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3 Interesting Coins You Might Find in Your Change

This article was written by in Coin Collecting. 13 comments.

It’s becoming increasingly rare, but once in a while it is possible to find interesting coins in your pocket change. Professional and amateur coin collectors tend to snap these up so the coins are taken out of circulation, and many of the most interesting coins are aging and damaged.

I do not use cash on a daily basis, so it’s infrequent that I can sift through pocket change looking for circulated versions of the more rare coins. Here are a few things that are still common enough to find in pocket change, although I haven’t had much luck with any of these.

Although I occasionally consider myself an amateur coin collector, the fact that I have very few of the below proves that this is not a hobby that I’ve put a lot of effort into. I don’t use cash enough to be able to sift through a significant amount of change. I’ve occasionally picked up boxes of coins from the bank for sifting, but it’s rare that I find anything that’s not already accounted for in my Whitman coin collecting holders.

1. Mercury dimes. From 1916 through 1945, the front (obverse) of the dime featured the profile of a woman representing the concept of liberty. The wings on her cap evoke the image of Mercury, the Roman god of commerce. The back (reverse) of the Mercury dime features fasces, symbols of strength in ancient Rome, with an olive branch, symbolizing peace.

I have no Mercury dimes in my collection.

2. Buffalo nickels. In 1913, the nickel was redesigned to feature the profile of a Native American on the obverse and an American buffalo (bison) on the reverse. So far, even with sifting through a box of nickels from the bank, I’ve only come across one buffalo nickel. But if you have more luck than I have, you may come across a 1936 or 1937 coin in which the buffalo is depicted with three legs rather than the expected four. This variety is rare and would be worth money, perhaps $1,000 in exceptional quality.

The buffalo nickel was replaced by the more familiar Jefferson nickel in 1938.

3. Wheat cents. To honor the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, in 1909 the cent became the first coin to depict an American politician. Victor D. Brenner designed the obverse of the coin using a portrait of the former president as a guide. In that first year of the new design, one version of the coin included the designer’s initials on the reverse. If you find V.D.B. on the reverse of a 1909 coin, it could be worth from a few dollars to over a thousand.

When I was six or seven years old, I had a book of wheat cents almost half full. Unfortunately, some time in the past three decades I misplaced that book. Now, I have only a few wheat cents in my collection.

The wheat cent was replaced by the familiar Lincoln Memorial cent in 1959. The obverse remained the same but the reverse received a new design.

There are other interesting coins out there. In fact, there are errors and varieties within the above categories that increases their interestingness, and in some cases, value. But even a casual collector has a good chance of coming across Mercury dimes, buffalo nickels, and wheat cents if paying attention.

Updated January 26, 2011 and originally published December 7, 2009.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Any idea how much the wheat pennies are worth? I have several.

Buffalo nickels and mercury dimes seem to be harder to find…

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avatar 2 Anonymous

Thanks for the fun article. It brought back good memories for me.

I used to have a coin (and stamp) collection. Unfortunately, it got lost in a move that I made several years ago. Too bad because I enjoyed finding coins that were missing from my collection.


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avatar 3 Anonymous

It’s interesting that these are the three coins you chose. My parents are jewelry-makers and these are 3 of the coins they use in their jewelry.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

Thanks, I never look at coins hardly, so I’ll start checking them now :)

John DeFlumeri Jr

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avatar 5 Anonymous

The wheaties generally go for 2-3¢ each. Occasionally you will find a more rare one, 1909-s is when the Lincoln wheaties started – I happened upon one of theose and sold it on eBay for over $100. Some other key dates would be:
1909-S – 1.8 million
1909-S VDB – 0.5 million
1914-D – 1.2 million
1922 (No mint mark) – unknown (D is missing)
1931-S – 0.9 million

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avatar 6 Anonymous

I guess I am lucky that I have all of these coins, I will admit though that they were collected by my dad. I also have some steel pennies which are pretty cool. Unfortunately they aren’t in the best condition

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avatar 7 Anonymous

Love it! Reminds me of the Silver Certificate dollar I once found the other year….I posted up a picture of it if anyone wants to see it, but it was def. one of my favorite finds of mine :)

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avatar 8 Anonymous

I found a silver certificate in my dollars recently too – awesome! I am tempted to go exchange it for real silver… maybe if I find a second one I’ll go to the Fed and see if they’ll honor it.

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avatar 9 Anonymous

Interesting post. We just inherited two coin collections and have been merging the two – and I am now slightly obsessed with coins. Here’s another interesting note: Dimes made prior to 1964 are all 90% silver, so a lot of those get scooped up quickly, especially the Mercury head ones. Pennies were 90% copper until 1982, including the wheat ones. And nickels now have new designs and a few of them are special release buffalo nickels – I’ve seen a few and gotten excited only to see the date of 2005.

I find about 1 wheat penny per roll of 50, and have only found 1 buffalo nickel in many many rolls. No special dimes. I did find an Arabian coin mixed in my quarter rolls though. :)

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avatar 10 Anonymous

Who has change in their pockets anymore, LoL….
I have several rolls of wheat pennies, haven’t looked at the
dates. Same with a few buffalo nickels I have in a desk
drawer. It’s unlikely to find any pre ’65 silver coins of
any sort, because so many people have been looking
for so long….I know I have, :D

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avatar 11 Anonymous

If I do have any pre-64 silver coins – what should I do with them?

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avatar 12 Luke Landes

Well, you can either keep them or sell them. If you keep them and are interested in collecting, you could store them in materials suitable for collecting. Otherwise, you can sell them for their silver content… with silver high right now, that’s not such a crazy idea.

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avatar 13 Donna Freedman

I’ve got probably 30 or 40 wheat pennies, which I think are fun curiosity pieces. I’ll need to check the dates, I guess, to see if I have one worth more than two or three cents.
I’ve found a couple of Mercury dimes in, of all places, the return slots of Coinstar machines. I guess the machine can’t read them as real coins and spits them out.
Would like to have a buffalo nickel. I’ll keep looking.

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