Coin collecting is an amazing hobby enjoyed by many people, but it can be expensive when you are first starting out. Coin roll hunting is a fun way to start building your collection without breaking your pocket book!
The basics of coin roll hunting (or CRH) are simple: you go to a bank, you get rolls of coins, and you open them to search for special coins. But how do you get started? What tools do you need? And what in the world should you look for?
Where to Begin?
To get started, all you need is a bank that provides coins. You can ask a teller if they will give you rolls of coins, or maybe order some for you. Some won’t, and some charge fees, so find one that is convenient for you! You can get coins in a variety of denominations, and what you decide to hunt is totally up to you.
The only tools you need are a strong light and a magnifying glass. A coin reference guide is also quite helpful, but not necessarily required. Some people prefer gloves and a soft surface for the coins so they don’t get scratched, but these are not imperative. Additionally, you may want to get coin holders, but how you store your coins is also up to you!
So, you have your coins, and you’re ready to start. What do you look for?
In general, you want to look for anything out of place. Specific coins for each denomination will be listed below, but typically people look for:
- Foreign coins
- S Mintmarks
- Old coins
(Note that this is for coin collectors in the United States. Other countries’ coins will vary)
Foreign coins are fairly self-explanatory: any coin not minted in the United States. These are not only fun to find, but can sometimes be older or rare coins dumped from somebody’s collection! Many countries’ coins share identical or similar sizes to US coins, so you will almost certainly find a few in your rolls if you search long enough.
Mintmarks are typically found on the front (or obverse) of a coin. An S mintmark means the coin was made in San Francisco. San Francisco has historically minted lower numbers of coins, and in some years only produced coins for sets. It’s almost always worth it to save those S coins!
What constitutes an “old” coin can vary greatly by denomination. Does it mean a coin with a different metal? A different design? A certain mintage? What you want to keep is up to you, but below is a list of some commonly collected coins for each denomination.
And finally, error coins. There are a wide variety of error coins, and many of them can be quite valuable. Doubled dies, rotated dies, planchet errors, the list goes on. Many of these can be difficult to spot for amateurs and frustrating to look for, but finding them is quite worthwhile! A good rule of thumb is: you can always throw it away later. If you find something you think is weird, save it. You can inspect it more closely or bring it to a coin store to see if it is special. If so, congratulations! And if not, you just have one more coin to return to the bank.
Specific coins to hunt for
This is an inexhaustive list of some of the coins you should keep an eye out for in addition to those listed above. If you get the hang of these and want to hunt for more specifics, there are excellent guidebooks and online references that detail all the possibilities.
Wheat Pennies – A wheat penny is a penny minted from 1909-1958. While Lincoln still graces the obverse as he does today, the back (or reverse) has a pair of wheat stalks, which gave rise to the name. These are always fun to collect, and sometimes can be quite valuable! Pay particular attention for older years or the 1943 steel penny. Additionally, keep an eye out for any older pennies such as the Indian Head or Flying Eagle, but good luck finding one of those in your pocket change!
Copper Pennies – In 1982, the composition of pennies was changed from copper to zinc. Some people will save pennies minted before 1982 (and some during) for their inherent metal value. The copper in an older penny is oftentimes worth more than 1 cent, and some buyers will purchase copper pennies in bulk for their metal value! If you’re not sure whether a penny is copper or zinc, take some pennies you know the age for. You can either flip them or drop them on a hard surface, and listen to the sound they make. Copper will ring, while zinc will make something of a clunk.
2009 Lincoln Bicentennial – 2009 marked the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, and pennies in that year were minted with four different designs on the reverse. Many collectors save these for their uniqueness, and to hunt for the plethora of errors that arose with the new designs!
Buffalo Nickels – The style of nickel that preceded the Jefferson nickel, Buffalo nickels were minted until 1938. Look for older style Liberty and Shield nickels as well!
Pre-1960 Jeffersons – Many collectors keep Jefferson nickels minted before 1960 as they had lower mintages, and are often hard to find in circulation.
Silver Wartime Nickels – These nickels may look like ordinary Jeffersons, but they are in fact made with some silver! During WWII, metal shortages led the mint to begin producing nickels partially with silver. These silver nickels were produced from 1942 through 1945, although not all 1942s are silver. The best way to check is by looking at the reverse: if they’re silver, the mintmark will be above Monticello!
Silver Dimes – Before 1965, dimes (and quarters and half dollars) were 90% silver. Most of them have been slurped out of circulation by now, but people do still have success looking for these older dimes. If you find anything from 1964 or earlier, you’re golden (er… silver)! From 1946-1964 these silver dimes will look like today’s Roosevelt dimes, but make sure to also keep an eye out for the older Mercury and Barber dimes!
Silver Quarters – As with dimes, any quarters minted before 1965 will be 90% silver. Washington quarters before that date had the same design through 1998, so be sure to date check them all! Also keep your eye out for older silver quarters such as the Standing Liberty or Barber.
Bicentennial Quarters – For the bicentennial anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, quarters in 1976 were made with a special reverse commemorating the occasion. While not particularly rare, many collectors save these unique quarters.
State/Territories/America the Beautiful – Starting in 1999, quarters have been minted with an astonishing variety of designs on the reverse that highlight achievements, locations, and people in American history. While these are not rare by any means, many people enjoy collecting the different varieties. These newer quarters have many errors and variations, but the baseline designs are typically worth no more than face value.
W Mintmark – Beginning in 2019, the mint at West Point began minting quarters to be mixed with regular circulation quarters. Keep an eye out for these special W mintmarks; they are hard to find, but well worth saving!
Silver Halves – Silver half dollars are a little trickier than quarters or dimes. As before, any half minted from 1964 or earlier is 90% silver. However, the Kennedy half dollars were still made partially with silver for a few more years. Often called “silver clad”, these were made from 1965-1970. While not quite as valuable as full silvers, they are still worth well above face value! Keep an eye out for older Franklin or Liberty halves as well.
NIFC – The acronym NIFC is often used by coin collectors to denote “Not Intended For Circulation”. These are often lower mintage years, as the coins were only intended for sets or collecting. Some of them do still make it to circulation though. Oftentimes these NIFC’s are not incredibly valuable, but many people still collect them. Excellent guides can be found online that detail exactly which years to look for and which to return.
One final note: “dump banks” are what collectors call the bank where you return your coins. Some banks charge fees for returning coins at their machines, while others don’t charge anything. Oftentimes smaller banks will have free coin returns or even accept hand rolled coins. But keep track of where you dump your coins and where you buy them. Many collectors like to purchase their coins at a different location than where they dump them so they don’t keep recirculating the same coins.
Hopefully, this gives you enough information to get started on your hunts, but there is always more to learn. There are many ways to collect and hunt coins, so find a method that works for you, and go for it!