Expert Buyer's Guide to Coins

Written by Patrick Morgan

Value My Stuff's top coin-collecting tips on how to start a coin collection and market updates for new and seasoned collectors, including a record-breaking penny, and what to look for in your pocket change.


When it comes to collecting, there are few things with as much history and variety as numismatics, otherwise known as coin collecting. Considered to be one of the earliest known categories of collectibles, and the ancient pastime of Kings, Lords, and Nobles, coins tell us the histories of the world through their art, political designs, and materials, all while reflecting the economic needs of society. What makes a coin valuable depends on a number of factors.

What was the first coin ever struck?

Most consider the Lydian stater, circa 600 BC, to be the earliest coin minted, made from electrum (a mix of both gold and silver), each coin was hand struck and beautifully depicts a lion attacking a bull on the face and two square punch marks on the reverse. Depending on the quality of the coin and or metal type, they can bring anywhere from 1200 euros to over 50,000 euros.

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The gold Lydian slater coin. (Public Domain)

The gold Lydian slater coin. (Public Domain)

On your next European trip, don't forget to check your euros…

The most recent coinage minted is the Euro; created in 2002 in order to bring economic parity to EU member states through a common currency. Once again, an example of coins telling the story of our history through economic unions and artistic renderings, with each member of the European Union creating a unique design that pays homage to that country's past. And with a little luck, these are a few coins you just might just find in your pocket change on your next trip through Europe.

Euro coins and banknotes. (Avij)

Euro coins and banknotes. (Avij)

Top three collectible 2 euro coin rarities

Number Three; The Lithuanian 2 euro Error coin, which strangely has the country motto of Latvia, "God Bless Latvia," printed on its edge rather than the Lithuanian motto of "Freedom, Unity, Prosperity". There are thought to be less than 5000 in circulation, and they sell for about 1500 euros each. Number two; The Monaco "First Castle", 2 euro coin minted in 2015 in a limited run of 10,000. It sells for about 2000 euros.

Lithuanian Euro coin with error. (Lietuvas Bankas)

Lithuanian Euro coin with error. (Lietuvas Bankas)

And the number one collectible euro coin: Monaco's "Grace Kelly" commemorative 2 euro coin, with a total of only 20,000 minted between 2007-2014. It's rare and a real beauty. They are selling for about 5000 euros each, if you are lucky enough to find one. Coin collecting is an exciting journey. And you can begin by simply going to the bank with a 20-dollar bill and exchanging it for 40 rolls of pennies, just like I did, back in 1970 at the age of nine.

I remember passing the entire weekend, opening the rolls and filling slots in my Lincoln Penny Portfolios, and then going through old coin catalogs to see what each penny was worth. I still have those old portfolios today, and they bring back fond memories. Earlier this year, on January 22nd, a California Auction House sold a 1958 Double Die Lincoln Error Penny for over 1 million dollars, one of only three known to exist, it may just be one of the rarest error coins ever struck and makes it the first penny to break the million dollar barrier.

1958 Double Die Lincoln Error Penny. (Public Domain)

1958 Double Die Lincoln Error Penny. (Public Domain)

What are the rarest and most expensive coins worth?

How to determine the value of old coins and what actually makes them valuable is probably the most intriguing part of building a coin collection. Once you've chosen a particular area to collect or a specific coin type to collect, the first question most collectors ask is…What are the rarest and most expensive coins worth?

When it comes to value, beauty, and rarity are the most important factors. And when we are talking about beauty, American coins lead the pack.

To appraise your coins, follow these easy steps!

The 1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle

The artistry of the early 20th century reaches its peak with the Saint Gaudens Double Eagle twenty-dollar gold coin. Minted between 1907-1933 and named after its sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The coin was commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt, who thought American coinage should be more beautiful. Today, most people agree, the Double Eagle Twenty Dollar Gold piece is exceptional for its artistry, majestic detail, and unparalleled beauty.

Sadly, Augustus Saint-Gaudens died the year the Double Eagle began widespread circulation, in 1907.

Although there were millions of Double Eagles struck between 1907-1933, many never made it into circulation or were melted down for their gold content.

Today, the most common in the series is the 1924 coin which can be purchased for about $2,000 USD, whereas a 1933 Double Eagle, (one of only 14 known examples), sold with Sotheby's Auction in June 2021, for over $18 million USD, making it by far, the most expensive coin ever sold in history.

The 1907 Saint-Gaudens double eagle. (Public Domain)

The 1907 Saint-Gaudens double eagle. (Public Domain)

When it comes to buying or selling, every collector's first question is: How much is it worth?

– When valuing more modest acquisitions, a quick internet search on eBay or Etsy can give you an idea of market prices for certain coins.

– The Auction databases of Sotheby's, Christie's, and Bonhams are also excellent sources for sales results and current market prices for more important coins.

A slabbed coin, prodessional grading service. (Viiticus)

A slabbed coin, prodessional grading service. (Viiticus)

What is third-party grading?

Lastly, a very important consideration before making a purchase is Third-Party grading; this is the process of authentication and guaranteeing a coin's official grade. 

Once this has been done, the coin is "slabbed", essentially encapsulating the coin in a plastic case, protecting it from further wear, while eliminating all doubt as to the condition and value of the coin. Some of the most reputable TPG companies are:

– Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS)
– Numismatic Guarantee Corporation (NGS)
– Independent Coin Grades (ICG)

And on a final note, it never hurts to get a qualified second opinion before buying or selling your coins, and at VMS, we are here for you with our team of qualified experts to help you take the mystery out of what it's worth.

If you have coins that you want to appraise, follow these easy steps.

Patrick Morgan is a general certified antique appraiser with over 25 years of experience, working with Caldwell and Associates, based in San Diego, CA, since 1998. Based in Paris, since 2002, he visits the auction rooms and combs the flea markets for treasures whenever he has some spare time, collecting anything from watches to weapons while continuing his primary focus on Tribal Arts. 

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