I Just inherited a Coin Collection! How Do I Sell It?

As owners of a full-time coin shop, one of our most frequently asked questions is from people who have inherited a coin collection and are not quite sure what to do with it. Almost always, these are individuals whose father or grandfather collected – but who, themselves, know nothing about coins or their values.

First and most importantly: as you look through the coins, you’ll likely notice that they are dirty and/or worn from circulation, or that the silver coins have a natural patina or toning from age. DO NOT be tempted to clean them, wipe them or polish them up, since this will remove any remaining Mint luster and/or cause hairline scratches, unnatural color and shine, or other damage that will be visible under magnification: any of which can substantially decrease their value.

Keep all of the coins “as is”!


To save time in the selling process, you’ll want to go through and make sure that none of the coins or paper money are “spenders”, and pull them out. This would include any modern Lincoln Cents (Lincoln Memorial on the back, rather than wheat stalks); circulated Jefferson Nickels (excluding 1939-D, 1950-D, 1942-1945 silver War Nickels; dimes or quarters dated 1965 or later; Kennedy Half Dollars issued 1971 or later; or any modern one-dollar coins (Eisenhower, Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea and Presidential).

With paper money, anything circulated and modern-size with a green seal on the front (except bills higher than $100 in very nice condition) is going to be worth face value, only – unless there was an obvious error in the printing process. (Major printing errors in either coins or paper money will often carry a premium pricetag!)


If want to start researching the collection’s potential value on your own (not an unwise idea!), it may be worth getting a copy of “The Official Red Book: A Guide to United States Coins” (see www.jjcoins.com, supplies; $14.95). This “bible” of coin collecting (updated yearly) will enable you to tell if you have any valuable coins, and will give you an approximate idea of the coins’ values based on date, Mint mark and condition. Since some of your coins might prove to be better dates, it could be well worth investing in the guide, versus the chance of getting “ripped off” when selling because you are unaware of potentially higher-priced coins in your collection.


Given that Wheat Pennies are still around by the millions, common circulated ones are worth only 2-3 cents each, unless it’s a better date (1909-S, 1909-S VDB, 1910-S, 1911-S, 1912-S, 1913-S, 1914-D, 1914-S, 1915-S, 1922-D, 1924-D, and 1931-S; look for the Mint mark under the date). You may also want to set aside any that are in uncirculated condition, since some buyers may offer a slight premium.

All other dates (besides the ones listed above) can go into one big pile as “common date” (2-3 cent) wheat pennies.


To sort out the silver coins from your collection, look for any Roosevelt dimes and Washington quarters dated 1964 or earlier, and Kennedy half dollars issued 1970 or before – all of which are worth close to silver value, regardless of condition (different dealers will pay different prices; usually X times face value, depending on current silver prices). While there are really no better dates for Roosevelt dimes and Kennedy half dollars, if you have a 1932-D or 1932-S Washington quarter in any condition, you have a rare coin that will bring a nice premium!

Even in rough condition, these coins still hold their silver value, known among collectors/investors as “junk silver”.

Any pre-Roosevelt dimes, Washington quarters, and Kennedy half dollars are also silver – and depending on date and condition, may well have collector’s value that exceeds their value in silver.


World coins and paper money take a level of specialized knowledge that many average US coin dealers and shops don’t have. If you have quite a bit of foreign money in the collection, I highly recommend seeking out a dealer who specializes in it to assess what you have, and what the value is. (In general, circulated non-silver coins from the 1970s and later – as well as crumpled paper money – will have little value, and is best doled out to the kids in the family).

As a rule of thumb, shops/dealers will pay $4-$5 per pound for world coins – but it truly takes someone with knowledge to be able to look through them and identify (and pay for) individual coins which may be worth considerably more. (Example: an uncirculated 1959 Greece 10-Drachmai coin can retail for up to $100, whereas a circulated 1968 issue retails for one dollar or less).

Ancient coins require yet another level of expertise, as there are literally hundreds of different issues, a lot of replicas – and those who don’t specialize in ancients generally don’t know too much about them. A good first step may be to find any visual clues on the coin such as writing, symbols and metal content, and try to google-search it. If you have no luck with that method, you might shoot a front and back photo, and email it to an ancient coin dealer in your area or state to see if they can help with identification and value, and would possibly be interested in buying it.


Once your collection is ready to sell, my best recommendation is to shop it around to a minimum of three coin dealers/shops, and see who gives the highest offer – and chances are, the offers you receive will vary widely (thus the need for shopping around!). If a dealer asks you, “What would you like to get for this collection?”, this is your cue to say you’re looking for the highest offer – because if you throw out too low a number, you may be caught by an unsavory individual who would gladly pay that, even if your collection may be worth substantially more.


Just because a coin is old does not necessarily mean it’s rare and valuable. Prime examples would be common-date Buffalo Nickels, which can be worth less than 10 cents if the date is worn off; common-date Indian Head Cents in rough condition, also worth 10 cents or less; and even common-date Silver dollars from the late 1800s may only be worth silver value only if they’re heavily circulated, polished, scratched, or have other “problems”.

Proof Sets? Very common – even in their original pristine Mint boxes – and usually (but not always) not worth impressive amounts of money unless it’s a silver proof set.

If you have modern-size paper money with a blue or red seal on front (1920s-1960s), it can be worth a small premium in better conditions – but if they’re heavily circulated, don’t count on too much over face value. Regardless, whatever you have, take it all in, since you’ll never know till you get an offer.


I feel confident in stating that almost all coin shops/dealers will be happy to look at your collection and give a free verbal offer; simply call and ask when would be a good time to stop by with it. But I can’t stress enough the importance of shopping the collection around, since the offers can vary tremendously – whether it’s the experience/knowledge level of the dealer, his access to updated weekly and monthly coin value sheets, or sadly – in some cases – his or her level of honesty in buying and selling coins.

In the end, to keep or sell your inherited collection will be a personal decision, in which only you can weigh any sentimental value against its monetary worth. If you don’t necessarily need the money now, it may be worth hanging onto for awhile in the chance that the value of your collection (in particular, the silver or gold content) may increase over time.

by Inge Burbank, world coin & currency expert at www.jjcoins.com

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