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Common Cents with Debbie Bradley

A Hobby With Room for Everyone
August 18, 2010

It was a question I’ve heard a hundred times.

“How to I find out how much some coins are worth?”

The woman had approached the Krause Publications booth at the American Numismatic Association convention in Boston last week, accompanied by her husband and two children.

I was going to ask the state of the coins (Are they in a safety deposit box somewhere? Are they in folders? Did you get them graded?) when I saw the yellow butter container in her hand. So much for thinking the coins might be uncirculated.

The 2011 U.S. Coin Digest was on the table so I opened it up and showed her the coin listings and the various prices, explaining that a coin like a 1910 Barber half dollar could range in value from $20 for a coin in G-4 condition to $3,900 for a coin in MS-65. Considering the butter container, I didn’t mention the $4,650 she could have gotten if it was in Prf-65.

I won’t pretend to be an expert at grading coins, but I know enough to explain that a G-4 coin looks like one that’s been given back and forth for change a thousand times, while a MS-65 looks pristine.

There are photographs of the various grades in the book, which she looked at, but as luck would have it, Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee member Donald Scarinci had just been at the booth and paid for the new Modern Commemorative Coins book in part with a roll of shiny new Sacagawea dollars. They were a great example of uncirculated coins.

Basically, I said, the nicer the coin, the more it will sell for.

The woman admitted her coins looked nothing like the new dollar coins, but maybe if she cleaned them …

“Never clean coins,” I barked. “Don’t even think about it.”

They may look worn and dirty, I told her, but collectors like them that way. I’m not sure she believed me.

Since she only had a handful of coins, I gave her a copy of Numismatic News with the “Coin Market” price guide. It doesn’t have pictures in it, but I told her it will tell her the value of her coins if she looks them up by date and mintmark. And as a rule of thumb, she’d be best off looking at prices in the lower grades. And of course, she could always take the coins to a dealer for a price assessment.

The woman walked away content with what she had learned and mindful of the fact that the coins in her container probably won’t bring in enough money to send her kids to college.

Our exchange reminded me of all the different people who are part of this hobby. Some are reluctant collectors who have inherited or stumbled upon a stash of old coins. Others dabble with a collection they started as a youngster. And there are those who are true students of the hobby, collecting with a purpose and passion.

That’s what I’ve really come to enjoy at coin and currency shows. It’s the people that make this hobby great, from the youngster intrigued with a story about the Buffalo nickel to the experienced collector sharing his knowledge in the exhibit area. In this hobby, there’s room for everyone.

More Coin Collecting Resources:

State Quarters Deluxe Folder By Warmans

• Subscribe to our Coin Price Guide, buy Coin Books Coin Folders and join the NumisMaster VIP Program

Strike It Rich with Pocket Change, 2nd Edition

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About the Author
Debbie Bradley is the numismatics editorial director at Krause Publications. Debbie also writes for Numismatic News.Debbie has been with Krause Publications for 11 years, previously serving as managing editor of the book division. She was editor, and managing editor, of a daily newspaper in Wisconsin, and also was elected president of the Wisconsin Associated Press. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, she has received a national award for writing from the Education Writers of America, state writing awards from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the UW-EC Communication and Journalism Department. She is a member of the American Numismatic Association and Women in Numismatics. Debbie can be reached at

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