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Part I: Metal Detecting Coins - Coin Basics

Part I: Metal Detecting Coins - Coin Basics

"Coinshooting" (not coin shooting that's a whole different thing) is a term used in the metal detecting world that describes the hobby of getting out with a metal detector and looking specifically for coins.  This angle of metal detecting is much different than others.  Relic hunting, for example, involves recovering pretty much every target that is found metal detecting.  This includes coins, but also includes iron objects, and pretty much every other target - large and small.  Coinshooting involves a much higher degree of target discrimination.  

We will get more into sport of coinshooting later.  This first post is more about why one would want to go out metal detecting for coins in the first place.  

One might think, "Gosh, what a waste of time going out for hours only to dig up a bunch of pocket change."    This would be a person with very little metal detecting experience.  While I can agree you can spend a great deal of time digging up modern pennies and nickels that wouldn't pay a minimum wage, I also know enough about coins and history to know that it is very possible to land a jackpot and make all that time worthwhile - and when it happens it is an unbelievable feeling.

In This Video I Find My First Silver Dollar Metal Detecting


Let's start with the basics.  I am going to assume much of my audience is based in the United States. So, we will focus our discussion there.  The subject of coins is a very deep one.  There are volumes of books on coins ranging from value and mint marks, to history and law.  There is much more information out there than I have room in this post.  Therefore, we will focus on the very basic things to understand about U.S. coins every metal detectorist should know - we will Keep It Stupid Simple (KISS).  A good resource for learning the very intricate details about coinage are a couple books by Alan Herbert called Coin Clinic 1 - 1,001 Frequently Asked Questions and Coin Clinic 2 - 1,001 More Frequently Asked Questions.  Both are written in a way that takes what some might consider a rather boring topic and puts it in a format that make is an enjoyable and interesting read.

Any "shiny" coin minted in the U.S. prior to 1965 has a value worth more than what is printed on its face.  By shiny I mean one that would appear silver or gold in color...even copper for that matter...we will call these precious metals.  Additionally, any penny, minted before 1983 will be worth more than the face value since in 1983 pennies began being minted out of 97.5% zinc with only a thin coating of copper.  So, since these coins are made of elements that are worth more by weight than the face value of the coin itself, they are more valuable than coins of latter years.

There are key years of coins that can be very valuable and it is a good idea to have a coin book price guide handy to help you determine if the coin you found is valuable.  It is important, however, to note that none of these price guides will give you a value for a coin in a "dug" condition - the condition a coin is in when it has been used, lost, buried in the ground for decades, and dug up.  Most of the coins we find while metal detecting are not in the greatest condition.  At best most of them would qualify as Fine (F-12) at best. And, condition is EVERYTHING when it comes to coin value.  Consider this; an 1889 Morgan Silver Dollar like the one I found in the video above in a Mint State is worth roughly $380.  In Proof Condition, it is worth $3,200.  In the condition I found it in ( I would consider it to be Very Fine) it is worth only about $35.

This being said, I have seen some silver coins dug that were in a relatively good condition even after being in the ground for over 100 years.  Rarity can sometimes overcome condition with certain coins.  Besides, I like to think there is a provenance value to be had when you find a rare coin that has been lost and out of circulation for so long and it is reintroduced to collectors - but that may just be me.

Another thing to note is that it is not always a great idea to clean your coins - especially if that coin is rare or valuable.  Our first instinct when finding a coin is to rub off the dirt with your thumb to see the year.  Although knowing what you have is important, it is not always a good idea.  This can greatly decrease the value.  Now, I am certainly being a hypocrite here. As I will admit, this is typically the first thing I do when I find a coin.  But as my father used to tell me as a young man, "Don't do what I do.  Do what I tell you to do."

So, what are the most common rare coins? 

This is a trick question.  The fact is, rarity is what typically makes coins (or pretty much anything of collector value) valuable.  That doesn't mean that you aren't able to find a valuable coin in the ground.  In fact, many of the coins that are now valuable may not have been at the time they were minted. For instance, the recovery of silver coins by the government from 1965-1969 increased the value of silver coins immediately and since certain years had less production, the value of these particular years climbed more.  

So, let's narrow down what the rarest and most valuable and most-likely-for-a-metal-detectorist-to-find coins in the U.S. might be:

Top 10 Most Valuable Silver Coins
  1. 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar: $10 million. ...
  2. 1797 Draped Bust Half-Dollar: $1,527,500. ...
  3. 1870 S Seated Liberty Dollar: $1,092,250. ...
  4. 1889 CC Morgan Silver Dollar: $881,250. ...
  5. 1796 Draped Bust Half-Dollar: $822,500. ...
  6. 1838 O Capped Bust Half-Dollar: $763,750. ...
  7. 1893 S Morgan Silver Dollar: $646,250. ...
  8. 1901 P Morgan Silver Dollar: $575,000.

Numismatics is the study or collection of currency, including coins, tokens, paper money and related objects.  I am certainly no expert in this subject.  I think it is a good idea to have a coin book handy...and it doesn't really have to be up to date...just knowing if you have a rare coin in hand is enough.  You can then go to a website such as to see what the current value is.


     Other Valuable Coin Resources:


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    • Josh Turpin