5 amazingly rare American coins for collectors

Rare American coins are a superb focus for any coin collector. 

The US has been minting coins for general circulation since the Fudio (or Franklin, after Ben) cent started rolling out of presses in 1787. 

Most American coins are extraordinarily common. 

Even so, collectors may wish to add non-rarities to their library for the sake of completeness or for their aesthetic appeal. 

But real collectors love rarity, and here are 5 American coins that fit that bill. 

1 - 1982 Lincoln Cent Small Date 

1982 Lincoln small date cent


You'll need scales to spot the error in these coins.

You wouldn’t think that such a recent coin could be a sought-after treasure, but in 1982 the US Mint made one of its rare mistakes. 

In 1982, the treasury was changing over from copper to a type of copper-plated zinc for cents. 

The new model was cheaper, but, the new material produced coins that weren’t of perfect quality. Before a new die could be put in place some of these “small date” coins went into circulation. 

So far, one has been found and sold for $20,000. Others are also known to exist. 

While its name implies that you can look at the coin and spot it, “small date” coins are usually only identified by weighing them. 

So, if any American readers ever find a 1982 cent in their change they should whip out a digital scale and keep their fingers crossed for a 3.1 gram readout. 

2 - 1969-S Lincoln Cent Double Die Obverse

Double die Lincoln 1969 cent

Look closely! That double image could be worth tens of thousands.

If you look at the heads side of a 1969 Lincoln cent and think your eyesight is going you might have struck the jackpot. 

An example of these sold for $24,000 in 2014, and their catalogue value for the best condition examples is 10s of thousands higher than that.  

This was a double die error. It is distinct from a double stamp, which is less uncommon. Double dies are produced by a mistake in the die. A double strike is when a single coin is hit twice by the die during its minting. 

On this coin you need to look for the mint mark - the single letter under the date. That was added to the coin separately at this date, so if it’s doubled too then it’s probably a double strike. 

These coins are also a favourite with forgers, but if you find one in your change it’s highly likely to be genuine. 

When the first sharp-eyed US citizens spotted them they were confiscated by the cops, who presumably feared some sort of plot to undermine the dollar. 

3 - 1893 S Morgan Dollars 

Anna Willess Williams

A portrait of Anna Williams, who sat for the Liberty profile on the Morgan dollar.

Morgan dollars are a real classic. 

They were designed by George T Morgan, who used Anna Willess Williams (a writer) to model as Liberty for his portrait. 

Morgan dollars were first minted in 1878 lasting to 1904 with a reissue in 1921 and then in 2021 as a special collectible issue. 

They were made with very pure silver so have a bullion value. 

Several particular issues are very rare and valuable. 

Some, like the Philadelphia struck 1895 Morgan dollar can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction in the best condition. 

The 1893 S (for San Francisco, where it was minted) can be found for less than that in less than mint condition, but it is the rarest of all Morgan silver dollars with around 10,000 still around. 

The best price for an 1893 S was $2,086,875, but they can be found for several thousand dollars.

Morgan dollars are a fascinating study and could easily support a lifetime’s collecting. 

4 - 1944 Steel Penny 

1944 steel wheat penny
The million dollar penny, minted in steel in 1944 for a very short time.

Find a silvery looking 1944 penny and run to grab a magnet. If it picks it up you may have $1 million in your hand. 

The design is not rare in itself. It is steel that makes these 1944 “wheat” pennies super rare. 

Wheat pennies were minted from 1909 to 1958. 

There must be billions of them out there. In 1944 alone about 1.5 billion were sent into circulation. 

Some of those have value. There are a couple of errors, from the Denver and Philadelphia mints, that can be worth tens of dollars. 

Others have the wartime oddity of being made from recovered copper from shell casings. 

But steel coins are the jackpot. 

The steel is coated in zinc, which gives the silver look. 

Steel was used to try to save copper for the war effort. But it was a dud in coinage. The magnetic attraction meant they tripped counterfeit detectors in some vending machines. And they rusted. 

The figures produced are extraordinarily low. Seventy is a high guess for the number made. 

Markets are hard to judge, but an uncirculated mint steel wheat penny could be worth $1 million on the right day. 

5 - 1792 Half Disme 

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, who spent a good deal of the half dismes into circulation.

The half disme may have been a test. Or it may be America’s first true currency issue. 

Either way, it was produced at Philadelphia in 1792 and should cost between $10,000 and over $1 million today. 

A recent sale, for around $20,000 in “fair” condition, was discovered in a box of junk. 

The coin is very small. And not very robust. They are rare, but extremely rare in the best condition grades because of their fragility. 

The US’s mint wasn’t ready to go into production when the first dismes were struck, so a man called John Harper had to strike the coins. 

The disme name (derived from French) didn’t last long, becoming the dime we're familiar with today. Neither did some of the cash. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was given 1,500 of the first coins, which he spent while travelling back to his home.  

There are probably around 300 of the around 3,500 dismes struck still in existence. That’s very rare and they can make huge sums: $1.5 million in 2007, $1.15 million in 2013.  

Collecting rare American coins

You’re extremely unlikely to ever see some of these coins in real life outside of a museum. 

One or two you might get handed to you in your change. 

American numismatics is one of the most fascinating and rewarding areas for any coin collector. 

We have some American coins for sale here. 

And if you’d like to learn about our new arrivals then please sign up for our newsletter now.

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