How Do You Identify a Worn Coin?

identify-worn-coin Credit: Daniel Oines/CC-BY-2.0

To identify a worn coin, use a magnifying glass and a bright light to check the coin for signs of wear. Signs of wear include smooth rims, high points that are worn flat and print on the coin that is difficult to read. You need a magnifying glass with a power of up to 3x, a bright light, gloves and a soft surface to place the coins on.

  1. Put on the gloves

    Put on a pair of soft gloves before you handle a coin to inspect it, especially if you suspect the coin is valuable. The oil from your skin damages the surface of the coin each time it is handled.

  2. Prepare the light and surface

    Lay a soft cloth on a flat surface on a desk or table. Use a regular household light or lamp, with a bulb of at least 75 watts.

  3. Check one side of the coin

    Use the magnifying glass to inspect one side of the coin. Check for high areas that are worn smooth or flat. For example, the head of Lincoln on a worn penny is nearly flat and the cheekbone of Jefferson on a worn Jefferson nickel is very smooth. Look at the words and numbers on the coin. The more worn the coin, the more difficult the print is to read. For the purpose of grading a coin for a collection, the date is still legible on a coin that is evaluated as worn. If the coin is heavily damaged or if the print is not readable, the coin is judged as poor. Take note of the overall brightness, called the luster, of the coin. A worn coin has a less bright luster than a new coin.

  4. Turn the coin over

    Turn the coin over to inspect the other side of the coin for luster, smooth spots, the legibility of the print and numbers, and for other marks and defects of wear.