What are My Rare Coins or
Rare Pieces of Paper Money Worth?
There comes a time when everyone who owns coins or paper currency, which are not part of the current circulating money system, wants to know their worth. Whether the coins or paper money came through an inheritance, were found as a buried (or in other ways privately concealed) treasure, or purchased as part of a collecting strategy, it’s natural for the owner to want to know the value of the items. Even executors and trustees of estates, who might not have any claim to the loot, need to know the worth for insurance purposes or simply to divide it up among heirs. Lawyers and bank officers are constantly seeking appraisals for collectibles owned by clients. But where does everyone get this kind of information?
The first place to start is to get an assessment of the scope of the collection or accumulation in question. This step, for many people, is complicated, even if to a professional the solution is simple. After all, if a person knows nothing about collectable money, a coin or a piece of paper money 50 or 60 years old, for example, might seem ancient; yet to the professional it is merely spending money. Even truly ancient coins, you know, from the time of Julius Caesar, would appear to be extremely valuable, considering their age and everything. Yet, because of a variety of factors such as huge hoards discovered during excavations, and low demand, these “Ancients” might have nominal worth in the marketplace. We won’t address ancient coins (from 2,000 years ago) here, but will narrow our focus to U.S. coins and currency. For such items the first step (assessing the scope of what you have) is as simple as visiting a local coin chop or picking up one of the helpful price guides for U.S. coins or paper money.
For your coins, we suggest you buy the latest-year edition of Handbook of United States Coins, commonly referred to as the Blue Book. Similar to the Kelley Blue Book for cars, this reference guide lists every coin ever minted in the United States, and provides the rarity and value of each. For U.S. paper money, one of the best guides is PAPER MONEY OF THE UNITED STATES – A COMPLETE GUIDE WITH VALUATIONS.
Once you check out the values of your items, listed in either of these two reference works, you will quickly see if you have something worth further investigation, or if your holdings don’t have much premium over their face values. (A $1 coin with a book value of $1.05, for example, is not a big score; and a $2 bill with a price guide value of $2.05 means you can just spend it.)
Common Low-Grade Coins and Paper Money
If you have several old silver dollars, say from 1880, 1886, and 1922, and they are in “Used” condition, in other words they look like they have spent time in individuals’ pockets and in cash registers (the coins are dirty and worn), you will see in the book that their values won’t cause any excitement. The book will also show you how to find mintmarks (the small letters on coins that designate at which mints the coins were made). Coins with certain mintmarks (such as the “CC” from Carson City) often have greater values. If your coins don’t have any of the premium mintmarks, and the prices listed aren’t chart-topping, you will know that you have just common, ordinary pieces, which won’t earn you a spot on the 6 o’clock news.
Rarer High-Quality Coins and Paper Money
On the other hand, if the prices you see listed for your coins or paper money are startlingly high, and if even to your untrained eye the coins or currency appear to possess exceptional quality, it will serve you well to consult some of the more advanced pricing references, if not take your items to an expert for an appraisal. Some of the most helpful tools to use to determine your better collectibles’ values are the prices realized posted online by major auction companies (some people refer to results on eBay, although much discernment must be exercised when using this platform). These archives will give you current as well as long-term perspectives regarding the values of your rare collectibles. You will need to make certain that the item you’re looking up in the prices realized section is exactly the same as the item you own, in terms of date, mintmark, and condition rating. If your coin is an 1893 silver dollar, for instance, and to you it looks brand new (in other words Uncirculated), and you see in the auction prices realized section that similar examples have sold for $150,000 to $575,000, you better make sure that your dollar has an “S” mintmark on the back (from the San Francisco Mint), and that it truly is in Uncirculated condition. There’s a big difference in value between an 1893 Morgan silver dollar from the Philadelphia Mint (or from New Orleans or Carson City) and one from the San Francisco Mint. As for condition ratings, it’s to your advantage to have your coins or paper money professionally certified by a third-party grading service (PCGS and NGC are the leading ones for coins, and PCGS Currency and PMG are dominant in the paper money category). You will discover that date, mintmark, and accurate condition rating are the three most essential factors in determining values for rare collectible’s.
The Do-It-Yourself Approach or Consulting an Expert
If you are seasoned collector and you know how to rate the conditions of your own coins or paper money, you are probably aware of the prices realized sections at major auction companies. You also probably know about publications such as the Greysheet (Coin Dealer Newsletter), the Bluesheet (Certified Coin Dealer Newsletter), and Greensheet (Currency Dealer Newsletter). These price guides list values purportedly based on real-market bid-and-ask activity and transactions in the dealer community. Keep in the mind, however, the prices listed in these publications are not necessarily the prices you will receive for your collectibles; but they will put you in the ballpark. You could receive higher or lower prices when you sell any of your items, based on a variety of factors. One thing to always keep in mind is when collectibles change hands, there will always be a margin factored in (no product, whatever it is, can always be bought and sold at the same price—that is in conflict with a capitalistic marketplace).
It might be prudent for you to enlist the help of an expert, regardless if you are a novice or a long-time numismatist, to determine the value of your collectibles. The qualified expert will use the abovementioned resources along with experienced market knowledge to assess your collectibles’ worth. If you are looking for an itemized, printed appraisal, you can request one, for a fee.
There is safety in a multitude of counselors, as one ole adage puts it. So don’t be afraid to ask for help in determining the values of your rare numismatic items.
Navigating the Gold, Silver, & Platinum Bullion Market
Precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum aren’t as challenging as rare numismatic items to calculate values. The “Spot” prices for these metals is available on-line in live-time, up to the second every minute the markets are open. Newspapers across the nation publish these prices daily. Additionally, there are many companies that trade in bullion, whose websites operate on-line. You can easily see how much a 1 ounce gold Krugerrand is worth by looking it up on-line. The same goes for a 10 ounce bar of .999 silver, or any other recognized unit of precious metal.
One thing to consider is that the “Spot” price is not necessarily the price you will receive for your bullion items. It is only the starting point (as determined by a daily London fixing or COMEX pricing) at which negotiations begin. Still, the “Spot” price will bring you close enough to the mark, so you won’t be totally in the dark when it comes to evaluating your bullion holdings. If you see the spot price of gold at $1,300, for instance, you should be alarmed if someone offers you $1,100 for your 1 ounce American Gold Eagle, and it should delight you to receive $1,325.
Real World Values
All the advance homework you do to evaluate your coins and paper money will offer no guarantee as to what you will receive for your items when you sell them. Market conditions, timing, the needs of the buyer (or buyers) you sell to, auction attendance, and many other variables will influence the outcome of your transaction. You can shop around and offer the items you wish to sell to a number of prospective buyers, choosing the highest bids. The competition will most likely benefit you. Still, your proceeds might fall short of your expectations. A knowledgeable advisor can help you through the process.
Southgate Coins is here to Help
If you would like more information (which there is plenty of) about any topic discussed here, please call us at Southgate Coins in Reno, NV at (775) 322-4455, Monday through Saturday during normal business hours (PST). If you are in our area, please stop by our store. We are here to help you in determining the value of anything mentioned on this page. Written appraisals are available. The fees vary depending on the size of the collection or accumulation.