...I was doing construction and I found this coin... ...I was at a tag sale... blah blah blah... (click on question "My father bought..." above to expand answer") Congratulations, you made it to a very special corner of the Internet, conveniently located between "Getrichquick.com" and "Wakeupandsmellthecoffee.edu." Actually, the reason I sent you here is that you have a question I am so commonly asked that my gf will kill me if she has to listen to me answer it all over again. Several times a week I get calls about 1943 steel pennies, 1804 silver dollars, Sacagawea Cheerios dollars, and other "fantasy" coins that come up frequently. Here are the most common case studies:
1. In 1943 only, the U.S. made millions of zinc-coated steel cents (not pennies, the U.S. makes cents, England makes pence!) because copper was needed for artillery. You can pick them up with a magnet. A few 1943 pennies were made out of copper, and a few 1944 ones out of steel. These rarities can be worth six figures. You don't have one. You either have the date/metal combination confused, or you have one of the common counterfeits out there.
2. Someone, most likely in the N.Y. metropolitan area in the last 30 years, pumped out a huge number of counterfeit coins in cardboard and plastic 2x2 stapled holders, with red and black ink. Usually they are dollars dated 1799, 1804, or with other rare dates; they are meant to look like old bust, seated, Morgan, Peace, and pattern dollars. Before you insist yours is real, weigh it. Real Morgan and Peace dollars have a mass of 26.73 grams and will not stick to a magnet.
3. Modern Sacagawea and Presidential dollars are gold COLORED copper alloys, not ELEMENTAL gold. A year 2000 Sacagawea variety was released in Cheerios boxes with a distinctive tail feather pattern. Nearly every dollar made since 1971 is worth... one dollar.
4. The pricing curve on high-grade coins is such that genuinely attractive mint-state coins in some common issues are rare and valuable. The classic example is the 1884-S Morgan dollar, which is worth $10,000 in MS ("mint-state") 60. It's worth $40 in very fine. There essentially aren't any that are mint state, almost all were circulated immediately after production. You can look up any wheat cent or dollar or whatever coin you like; it could be fifty cents on average but have an auction record somewhere in mint-state 68 for $25,000. You CAN'T CLEAN a coin to improve its grade; and unless it's in a genuine third-party certified holder by PCGS, NGC, ANACS, or ICG, an untrained observer could easily mistake an altered or fake coin for a high-grade real one.
5. The 1895 Morgan (Philadelphia, with no mint mark) was made in proof-only issue worth six figures. But oh, what a difference a little letter can make. If it has an O under the eagle and wreath, or an S (New Orleans and San Francisco, respectively), it's worth at least dinner for four in your favorite diner.
6. 2019 Quarters: It looks like West Point (mint mark "W") is producing two million, a relatively low number. "Relative" is the key word here. Two million is a huge mintage, even in modern terms. Everyone will be looking for them and setting them aside. Consequently, I expect these to fetch upwards of... a quarter. A Catch-22 of the highest order! Many first-year coins were set aside by collectors; you might expect the 1883 liberty nickel to be valuable as it's the oldest one. But so many were kept that it is probably the most common one we see.
7. 2019 Enhanced American Eagle One Ounce Silver: Yeah they are saying the mintage is low at 30,000. I GUARANTEE the price will crash. Modern "low" mintages in the tens of thousands are still big numbers, and it's a certainty that these will be kept and treasured, not spent and circulated. And if you are one of the lucky few that got a hand-signed one in the mail from Mint Director David J. Ryder, your luck just ran out: since you couldn't stand it and had to open the package, you now can't prove your coin came with the card. That's not to say that I don't believe you, of course I do, and I'll swear to ANYONE WHO ASKS that you got the REAL THING. (See question #100, below).
8. A note on the third-party grading services in general: There is a "craze" right now, kind of like the famous case study of the Tulip Mania Bubble in Holland where the price of tulip bulbs reached astronomical proportions in the 17th Century and then crashed in February, 1637, whereby some modern coins have ridiculous sale prices. You'll see that some Lincoln Cents from the 1960s and 1970s have sale prices of thousands and thousands of dollars. Now why this be the case for coins that were minted in great abundance? You have to understand what's going on here. Collectors can register their graded sets in a "registry" with PCGS and NGC. They are competing to get the best sets of certain runs of coins. So if you want to set the record for best collection of Roosevelt dimes ever, you need to get high-grade examples, preferably MS70, for EVERY ONE in the series. this leads to people paying unreasonable prices for certain specimens. This leads to sites such as Cointrackers.com making ridiculous claims for value. To further exacerbate the problem, the system is a bit rigged. It is well known in the coin community that while grading is SUPPOSED to be a "blind" process where the grader does not know who submitted the coin, the reality is that large auction houses, telemarketers, and other big clients tend to get more favorable grades for their coins than the little guy. I won't speculate on how or why this happens; just know that you're naive if you think otherwise. Putting all this together, if you Can put together a registry set of the best Coins in a series It can fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars, and you can make a huge profit by dumping it before the prices crash. So what you have to do is either bid for the best graded coins, and/or go through thousands and thousands of coins and find the best examples. Then submit them to the grading companies at $30 a piece until you get one that scored a perfect 70. It's an expensive game and the odds are stacked against the average consumer. None of this interests me very much I just stay away from it, and don't pay a lot of attention to the varieties and the differences in grades in modern high grade coins. There are so many affordable, interesting old type coins available, rather than dig through mounds of change or pay big money for common coins, why not go to a show and buy something old and nice from a reputable dealer?
9. I get other calls about other "fantasy" coins and wanna-be errors. How do I know yours is not rare and valuable?
a) I'm an expert in my field. I can tell with a quick glance at a photo that a coin is made of the wrong alloy, or cast rather than struck from real dies, or otherwise altered with the addition or removal of a mint mark. You don't actually have to be an expert, however. You can read up about mint mark locations, metal alloys, coin specifications, etc. I learned most of what I know at shows, talking to dealers.
b) I don't care if I'm wrong. One day I might be. And I might miss the opportunity to purchase or bring to market a rarity, and I will not make money on that coin. I don't care because when I add up all the other times I was right, I almost have something resembling a life.
You can search for examples on eBay, Craigslist, and the king of misinformation sites, Etsy. I'm not sure why people post fraudulent listings, perhaps they are con artists, or just misinformed. When you're watching Antique Roadshow and Pawn Stars, keep in mind that most of the prices they cite on those shows are inflated, as the shows rest on the shoulders of companies that would like you to think prices are higher than they are. And for every episode you see with a flawless rarity, you didn't see the 250 episodes that ended up on the cutting room floor.
If you've read this far and still think you have a rarity, you can try me again. I'll do my best to listen and help. Hey, if you have a real one, I want to be known as the guy that got you $100K for it. But all dealers have a better bedside manner with customers who do their homework first. You can read all about coins in the official Red Book, or back issues of the Numismatist. There is plenty on the web about grading, mint mark location, mintage figures, counterfeit diagnostics, and such. Bear in mind, most posted asking prices are several times more than actual, past sale prices; and online pricing guides are sponsored by advertisers of coins and coin storage and grading products, who benefit from exaggerated published values.
100. If you've read this far, I also have available for purchase this great bridge connecting lower Manhattan to Brooklyn...