As a coin collector for many years, I have learned first hand that one can amass an exciting and incredible collection of coins directly from pocket change. In fact, the current period is the first time in generations that a collector can look to his or her pocket changeand expect to find a vast array of designs and denominations since the so-called “golden days” of coin collecting during the middle of the 20th century. Needless to say, collecting coins from circulation nowadays is certainly more tantalizing than it was in 1992, when I first began collecting coins. Back then, one would be hard pressed to find anything more than Lincoln cents, Jefferson nickels, Roosevelt dimes, and the heraldic eagle-reverse Washington quarters. Fine coins all, but quite limited in scope when referring to the number of designs one could easily find in circulation.
The reason for all the buzz about today’s selection of circulating coinage comes down largely to three coin programs that the United States Mint has begun over the past decade: the Statehood Quarters program (1999-2007), honoring each of our nation’s fifty states; and the Presidential Dollars (2007-), a series of dollar coins that have just begun production, bearing depictions of our country’s deceased presidents in chronological order of time in office; and the Westward Nickel series (2004-2005), four circulating designs that recognize the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Furthermore, one can find in circulation the usual offering of Lincoln cents, pre-2004 Jefferson nickels, Roosevelt dimes, and pre-1999 Washington quarters (with the heraldic eagle reverse).
As I can tell you, though, surprises can be found in circulation. It is not uncommon to find older Lincoln cents and Jefferson nickels (in this article, “older” will refer to Lincoln cents and Jefferson nickels that were minted before 1960), and I have had the rare pleasure to even come stumble upon a couple silver coins (yes, silver) in circulation. Furthermore, I have come across a number of foreign coins in my pocket change, during transactions, and on the sidewalk (ranging from places such as Canada, Central America, and Europe. Even coins bearing interesting (and sometimes valuable) mistakes can be found in pocket change.
Older Lincoln cents and Jefferson nickels are in fact rather commonly found in circulation. Though the frequency with which these old coins appear in circulation has been waning in recent years, a bit of concerted searching will lend you to finding these coins. I have discovered that one of the best ways to search for older Lincoln cents and Jefferson nickels are in rolls, where a large number of these coins are encountered en masse. Simply purchase a roll of the desired denomination, search for the coins you like, and then re-roll (and perhaps trade in for more rolls) the coins you do not want to hold for your collection. To encounter silver coins in circulation is truly a rare event nowadays (and has been the case since the price of silver bullion rose above respective coin face values; this event almost immediately preceded the end of 90%-silver circulating coin production, which ceased in 1965). While the above roll theory suggests that the more coins you encounter, the more likely you will find what you want, bear in mind that silver coins are virtually non-existent in today’s circulation. At any rate, it is always best to keep a keen eye to the coins that pass through your hands. For those who want to collect half -dollars and dollar coins, the best bet is to look elsewhere than pocket change. A number of banks keep half-dollar and dollar coins, and many stamp vending machines in United States Post Offices readily return dollar coins in change.
While you may not see a glint of silver in your pocket change, you may just be lucky enough to find some money from abroad. Yes, I am talking about foreign coins and, as I can tell you, they do turn up with some decent amount of frequency, especially in metropolitan areas where foreign travelers are common. If you live in a major city, near one of our two international land borders, or near a major tourist destination, you indeed have a very good chance of finding a Peso, Canadian cent, or Euro in your pocket or on the street.
Circulation also carries coins that were not struck properly. These are called error coins, and some are quite valuable. An error coin is a coin which has been struck without accordance to normal striking standards. An error coin may contain something as simple as a design which was only partially struck (the design may look off-center, or look as though only a part of the design was struck on the coin-leaving part of the coin blank), or may be as odd as having a coin bear a design that was not intended for a particular denomination (such as a dime whose obverse depicts a bust of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and a reverse that bears a design from one of the Statehood quarters). Perhaps one of the most widely collected “errors” are coins that are dubbed “double-dies.” Double-die coins are those which display designs or part of a design that appears to have been struck two or more times. Many famous examples of double-dies bear a doubled image of a date, a couple of letters (such as in “United States of America” or “E Pluribus Unum”), or a section of the design itself. These are just a few examples of the many types of mint errors coins that exist.
As you can see, collecting coins from circulation can be not only lucrative and rewarding, it can be downright fun. Many collectors, from the young and novice to the old and experienced, still look to their pocket change as one of their main sources for coins. Coin collecting is a remarkable hobby that can last a lifetime and, without a doubt, one that never has to be any further away than your pocket, wallet, or purse.