26 valuable coins you might have at home
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Numismatics – more commonly known as coin collecting – is a time-honoured pastime that has grown in popularity over the years.
Often dubbed ‘the hobby of kings’ due to only the very wealthy being able to enjoy the activity - the good news is coin collecting is now something that pretty much anyone can take a shine to, regardless of status.
But with millions of coins out there spanning countless eras - where do you even begin?
“The world of numismatics is huge,” explains Mark Riley.
“People buy and collect world coins, Commonwealth coins, coins from different historical eras - the list goes on. The field is vast. No one can collect it all - and each area is quite specialised.”
Mark is the owner of JNCoins, an East Anglia-based coin dealer that specialises in pre-decimal British coins. He first fell into the hobby after retiring from a career in finance – and hasn’t looked back.
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“After retirement, I found I couldn’t face doing nothing for a long period of time. I’d never actually bought a coin before but I started studying the field and quickly became fascinated. I soon realised I could run a business after really studying the market, and that’s how I got started.”
Mark has been at the helm of his coin business since 2013, and tens of thousands of coins have passed through his hands since. But why pre-decimal coins in particular?
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“These are what we would call antique coins. We wouldn’t really touch anything after decimalisation because the mint has produced such a vast quantity of coins since then.”
Decimalisation refers to when the United Kingdom decimalised its currency – meaning the shilling was abolished, and the pound was subdivided into 100 ‘new pence’.
Up until February 15 1971, the British pound was made up of 20 shillings, each of which was comprised of 12 pence.
Coins that were used included the farthing, half penny, penny, threepence, sixpence, shilling, florin, half crown, and crown.
Fast forward to today, and pre-decimalisation coins can fetch up to thousands of pounds each, depending on which era they come from and how well-preserved they are.
For anyone who perhaps has a stash of coins at their grandparents’ house from the pre-decimal era, Mark suggests keeping an eye out for any silver and copper coins from the early 20th century in particular.
“We think copper, bronze and gold coins from George V’s reign such as half crowns, florins and shillings are undervalued against the market and will only go up in value as time goes on. The rarer, the better.
“Especially those from 1914 until 1918, as during the First World War the Royal Mint struggled with production, and this led to a number of anomalies.”
If you’re looking to delve into the world of historical coin collecting, tokens are another avenue to consider heading down, according to Mark.
“Tokens from the late 18th and early 19th century are a whole area in their own right.
“When the mint wasn’t producing enough small coinage, merchants up and down the country across a variety of industries didn’t have small change, so large numbers of them made their own pennies and halfpennies.
“These have since become really collectable. They’re incredibly interesting as they feature a lot of the political and cultural angst at the time.”
While Mark doesn’t specialise or work with much modern currency, he suggests that anyone who wishes to collect more present-day coins get in touch with a dealer who specialises in such, or to invest in a coin book.
Once you’ve found the coin niche or time period you wish to specialise in, Mark advises visiting dealers, auctions and even car boot sales to see what you can get your hands on.
“I know from experience the mistakes collectors can make - and how to avoid them. It’s good for collectors to find a dealer that knows what they’re talking about, and go from there. Study the market and speak to different dealers or other collectors with years of experience.
“Because there’s such a vast array of coins that can be collected, a wise collector would do well to find out what’s collectable now and what’s likely to be worth value in the future.
“In our mind, it’s not worth collecting anything when there’s millions or hundreds of thousands of them. Unless you want to, there’s nothing wrong with that of course, but it’s not what we do.”
For instance, countless commemorative coins have been released over the years – but most of them are not as valuable as people might assume.
“There’s hundreds of thousands of the Lady Diana crowns from the 1980s, and I’ve been offered as many as 300 of those in one go by a collector - but I could never sell them. You’ll often see them on eBay for £2 or £3.”
If you have a coin you think is rare or valuable, there are a number of factors that will be considered when taking it to a dealer to be valued.
These include quality of strike (its sharpness of detail), lustre (its reflective qualities) and tone (how much it has discoloured through oxidisation).
Mark, like many dealers and collectors, will use a grading system when assessing each coin, which can be broken down into the following:
A carefully-struck coin from specially prepared dies, to give a superior definition to the design, with mirror-like fields.
Flawless, a term generally only applied to ‘proof’ coins.
Uncirculated (UNC) or 'As Struck'
A coin that is in the same condition as issued, with ‘no wear through circulation’. The term ‘brilliant uncirculated’ is used to describe an uncirculated coin with full mint lustre or brilliance.
Extremely Fine (EF)
A coin with little sign of being circulated. There may be only the slightest wear to the highest areas and minimal scratches and other marks. Usually some of the mint lustre is visible on coins of this grade.
Very Fine (VF)
A coin with some wear to the highest areas of the design, but has seen limited circulation. More hair detail is evident and also detail on the other designs.
A coin that has seen considerable circulation and therefore has considerable wear to the raised surfaces of the design.
A worn coin where only the main features and legends are still distinguishable.
The best course of action is to keep your coin as well-preserved as possible before taking it for evaluation. “Besides washing it gently in soapy water, you shouldn’t do much else to it. If you’ve got an early 20th century piece of copper, silver or bronze, the last thing you want to do is mess with it as that will certainly devalue it and affect its grade.”
Once you head to a dealer, they will assess the coin and let you know what it could be worth.
You could be sitting on a potential gold mine, or stumble across that lucky penny that could be worth hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds.
With an infinite number of coins out there, it’s easy to see why so many people fall in love with the hobby and spend hours on the hunt for rare and elusive coins. But Mark says it’s not something to rush into - and by taking your time, you can really make the most of numismatics.
“Don’t be in a hurry with coin collecting. Get to know the market and specialise in a theme, as you can’t collect everything. Take your time with it – it's a great hobby, with a fascinating history on its own right.”
26 antique coins to look out for
Here are a handful of coins from across the 20th century that are worth seeing if you have in your collection.
“What they are worth will all of course depend on the grade. Condition is everything - and rarer coins in lower grades will be vastly cheaper. If it’s uncirculated, the more recent ones could fetch £50, while a 1905 halfcrown could be worth £15,000,” adds Mark.
Halfcrowns: 1903, 1904, 1905, 1908
Florins: 1905, 1908
Shillings: 1903, 1904,1905, 1908
Halfcrowns: 1925, 1930
Florins: 1924, 1925, 1932
Halfcrowns: 1954, 1958, 1959
Florins: 1954, 1957, 1958, 1959
Shillings: 1959 (Scottish issue)