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Common Coin Questions

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Rare Wisconsin Quarter Varieties?

The mainstream press has begun to pick up on a story that has been known within numismatic circles for some time. In an unusual development for modern coinage and an unheard of development within the Statehood Quarter series, three distinctive die varieties have been reported for the 2004-D Wisconsin Quarter. First reported by collector Bob Ford, of Tucson, AZ, the more unusual varieties have thus far been reported in only the Tucson and San Antonio areas.

2004-D Wisconsin State Quarter Varieties

Normal Dies
Very Common

Extra Leaf Low

Extra Leaf High

Pictured above are the three varieties, each clearly distinguishable by the naked eye. On the left, the ordinary Wisconsin Quarter shows only the large leaf to the left of the corn husk. These coins are very common, available everywhere D-mint quarters circulate, and worth only their face value. The center coin shows distinct markings, resembling an extra leaf, between the large leaf and the block of cheese. Because of the location of these markings, this variety is called "Extra Leaf Low." On the right, the coin also shows a curved marking to the left of the corn husk; this variety is called "Extra Leaf High."

These coins are not mere striking errors. Although we may never know exactly how they came about, there is no question that these varieties arose as a result of an accidental or deliberate modification to the two obverse dies. Rick Snow, of Eagle Eye Rare Coins in Tucson, speculates that "perhaps (the varieties are) a "hub-through" where a semi-circular piece of debris gets caught between the blank die and the hub. This would produce an impression in the die which would create a raised element on the coins produced." Unexplained, though, is the location of the die modification and the fact that both varieties resemble extra leaves on a corn stalk. According to Snow, "it may be an extraordinary coincidence or the result of some Mint employee's private artwork."

Whether these new Wisconsin Quarter varieties have arisen as a result of a hubbing error as Mr. Snow speculates, a die gouge as originally reported, or an unauthorized artistic endeavor in Denver, they have caught the attention of the collecting public. As this is written in February 2005, these coins are still quite scarce, with the Extra Leaf Low variety somewhat scarcer than the Extra Leaf High variety, and each scarce variety coin currently brings three figure retail prices. Both PCGS and NGC grade and attribute these coins as individual varieties, and indeed NGC will encapsulate the three varieties together if you have the coins to submit.

Perhaps the best comparison to these coins is the famed 1937-D Three-Legged Buffalo Nickel, a variety caused by overpolishing of a single die. Originally found only in the Billings, Montana area, this coin has remained rare and popular since its discovery, with circulated pieces selling for prices in the mid three figures. Only time will tell whether the Extra Leaf Wisconsin Quarter varieties will remain scarce or how valuable they will be in the future. For now, they represent a chance to find a scarce coin in your pocket change.

Westward Journey Nickels

After an uninterrupted run of 65 years, there are changes in the works for the nickel. In 2004 and 2005, special circulating commemoratives known as the Westward Journey Nickel Series were released to commemorate the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase and eventually the North American continent. The nickel is a natural choice for this series, as the obverse has long featured Thomas Jefferson, who was President during Lewis and Clark's explorations.

By now, chances are good that you will have run across many of the Westward Journey nickels in your change. The two 2004 varieties are known as the "Peace Medal" and "Keelboat" coins. Both coins' obverses feature the familiar portrait of Thomas Jefferson.

The Peace Medal coin, released in early 2004, has a reverse derived from the original Indian Peace Medal given out by Lewis and Clark during their explorations to Native American chiefs. Featuring a pair of clasped hands below a crossed peace pipe and axe, the reverse also bears the legend "Louisiana Purchase 1803 to commemorate the year this historic purchase was made.

The Keelboat coin, released in late 2004, features an image of the keelboat Lewis and Clark used to traverse the rivers of the Louisiana Territory to search for a passage to the Pacific Ocean. Below the boat is the inscription "Lewis & Clark".

Things changed even more with the release of the 2005 coins. Thomas Jefferson remains on the coin's obverse, but in a completely new portrait unlike anything ever seen previously on a US coin. His face, in closeup and facing right, covers most of the left side of the coin, peering out into the distance. The motto "In God We Trust" remains on the obverse above the inscription "Liberty" in script resembling Jefferson's own handwriting.

The first of the 2005 Westward Journey nickels to be released into circulation features the return of one of the most beloved motifs in American numismatics, the Bison. Although the bison last appeared on a circulating coin with the 1938-D nickel, several commemoratives since that time have featured renditions of the beast on one side. Now, the "American Bison" nickel combines new renditions of the familiar imagery of the two most recent types of nickels to commemorate the importance of the bison to the many Native American cultures encountered by Lewis and Clark during their journeys.

One variety of the 2005-D American Bison nickel is drawing a great deal of attention. Found predominantly in northeastern Texas and nicknamed the "Speared Bison", this coin has a prominent vertical line running through the center of the bison. The consensus among experienced collectors is that this line is the result of a die gouge, leaving a raised area where the metal was removed from the die.

Of course, much like the Extra Leaf Up and Extra Leaf Down Wisconsin Quarters, we are still very early in the life of the coin, so only time will tell whether the coin will remain rare and whether future collectors consider this coin a significant variety or merely a curiosity.

The final 2005 nickel shows a view of the Pacific Ocean in Oregon similar to that encountered by Lewis and Clark on November 7, 1805. Captain Clark's journal entry for that date was, "Ocean in View! O! The joy!", and this inscription appears on the coin. In commemoration of the bicentennial of this event, the inscription "Lewis and Clark 1805" also appears on this reverse.

In 2006, Jefferson and Monticello return to the nickel. The design of Monticello to be featured on the reverse is virtually identical to the one used prior to 2004, with the most notable change being the addition of designer Felix Schlag's initials to the reverse at the right base of the building -- in exactly the same location that the mintmark appeared through most of 1938-1964. The obverse, however, has much more in common with the revamped 2005 design than with its predecessor. The legends are in the same location as on the 2005 coin, and the script Liberty has been retained. The date has been moved slightly. But the most noticeable change to the obverse is that Jefferson is now facing forward, at the viewer, from the left side of the coin. Jefferson's revamped image is based on the famous painting by Rembrandt Peale in 1800, just a year before Jefferson assumed the presidency.

While we do not anticipate any further changes to the nickel in the near future, we have not yet come to the end of the changes in our circulating coinage. The Statehood Quarter series will continue through 2008 at least, and a series of new gold-colored dollar coins to feature each president of the United States will commence in 2007. And stay tuned -- Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial is in 2009, so we may even see changes to our venerable cent design!

Common Coins [back to top]

Bicentennial Coinage

In 1975 the Bicentennial Coinage Program was introduced. The Quarter, Half Dollar, and Dollar were all changed to include the dual date 1776-1976 and the reverse designs were also changed. These coins were struck in 1975 and 1976 which explains why no 1975 dated Quarters, Halves, or Dollars exist.

These coins are all very common, with hundreds of millions of each piece struck. With this in mind it is safe to say that you can spend your bicentennial coinage.

Wheat Cents

The term Wheat Cent refers to the design used on the reverse of the Lincoln Cent from 1909-1958. Most Wheat cents are very common, and were produced by the millions and even billions. Currently, common date wheat cents carry a very small premium, in fact only a few cents to a few dollars each, depending on condition and year. Be on the lookout for the 1909-S, 1909-S V.D.B. (The designers initials that appear at the bottom of the reverse), 1914-D, 1931-S, and the 1922-D with no mintmark below the date. These four dates carry a nice premium if you have one. Wheat cents may be a good start to a youngster's collection.

Buffalo Nickels (No Date)

Due to the design elements on the Buffalo Nickel, the date wore off of the coin very quickly. A significant factor in a coin's value is the date, mintmark, and condition. A dateless buffalo is not only low in condition, but also lacks a date by which to value it. Buffalo Nickels without a date are not in demand from collectors at all, but have some use as jewelry. With this in mind dateless Buffalo Nickels only retail for between $.10 and $.25 each.

Standing Liberty Quarters (No Date)

Similar to the Buffalo Nickel, the Standing Liberty Quarter minted from 1916-1924 bore its date in a location where it would wear off very quickly. With this in mind dateless Standing Quarters only retail for their silver content, roughly to $4-6 depending on the price of silver.

Eisenhower Dollars

The Eisenhower Dollar is made from Copper Nickel clad. These coins have a very small premium over face value, and are fun to spend for a dollar.

Indian Cents

Many Indian Head Cents, particularly those made 1880 and later, are quite common, retailing for between $0.50 and $30+, depending on condition.

Kennedy Half Dollars

Kennedy half dollars were first produced in 1964. Half dollars that bear the 1964 date are 90% silver, and carry a numismatic premium based on the current price of silver. In 1965 the amount of silver used in the production of Kennedy halves was decreased to 40%, and this specification was used until 1970. Kennedy halves dated 1971 and later contain no silver and do not command a numismatic premium. In order to evaluate the current value of your Kennedy half dollars, multiply the current market price for silver by 0.36169 for 1964 issues, and by 0.1479 for all issues 1965 to 1970.

Morgan and Peace Dollars

Most Morgan (1878-1921) and Peace (1921-1935) Silver Dollars are very common, and were produced by the millions. Currently, common date Morgan and Peace dollars retail for between $25 and $35+ each, depending on the condition, year, and mint mark. The mintmark is a small letter below the wreath's bow on the reverse of the Morgan dollar and beside the eagle on the Peace dollar. Among the mintmarks you will find on Morgan dollars will be a CC for Carson City, O for New Orleans, S for San Francisco, and D for Denver. No Philadelphia issues carry a mintmark. Peace dollars were produced only in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco.

Be on the lookout for the 1889-CC, 1893-S, 1894, and 1895. These four dates carry a nice premiums in all grades if you have one. Certain other dates will also carry premiums in any grade, such as any dollar dated 1893 or 1895 regardless of mint, 1903-O, and any dollar with a CC mintmark. 1921 and 1928 Peace Dollars with no mintmark also bring premiums in any grade.

Silver Coins 1964 and Earlier

Dimes, Quarters and Halves dating 1964 and earlier contain 90% silver. The vast majority of circulated coins that date from the mid 1930's to 1964 are bought and sold as bullion. In circulated condition, these coins trade for roughly the value of the silver they contain, about twenty times their face value in early 2011.

Steel Cents

In 1943, the production of our One Cent coin went through a major change. War efforts that year required copper and its availability was limited. It was decided to change the content from copper to steel coated with zinc for the first run of the new 1943 cents. In 1944, the need for copper was reduced, and the production of the copper cent resumed.

Over one billion 1943 steel cents were produced at the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco mints, making this a very common coin. However, many people found the new "look" fascinating and saved, rather than spent, the new steel cent. Today, their value ranges from about 5 cents up to about 35 cents in circulated condition. Uncirculated specimens (showing no trace of wear or handling) can bring up to about $10 in high grades.

An extremely limited number of 1943 cents were inadvertently struck on copper planchets, left in the machinery from the previous year. Very few escaped the mint unnoticed, and these are considered very desirable to collectors. Auction histories indicate the value range of an authentic 1943 copper cent to be from around $5,000 to $70,000, depending on the mint and condition. However, copper-plated forgeries abound. The primary test for these is to use a magnet. The common steel & zinc pieces (and the 1943 copper-plated fakes, as well as authentic cents from other years) will stick to the magnet. The rare copper issues will not.

TRVST Coins (Peace Dollars)

In 1921 the US Mint released the Peace Dollar. The designer Anthony D'Francisci inscribed the coin with the words IN GOD WE TRVST. This was not a misprint or error, but a return to Roman style letters. The V was used until the letter U was introduced some time later. The word TRVST is evident on all Peace Dollars dated 1921 to 1935. The Standing Liberty Quarter, minted between 1916 and 1930, also used the Roman style of lettering.

War Nickels

Nickels with a large mintmark above Monticello's dome are commonly referred to as War Nickels. During W.W.II, nickel was needed for war production, so the mint changed the composition of the 5 cent piece. The new composition reduced the amount of nickel and copper in the piece and replaced it with Silver and Manganese. Coinage laws require that a design change be implemented whenever a change in metallic content is made to a piece of circulating coinage. The change used for this specific coin was the added mintmark above Monticello on the reverse. A prominent P, D, or S is visible on all the War Nickels dated 1942 to 1945.

Well over 500 million of these pieces were produced between 1942 and 1945, making them quite common. However, their silver content makes them worth more than their face value. Circulated War Nickels retail for the price of the silver they contain, roughly 25 to 50 cents each.

Commonly Reproduced Coins [back to top]

1799 Silver Dollar

Many 1799 Silver Dollars are replicas, particularly if they come out of Asia. Authentic pieces retail for between $250 and $3,000, depending on condition. Replicas do not have a numismatic premium.

1804 Silver Dollar

While the 1804 Silver Dollar is perhaps the most famous rarity in American numismatics, the vast majority of those we encounter are replicas. Thousands of 1804 dollar replicas have been produced in the orient, and discovering a new authentic specimen is highly unlikely.

Authentic 1804 silver dollars weighs approximately 26 grams, while most replicas contain no silver and weigh approximately 19 to 20 grams. In addition to the weight, a seam on the edge of the coin is also an indication that the coin is a replica. The coin must have a lettered edge; if it has a reeded edge similar to today's dimes and quarters, it is a replica.

Replicas of rare coins have no numismatic value.

Territorial Gold

During the days of our nation's infancy, there were times when gold coinage needed to be struck privately in order to meet the needs of commerce. This territorial gold coinage in denominations of $5 to $50 was struck not only in California, but in Colorado, Utah, and even North Carolina and Georgia. Authentic pieces are quite collectible and sometimes quite rare.

Unfortunately, there are also quite a number of common replicas of Territorial Gold coins. Some of the coins that are found far more often as replicas than as the real thing are Baldwin & Co. coins dated 1850 and 1851, and coins from the Cincinnati Mining and Tracing Co. (an engraving error -- authentic pieces have the correct company name Cincinnati Mining and Trading Co.)

Take a look at your coin. If the coin you have is struck in anything other than gold, it is a replica. If copper or another base metal peeks out from underneath gold plating, the coin is a replica. If the edge of the coin appears to have a seam, then the piece is a replica. Replicas have no numismatic value.

California Fractional Gold

In addition to high denomination coinage, private mints in California also made small gold coins in the quarter, half dollar, and dollar denominations, between 1852 and 1882. These tiny pieces, minted in both round and octagonal shapes, are quite collectible and authentic pieces can be worth between $50 and $500, depending on variety and condition. Unfortunately, there are also quite a number of replicas in existence. Any California Fractional gold piece that includes a bear in the design is a replica, and is worth only the value of the gold it contains, usually only a few dollars because of the coins' small sizes and low quality gold.

Colonial Coins

Many US Colonial coins are far more common as replicas than authentic coins. 1776 Continental Currency Dollars, William Moulton coppers, Oak and Pine Tree coinage, Bar coppers, and "Janus" coppers are just a few of the coins commonly found as replicas. As always, look for the telltale seam on the edge of the coin, which would indicate that the coin is a replica and has no numismatic value.

1913 Liberty Nickel

A total of five 1913 Liberty Nickels were struck. The whereabouts of all five are known. However, there are numerous replicas and coins that have been altered to show a 1913 date. Look at the date under magnification. You may notice that the 19 in the date are not consistent with either the second 1 or the 3. This is evidence that the date was altered from a 1903 or a 1910 dated nickel. You may also want to look around the date. When dates are altered they often feature fine scratches right around the date. An altered coin has no numismatic value.

Error Coins [back to top]

Errors (General)

A number of errors can occur in the minting process, so many they are too numerous to list. To find a list of the types of errors that can occur in the minting process, we recommend a book called The Error Coin Encyclopedia by Arnold Margolis.

Planchets (Blanks)

Before coins are struck they are only metal discs. It is not uncommon for a planchet to escape the mint. Most blank planchets are worth $1 and $4, depending on condition.

Grease Struck Through

Occasionally, coins will be struck with some feature missing, generally due to grease or some other foreign object between the die and planchet. When a foreign object rests on the die, the detail in that area of the coin becomes filled and does not show up on the coin. This type of error is very common and commands only a slight premium.


Off center errors are valued based on a couple different factors. The amount of design still visible, along with the presence of a full date, are the first two concerns. Coins with all four digits readable are valued more than specimens with the date missing. The more off center a strike, generally the more valuable the piece. Also the age of the coin and whether or not it is a key date will have an effect on the error coin. Currently most common off center coins retail for between $1 and $10+.

Unplated Cents

Cents dated 1982 and later are all struck in a combination of copper and zinc. In order to keep the copper appearance, a sheet of zinc is plated with copper and the planchets are then struck out of the sheets. The result is a "copper" looking coin. In some cases the sheet of metal is not plated with nickel and the coins produced from that sheet appear to be grey or silver. This is a common error that currently retails for between $1 and $10, depending on condition and type. This can occur in another fashion as well. There are acids that will remove layers of metal leaving the zinc insides exposed. Coins that have been tampered with in this fashion have no numismatic value.

Unplated Clad Coins

Dimes, quarters and half dollars are all struck in a combination of copper and nickel. In order to keep the silver appearance, a sheet of copper is plated with nickel and the planchets are then struck out of the sheets. The result is a "silver" looking coin. In some cases the sheet of metal is not plated with nickel and the coins produced from that sheet appear to be copper. This is a common error that currently retails for between $5 and $20, depending on condition and type.

Tokens and Medals [back to top]

Presidential Medals

A number of medallic coins were produced to commemorate the terms of the presidents. There are an unrecorded number of types that were sold in sets and individually, ranging from the Shell Presidential coins of the late 1960s to official inaugural medals. Most presidential medals retail for between 50 cents and $10+ depending on type, condition, and metallic content.

Hard Times Tokens

In both America and Canada during the 1830's and 1840's, economic hardships forced a number of banks and individuals to strike coins to make up for a lack of regular circulating coinage. The American tokens are commonly referred to as Hard Times Tokens, and might retail for roughly $10-$30, depending on condition. Canadian pieces are much more common and retail for between $0.50 and $15, depending on condition. Cleaned and damaged pieces are worth significantly less.

Civil War Tokens

Civil War Tokens, often made to resemble regular US cents, are quite common. Tokens such as these were produced by individuals and companies to make up for the shortage of coins in circulation. Most tokens carried political slogans or advertisements. There are many different types, most of which are worth between $5 and $20 each.

Store Tokens

Many different merchants produced these tokens to offer as change, or for use in exchanging merchandise. Thousands of different stores produced them, and unless they are from a very well known store, they are worth little more than $1 to $15, depending on type and condition.

Tax Tokens

A number states have issued sales tax tokens. Many of these are quite common, and unfortunately, the large number produced combined with a lack of demand for the pieces have driven prices down. Most sales tax tokens are worth between $0.10 and $5 depending on type and condition.

"1789" Treasury Medal

This cent-sized piecee is a medal produced for Mint sets released by the U.S. Mint. These medals are included in the sets, but do not command a premium by themselves. The date 1789 is not the date of issue or minting, rather the date of the establishment of the U.S. Treasury.

Silver Rounds

Silver rounds resemble silver dollars, but are medals produced by private mints as an easy and affordable way to own silver. Their artwork often made them more appealing, and some may commemorate special events such as Christmas. Thousands of different silver rounds have been produced, and are not widely collected other than for their silver content. Most contain exactly one ounce of silver and are worth only the value of the silver they contain.

Elongated Cents

For over 100 years, entrepreneurs have attended special events with machines that roll images onto all sizes of coins. Cents are obviously the most common elongated coins because of their minimal value. Thousands of these pieces have been produced to commemorate hundreds of events. Machines to elongate cents are common in any areas that are likely to attract tourists. Most elongated cents retail for under a dollar.

World Coins [back to top]

World Coins (General)

A complete list of regular issue Foreign Coins dated 1901 to date and their retail values is available in the Standard Catalog of World Coins by Krause Publications. These books are usually available at large bookstores and public libraries. Editions for coins struck in the 17th through 19th centuries are also available.

Mexican 8 Reales Piece

One relatively common, but significant coin, is the Mexican 8 Reales piece. It is a silver coin, roughly the size of a silver dollar, minted from 1733-1821. The coin changed designs several times during production, but it most commonly depicted the reigning Spanish monarch on the obverse, and the Spanish coat of arms on the reverse, with pillars on either side. The scroll that winds around these pillars gave rise to our current dollar sign '$'. This coin is also known as a Pillar Dollar or a Piece of Eight. Eight reales pieces were often cut into 8 pieces called bits. When our dollar was introduced, two bits would have been equivalent to $.25. This is what gave rise to the saying "two bits" when used in reference to a quarter. The coins were so popular around the world and so widely accepted, that they were even legal tender in the US until 1857. These coins are quite common, and currently retail for between $20 and $300, depending on condition and type. Pillar dollars were also minted in Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. Their origin can be determined by the coin's mintmark


If you have a coin dated in the 1300s and it says "Maroc" or "Empire Cherifien", it is not an old coin. It comes from Morocco, and is probably decorated in a geometric pattern, such as a five pointed star inside a six-pointed star. Like much of the Arab world, Morocco uses the Hejira calendar, a lunar calendar with dates roughly 580 years different from our own. Unusually, however, many of their coins have Hejira dates expressed in numbers that we are able to read. Many Moroccan coins carry dates in the 1300s, and most of these are quite common, with very little value.

1965 British Churchill Commemorative

The 1965 British Churchill commemorative crown is very common, with millions produced. Currently these pieces retail for between $0.50 and $2, depending on condition. Another very common British commemorative piece is the Charles and Diana crown, minted in 1981; it is valued in roughly the same range.

1915 Austrian 4 ducat

A commonly encountered gold coin is the modern restrike of a 1915 Austrian 4 ducat piece. All restrikes are dated 1915, have the obverse inscription FRANC.IOS.I.D.G.AUSTRIAE IMPERATOR around a picture of Emperor Franz Joseph, along with a double-headed eagle on the reverse. These coins were in production for decades. Currently these pieces retail for a slight premium over their gold content (0.4432 oz) or about $200-$300, depending on the price of gold.

1780 Maria Theresa Thaler

A very common silver coin is a modern restrike of an 18th century Austrian Thaler, known as the Maria Theresa Thaler. All restrikes bear the date 1780 on the reverse and the inscription R.IMP.HU.BO.REG M.THERESIA.D.G surrounding a portrait of Empress Maria Theresa on the obverse. These coins have literally been in production for centuries. Currently these pieces retail for a slight premium over their silver content or about $7-$8.

Marshall Island Coins

Currently Marshall Islands coins are valued at or below their face value when bought and sold in the US coin market. The basis for their currency is the US dollar. This was only based on the US dollar and is not redeemable in the US. The coins are rarely redeemable at face value even on the islands. These coins were intended for collectors, not for widespread use as currency.

Other Material [back to top]

Gold-plated Coins

Gold plated coins are not mint made. Most of the gold plated coins are common date coins. Unfortunately gold plated coins have no numismatic value.

Lincoln/Kennedy Cent

The coin you have is a gimmick coin. A company in the 70's stamped items such as the likeness of Kennedy, cigars, word bubbles, and other comedic devices into the right field of Lincoln Cents. This company charged as much as $3.95 for each coin even though today they retail for far less than $1.

Two-Headed Coins

Two-headed or two-tailed coins are "Trick" coins used by magicians. They are manufactured in 2 ways; one is by shaving two separate coins off (Both faces or both tails) and bonding them together; the second method and most used is machining the interior of one coin out (Leaving the edge) and shaving a small portion of another coin on one face and the edge. The smaller piece is then inserted into the hollowed-out piece and bonded together.

A basic explanation of the minting process illustrates the impossibility of such an error. Every coin is struck by a hammer die (the die that moves during striking) and anvil die (stationary). When a new design is implemented, each side of the coin is assigned a hammer position or anvil position, according to the simplicity of the design. The anvil die is always subject to much more pressure and thus generally carries the simpler design.

Hammer and anvil dies are very different in size and can not be interchanged. The hammer dies is small and round at the bottom, while the anvil die is square, and quite large. The anvil die will not fit into the hammer die position of the coin press or vice versa. Simply put, a large square peg will not fit into a small round hole.

If you have a two-headed coin, try this test. First, take a normal coin of the same denomination, balance it at the end of your finger, and strike it with another coin. You will hear a metallic ring. Now, take the two-headed coin and do the same thing. You will hear a dull thud. This indicates that the coin is two pieces, bonded together.

Mule (Cent/Dime)

Coins with the dime and cent combination that are not uniform in color are "Trick" coins used by magicians. They are manufactured in 2 ways; one is by shaving two separate coins off (Both faces, both tails, or dual denomination) and bonding them together; the second method and most used is machining the interior of one coin out (Leaving the edge) and shaving a small portion of another coin on one face and the edge. The smaller piece is then inserted into the hollowed-out piece and bonded together.

The recent discovery of a coin struck on a cent planchet with a cent obverse and dime reverse has been confirmed. The coin is dated 1999 and has the appearance of a cent.

Coin Questions [back to top]


There are a number of factors to consider when authenticating a coin. Usually, there are several tests the coin must pass. If the coin fails any one of these tests, it is not authentic.

First, look to see if the coin was struck in the right metal. If the coin is struck in a base metal and should be silver or gold, it is a replica or counterfeit. You may also want to check the rim of the coin. If there appears to be a seam, the coin is an electroplated replica. Weight is often the best giveaway. Most coins have specific weights, and if the coin does not match that weight, it is most likely a replica. If the coin has the wrong kind of edge, such as a reeded edge when the edge should be lettered, it is not authentic.

Authenticity is determined differently for every coin. If you have a potentially valuable coin and are not sure of its authenticity, the best thing to do is to show it to an expert. Coins graded and encapsulated in third party holders by respected companies such as PCGS and NGC have been authenticated; the authentication is part of the grading process.

1982 Lincoln Cent: zinc or copper?

The best way to tell the difference between copper and zinc cents dated 1982 is the weight. The copper will weigh 3.11 grams while the zinc will weigh 2.5 grams.

Although the difference between the 1982 cents is subtle, there is a quick way to distinguish them apart without using a scale. The composition of the 1982 cents can be derived by comparing the sound of it on a hard surface with that of a cent dated prior to 1981 or after 1982.

In regards to the date on the cent, Large Date 1982 cents feature a 9 which lies slightly above the 1 and 8 around it. The Small Date features digits which do not sit higher than one another.

Cleaning coins

DO NOT CLEAN YOUR COINS! Just like any antique piece of furniture, or painting, the original surfaces of a coin are much more desirable by collectors than altered or damaged surfaces. As a result, cleaned coins are worth significantly less money than wholly original coins. Even though a coin is dark in color, does not mean that it is less valuable. The metal in coins often oxidizes and produces a wide array of colors called toning. Some collectors hunt for wholly original coins with this type of toning.

Professionally Grading Coins

A number of factors are involved in deciding whether or not a coin should be submitted to a grading service such as NGC or PCGS. First is value. If the coin is not of sufficient value, it not be in your best interest to have the coin certified; for instance, it is generally not a good idea to spend $20 to have a coin worth a dollar graded. Second is the authenticity and originality of the coin. Neither NGC nor PCGS will encapsulate a coin that is not authentic or has been tampered with in any way.

If you have coins that you might wish to have graded, please send along a list of the coins and their approximate conditions. From there we can evaluate and then possibly submit the coins.

Mint Marks

A deciding factor in the value of many coins is the place of mintage. There will be a small mint mark on coins made at the Denver (D), New Orleans (O), San Francisco (S), and Carson City (CC) mints. The coins made in Philadelphia have no mint mark until recently, when a (P) was added. Gold coins dated 1838-1861 may have been made in Charlotte (C), or Dahlonega (D). West Point is the newest mint, Bullion and Commemorative coins made there have a (W) mint mark.

For more information about mintmarks, please see our guide, All About Mintmarks.

Terms [back to top]


The designation PL and DMPL stand for Prooflike and Deep Mirror Prooflike. When a new die was used to strike Morgan Silver Dollars, the impression was often frosty on the devices and reflective in the fields. The contrast depth of the mirrored fields differentiate a coin between PL and DMPL.


The population of a coin refers to how many coins have been certified by a given grading service in that particular grade. The amount higher refers to how many have been certified in a higher grade by that grading service.

The population data corresponds to the particular coin date, variety, and mint. PCGS and NGC provide periodic reports of population data and we always use the latest figures available in giving our descriptions.

Proof Coins

Proof coins are produced in a different manner than business strike coins. Each proof coin is struck at least twice. The pressure is higher and the speed is slower for each strike of a proof coin. The dies and planchets are highly polished, some proof coins even come with a cameo effect. The fields appear mirrorlike and will show contrast to the devices. Proof coins were produced as collector items for use in special sets, or for a special person or purpose in the early days of proof coins.

Proof is not a grade for a coin.


Polyvinyl Chloride is used in making plastics. Unfortunately, when plastics that contain PVC are exposed to heat, moisture, or old age, they often leak the PVC componenet. When PVC comes into contact with coins it begins to corrode the coin and leaves a green film. PVC is considered damage.


The coin grading system is built on the Sheldon scale from 1-70 numerically. 70 being the perfect, flawless, coin. There are also word descriptions for the numerical designations. The first and lowest grade of circulated coins is Basal or Fair, this coin would be barely identifiable as to the type of coin. Circulated grades continue in the following order, About Good (AG-3), Good (G-4), Very Good (VG-8), Fine (F-12), Very Fine (VF-20), Extremely Fine (EF-40 or XF-40), and About Uncirculated (AU-50). Uncirculated coins fall into the 60-70 range, and would contain the Brilliant Uncirculated (BU), UNC, or Mint State (MS) designation.

In conjunction with the Sheldon scale, many different designations are also added to coins to describe particular characteristics. For uncirculated copper coins there are three designations as to the color of the coin. The first and least valuable is brown (BN), the second is red brown (RB), and the third, and most valuable, is red (RD). These designations are used in conjunction with Mint State (MS), and Proof (PF) designations to denote the color of uncirculated copper coins. Other designations such as Full Head (FH) and Full Bands (FB) describe the quality of the strike on a particular issue.

For more information, please see our basic grading tutorial.


The VAM designation noted on Morgan Silver Dollars refers to a particular die pair. These dies are recorded by Van Allan and Mallis (the source of the VAM acronym) in their book on silver dollar die varieties. Certain varieties are more popular than others, so a top 100 list was compiled. Some collectors work on completing a set of the VAM varieties while others look to only collect the top 100. If the right buyer can be found a top 100 piece may command a premium.

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