The media pays attention when multi-million dollar coins are sold at significant auctions. Still, many historically significant coins are within reach of serious numismatists who aren’t billionaires. This list is drawn from various areas of numismatics to show the breadth and depth of US coin collecting.
What Is the Rarest U.S. Dollar Coin?
We cover the entire spectrum of American numismatics, from the Colonial to the 20th century, in our overview of 20 coveted rare and famous coins. Even though we’ve typically used the $1 million threshold as the cutoff, many of these coins continue to sell for staggering sums. Here are 20 rare coins experienced collectors want, excluding “impossible dreams” such as the 1933 Double Eagle.
1. 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent
The 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent is the coin that, if any, had a greater impact on igniting the interest in coin collecting among regular people than the Flying Eagle cent. It easily makes our list of the 20 rare coins seasoned collectors want because it is arguably the most well-known US coin among the general public.
Abraham Lincoln’s birth was commemorated by the introduction of the Lincoln cent in 1909. Victor David Brenner chose the coin’s design. He added his name below the wheat sheaves on the cent’s reverse in small letters, imitating the style of foreign coin designers. Brenner’s name was changed to VDB by Chief Engraver of the Mint Charles Barber.
Brenner’s initials caused some newspapers to become upset because they claimed that even this was an unauthorized attempt by the artist to obtain free advertising on the reverse of US currency. The Mint removed Brenner’s initials from the dies and resumed production to stop delays and end the controversy.
Before the change, the Philadelphia Mint produced just under 28 million 1909 VDB Lincoln Wheat cents. However, the San Francisco Mint only produced 484,000 1909-S Lincoln cents with the original reverse and VDB initials.
According to estimates, fewer than 60,000 1909-S VDB Lincoln Wheat cents still exist.
The price range for 1909-S VDB cents in Brown (BN) is $715 in Good G4 to $4,750 in Mint State MS66, according to CDN Greysheet. The same coin in Red Brown (RB) sells for anywhere between $2,060 and $6,880 CDN, depending on the condition. Price ranges for the extremely rare 1909-S VDB cent in Red (RD) are $7,190 in MS64 and $13,700 in MS66.
2. 1943 Lincoln Cent on Bronze Planchet
Here is one of history’s most well-known error coins. Every time they show up at auction, the 1943 Lincoln Wheat Cents minted on bronze planchets generate excitement. The US Mint was compelled to use zinc-coated steel blanks to produce one-cent coins in 1943 due to a lack of available copper due to the war.
About 25 of the more than 1.1 billion Wheat cents produced that year were struck on 1942 leftover bronze blanks. These coin blanks are believed to have been hidden in crevices of sizable bins at the Mint. They spread throughout the year as millions of steel planchets were dumped into the bins.
Population estimates range from 15 to 20 1943-bronze cents were struck in Philadelphia and 5 in San Francisco. There is just one 1943-D bronze cent that is known. Newspaper accounts, such as the (false) claim that anyone who could present Henry Ford with a 1943 bronze cent would receive a new car, inspired the public to look for these extremely rare coins.
Due to their scarcity, CDN Greysheet does not have a value checklist for any 1943 bronze Wheat cent. Other sources report price ranges in the six figures.
3. 1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo Nickel
Another well-known rare coin is the 1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo nickel. The right front limb of the bison was entirely removed from the surface of the die because of some overly enthusiastic polishing on a dented reverse die at the Denver Mint.
Due to the 3-Legged Buffalo nickel’s popularity, there are a lot of fake and altered coins in circulation. When determining whether a 1937-D Buffalo nickel is a genuine 3-legged error coin, three things should be considered:
It should have the leg’s missing hoof. The right rear leg should appear “moth-eaten.” The buffalo appears to be urinating because of a damaged streak underneath him.
All the 1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo nickel grades are in high demand, but they are less expensive than other coins on our list. The cost of a CDN Greysheet ranges from $364 for an Almost Good AG3 to $39,000 for an MS66.
4. 1893-S Morgan Dollar
In terms of circulation strike Morgans, the 1893-S Morgan dollar is the most important date. Given the small mintage of 100,000 and the widespread use of “hard money” in the Western US, only one in ten has persisted. Most of them are worn out.
Apart from the proof-only 1895 Morgan dollar, the Mint State 1893-S Morgan dollar is the rarest coin in Morgan dollar history due to the small number set aside. Any 1893-S collector should consider themselves fortunate.
Prices for the 1893-S Morgan on CDN Greysheet range from $2,250 in AG3 to $1,020,000 in MS66. The only coin with a higher grade was an MS67 that sold for $2 million in 2021. The last time it was seen, it sold for “only” $546,250 ten years earlier.
5. 1895 Proof Morgan Dollar
The “King of Morgan Dollars” is a common moniker for the 1895-proof Morgan dollar. There were only 12,000 Morgan dollars struck in 1895, according to Mint records, but none have ever been located. Collectors now only have the 880-proof 1895 Morgans produced that year to fill that gap in their collections.
Theories about the missing 11,000 1895 Morgan business strike range from the entry being an inventory modification to 1894 Morgan dollar production to all twelve sacks of 1895 Morgan’s silver dollars being melted under the Pittman Act of 1918.
The 1895 proof Morgan is not as scarce as many other famous mintages, with more than half of the 880-coin mintage surviving. It never fails to draw interest when it is put up for auction. The 1895 proof Morgan dollar is valued at $31,200 in G6 to $168,000 in MS68, according to CDN Greysheet.
6. 1921 High Relief Peace Dollar
Another historically significant rare coin is the 1921 High Relief Peace dollar. Even though production didn’t start until December 28th, Philadelphia had struck just over a million silver dollars by year’s end.
The original Peace dollar had extremely high relief features, like other new coin designs at the beginning of the 20th century. When the blank was struck under normal pressure, there wasn’t enough silver to completely fill the design’s highest point. As a result, fully-struck Mint State coins earn a higher premium.
CDN Greysheet lists a 1921 Peace dollar in AG3 for $130 and one in MS67 for $115,200.
7. 1916 Type 1 Standing Liberty Quarter
A low mintage and unexpected release made the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter a significant rarity in US numismatics of the 20th century. The first 1916 Standing Liberty quarters weren’t struck until December 16th due to a lengthy design process. Just 52,000 were produced, and they weren’t made available until January of the following year when mixed with coins bearing the 1917 date.
The public initially thought that 1917 was the first year of the issue because there was no significant formal announcement. The 1916-dated Standing Liberty quarter was well known to coin collectors, but it was a classic “needle in a haystack” challenge to locate one of the 52,000 scattered among all the 1917s. As a result, there are even fewer Mint State examples than would be predicted by the extremely low mintage levels.
The initial Type 1 Standing Liberty quarter portrayed Liberty with an exposed right breast in the French style. This, of course, triggered an uproar in the American press. The US Mint took the practical measure of converting the dies to show Liberty with a chainmail shirt instead of spending the time it would require to make completely new hubs with a different dress design.
Finding high-grade 1916 coins in circulation was made more difficult by the issue of the obverse details quickly fading. The 1916 Standing Liberty quarter prices in CDN Greysheet range from $3,120 in AG3 to $37,200 in MS66.
8. 1919-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar
Although it is not the lowest in the series in terms of mintage, the 1919-D Walking Liberty half dollar is still THE conditional rarity. Most of the over 1.1 million 1919-D Walkers entered the market right away, lowering the average rating for survivors to VF35. The center of the strike is almost always weak, particularly on the highest points like Liberty’s left hand.
This implies that it is much more challenging to locate a Mint State 1919-D than any other Walking Liberty. It can take years for a rare uncirculated 1919-D Walking Liberty half to appear at auction.
The 1919-D Walking Liberty half is valued by CDN Greysheet between $20 in AG3 and $144,000 in MS65. T here is just one 1919-D that is known in MS66.
9. 1856 Flying Eagle Cent
The Flying Eagle cent from 1856 was the first “small” cent, yet another American numismatic first. Although it was technically a pattern coin, because so many were produced and circulated, some collectors view it as a circulation issue.
The Flying Eagle cent is often cited as being responsible for popularizing American coin collecting. When it became known that the large cent would no longer be produced, people started storing them rather than using them.
The estimated total number of 1856 Flying Eagle coins produced ranges from 1,500 to 2,150. Around 800 Flying Eagle cents from 1856 are still in existence. The 1856 Flying Eagle cent is valued by CDN Greysheet between $8,600 in Very Good VG8 and $120,000 in MS66.
10. 1916-D Mercury Dime
The 1916-D Mercury dime is a significant date in the series because it was a first-year issue, and only 264,000 coins were produced. In contrast, the Philadelphia Mint produced more than 21 million 1916 Mercury dimes, and the San Francisco Mint produced more than 10 million.
Even with this extremely low mintage, far fewer 1916-D Mercury dimes are still in existence. They weren’t set aside like most first-year mintages for some reason. As a result, estimates suggest that only around 10,000 people remain.
The 1916-D Mercury dime sells anywhere between $663 for AG2 and $30,000 for an MS65 on CDN Greysheet. For Full Bands 1916-D Mercury dimes, prices range from $12,000 for AU55 to $0.8 percent for MS65.
11. 1901-S Barber Quarter
Only 72,644 of the 1901-S Barber quarter’s total mintage were produced, making it one of the rarest non-error coins in US numismatics. Most of today’s survivors are so worn that only the outlines of their features remain. There are about 2,000 coins still in existence.
NGC graded a median grade of AG3 to the 415 1901-S Barber quarters. The median grade of the 981 coins graded by PCGS is G4, showing how incredibly rare gently worn coins are among the survivors. Collectors who can locate a piece with even the slightest detail should consider themselves lucky.
The price range for the 1901-S Barber quarter in CDN Greysheet is $3,500 in AG3 to $450,000 in MS68.
12. 1871-CC Seated Liberty Dime
A well-known coin in Carson City coin collecting is the 1871-CC Seated Liberty Dime. The Nevada mint produced only 20,100 dimes in 1871. They vanished without a trace into the Southwest’s cash-strapped economy. Only a few were saved.
Today, the 1871-CC Seated Liberty dime is thought to have fewer than 150 surviving examples. Most were saved after decades of circulation, and bidding is fierce when one of the handfuls of Mint State examples comes up for auction.
The 1871-CC Seated Liberty dime is valued by CDN Greysheet anywhere between $2,060 in AG3 and $300,000 in MS65.
13. 1871-CC Seated Liberty Quarter
Only 11,000 1871-CC Seated Liberty quarters were produced, making it one of the rarest mintages in Carson City Mint history. All of these were bought and used to boost the local economy. So even damaged and worn-out survivors are now worth thousands of dollars. In any condition, there are undoubtedly fewer than 75 people left.
For an 1871-CC Seated Liberty quarter in AG3, CDN Greysheet estimates a price of $5.940, going as high as $480,000 for MS65.
14. 1838-O Capped Bust Half Dollar
The rare and historically significant 1838-O Capped Bust half dollar was never officially struck. The Superintendent of the newly-established New Orleans Mint experimented with the 20 or so coins. He was interested in finding out if the coin press used to make silver dollars could also produce half dollars. However, the first year of business was particularly difficult.
Workers at the Mint tried to extend the dollar press in January 1839 so that the 1838-O half-dollar dies could be used. After ten coins were struck, attempts were given up because the reverse die kept coming loose. About ten more 1838-O coins were produced in response to requests from wealthy collectors for examples for their collections. These coins were never recorded in the official books.
Since the 1838-O half dollars were made carefully one by one while checking the jury-rigged dies and were never meant for circulation, they are categorized as proofs. It is estimated that 10 of the 20 coins produced are still in existence.
1838-O half dollars are listed by CDN Greysheet from $330,000 in PR40 to $690,000 in PR64.
15. 1848 CAL Liberty Head Quarter Eagle
Many coin collectors regard the 1848 CAL quarter eagle as the country’s first commemorative coin. They are undoubtedly the first coins made entirely of gold from the California Gold Rush, and they may also be the only coins that can claim that honor.
1848 CAL quarter eagles draw attention whenever they are offered for sale. Even damaged examples that have been improperly cleaned can fetch thousands of dollars. Because of their uniqueness, many were kept in uncirculated condition, but a surprisingly large number eventually entered circulation.
The 1848 CAL quarter eagle is valued between $3,850 in G6 and $360,000 in MS68, according to CDN Greysheet reference prices.
16. 1933 Indian Head Gold Eagle
The 1933 Indian Head gold eagle is a well-known numismatic rarity that narrowly escaped government gold confiscation. Only a small number of the 312,500 gold eagles produced in January and February 1933 could leave the Philadelphia Mint’s vaults before the government ordered that all gold coins be melted down. The 1933 gold eagle, in contrast to the well-known 1933 double eagle, is entirely legal to own.
Employees at the Mint were clever enough to trade back-dated $10 gold eagles for 1933s, then sell them to Philadelphia coin dealers for a profit between Executive Order 6102’s announcement and its implementation.
This implies that every survivor—an estimated 30 to 40—is in mint condition. Some displayed bag marks from the Philadelphia Mint’s careless handling, lowering their grade. CDN Greysheet lists a 1933 gold eagle for $162,000 in AU50 and $600,00 in MS65.
17. 1861-S Paquet Reverse Liberty Head Double Eagle
A new reverse for the $20 gold double eagle was created in 1860 by Assistant Engraver of the Mint Anthony C. Paquet. The lettering was changed to a new typeface to extend die life, but Mint officials later decided that the narrower rims of the new design prevented stacking of the coins.
In January, the Philadelphia Mint stopped making the 1861 Paquet reverse double eagles and melted down all but a few pieces. The branch mints in San Francisco and New Orleans were informed to use the reverse dies from 1860 until new ones with the original design could be delivered.
San Francisco didn’t learn about it until February 2nd. Paquet reverse double eagles had already been struck and circulated 19,250 times. The San Francisco Mint had not deemed the change significant enough to save samples, and the general public had not even noticed the altered back side of the few 1861-S Paquet double eagles.
One coin with an AU58+ grade is the finest known double eagle from the 1861-S Paquet series. The 1861-S Paquet reverse double eagle is valued by CDN Greysheet between $36,000 in VF20 and $216,000 in AU58.
18. 1907 High Relief Wire Rim Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle
The 1907 High Relief Wire Rim double eagle commands the highest prices among all rare coins in American history. It was the first public release of a Saint-Gaudens double eagle. The most desirable 1907 High Relief Wire Rim is priced in the high six figures, as opposed to the few Ultra High Relief examples, starting at $1 million.
11,250 High Relief double eagles with Wire Rim were struck, and almost all of them were collected before circulation for the first time. Nearly 100 of them received an XF40 or lower grade from PCGS. A single coin that received the excellent MS69 grade is the best graded by PCGS.
The 1907 High Relief Saint-Gaudens double eagle with a wire rim is valued by CDN Greysheet between $7,600 for VF20 and $285,000 for MS68.
19. 1792 Half Dime
The 1792 half dime is just as significant as the New England Shilling as the first coin produced in North America. It was also the first coin produced in the United States.
These coins technically predate the Mint. The Mint building wasn’t finished yet and wouldn’t be functional until December. As a temporary Mint location, the government rented the basement of Philadelphia toolmaker John Harper.
The 1792 half dime was only produced for one year before being replaced two years later by the half dime with flowing hair in 1794. About 300 1792 half dimes are still in existence, one of which is a stunning MS68 specimen. David Rittenhouse, the first Director of the Mint, once owned it; he sold it in 2018 for $1,985,000.
The 1792 Half Disme is listed on CDN Greysheet for $48,000 in G4 to $720,000 in MS66.
20. 1652 New England Shilling
This American coin is arguably the most significant in numismatics. The first official coin produced in the original 13 colonies that would eventually become the United States was the New England Shilling in 1652.
To help the local economy in 1652, the government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony hired John Hull and Robert Sanderson, the only two silversmiths in North America, to produce silver shillings, sixpence, and threepence.
There are approximately 40 New England Shillings left in existence. CDN Greysheet prices the 1652 New England Shilling between $120,000 in Fine F15 and $360,000 in AU58.