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Tap different ways to hunt for coins

Which coin is your dream coin? Is it a large silver dollar, a 200-year old type coin, an early copper, or a flashy gold piece? Every collector has one special coin in his heart that would complete a set or that would be fun to own.

Which coin is your dream coin? Is it a large silver dollar, a 200-year old type coin, an early copper, or a flashy gold piece? Every collector has one special coin in his heart that would complete a set or that would be fun to own. Some collectors dream of that coin for years, and sometimes are lucky enough to find one, often in an unexpected way.


Every collector of a certain generation dreamed of owning a 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent. The key coin in a popular set, this coin has been in high demand for as long as people have collected sets of Lincoln cents. And at one time, it was possible to find this coin in pocket change.

Back in the era of circulation finds, it was possible to find just about anything in everyday change. I have heard of collectors in the 1950s and early 1960s who completed sets of Mercury dimes from circulation, yes, including the 1916-D.

The famous New York Subway Hoard was assembled by two New York Transit Authority employees from the 1940s until the 1960s. This remarkable accumulation numbered nearly 23,000 coins – all received from circulation. Complete sets of Barber dimes and Barber half dollars were put together from this hoard. Overdate coins, such as the 1942/1 Mercury dime and the 1918/7-D Buffalo nickel appeared in goodly numbers, 166 of the dime and 29 of the nickel. The 1916 Standing Liberty quarter appeared in this group, 19 of them, along with 8 of the 1901-S Barber quarter, one of the rarest coins of the 20th century.

It was very possible to find a dream coin in change during this time. But when silver was removed from coinage in 1965, everything changed. Silver coins disappeared from circulation, despite claims that silver and clad coins would circulate side by side. At this time, a few Standing Liberty quarters could be found, but more often than not those that were had their dates worn off. This was also a problem with Buffalo nickels.

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Date restorers could be purchased at local coin shops, although many collectors disliked this practice. Others, however, got busy with their dateless coins. I found a 1914-D Buffalo nickel this way and I’ve heard of a 1918/7 overdate nickel turning up this way.
Regardless of condition, these coins were space fillers in albums. Beginning collectors knew the pride of ownership in this manner even if the restored coins had no lasting commercial value. In this way they could understand how more advanced collectors did about their high grade coins.

My grandmother once gave me a small hoard of coins she had saved over the years. One coin from the bunch was a dateless Liberty Head nickel. The date restorer was applied, and behold, it was an 1885, a key date.

The 1916 Standing Liberty quarter was my dream coin, and I never did find one in change, although I came close. I did get a 1917 Type I in change, well-worn, with the “7” and part of the second “1” visible of the date.

Nowadays, collectors searching for a dream coin have to visit their local coin shop, or attend a convention to find their prizes. Specialists in certain areas may have to bid in auctions, and sometimes must wait for years for their dream coin to come up for sale. Those who collect such series as Colonials or large cents are familiar with this route. Even the auction catalogs are collectors’ items and reference works. Specialists save these catalogs, study them, and learn more about their chosen series, even learning the coins’ pedigrees, rarity scales and condition census.

Sometimes a dream coin is not number one on the popularity list and is not recognized as a major rarity, but is hard to locate. I knew a collector who had looked for a gold 1904-S half eagle in true Mint State. The coin wasn’t that difficult in very fine or so, but Mint State coins were few and far between, and his search took years. He received a firm’s catalog listing such a coin, and immediately placed a call to buy the coin, only to find it had already been sold – and he was not the only caller to be disappointed. After another few years of searching, he finally did see one at a major convention. The price was high, but he had his dream coin. Sometimes a collector must pay a good price for a dream coin, but that high price buys the coin. Another specimen may not be seen for a long time.

Perhaps a dream coin is an attractive piece that looks good in your set. I knew a topical collector who wanted any coin featuring a ship. Foreign or ancient, common or rare, he wanted any coin with a sailing vessel. One of his favorites was the 1949 Canadian silver dollar commemorating Newfoundland becoming a province. This handsome coin shows John Cabot’s ship, the Matthew. The collector acquired one from a Canadian dealer at a show and was as proud as any collector I’ve seen.

There’s another way of finding a dream coin and that is searching through a dealer’s “junk box.” Treasures can be found in these so-called junk boxes- such as rare varieties. Busy dealers don’t have time to check every single coin in these boxes. Some varieties are known to error specialists, but not widely known to the collecting community. Specializing in a series can give a collector a huge advantage. Getting out and looking and never giving up, can yield great results. A few rare varieties of large cents have been found this way, including a worn specimen of the famous 1794 “starred reverse” cent.

Collectors of doubled dies, repunched dates, overdates and other such pieces called error coins can find special coins in junk boxes, perhaps even a new variety yet to be discovered. Guide books can show a collector what to look for, and these treasures have turned up in junk boxes and pocket change, too.

Searching through bank rolls can yield good results and maybe a few silver coins. If you get hold of a few rolls of half dollars, don’t be surprised to find a few 40 percent silver coins from 1965-1970. Yes, I have heard many stories of 1970-D half dollars found in bank rolls.

Serious collectors can invest in a metal detector and get to work. Some scarce old Colonials and large cents have been unearthed from time to time, along with other treasures.

Finding a special coin, whatever a collector deems special to him, is still possible. Know what to look for, and how to look. Never stop hunting. You may come up with the next major discovery and find your own dream coin in the process.

More Coin Collecting Resources:

State Quarters Deluxe Folder By Warmans

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Strike It Rich with Pocket Change, 2nd Edition