How Do You Identify an Old Coin?

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You can identify all but the most worn old coins by comparing their characteristics to images and attribute listings of old U.S. coins. Coins vary by size, weight, color, edging, engraving and composition. Isolating the key attributes can help you identify the coin.

  1. Determine the type of coin

    U.S. coins can either be pennies, 3-cent coins, nickels, half-dimes, dimes, quarters, half-dollars or silver dollars. The sizes of these coins have remained roughly the same over the years, so measuring the circumference or weight of the coin can determine what type of currency it is. For foreign coins, compare your coin with a more extensive list.

  2. Find the year

    The series that a coin belongs is primarily determined by its year. Over the years, the U.S. Mint changes the engraving design on coins, while it sometimes also alters their metal composition.

  3. Compare the engravings

    After determining the type of coin and the year it was minted, compare the engravings on the obverse and reverse sides of the coin to known examples of the likely coin. For example, pennies minted between 1909 and 1958 bear a bust of Lincoln on the obverse side and two stalks of wheat on the reverse side. Find the matching engravings.