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Most Valuable U.S. Coins (Penny, Nickel, Dime, Quarter)

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So in a previous article, about the most valuable regular U.S. coin, I identified the 1969-S Double Die Obverse Lincoln Cent as the most valuable at $86,250. It’s definitely not the most valuable U.S. coin ever, those are usually special cases like someone stamped on the wrong metal (penny) or they’re just hyped up an incredible amount.

One important thing to keep in mind is that much of a coin’s value is derived from its condition. You’ll see me reference how much a coin was sold for at auction and the amount my vary significantly from year to year. It’s because of quality. For example, in discussing the most expensive dime, the price would seem to “drop” between years. That’s because one sold in 2005 was of superior condition to the one sold later. I tried to find the most expensive of each group, I could be wrong though.

Finally, I tried to stick to coins that are similar to what is in circulation today. So I don’t consider any of the older gold coins, like the Double Eagle. So even though the 1793 Chain Cent was auctioned for $1.38 million just recently, I don’t name it the most valuable penny. It’s pretty valuable though!

Most Valuable Penny

1943 Copper PennyThe most valuable penny is a 1943 copper-alloy penny, of which only forty are known to exist. During rationing in World War 2, pennies were made of steel because they needed copper for everything else (wiring, munitions, etc.). Pennies from that time period were made of steel and coated in zinc to prevent rusting. According to the Mint, a 1943 copper penny was sold in 1958 for $40,000 and the prize would increase to $82,500 in 1996. (someone got a great deal in 1981 when they paid only $10,000!)

If you thought that was bananas, in late 2010, a bronze 1943 penny was sold for $1.7 million. The owner worked at the Mint and it’s apparently one of a kind as it was mistakenly cast in bronze.

Most Valuable Nickel


1913 Liberty Head V Front1913 Liberty Head V Back

Think back to two years ago and you might remember a nickel fetching $3,737,500. That was the 1913 Liberty Head V nickel, one of five known to exist (of which two are in museums), designed by Chief Engraver Charles Barber. Made of 75% copper and 25% nickel, the 1913 coin was never authorized. In 1911, the Mint redesigned the nickel and was planning to start minting Buffalo nickels starting February 1913. The five that exist were never officially struck.

What’s fun about this particular nickel, named the Olsen-Hawn piece (when there are only five, sometimes they start naming them!), is that it’s been in a 1973 episode of Hawaii Five-O and been owned by King Farouk of Egypt and Lakers owner Jerry Buss (who bought it for $200,000 in 1978!).

Most Valuable Dime

1894-S Barber dimeHow much would you pay for a coin if only nine or ten are known to exist? (only six for certain) What if only twenty four were ever minted? If you said $1,552,500 then you’d right. That’s how much someone paid for an 1894-S Barber dime in an auction in October of 2007. One fetched $1.9 million in the summer of 2005, right after it had been won at auction for $1,322,500 that March. As I wrote in the beginning, the coin didn’t lose value, the later coin was in lesser condition. The one sold for $1.3 million (and then $1.9 million) was PCGS certified Proof-66 while the $1.5 million dime was a Proof-64.

As you can see based on the name, it’s another Barber coin.

Most Valuable Quarter

1901-S Barber QuarterThe most expensive quarter ever auctioned was a superb condition (MS86) 1901-S Barber quarter for $327,750 in March 2010. It’s the third one designed by Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber, which is why they’re called Barber dimes or barber quarters. The coins are valuable in part because of the popularity of the Barber Liberty Head design, used from 1892 to 1916.

While there are valuable half-dollar and dollar coins (as well as gold pieces with face values of $4, $5, $20, etc.), I wanted to keep this list to the coins that currently do the bulk of the heavy lifting these days. Maybe I’ll expand the list if the Mint can figure out a way to get everyone to start using those Presidential dollar coins!

Images: 1943 Penny from Mint.gov, Nickel from Wikipedia, Barber Dime from Coinlink.com, Barber quarter from Barberquartercoins.com.

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13 Responses to “Most Valuable U.S. Coins (Penny, Nickel, Dime, Quarter)”

  1. Tom says:

    Hi Jim, do you have any ideas as to the best reference book or any other source, for getting coins appraised? I am sure many readers have some old coins they would like to check values on. Thanks for any information you may be able to provide. I look forward to your reply.

    • cvargo says:

      Go to amazon and search for the red book. They release a new one each year that will help with grading etc. Other than that I would recommend just finding a coin shop in your area they are always helpful and love talking about coins.

  2. Bob Echola says:

    I once had a nickel like the one shown in this article. The coin in question is an 1883 V nickel. The one I got, in change, was an 1883 V with the “CENTS” spelled out. I really wish I could remember what happened to it.

  3. Jim M says:

    Makes me want to check my pockets to see what might be lurking there.

  4. Lei Lani says:

    What coins currently circulating today have more than face value? (Just wondering, because I have a 5 gallon water bottle filled with coins – my vacation fund) When I finally get around to counting and wrapping, is there anything I should be on the lookout for?

    • cvargo says:

      Lei- I would recommend just hanging on to any Quarter- older than 1964
      Dime – Older than 1964
      Nickel – anything during WWII, OR anything that doesn’t have Jefferson on it
      Penny- Anything older than 1929 IMHO because other than that the penny is just a hassle

      If you have no desire to ‘collect’ Following what i wrote is your bet. If you want to collect though you need to do what Bruce said and buy the red book and you will realize that you can never complete your collection

  5. Bruce says:

    Any copper cent (1981 and prior) is worth 2+ cents (bases on copper content). Any nickel is worth 7+ cent, bases on its metal content. Any silver coins (dime and up) from 1964 and prior. Any half dollar from 1970 and prior. Any mint error coins…..

    Get a reference book: “United State Coins 2013″ commonly referred as “Red book” for coin collecting. This is a must have book for any coin collector/searcher.

  6. I will totally pay face value for one of those. Just let me know when and I’ll hook you up with a regular version of these coins :)

  7. William says:

    As to the quarter’s condition: did you mean MS66? The coin grading system goes from MS01 (mint state 1-worst, but identifiable, condition) to MS70 (a perfect coin).

  8. I recently was looking through my coins and found a 1943 penny. It stood out becuase it didn’t look like the other pennies I had. I thought I had hit the jackpot but I discovered it wasn’t the copper version! I will definitely be checking my coins more closely after reading how valuable some coins can be!

    Sally Stretton

  9. jose.guzman says:

    whith that 1969 type s i as
    lso found 1943 cent too.. could it really be? im so exatin

  10. jose.guzman says:

    keep i mind i found in old not in use barn out in escalon ca,

  11. maille says:

    I have 3 V nikel 1901,1888.1889 please need to know their values.


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