I've been looking for rare and valuable coins in my pocket change since 1992. Over the years, I have come across many cool coins in circulation, including old Lincoln wheat cents, Liberty and Buffalo nickels, wartime silver Jefferson five-cent pieces, silver dimes and quarters, 90% silver Kennedy half dollars, foreign coins, and many other valuable and unusual coins. But what do you do if months, even years, pass and after religiously looking for items in pocket change you still haven't found anything worth writing home about – or coins worth anything over face value at all?
Well, there are two common sayings that come to mind in this situation: "perseverance is key" and "to get different results, you have to do something different." So, what does this mean for Joe or Jolene Coin Collector? Sure, don't stop checking your pocket change, for you never know what will turn up next (that's the "perseverance" part of my advice). But don't just stop at looking through your pocket change (here's the "do something different" part of my post).
Where Else To Turn Besides Pocket Change?
Many coin collectors, especially the newbies, think the only way to acquire coins is to look through pocket change. And, sure, this makes sense. After all, it's through the coins we find from day-to-day cash transactions that we make our encounters with coins. And it's often through pocket change finds that non-collectors become coin collectors after finding something odd that persuades them to dive into the hobby.
Sure, you can always stop by the coin shop to buy some rare coins. But what if you don't want to pay full market price? There are many other avenues you can follow in finding some really neat coins at way less than full price…
Searching Bank Rolls
One of my favorite ways to look for old coins in circulation is to check rolls of coin I pick up from my bank. Rolls may be wrapped either from another financial institution or by other bank members who turn the rolls into for deposit or to exchange for paper money. One reason why searching rolls is so profitable is because many of the people who fill up rolls with coins are taking their spare change from jars and piggybanks and aren't even looking at the dates or checking for errors and varieties.
I've scored some of my best circulation finds from coin rolls, including countless wheat cents and plenty of silver coins. You can obtain rolls of coins from your local bank at face value. That's 50 cents for a roll of pennies, $2 for a roll of nickels, $5 for a roll of dimes, and $10 for rolls of quarters and half dollars. But just a heads up – it's getting pretty hard to find rolls of half dollars from the bank anymore.
Looking Through Coin Star Machines
One of the latest tricks for finding valuable coins is by checking the reject tray from CoinStar machines. CoinStar machines, which make it easy for people to convert their loose change into instant cash, lure tens of thousands of people every day to dump tons of coins collected over many months or years in their jars, bins, and boxes. It costs only a small premium for the convenience of dumping the coins into the CoinStar machines, which automatically counts coins, and skipping the many hours of rolling these coins in paper wrappers.
These coins are turned in by the many thousands, and normally the people who are turning these coins in never even think twice about what they're dumping into the machine. Many coins are dumped at random, including pieces the machines aren't able to accept. Among these "rejects" are 1943 steel cents, silver coinage, Eisenhower dollars, foreign coins, tokens and medals, and many other interesting pieces. And, yes, many people who dump their coins into the machines forget to check the return tray!
What does this mean for you? Next time you're passing by a CoinStar machine, be sure to look in the return slot… You may just make a very lucky find or two!
Shopping Yard & Estate Sales
Oftentimes, people sell old coin collections without really knowing what they're selling. And this commonly happens at yard sales and estate sales. Many coin collectors spend their Saturday mornings rummaging through the inventory at yard sales, garage sales, and estate sales looking for coin collections, filled coin folders and albums, or boxes of old coins. Many make some very fortunate finds, and they often pay only pennies on the dollar for these coins. Oftentimes, the collections are being sold under financially stressful situations by people who inherited the old coins and don't know what they are, what they're worth, or what to do with them.
Now, I will say this… There's an ethical matter to think about when buying grossly underpriced coins from yard sales, estate sales, and similar types of liquidations. Sure, there's nothing wrong in making a lucky find or picking up some valuable coin at a discount. But it's a good idea to pay a fair price for what you find, too. If you find an old gold coin being offered at its face value, at least consider offering something close to melt value for it. I'd feel pretty rotten paying only $5 to an elderly person who's selling a $5 half eagle at face value. The same goes for other rare and valuable finds. Always do the right thing when buying cheap rare coins from non-collectors who don't really know what they're selling. You're going to feel better about the whole deal. I promise!