I think a lot of people believe all the valuable and rare coins have been removed from circulation and that there are few, if any, really good pocket change finds left to be made. While the old days of regularly spotting Barber coinage, Mercury dimes, Walking Liberty half dollars, Standing Liberty quarters, and Buffalo nickels may be over, that doesn't mean valuable and rare coins are absent from circulation.
I always check every coin that I receive in circulation, and I've made many great finds over the years. Here are just six of the valuable and rare U.S. coins that you have a reasonable chance of finding in your pocket change -- I should know, because I've found each one of these coins in circulation at least once over my years as a numismatist:
- Wheat pennies - Lincoln cents made before 1959 have the well-known wheat ear reverse. Wheat pennies are worth at least 3 cents each, though many are worth much more, and some are rare coins indeed.
- All nickels before 1960 - Jefferson nickels dated prior to 1960 are growing increasingly scarce and are collectible for that reason alone. However, the wartime nickels dated from 1942 through 1945 are valued for their silver metal content.
- Any dimes before 1965 - All dimes from before 1965 have a 90% silver composition and therefore carry substantial intrinsic value. Most silver dimes from this era also have significant collector appeal and are often worth much more than their bullion spot price.
- Any quarters before 1965 - Like dimes, all quarters produced before 1965 have a 90% silver composition. Many silver quarters from the 1930s and earlier are also considerably rare coins and have strong numismatic value.
- Any half dollars before 1971 - Half dollars minted before 1965 have a 90% silver composition; half dollars made from 1965 through 1970 have 40% silver content. Knowing the dates of your half dollars will help you determine percentage of silver content (if any) they have.
- All error coins - From lamination errors to off-center coinage, there are many error coins floating around in pocket change. These can be worth from $3 to $50, and many of the rare error coins are valued at hundreds of dollars each. So, keep your eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary.
If you find any of these valuable or rare coins, be sure to hang onto them. They are decidedly scarce in circulation and are worth at least three to five times their face value in the collector market. Whatever you do, avoid cleaning any of the old and rare coins you find in pocket change, and do your best to preserve them in a cool, dry environment away from fumes and chemicals.