- Bargaineering - http://www.bargaineering.com/articles -

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

So in a previous article, about the most valuable regular U.S. coin [3], 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 [4]. So even though the 1793 Chain Cent was auctioned [5] for $1.38 million just recently, I don’t name it the most valuable penny. It’s pretty valuable though!

Most Valuable Penny

The most valuable penny is a 1943 copper-alloy penny [6], 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 [7] 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

Think back to two years ago and you might remember a nickel fetching $3,737,500 [8]. 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

How 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

The most expensive quarter ever auctioned [9] 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 [10]!

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