A Rare Coin Pricing Guide for Beginners

Many people who own old and antique coins aren’t necessarily experts in numismatics; they simply want to learn how much the old coin they were gifted by a parent or a friend is worth. There are professionals who will appraise coins and give an estimate. These individuals may even purchase such coins on the spot.

However, appraising coins often requires time and costs money. Plus, it isn’t necessary to have coins appraised in order to find out a general range of the value of a particular coin. A few DIY tests and careful research can help you understand how much an old coin is really worth and if you have any true gems.

Determine the Precious Metal Value

The first step in determining the value of an old coin is to learn whether or not the coin is real. Old coins are sometimes counterfeited and made out of materials that aren’t the advertised original. Counterfeiters may attempt to pass off gold-plated zinc or copper coin as a much more expensive gold coin, hoping to trick you and pocket the difference.

Fortunately, nearly every old coin has a series of features that can help determine its authenticity. First, materials like gold can easily be tested. Gold weighs more than many of its imitators, but cannot cut glass. While silver may tarnish in certain patterns, gold never tarnishes or rusts.

The easiest way to test against fake metals is the magnet test. Gold, silver, and platinum aren’t magnetic and shouldn’t respond to a magnet. Other common DIY at-home tests to spot fake gold or silver include:

  • The stamp test
  • The acid test
  • The float and rust test
  • The skin test

There are no perfect at-home procedures that non-experts can perform to ensure with absolute certainty that a coin is made out of gold and silver. But in most cases, performing some or all of these tests for the most common types of counterfeits can help ensure at least the basic validity of the metal being considered.

Assess the Coin Quality and Condition

Once the authenticity of a coin has been established, you should then assess the quality of the old coin. There are two broad categories and a handful of sub-categories for the quality of coins that dealers use and adhere their standards to.

At the top end is the “uncirculated” group of coins. A coin being uncirculated can mean one of several things:

  • That the coin was released to the public for investment purposes but not intended for general circulation. It might have been available through a mint or through a local coin dealer. This can include commemorative coins made of gold, silver, or platinum bullion coins; actual uncirculated rolls or bags of coins; special coinage sets; or proof sets.
  • That a coin has been officially graded as in Mint State 60+.
  • That the coin underwent a certain process by which uncirculated coins are made. For uncirculated coins, adjustments to the minting process are made which result in a more satin-like finish. These include using a higher force during coining, the use of fresh dies, and special cleaning.

Within uncirculated categories there are more sub-categories such as about uncirculated, extremely fine, fine, good, and poor.

Circulated coins, on the other hand, are coins that are produced for everyday transactions. As a result, circulated coins tend to lack the detail and quality of uncirculated coins.

Characteristics and attributes of coins that are considered when determining quality include tone, legible letters, well-defined decorations, and high relief areas. Quality is reduced whenever certain parts of the coin cannot be read or identified or appear worn-down. Any visible marks or imperfections can further reduce the quality of the coin.

Read more: The Collector's Guide to Coin Grading and Certification

The quality and condition of the coin can be an incredibly important arbiter of the eventual price it might sell for. Many dealers consider both the value of a coin and their ability to display and eventually resell that coin before purchasing. As a result, some dealers refuse to purchase any poor quality coins whatsoever.

Determine the Coin’s Rarity

In addition to condition, coin values depend upon its rarity. Rare dates are worth far more than the prices listed. The first thing to do is research. Figure out how many coins like yours are out there.

Once you have a ballpark figure, you can find the number on the Universal Rarity Scale that matches your coin. If you try to sell your coin to a dealer or another collector, letting them know the coin’s URS scale number can help you get the best price for the coin’s value.

Determine the Coin’s Rarity

Finally, once you’ve identified the authenticity and quality of your old coin, it’s time to research how much other people are selling coins similar to yours for. Look for a range of similar coins at different quality levels. This range should only be used as a reference. There is no guarantee that a dealer or a coin shop will purchase a coin at a certain price if they don’t personally like the coin.

However, this range can help you when negotiating with a dealer, store, or individual about a price. In addition, knowing the estimated value of a coin can help you decide whether to sell or keep it. Some people should consider buying protective cases and insurance policies for their incredibly expensive and rare coins. These procedures wouldn’t be necessary for a coin that was only worth a few dollars, which is why knowing the value is important.


Calculating the value of old coins is rarely a clear-cut process. Large gold coins from 100 years ago might be worth no more than the price of the gold they are comprised of. On the other hand, finding a copper penny from 1943 could lead to a million-dollar sale. Investigating the composition of your coins and comparing the value of similar coins online is helpful for learning how much your old coins are worth.

Read more: Differences Between a Coin's Face Value and Actual Worth