You never know when you might discover a fortune right there in your pocket. In among your loose change, in fact, there could be a coin worth enough money to set you up for life – and you’d never guess which one it was. After all, an auction house in Tampa, Florida, has sold a single old dime for close to $2 million.
However, not all old coins are created equal: that quarter you’ve got from 2001 isn’t worth any more than it says on its face. No, valuable coins are usually collectible thanks to a peculiarity or something unusual from history that makes them important.
So how do you spot a valuable coin? Well, you could ask coin-collecting aficionados – called “numismatists” – who hunt down coins that are worth collecting for a variety of different reasons. But be warned: over time, different coins will go up and down in value, just like other tradable commodities.
With this in mind, then, what is it that makes a given coin worth more than another? Unfortunately, it comes down to quite a few factors. These could include the demand for a particular coin at a particular time as well as its grade, age, design – even its intrinsic metal value.
For instance, the coin sold in Tampa for $1,997,500 fit most of these criteria. Of the coin, David Hall, from the Professional Coin Grading Service in Santa Ana, California, said, “A couple of coins have been known among the rarest of the rare for 100 years and this is one of those numismatic icons.”
So just how do you recognize a $2 million coin? Well, the coin sold in Tampa was a dime minted in 1894 known as the 1894-S Barber dime. It’s advisable, then, to keep an eye out for any dime from this year, since they could be worth hundreds of dollars.
It’s important to note, however, that the Tampa-sold dime was notable for another reason. You see, that dime was not only minted in 1894, but it also had a small “S” printed at the bottom of the crest on the tails side of the coin. The “S” in the 1894-S stands for San Francisco, the place where the coin was minted.
Of course, the 1894-S is something extremely special. According to Heritage Auctions, in fact, this particular dime is “a classic rarity in American coinage, often grouped with the 1804 dollar and the 1913 Liberty nickel as The Big Three of United States numismatic rarities.”
Naturally, then, this coin is extremely significant to numismatics. After all, the San Francisco Mint struck just 24 of the special dimes, five of which were kept for analysis and evaluation purposes. This meant that only 19 were ever released – and of these, fewer than ten are thought to be still in existence.
However, not all of those 19 dimes would be worth $2 million; the reason the Tampa coin sold for the price it did is because it is an exceptional example. Professional coin grader David Hall said, “[It’s in] spectacular condition, almost perfect.”
So what has happened to the other coins? It is thought by some that a few of the 19 dimes that were released might have been given to foreign dignitaries who visited the area at the time, while various tales abound about the fate of the remaining coins. One of the most famous of these stories, in fact, concerns the daughter of the superintendent of the mint.
The story goes that the superintendent gave his daughter three of the special dimes and told her to save them. He apparently said that by the time she was his age, the coins would be very valuable. However, so the tale goes, rather than keep hold of all three, she decided to buy an ice cream with one of them.
But whether that story is true or not, many of the 19 dimes that were released have seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. As a result, these are of particular interest among numismatists. Such is their attraction, in fact, that Heritage Auctions has offered $10,000 just to be the first to study one if someone turns it in.
The senior numismatist at Heritage Auctions, Mark Borckardt, said, “They could be in somebody’s desk drawer. They could be sitting in somebody’s bank box. People could look almost anywhere and they might show up.” The chances of finding one are infinitesimal, of course, but stranger things have happened.
And although the excitement generated by the huge sum paid for the 1894-S Barber dime in Tampa was considerable, both the buyer and the seller asked to remain anonymous. We will, therefore, likely never know the exact circumstances in which the coin was found.
Significantly, though, these Barber dimes are not the only valuable dimes out there, so you can keep your eyes open for other possible finds. These include, for instance, the 1829 Liberty Cap dime and the 1968-S Roosevelt dime, each of which could sell at auction for nearly $8,000. That’s a pretty good return!
However, you’d do well not to focus all of your efforts on just trying to find dimes. After all, there are several other coin types out there that could raise millions of dollars at the right auction. One of these is a coin called the 1804 dollar.
In 1999, in fact, a rare 1804 dollar sold for $4.14 million, a figure that could certainly be trumped were one to be auctioned today. Due to their incredible value, though, these dollars are among those at high risk of being counterfeited.
Incidentally, the 1804 dollars have a very interesting back story for numismatists, since they were not actually minted in 1834 instead of 1804. What’s more, some of these coins were used as gifts on a diplomatic mission from the United States to Asia, while others were struck to be traded with collectors for pieces that the Mint wanted for its own archive.
So how likely are you to find a valuable coin down the back of the couch? Well, the probability of finding a rare coin depends on three factors: how many of the coins were minted in any given year; how long they have been in circulation; and something called “collector pressure.” This final one is key, since the older and more valuable a coin is, the more likely it is that other people have already found it. Essentially, though, they are so rare that you could search for a lifetime and never find one.