Treasure Hunting: Some Rolls of Coins are Worth More Than You Think
When you think of hunting, coin rolls may not be the first things that come to mind.
Committed coin roll hunters look for collectible coins as well as coins for which the metal value exceeds the face value -- like a pre-1982 penny, whose copper is worth about two cents.
For some, it’s more than just a hobby: a few hunters have made thousands of dollars. However, the more likely scenario is a fun treasure hunt that involves some work and nets you a few bucks now and then.
How Does Coin Roll Hunting Work?
The basic idea is to get rolls of coins from the bank and sort through them for those that are worth a bit more than their face value. After digging through and removing any of these "treasures," you return the rest of the coins to the bank and start the process over.
Let's look at the common denominations coin roll hunters go after, as well as some basic precautions and tips to make the process more efficient and profitable.
You rarely see half-dollar coins in circulation now, but you can still buy them from the bank. Half dollar coins come in rolls of 20 ($10 face value), and typically the bank orders them for you in boxes of 50 or 100 rolls ($500 or $1,000 per box).
Look for coins minted before 1970. The ones dated from 1965 through 1969 are 40% silver, and fetch about $2.87 right now. The ones minted before 1965 are 90% silver, and at the moment you can sell them for about $7.02 each.
Although most silver coins have been pulled from circulation by collectors over the years, they get reintroduced in various ways, including by kids and others who spend money found in coin collections. One coin roll hunter claims to have found 630 of the 40% halves and 180 of the 90% halves in eight months for a profit of over $2,650. He’s serious about this business, explaining how he repeatedly buys 2,000 at a time ($1,000) from the bank.
If you see any Franklin half dollars (1948 to 1963) they might also be worth something to collectors, so look them up in a coin value guide online before selling them for their silver content.
U.S. quarters minted before 1965 are 90% silver, and are worth about $3.51 for their silver content at the moment. Quarters come in rolls of 40 ($10 face value), and are usually easily available from any bank. For large quantities you may have to ask the bank to order them for you.
With a bit of practice, you'll quickly spot the silver ones just by looking at the edges of the coins in the roll. They look whiter, without the gold coloring more recent coins have. Look up the value of any that were minted prior to the 1950s to see if the collectible value exceeds the value of the silver content.
Dimes from before 1965 are 90% silver, and are selling for about $1.40 at the moment. Check collectible values for older ones, especially the mercury dimes (1916 to 1945). Dimes come 50 to a roll ($5), and most banks will have a decent supply.
As with quarters, you should be able to look at the edge of a stack of dimes and pick out the silver ones. One coin roll hunter says he finds a silver one for every 4,000 dimes he checks. That's eighty rolls of dimes to make each $1.30 profit, so have fun and don't expect to get rich.
Penny hunters have two good options. As previously reported, many people have started saving pennies which were minted before 1982 because they have more than a penny's worth of metal -- they contain 95% copper. The price of copper is about $3.06 per pound at the moment, and there are about 146 pennies per pound, making them each worth around 2 cents. Copper prices vary quite a bit, and have been as high as $3.40 in the last year.
One man in Oregon has 200,000 pennies saved in buckets in his garage, waiting for the day when he can double or triple his $2,000 investment by selling them all for melt value. But he does have to wait, since it's illegal to destroy circulating U.S. coins. Some people think the penny will be discontinued, including President Obama. When that happens it may be legal to melt down those coins.
In the meantime, though, you can sell them on eBay and let others do the waiting. Buyers pay the shipping charge, and recent auctions on eBay are being bid up to about $133 for $100 face value. You won't get rich gathering together 10,000 pre-1982 pennies to make a $33 profit, but it is fun to sell money for more than its "spend value."
You should also watch for pennies old enough to have value as collectibles. Generally these are the ones before 1959, which are often called "wheat pennies" because of the design on the back. If you see any "double die" pennies, keep those too. They have an image that is offset or doubled because during the minting process two strikes didn't match. After separating out your finds, use a coin value guide online to see what they're worth, and then sell them either on eBay or at a local coin shop.
One more penny bonus: some hunters report finding dimes in penny rolls.
Making Money Coin Roll Hunting
Ordering boxes of half dollars is the method most likely to be profitable. But even the coin hunter mentioned above, who has found hundreds of silver halves, says he sometimes gets nothing out of a box of fifty rolls. Of course, lucky finds of rare coins are possible, but most of the time you'll make small gains for your time.
Efficiency, then, is crucial if you want this to become more than a hobby. The most time-consuming part of the process is returning the coins you've already searched. Rolling them isn't practical if you're searching hundreds of rolls, so you need to use counting machines. You can locate a Coinstar machine and run your coins through that, but do this only if you use the fee-free gift card option. Make sure you get a card for a place at which you normally shop.
For larger quantities you need a bank that has a counting machine and allows you to cash in coins for free. You may have to open a savings account to avoid fees. Some will ask you to stop if you're dumping coins more than once weekly, so you might also have to rotate through several banks. These are called "dump banks." Call around to locate ones have the machines and ask how you can use them for free. Another important tip: get your coins from other banks so you don't get back the same ones you're dumping.
To learn the ins and outs of this business/hobby, visit a forum dedicated to coin roll hunting. Members post photos of their finds and exchange tips. In a recent post, a member shared some interesting foreign coins he had found in his rolls -- another thing to look for. Reading about other people's experiences will help you decide whether coin roll hunting is worth it for you, or whether you’d rather try a less literal form of penny hoarding.
Your Turn: Have you ever bought rolls of coins from the bank to search for collectible or silver coins?