What coins should you be looking for in your pocket change? That is a very good question and I will give you as complete of an answer as possible without writing a novel. You will look for gold coins, silver coins, copper coins, error coins and low mintage coins. At the end of this post I will supply you with a list of coins you can look for, skip ahead if that is all you came here for.
Coin collectors regularly go to banks and get rolls of coins to search through. Most of them are looking for silver coins and you will find that dimes and quarters from 1964 and before will have a silver content. Half dollars will have a silver content 1969 and before. Nickels were made with a silver content during World War II, they are called War Time Nickels and were minted from 1942 thru 1945, but not all the 1942′s will be made with silver. The easiest way to tell is the War Time Nickels will have a “P”, “D” or “S” above the Monticello building on the reverse. Non silver nickels have the mint mark to the right of the Monticello building. Dollar coins will be silver from 1935 and before.
The wrinkle to the silver coins discussed above is that there are exceptions to those rules. The coins discussed above are what are commonly referred to as “Business Strikes”, that they were meant for circulation. There are quarters, dimes, nickels, half dollars and dollar coins that fall outside of the date ranges listed above that have silver in them, but they were not minted for circulation. For example, there are Eisenhower Dollars that are 40% silver that are proofs or satin finished that were specially packaged to be collected and not spent. Every once and a while the 40% Eisenhower Dollars get taken out of their packaging and spent or deposited into banks.
You can find 40% silver coins, referred to as Clad Silver coins, in the 1960′s & 1970′s. They can be Eisenhower Dollar coins, Kennedy Half Dollars from 1965-1970 & 1976, and Washington Quarters from 1976. The Kennedy Half Dollars from 1965-1969 will be the easiest to find as they were made for circulation. The other clad silver coins were not made for circulation.
Copper cents have grown in popularity over the last decade as the price of copper has increased. Any U.S. cent prior to 1982 will be 90% copper, exceptions being, trial pieces, errors and the steel cents from WWII. Some 1982 cents will have 90% copper, but not all of them will.
Many errors will be difficult to see without a loupe or some type of magnification. The easiest way to search for well known errors are to know what dates are known to have popular errors and sort those date out to look more carefully at later time.
There will be old US coins that are no longer in production that if you are really lucky, you can still find (My mother found a half-dime a couple of years ago!). Those odd denominations no longer in production are the Half-Cent, Large-Cent, Two-Cent, Three-Cent Nickel, Silver Three-Cent, Half-Dime, and Twenty-Cent piece.
Here is the list I promised at the beginning, it’s by no means comprehensive, if you feel another coin should be listed, please leave a comment! If you pick up a Red Book, you can find a lot of the more popular (expensive) errors listed with pictures of what the error looks like…
1909 or earlier Indian Head Cents/Flying Eagle Cents
1909-1958 Wheat Cents
1960 Small Date
1960 Large Date over Small Date
1960-D D over D Small Date over Large Date
1969-D No Initials
1969-S, 1971, 1971-S, & 1972 Double Die
1982 and previous copper cents
1983 Double Die
1984 Double Ear
1992 & 1992-D Close AM
1995 Double Die
1996, 1998, 1999 & 2000 Wide AM
1998-S, & 1999-S Close AM
1938 or earlier Buffalo Nickels/Liberty Nickels/Shield Nickels
1939 Doubled Monticello
1942-1945 War Time Nickels (silver)
1949-D & 1955-D D over S
1954-S S over D
1994-P & 1997-P Matte proof
1964 or earlier Silver Dimes
1982 No P mint mark
1996-W from the mint set
1964 or earlier Silver Quarters
1976 40% silver Quarter
2004 Wisconsin Quarter with an extra leaf
1964 and earlier 90% silver Halves
1969 and earlier 40% silver Halves
1970 40% silver Half
1974D Double Die
1976 40% silver Half
1987 (both P and D)
1935 and previous Silver Dollars
1971-1978 Eisenhower (some will be 40% silver)
Thanks for listening.