A common misconception is that any coin no longer seen in circulation must be rare and valuable. In reality, many of these items are merely unusual—but not necessarily worth very much. While these items are fun to discover in everyday pocket change and make for great conversation pieces, they do not necessarily hold much collector value. Some examples include:
Wheat Cents: These are Lincoln cents struck between 1909 and 1958, when the reverse featured two wheat ears around the words “ONE CENT.” These have largely vanished from circulation but have not appreciated much in value. These trade in bulk quantities for less than five cents each. Not even the 1943 zinc cents (aka “steel” cents) command for much of a premium.
Pre-1965 Nickels: If you find a pre-1965 dime, quarter or half dollar, that coin is made of silver and has some amount of “melt” value due to its bullion content. A pre-1965 nickel, meanwhile, is still made of nickel and copper. The only exceptions are coins made between 1941-1945; these have a small amount of silver and command a premium as such.
Bicentennial Quarters: A special edition Washington Quarter was released in 1976 to celebrate America’s 200th birthday. These feature a date expressed as “1776-1976” and show a patriot drumming on the reverse. The design is attractive and relatively few of these appear in circulation, but they are by no means rare. Dealers will not pay any premium for them.
Kennedy Half Dollars: Despite being a mainstay of American commerce since the 1790s, the half dollar has largely faded from circulation. Fifty-cent pieces almost never appear in pocket change, yet millions are still produced each year. Their mintages are low compared to other circulating denominations—but not low enough to make them valuable. The exception to the rule is 1964-1970 Kennedy halves; these contain some amount of silver.
Eisenhower Silver Dollars: There’s a reason why these never appear in circulation: they were deemed too large, clunky and inconvenient. Despite the public’s refusal to use the “Ike” dollar, the US Mint nonetheless produced massive quantities of them. Other than the special proof and silver editions, these command little or no premium over face value.
Susan B. Anthony Dollars: Making the dollar coin smaller did not improve its popularity. After the Eisenhower dollar failed, the more compact Susan B. Anthony dollar was soon introduced. Unfortunately it was confused all too often with the quarter and never took off. The same situation appears to be plaguing the more recent presidential and Sacajawea dollars.