Your loving nana passed away, and in the back of an old sock drawer you find… coins? Coin collecting is a very popular hobby, especially for older people and many store coins for years, not telling anyone they have coins until it’s too late. Because of this, many people inherit coins having never known if they existed, what to do with inherited coins, or what value they may have.
DO NOT CLEAN YOUR COINS
For the love of God, I cannot stress this enough. DO NOT CLEAN THE COINS.
Cleaning coins is very bad for them. Although they make look better to the human eye shortly after cleaning, this causes small scrapes on the surface of the coin that can damage the value. Even damaged coins can have more value than a cleaned coin.
Acetone is the only way of “cleaning” a coin I have ever seen moderately accepted by coin collectors, but even that only removes things like adhesives or oils. If your coins have tape or glue, check out this article where I remove tape from a Peace Dollar.
Some collectors organize and label their coins very neatly, others…not so much. If you are inheriting a collection from a not so organized collector, you are going to have your work cut out for you, especially if you are new to the hobby. See if you can get a friend or family member who has some knowledge on coins to help you out. You can pay them, or even offer them a few coins from the collection. (Just make sure you know what you are offering and trust the person.)
Hand in hand with organizing is proper storage, check out this article on storing coins properly. When handling coins, you want to hold them by the rims, and avoid touching the face. Our hands have oils which are damaging to the metal of the coin.
Not every coin is valuable enough to need careful handling. I don’t worry about change in my pocket jangling around, but if you are not sure what you have, it is best to err with caution.
Learn a Little
If you have stumbled upon this article, I assume you aren’t too keen on selling the coins to the first buyer or even worse… dumping them in a Coinstar. This could be good motivation for you to learn a bit about a century’s old hobby.
I think teaching you how to identify a coin is a little beyond the scope of this article. Here are some things to look for:
- Type of Coin
- Is it silver? (Read “Which US Coins Contain Silver?”)
- Mint Mark
I won’t get too involved in identifying coins for this article, but a good resource is this article on Coin Roll Hunting.
Consult a Professional
Find a local coin store, coin fair, or a local collector who can help you determine what your coins are worth. I would recommend doing an initial sorting phase beforehand though, so that you have a sense of what may be valuable. This will save your time as well as the consultant. Plus, although I think most coin collector are very credible and honest people, there are some who are willing to profit off of another’s ignorance.
Should I sell coins I have inherited?
This is really going to be up to the individual. Do you need the funds and find very little joy in owning them? Then it’s probably best to sell the coins so they can pass onto someone who appreciates the numismatic and artistic value.
If you don’t need the money, but still find the coins interesting or intriguing, keep them around for a while and see how you feel in a few years. Perhaps another friend or family member will come along and take a greater interest. Maybe you will find yourself pulling out the box of coins and finding delight in them someday.
If you need the money, but love the coins, see if you can find other things to sell to prevent having to get rid of the coins. You may be able to even sell a few coins but keep the most valuable or your sentimental favorites for yourself. You don’t need to have a lot of coins to be a coin collector.
This leads to my next point:
Should I keep the coins I have inherited?
Do not feel pressured to keep coins that you have inherited. There are many reasons a coin could be special to a collector. Maybe it was the first coin they picked off the sidewalk, a gift from a friend, or a coin they spent lots of money on when times were tight. Just because a coin was special to someone else doesn’t mean it will be special to you.
I have dozens of coins in my collection with no value, but the way I acquired them was special to me. I am sure someday my kids will inherit my collection and be baffled trying to figure out why a damaged 1963 penny was in my collection. There is more value to some coins emotionally than there is monetarily, and no two people will have the same emotional connection to a coin.
Don’t get too caught up in the monetary value
Coin collecting is one big treasure hunt, and the thrill of finding a coin worth a lot of money does add to the excitement, but don’t let that idea distract you. Most coins are worth only a small to modest amount. The likelihood you will find a white whale coin and know how to identify it is slim.
Try to take pleasure in the smaller joys of coin collecting. The age of the coin, the weight in your hand, and the art on the coin are all non-value parts of the hobby collectors love. If you set your expectations too high on the value the coins could be worth, you may find yourself disappointed when the collection is only worth a few hundred dollars and cash it out before you get a chance to appreciate them.