Discovering the Value of Old Coins

By:    Updated: April 8,2017

Many people have old coins sitting in collection boxes, safes or even in bags in a dresser drawer. The value of the coins goes up and down with the value of the material with which it was created. How does a coin owner know, though, which coins are valuable and which ones are only worth face value?

What Is the Value of Old Coins?

The word "value" takes on a new meaning when pertaining to coins. Four categories stand out in determining the value of a coin: book, buy price, retail value and wholesale value. Coin collectors will review the coin against every one of these categories before estimating the value. Understanding the categories is the first actionable step in understanding old coins.

  • Book Value. This is the average price of a dealer's retail price for a particular coin. 
  • Buy Price. This is the direct price that a dealer would pay for the coin. It differs from the book value because it is dependent upon a single dealer, not an average over a variety of dealers.
  • Retail Value. This is the price that an individual would pay if the coin were sold by a dealer.
  • Wholesale Value. This term is used between dealers. It is the price that one dealer would pay to another for an old coin.

Factors Affecting the Value of Old Coins

After the value of the coin is understood, the factors affecting these values need to be reviewed. Three main categories affect a coin's value: rarity, demand and condition. This is the second actionable step in discovering the value of old coins.

  • Rarity. The rarest coins are the ones that were not minted in bulk. "Mintage" refers to the number of coins produced. Rarity also includes the number of coins remaining in circulation or existence.
  • Demand. The demand will vary with the availability and popularity of a coin and will rise and fall year to year. The demand for a certain coin can be gauged with an online auction site -- is the coin in question selling for a higher or lower price?
  • Condition. The condition of the coin falls into two categories: uncirculated and circulated. Uncirculated coins are graded from MS70 to MS60. An uncirculated coin in MS70 condition is in mint, or perfect, condition, while an MS60 coin is washed out and barely readable. The categories for circulated coins cover a wider range of conditions, including "very choice," "also choice," "very fine" and "very good," among other categories. The highest circulated category is AU-58 and the lowest category is Poor-1. 

When a coin is too damaged to maintain its value, the basal value may be determined. This is the value of the actual metal left in the coin after its face has been devalued. The basal value is found when the "fineness," or percentage of metal in the coin, is multiplied by the current price of the metal. 

Find a Coin Appraiser

After the coin is determined to have value, a coin appraiser can confirm that the coin is worth more than its face value. Approaching a dealer without an appraiser could lead to receiving less money than the coin is worth. Finding a trustworthy appraiser is the third actionable step in finding out how much the coin is worth.


The Professional Numismatists Guild is a non-profit organization consisting of some of the best rare coin dealers. They will help coin owners understand the coin, its value and why the coin is valued at the price they quote. 

More in Finance & Business
New on Valinv
Related Articles
Sponsored Links