Coins to save, and coins to spend

A few weeks ago we had lunch with some good friends.  During the festivities, I saw a wooden piggybank-like thing on a shelf above the kitchen sink, part of which was a lucite window that showed the contents.

I asked, “So who was the cool person that gave you guys $2 bills?”

Later in the afternoon they let me go through the contents of the bank.  It was a collection of interesting coins that they had gotten as gifts over the years.

A lot of conversations pieces … and a few reasonably valuable ones

The US Mint has put a nice twist on our coinage recently.  The cent had four designs in 2009 to celebrate Lincoln’s 200th birthday.  The nickel’s obverse was reworked in 2004, along with four designs on the reverse.  The state quarter series was a lot of fun.  And, frankly, I liked the Presidential $1 coins until they stopped it.

As neat as designs like these are, though, they don’t make the coins particularly valuable by themselves.  The populations of the coins are too big.  They’re not rare.

The majority of the coins our friends had fell into this category:  cool coins that were worth their face value.  In other words:  pocket money to spend.  But they were pleasantly surprised that some of them had a bit more value, even in obviously circulated condition.

Here are a few examples of each kind:

  • Franklin half dollar.  These coins were produced from 1948-1963.  They are 90% silver coins.  One dollar face value of silver coins at this time contained 0.71 troy ounces of silver.  At today’s silver price, that makes this single half-dollar worth a bit over 14 times its face value.  So, I suggested that they save this.
  • Mercury dime.  No, not Freddie Mercury, but Mercury the god.  These were produced from 1916-1945.  The Roosevelt dime replaced it following FDR’s death that year.  These are also 90% silver coins, so they should save this one.
  • Bicentennial quarter.  These quarters were produced in 1976 in large numbers.  The silver had been removed from new quarters in 1965, so these quarters contain no precious metal.  So, they should feel free to spend these if the need.
  • Wheat cents.  The cent had the portrait of Abraham Lincoln beginning in 1909, the year of his 100th birthday.  The Lincoln memorial was the design on most years 1959 and after, but prior to that the reverse design had wheat stalks.  Aside from being 95% copper, they’re at least 65 years old now, so I suggested that they save these even if it wouldn’t send them on a cruise.
  • Sacagawea and Susan B. Anthony dollars.  I’m probably in the minority, but I like dollar coins.  I think they’re fun.  The Sacagaweas were produced beginning in 2000, and the Susan B. Anthonys were minted for a few years beginning in 1979.  The circulated coins contained no precious metals, and demand for even mint condition coins hasn’t kept up with inflation.  Spend ’em.
  • Kennedy half dollars, 1971 and on.  The Kennedy half dollar began circulation in 1964, following JFK’s assassination.  The coins in 1971 and later contained only base metals.  The 1976 coin had a different design on the reverse for the bicentennial.  Still though, these coins can be spent.
  • Kennedy half dollars, 1965-1969.  Same design but much different composition.  These coins are 40% silver.  About seven of them contain an ounce of silver, so they’re worth about $3 apiece.  Save these!

You never know what might be in your pocket.  Check your change!


John Wedding

Husband. Father. Web publisher. Musician. John has blogged at Mighty Bargain Hunter since 2005, helping people to recognize life's good deals.

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  1. says

    I didn’t know you were a fan of coins!! I just started collecting a little under two years ago, so this post was a pleasant surprise :) Are you a collector too?

  2. John Wedding says

    krantcents: Ooooh, cool! My dad says that he has a few Indian head cents somewhere in the attic; hopefully I’ll get a chance to see them!
    J: Yes, sir! After reading your post, now I’m encouraged to look at the international coins I have again. Great educational opportunity for kids when they start studying world geography.

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