How to identify error coins

Updated April 17, 2017

Finding treasure is not just for pirates. Many Americans use coins daily without ever taking a second glance at what they are holding. To some, there may be more value to those coins than the amount of the coin. Finding a rare error coin can be tremendously exciting; collectors will pay top dollar for rare or unusual error coins. Instead of just tossing change in a jar or passing it off to a cashier, take a second look and see if you hold any treasure.

Learn what the coins look like. Most people know what a penny, dime or quarter look like, but older or less circulated coins are not as obvious. The website 2-Clicks Coins display several images of error coins for comparison.

Study the types of errors found in coins. The Coin Alley site lists several types of errors and coins. The most common error coin is the double-strike coin. When a coin is stamped and it does not clear the die, the machine prepares to strike the next coin, but hits the first coin instead, according to The Coin Alley. A famous error coin is the 1955 Lincoln penny. Misalignment caused a double image to be printed on the coins.

Look for obvious flaws. Ghost images, clipped planchets or other errors are usually obvious flaws. Older coins were manually stamped with mint marks and dates, and sometimes the coins were double-stamped to cover up flaws. Less obvious examples are transition coins. These are coins that are meant to be cast in one metal, but are stamped in a previous year's material. One of the most famous and expensive examples is the 1943 D Lincoln wheat penny. During the war, the mint stopped using copper for pennies and instead used zinc-coated steel. The Philadelphia and San Francisco mints had several error coins accidentally stamped in bronze, however, only one penny is known to have been mistakenly cast in bronze from the Denver mint. According to Coin Link, the one of a kind penny sold for £1.1 million.

Get a closer look at a possible error coin. Compare a similar coin. Look for multiple stamping or off-centre markings. Use a magnifying glass for a more detailed look at the coin. Some errors may be too small to be seen with the naked eye. Mint Error News states the rarer a coin is or the more unusual the error is, the more valuable it is to collectors.

Learn about the year the error coin was made and what metal was used typically to make coins. In 1942 nickel was removed from the 5 cent piece because of World War II shortages, according to the United States Mint. The mint mark was placed above the dome of Monticello, instead of being placed at the right, to indicate the alloy. Finding an error coin with the wrong metal for the year can be extremely rare.


Not all errors are what they appear to be. Some coins have been tampered with, these are not authentic error coins. If in doubt, get the coin appraised by a professional.

Things You'll Need

  • Magnifying glass
  • Error coins
  • Regular coins
  • Collector's guide if necessary
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About the Author

Annabeth Kaine began writing in 2010 with work appearing on various websites. She has successfully run two businesses, held chairmanship positions on two fund-raising committees and received excellence-in-service awards for both. Kaine is completing her Bachelor of Arts in psychology.