What is My Coin (or Note) Worth?

by Joel Anderson

Q. What determines the value of a coin or note?

A.  The value of a coin or banknote is determined four factors,

  • The supply of the item, or how many are are around.
  • The demand for the item, or how many collectors want it.
  • The condition of an item.  For many coins this is the most important!
  • Bullion or exchange value. A gold or silver coin usually does not sell for a great deal less than its melt value.
  • Notice that age is not included as a factor.  1000 year old Chinese coins often sell for a dollar or two, because there are a lot of them around and there are not a lot of collectors for them. On the other hand  On the other hand a 1913 Liberty Head Nickel sold for over $1,000,000 because there are only five known.  The demand is also important.  A 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent has a mintage of 484,000 and sells for hundreds of dollars.  Yet there are coins of many countries (Belize, Seychelles, Jamaica) with mintages of less than a tenth of that, yet the coins sell for only a few dollars each, if that.  Why?  Because there are a lot of collectors for United States Lincoln Cents, well over 484,000, so there is a strong demand for the coin that bids the price up.  On the other hand there are very few collectors for coins of many smaller nations such as Belize or Seychelles, so there is a much larger supply of the coin than demand, so the coins go for relatively little, even though they are quite scarce.  The same goes for paper money.  You may have an old $50 bill from the 1930's, but unless it is in perfect condition, it will probably bring little if any premium.  There are just not a lot of people who collect $50 bills, and there enough notes out there that if a collector wants one, they can usually get one in top grade.

    For some avidly collected series, such as United States coins, condition plays plays a significant role in the value of a coin, even for mint-state coins.  An Uncirculated coin that is absolutely flawless under magnification might bring 1000 times more than one which is Uncirculated, but shows some bag marks or cabinet friction.  For other, less avidly series, collectors are not as concerned with quality, so there is a perfect coin brings little if any premium.

    When determining the face value of a foreign coin or note, remember many countries will no longer exchange their old coins for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes inflation has eroded the value of the original coin or note, and though they may be using the same monetary unit, the old money is no longer accepted.  This is true in countries such as Brazil, France, Germany, and Yugoslavia.  Other countries will from time to time refuse to exchange certain coins, because of counterfeiting or because of a change in governments.  This is true of certain recent French coins.  Some countries make it extremely difficult, if not impossible to exchange their money.  This true of the coins of the Marshall Islands.  Though the coins have a "legal tender" equivalent to United States coins, the coins are not accepted in the Marshall Islands and are almost impossible to exchange.  Even if you do have a coin or note that is exchangeable, do not expect to face value for it, unless the person buying it is about to dash off there in the next few days and wants some spending money.  Because of the cost of shipping and exchanging coins and notes, plus the need to earn a profit, you may get anywhere from slightly below face value to a small fraction of the face value, depending on the country and the item.

    Q.  Where can I look up the value of my coin or note?

    A.  You will need to get the right book.  Sorry, but there is no on-line source that lists the value of coins or notes (though I hear one is coming for US coins).  You will have to get a  coin book or magazine.

    For United States Coins I recommend you start off with A Guide Book of United States Coins by R.S. Yeoman. It is commonly called "The Red Book" by collectors and dealers. It provides retail prices for United States coins as well as tells you how to grade coins.  It is available in many public libraries and  coin shops, or on-line.
    For more up-to-date prices you should check the major coin newspapers and magazines such as Coin World, Numismatic News, or Coinage. They all provide price guides of United States coins, though you may have to wait a few issues to get the guide for the series you want.

    For World Coins the most popular guide is a series called The Standard Catalog of World Coins by Krause and Mishler.  The books come in a series of volumes, with each volume covering a century.  The books are available in many public libraries, either directly or through an inter-library loan (ask your librarian). These and many other books are available on loan to members through the American Numismatic Association (ANA) Library or California State Numismatic Association (CSNA) Library for just the cost of postage   Of course we would be more than happy to sell you a copy of your own. Some useful reference books (now all out of print but available through libraries.)

    Krause and Mishler, STANDARD CATALOG OF WORLD COINS , 2001-present
    Krause and Mishler, STANDARD CATALOG OF WORLD COINS , 1901-2000,
    Krause and Mishler, STANDARD CATALOG OF WORLD COINS, 1801-1900,
    Krause and Mishler, STANDARD CATALOG OF WORLD COINS, 1701-1800,
    Krause and Mishler, STANDARD CATALOG OF WORLD COINS, 1601-1700,

    An on-line version of the Standard Catalogs of World Coins is available at NGC World Coin Price Guid

    For World Paper Money we recommend the series called The Standard Catalog of World Paper Money by Albert Pick.  .  Most collectors find volumes 2 and 3 the most helpful, depending upon the age of their notes.

    Vol. 1, SPECIALIZED ISSUES,Covers local issues, including Mexican & Russian Revolution issues, Philippine Guerilla notes, etc.
    Vol. 2 GENERAL ISSUES.  Covers national issues from 1650 to 1960.  We use this volume more than the others. Lists and prices over 18,000 notes.
    Vol. 3 MODERN ISSUES.  Covers notes issued from 1961 to present.
    Thousands of notes are illustrated and priced.

    An on-line version of the Standard Catalogs of World Paper Money is available at PMG World Paper Money Guide 

    For Other Stuff: There are a number of specialized (and narrow ) references for various types of ancient coins, certain medieval coins, tokens, and so forth.  Sorry but we can't cover everything on this page, but e-mail us and we can make suggestions.

    Sorry, but we are not able to identify or value coins or paper money by telephone.

    If you wish to order any of the above books or have further questions you may contact us at

      Joel Anderson
    PO Box 365
    Grover Beach, CA 93483-0365 USA

    email: orders@joelscoins.com

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