How to Find Rare Error Coins in Circulation

1970-S Lincoln Cent Doubled Die
James Bucki

Finding error coins in your daily pocket change can be fun and profitable, and it's very easy to do. Following the steps below the first few times carefully will help you develop good coin-checking habits from the very beginning that are proven and productive methods of locating error coins and die varieties that are circulating right now. There are still many new discoveries waiting to be found.

Materials Needed

  • Magnifying glass or loupe. Suggested at least a 7X to 10X power.
  • A good desk lamp with an incandescent bulb
  • A soft cloth or pad
  • Your daily pocket change (or buy rolls of coins to search!)

When you find an error coin or die variety that is worth keeping, you will want to store the coin properly to make sure it doesn't get damaged.

How to Search Your Pocket Change

If you take a structured approach to search your pocket change, this task can be completed quickly and efficiently.

1. Sort Your Coins into Groups by Denomination

Always examine your coins in batches of like coins. For instance, check all of your pennies, and then your nickels, then your dimes, etc. Your eye will get used to seeing each type after the first couple of coins, so you can scan them more quickly once your brain has "mapped the landscape," so to speak. Also, you are more likely to notice differences from one coin to another when you check them in groups of like types.
Don't get caught up in minutiae! If the doubling or other flaw is so insignificant that it is hard to see with a 10x loupe, it's usually not worth much.

2. Examine the Coin's Obverse Inscriptions

Look carefully for anything in the lettering that seems odd or unusual. Many doubled die varieties show doubling in only part of a word. Die abrasion, polishing, or greasy dirt collecting on the die face can cause letters to fail to strike accurately upon the coin. Turn the coin around and look at it from different angles. Check carefully for missing letters, doubling, and other oddities in the inscriptions.

3. Examine the Date and Mint Mark

The date and mint mark should be a special focus of your attention because these are among the most valuable errors you are likely to find in circulation. Many things can go wrong in this area, including repunched mint marks and dates, overpunches, various types of doubling and other errors.

Note: If the mint mark or date is on the reverse side of the coin, (or the edge, as on the Presidential Dollars) don't turn the coin over to check now. Wait until you get to the reverse, but do be sure to check carefully when the time comes.

4. Examine the Primary Devices and the Coin as a Whole

Take a look at the coin's primary device, such as the portrait. Also, consider the obverse side of the coin as a whole. Does it look right? Is there visible doubling anywhere on the coin? You want to look for die crackscuds, and missing elements. Pay close attention to the portrait's eyes, ears, mouth, and chin, looking for signs of doubling. Be sure to look at the rim, too, watching for anything abnormal.

5. Turn the Coin Over, Checking the Die Rotation

Carefully and systematically turn the coin over from top to bottom (not side-to-side). If the coin was right-side up before turning it over, the reverse should be exactly right-side-up as well. The U.S. Mint takes great care to ensure that the die rotation on U.S. coins is correct, so coins which are significantly out of rotation are moderately valuable error coins. Get in the habit of checking rotation on every coin you handle. You especially don't want to miss the 180-degree rotation errors, as they are the most valuable of all!

6. Examine the Reverse. 

Following the same sequence as you used for the obverse, examine the reverse side of the coin, with the coin oriented upside down. Check the inscriptions and devices for any doubling, missing elements, or other oddness. Pay especially close attention to the mint mark, if present. Try tilting the coin at various angles to the light, which can sometimes make details easier to see.

7. Check the Edge

The final step in checking your coin should be to examine the edge. Roll the coin along your palm, so you can see all of the edge while you watch for seams, lines, missing reeded edges and other abnormal factors of the edge. If the edge has letters, look for doubled or missing letters.

8. Set Aside Anything That Looks Odd

Practice these steps until you can perform them very quickly. Each coin you examine should take no more than 15 to 20 seconds, and when you get used to seeing the detail on different coin types, you'll develop an eye for this that will allow you to scan coins even quicker. Set aside any coins that you think might be different than normal so that you can examine them at your leisure under good lighting with strong magnification. At first, you might end up finding a lot of worthless varieties, but you'll be amazed at how much two seemingly alike coins can differ in the details!

Tips for Searching Through Your Coins

  1. Don't get caught up trying to discern minor details. If the doubling, repunched mint mark, or die break cannot be seen easily and clearly under 10x magnification, the variety probably isn't worth much money. People typically pay the good money for varieties and errors they can see easily.
  2. Get in the habit of tipping the coin at different angles to the light. Sometimes minor doubling can only be seen from a certain perspective.
  3. Get a couple of good reference books on error coins and die varieties written especially for beginners. For general information about mint errors and varieties, I recommend "The Official Price Guide to Mint Errors" by Alan Herbert.
    Another excellent book for beginners is "Strike It Rich With Pocket Change" by Ken Potter and Brian Allen.
    Both of the books contain many close-up images of what to look for on the coins. Also, both of them have rarity and pricing information. The first book is more of a reference for anything you might find, whereas the second book explains specific coins to look for.

    Edited by James Bucki