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Circulation Finds? They're Out There
1909 lincoln centBy Dr. R.S. "Bart" Bartanowicz, Coins Magazine
July 23, 2008
1909 lincoln cent

Our numismatist was visiting with the proprietor of the local coin shop when the stranger popped into the store. "Hi. Are you buying silver? I have a couple of rolls of dimes and a roll of quarters."

The dealer quickly provided the spot price of silver and made an offer that was accepted. The stranger chatted with our numismatist, "I manage a fast-food franchise. I routinely sort through the change for silver. It provides me with a few extra dollars, like today."

The stranger pocketed his money and left. Our numismatist looked over to the dealer.

"Are you trying to corner the silver market?" our numismatist asked. The dealer chuckled. "As you see, I don't make a lot of money buying silver. I try to turn it over before the price drops. Of course, if the price goes up, I won't complain.

"I occasionally have people like this fellow who are still finding silver coins in circulation. But most of what I get comes in from folks who over the years put their silver coins in jars or buckets, waiting for the price to go up."

He added, "I think it's difficult to find much silver or better-date coins in circulation today." Our numismatist sighed. "Yep, that seems to be the story for most everyone I know."

Circulation finds are difficult. Conversely, there are those who seem to have more luck than others. The question becomes, "Is there a secret method?" As a public service, I will divulge my secrets! Let's start by working our way up through the denominations.

My best finds have been with the humble Lincoln cent. Why? Well because most people don't like to sort through them. One-cent pieces seem inherently dirty, and the dirt and toning does obscure detail. Sorting through a dozen rolls will quickly strain your eyes and turn your hands or gloves into a grimy mess.

But, stop and think for a minute. The Lincoln cent has been around since 1909. There are rare dates and numerous varieties that demand a premium price. Because these coins are "messy," people usually don't look for circulation finds. Even dealers don't like searching through buckets or rolls of cents. So your best chance may be with the Lincoln cent.

How about the Jefferson nickel, 1938 to present? The 35 percent silver wartime (1942-1945) Jefferson nickels can occasionally be found in change. They can be spotted quickly because the mintmark is on the reverse and it is a large P, D or S above the dome of Monticello. There are also a couple of difficult dates and varieties.

The diminutive silver (1946-1964) Roosevelt dime can be easily overlooked. You may not always clearly see the date or even check the edge to see if it is silver or clad coin. If you're non-observant, these little jewels can easily slip through the crack. I've been luckiest finding silver dimes in circulation.

With the advent of the state quarter program, everyone has been looking at his or her Washington quarters. The 1932-1964 silver quarters and the 1776-1976 San Francisco silver Bicentennial issues are quickly plucked out of circulation. Nowadays it seems people are looking more at their state quarters in hope of finding an error coin than searching for silver.

Silver Franklin and Kennedy half dollars are easy to identify. They still occasionally show up in circulation.

With the price of silver going up, people quickly snatch them up when they see them at a bank teller's window or in store registers. You will have to ask the clerk or teller to give it to you in change.

Finally, there are the Eisenhower dollars. The San Francisco Mint struck silver clad Eisenhower dollars from 1971 to 1974, and the Bicentennial issue dated 1776-1976.

These coins occasionally show up at banks. Tellers usually assume these coins don't have any silver. So be on the lookout for "S" mintmarked silver clad Eisenhowers.

By the way, if you find a 1974 or 1776-1976 dated silver Eisenhower with a Denver mintmark, you have found a great rarity that is indeed valuable. Now for the real secret. The secret is knowing where to look and to have patience. Some banks are friendly and will provide you with rolls—and even accept rolls back. Others are not so friendly.

Don't expect any assistance if you don't have an account. There are also other options.

Surprisingly enough, garage and household sales often produce jars/cans of coins or old incomplete collections. Many small coin shops, antique shops, antique fairs or coin shows will have large quantities of Lincoln cents that may or may not have been partially searched. These may be your best chances.

All you need to get started is a guidebook, an inexpensive 3 to 5 power magnifier and a good eye, coupled with time and patience. Your prize may be silver or better-date coins and varieties. You may or may not find that prize.

Even if you aren't lucky, this can still be fun and educational. So, are you in?


Want More Information? Check out Strike it Rich With Silver in Coin Rolls. Experience the thrill of the hunt with practical, hands-on information on how to easily search coin rolls to take advantage of the silver coins still floating in circulation, from author David C. Conway. On sale now at



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