Are there valuable rare coins in your wallet?

UK Rare Coins
Coins, yesterday
"you don’t need to uncover a mediaeval grout to make a mint"
  • | by Dan Moore

I hate small change. I’d much prefer to have notes rather than coins. Not only are they worth more, they don’t burn a hole in my pocket.

I have also been known to shun the odd bit of change, magnanimously asking the retailer to put it in the charity tin.

It makes me feel good, as I kid myself that I’m doing my bit, when in fact I’m just trying to avoid being weighed down with shrapnel.

Unfortunately, it seems I may have been an idiot - on this matter, anyway - as some of the coins that pass through my hands on a daily basis could be worth a small fortune.

And unlike wading through muddy fields with a metal detector for a long forgotten stash of Roman gold guineas, you could find them in your own pocket...

Tuppence ha'penny

Take the humble 2p piece: if you have a 1983 coin inscribed with ‘New Pence’ rather than ‘Two Pence’ you could be quids in.

This is because after more than a decade, the Government took the view that decimal currency wasn’t so fresh, so ‘new’ became ‘two’.

If you do come across one of these rare copper coins, brace yourself for a windfall of around £600.

From the new-school of coins

Even newer coins have the potential to make you money, with the famed, undated 20 pence piece as the decimal equivalent of the Holy Grail.

Here’s why it’s a winner: in 2009 the Royal Mail switched the date from the tails to the heads side of the coin.

However, 100,000 were minted without the year embossed. The Royal Mint’s error created a highly valuable coin, which is the first ‘mule’ in circulation since 1672 when King Charles II was on the throne.

Find one of these beauties and you could get upwards of £100 for it.

What to do if you find a rare coin?

By now, the chances are you’ve emptied your pockets, and if you’re reading this at work you may be planning to rifle through various piggy banks and cupboards when you get home.

If you are, here are a couple of tips on how to proceed if you do come across a rare coin.

First, don’t polish them. As with any rare coin, they will be worth more with their original toning. If an expert wants a shiny coin, let them polish it. So ditch the Brasso.

Second, get at least three experts to scrutinise your find and provide a valuation. If they concur, you’re on to a winner, but if one or more suspects a fake take this seriously and consider contacting the Royal Mint, or the Goldsmiths Company, if the coin is a precious metal.

Rare coin pitfalls

Unfortunately, fraud is a big issue in the world of rare coins.

Crooks are well aware of the potential value of less-than-glamorous, yet valuable decimal currency and will pounce on innocents who they can fleece.

It’s easy to get suckered into buying so-called rare coins that aren’t in fact worth more than their scrap metal value. This is because coins that feature Queen Victoria, for instance would have been in general circulation until relatively recently.

That doesn’t mean there are no rare imperial coins out there, but rather you just need to keep your wits about you.

Look to the present

It’s true that the value of rare current coins is invariably lower than for uncommon pre-decimal pounds, shillings and pence. But while Imperial coins were around for a millennium, you don’t need to uncover a mediaeval grout to make a mint.

Nineteenth and twentieth century coins were in general circulation until at least 1971, with the humble sixpence clinging on until 1980.

This means that the chances of coming across a stash of old coins in your Nan’s flat isn’t that unlikely. So the next time you’re round there, waiting for the kettle to boil, it could be worth sorting through the small change. Who knows what you may find?

Take the 1937 Edward VIII three pence piece. David, as King Edward was known to friends and family, reigned for only a few months in 1936, before abdicating in order to marry an American.

As a result, coins bearing his image are very rare indeed. In the case of the 1937 ‘thupenny bit’, just 12 of these coins were minted, and each was intended to be buried beneath churches – don’t ask why! If one of these turns up, the lucky finder would be in for a £30,000 windfall.

Moving on a few years and 1950 and 1951 pennies are worth keeping an eye out for at boot and antiques fairs as very few were minted, meaning that each has a value of around £50.

Rumour has it that some 1p pieces are also rare, particularly the 1973 issue, but I couldn’t find any evidence of this. I even checked this out on eBay, only to fine a range of not quite so rare 1p coins put up for auction for, you guessed it, 1p. One coin was on offer for 6p, but it was photographed on a leather background, which must make all the difference.

The commemoration coin game

Backgrounds or not, coins are coins, right? Wrong. Stick the television on and the chances are you’ll see an ad for a commemorative set of stamps or coins.

A recent instance includes a celebration minting of 10,000 solid silver crown-sized £5 coins and 2,013 22 carat gold sovereigns trumpeting the arrival of Prince George. The silver coins cost around £80, while the sovereigns go for ten times that sum.

But if other commemorative coins are anything to go by, they won’t be any more valuable than a lump of silver or gold of the same weight, which just goes to prove that you can’t necessarily create a ‘collectible’. They just happen. 

Here’s a really recent example. While most of the coins minted to celebrate the London 2012 Games were worth face value only, one version of the Aquatics Olympic 50p piece is worth considerably more.

rare 50p

The original design (above) featured waves flowing over the swimmer’s face, but was swiftly changed to make the swimmer clearer to see, as pictured below. Some of the original coins found there way into circulation and are something of a rarity – although to the best of my knowledge none have come up at auction, yet.

Rare Aquatics 50p

This brings me back to the main point: if you’re bored, stuck at a bus stop or waiting for a friend in a pub, empty your pockets and see whether you may have a hidden gem among the dross. You may not have more than face-value coins, but someone has to have those rare 2p and 20p pieces...