was already using hundreds of dies to strike even one year of a coin. By the 1950s the mint was going through thousands of dies. Each coin die will have minor differences from one another. To complicate matters even further, the exact striking position, die state (fresh or new), die pressure, and many other factors are not exactly the same.
A simple way to understand coin die varieties is by comparing coins to snowflakes. Look at snowflakes under a magnifying glass, and every one of them is different from another. This is the same with coins. When it comes to coins, these differences can certainly add whimsy and character, and collectors may even enjoy finding interesting varieties.
However, only the varieties found in a specific publication are considered to be valuable in the hobby of coin collecting. The die variety guide that is used by hobbyists and professionals alike is “The Cherry Pickers Guide” by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton. It is available on many platforms, but it has become increasingly expensive as more and more YouTube channels with misleading and clickbaiting videos seeking views to support their ad income encourage thousands of Americans to believe they can find riches by looking through their change for rare coins. (Sadly, trying this usually yields more frustration to the average person than it does coins of actual value.)
Pro’s Tip: The collectible die varieties tend to be the most dramatic, with many of them able to be found with the naked eye. No die variety requires anything more than a 10x magnification jeweler’s loupe or a magnifying glass to see. Do not use a microscope to look for variations. That is overkill, and it will likely lead to false identifications.
An error coin is a unique failure of the mint equipment that results in a finished coin that does not meet the appropriate standards as defined by the mint. Errors can range from something as simple as a clipped planchet, where a coin had its edge partly cut off during the process of making blanks, to off-center strikes, where the die was not properly aligned with the blank, thus copying only part of the design onto the coin.
The most valuable errors are the ones that almost seem like they couldn’t possibly exist — like the infamous Roosevelt Dime which was struck on a nail!
Error coins can be very interesting, but they are rarely found in change. It is presumed that most of these errors find their way out of the mint by employees or possibly distributed in mint sewn 1000 count coin bags delivered to banks.
Are error coins collectible?
The average error coin is not worth very much.
This might sound surprising at first, but it’s understandable when you take into account the methodical nature of coin collecting. Most coin collectors aspire to collect sets of coins. They seek to find one of every date and mint mark for a particular type. Error coins have a much more limited audience of curiosity seekers or collectors who dabble in eclectic collections containing assortments of many random types of coins.
Further, error coins just don’t bring out the competitive aspect of collecting like other coins do. Collectors like to the be able to compare their collections to others. They like to know where their coins rank in terms of rarity and how high their quality is compared to the coins in other collections. Error coins don’t generally have this same direct comparison ability that other coins do.
One error coin type we do occasionally buy from the public is called a “CUD” error. Rim CUDs are when a piece of the coining die physically breaks at the end of its life and a big blob of metal takes over the missing part of the design elements. It almost looks like a flap of extra metal was pressed onto the coin.
Some CUDs can be worth $50-$100 depending on how dramatic they are. The larger a CUD, the rarer it is, because CUDs occur only at the very end of a die’s striking capacity. A die ends its service when either the mint workers notice it is failing or the die physically shatters.
So is it worth it to search through change for valuable coins?
The bottom line is that it depends on what you consider “valuable,” as well as how much you value your free time.
Coin roll hunting can be a fun and rewarding hobby. Coin roll hunting (buying rolls of coins from the bank and searching them for coins of value) is like many other hobbies: you get out of it what you put into it. If you put a lot of money into it and spend hundreds of hours looking through rolls, you are bound to find some interesting pieces.
You might indeed find pieces that have some value. For instance, you might find silver coins like quarters, dimes, and half dollars from 1964 and older that are worth more than 15 times their face value. You might also find the occasional die variety or error coin that has some value.
But coin roll hunting is not a get-rich scheme. Unfortunately, there are accounts on YouTube that have convinced increasingly large numbers of people that looking through change or bank rolls is an easy and fast way to big riches. That just isn’t true. The chances of finding an incredible rarity that will bring you life-changing money is essentially slim to none.
There is only one coin that is worth five figures that can be found in change: the 1969-S Lincoln double die obverse penny. This coin is easy to spot and does not require any magnification. Every part of the obverse coin is struck twice, including the motto, date, and the profile of Lincoln. It is considered one of the most dramatic and rare die varieties in numismatics.
There’s more to coin rolls than money.
It’s not just money that people find valuable about coin roll hunting. Many people value the thrill of the hunt itself. Some friends and family members participate in coin roll hunting together, valuing the shared time and memories. It is a fun activity for collectors of all ages, especially young collectors who might not have the budget yet to spend on rare coins at their local coin shop.
So do riches await you in your pocket change or coin roll? Most likely not… but a fun and interesting hobby certainly might!
I have a 1959 error penny on the back side of the penny