Treasure Hunting: Some Rolls of Coins Are Worth More Than You Think
Coin collecting was once a very popular hobby in America. From pennies to half dollars, people would look for (and sometimes find) coins of worth beyond their face value, and sell them to serious collectors.
Today, the interest in and use of coins has waned because of electronic payments, as well as the recent coin shortage due to the drop in economic activity during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s also nearly impossible to find anyone who will count your coins without charging an exorbitant fee to do so.
But there is a way to make money from coins, and that is known as coin roll hunting.
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; its copper is worth about two cents.
(It is also possible to find collectible coins of rare value due to printing errors or from specific dates. If you have the time, consult the Guide Book of United States Coins to see if you have a winner or two.)
For some, coin roll hunting is more than just a hobby. With the right find, dedicated hunters can make thousands of dollars.
However, the more likely scenario is that you will develop a new fun hobby that involves some work and attention to detail and can occasionally net a few bucks beyond the face value of the coin.
How to Hunt for Old Coins
What Is Coin Roll Hunting?
The basic idea is to get rolls of coins from the bank and sort through them to find those that are worth a bit more than their face value. After digging through and removing any of these “treasures,” you can turn the other coins into cash 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.
What Coins Should I Look Out For?
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 $3.34 right now. The ones minted before 1965 are 90% silver, and the initial price for sale is $7.00, though some collectors will pay more.
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.
And 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 just for their silver content.
U.S. quarters minted before 1965 are 90% silver, and are worth about $4.46 for their silver content as of August 2023. 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 $1.79 as of August 2023. 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 $3.70 per pound at the moment, and there are about 146 pennies per pound, making them each worth around 2 cents apiece.
But you can’t just melt down a penny for its copper.
In 2011, ABC News published a story about a man in Oregon who had 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 it’s a waiting game, since it’s illegal to destroy circulating U.S. coins. Some people think the penny will be discontinued. 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 $163 for $100 face value. You won’t get rich gathering together 10,000 pre-1982 pennies to make a $63 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.
Another penny bonus? Some hunters report finding dimes in penny rolls.
How Do I Make 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. Otherwise, you will pay a whopping 11.9% fee for every coin collection you have.
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 a week, so you might also have to rotate through several banks. These are called “dump banks.” Call around to locate ones that have the machines and ask how you can use them for free.
Get your coins from various 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. 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.
Happy (coin roll) hunting!
Kent McDill is a veteran journalist who has specialized in personal finance topics since 2013. He is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.