Are Gold-Plated Quarters Worth Anything?

gold-plated United States coins in special packaging.
Gold-plated coins in decorative display holders.

 James Bucki

You may have seen the advertisements in popular magazines or late-night info commercials pushing "gold" 50 State Quarters®. They may have had an option to purchase the "premium" Platinum State Quarters. They touted them as rare and only available for a limited time. They encouraged you to tuck away a set or two for investment. Marketing companies usually sell a collection of four or five quarters for around fifteen dollars plus shipping and handling.

Many people bought these 99.99% pure gold-plated or pure platinum-plated quarters believing that someday they would be able to pay for their child's college education or enhance their retirement options. Their hopes ran high until they tried to cash in their coin investment for vast sums of money.

Those hopes were followed by disappointment when they quickly learned that they were just ordinary quarters plated with a minuscule amount of gold or platinum. Moreover, although they are plated with pure gold, the plating is usually less than 0.003 of an inch thick.

Coin dealers consider these gold-plated coins as "damaged coins" and refuse to purchase them. If you are lucky, a compassionate coin dealer may offer you thirty and forty cents for the coins. However, many coin dealers will tell you that they are worth face value and do not want to buy them.

Why Do They Make Bad Investments?

Although the gold and platinum are real, the plating is less than the thickness of a human hair. The time and effort to recover the precious metal far exceeds the one or two cents worth of metal that the coin contains. Even though the coins are genuine United States Mint coins, they have been altered by a third-party plating operation.

Anybody with the right equipment can take quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies, or any other coin and plate them with precious metal. Therefore, they will never be rare since anybody can create them. Other options include colorized coins with the coin's design enhanced by paint. Once again, these are common coins with an altered appearance that anybody with the right equipment can create.

Are They Illegal to Own?

Section 331 of Title 18 of the United States Code titled "Mutilation, diminution, and falsification of coins" covers the legality of plating and colorized coins. This law provides criminal penalties for "Whoever fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the mints of the United States." The statute continues to focus on the individual's intent must be fraudulent. In other words, if you transform or change the appearance of a United States coin and disclose it to the buyer when you sell it as a modified or altered coin, you are not trying to deceive or defraud anybody. However, if these marketers attempted to sell these as "solid gold" coins when they are only plated, that would violate the law because they are trying to defraud you.

Even though plating coins is not illegal, the United States Mint does not actively endorse plating, colorizing, engraving, or other modifications to coins. The mint has sold coins mounted on spoons, Christmas ornaments, or jewelry in the past. The key difference here is that the coins are unaltered and are not being sold with the intent of defrauding the public.

Other Over-Hyped Coin Rip-Offs

In addition to coins plated with precious metals, marketers have also created special sets of coins marketed to the public. First, they make fancy holders and elegant boxes to distribute their rip-off coins. Then, they tag them with names such as "Obsolete Coins of America," which contain cheap well-worn coins worth only a few dollars, and sell the set for thirty dollars or more.

Other scams include "ballistic rolls" of presidential one-dollar coins. Instead of receiving a regular roll of twenty-five coins, the ballistic roll contains fifty coins stamped with a fictitious "Vault ID." These usually sell for over $100 per roll of fifty coins. Remember, these are the exact coins you can buy at the bank for the face value of one United States dollar.

Anyone can take ordinary coins, modify them, package them in special boxes, hype them through television, print, or Internet advertisements, and sell them at exorbitant prices. As long as they are truthful in their descriptions, they are not violating United States law. Unfortunately, however, these have always proved to be a rip-off and not an investment.

Is There Any Way to Get My Money Back?

The short answer is usually "no." However, if the company marketing these coins used false and misleading advertising, you may be able to initiate a lawsuit against the company. Unfortunately, you'll have to recover a sizable sum of money to cover your legal fees. Usually, the amount of money that people have invested in these coins is minimal and comes nowhere near the amount required to cover the cost of legal fees. As a result, these companies have often long closed, liquidated their assets, and moved to another marginally fraudulent business.

Stay Safe

The next time you want to purchase some coins, you should find a reputable coin dealer that will not rip you. Buying coins through the mail or over the Internet can be especially risky. Develop a good relationship with an honest coin dealer, and you will never fall for another scam involving coins ever again. For the most part, these marginally fraudulent businesses have closed their doors, liquidated their assets, and moved on to another scam business.