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Adventures in coin roll hunting

Updated on June 6, 2013
Coin rolls by FunGi_ on Flickr
Coin rolls by FunGi_ on Flickr

I found myself at the bank on my lunch break. It was a branch I’d never been to, at a bank I never visit. Being that it was the middle of the week, there wouldn’t be a line. When I opened the door, the cool air blasted against my bare arms.

I walked straight up to the front desk, and the teller flashed me a pleasant smile. “What can I do for you, miss?” he asked.

Without missing a beat, I asked, “Do you have any rolls of half dollars?”

And so my hunt began.

Coin roll hunting, then and now

Silver is a huge commodity, especially now. The market keeps expanding, and there are signs everywhere asking for silver, gold, copper, metal. Each metal has its ups and downs in price.

While looking for more information on selling scrap metal, I found out about something called coin roll hunting. For quite some time, certain coins from the U.S. treasury were minted with a percentage of silver. For this reason, many older coins have silver in them. These coins are known as junk silver, and for some people, they are quite valuable.

Because of laws that state coins cannot be melted down for their metal value, you’d think that the silver coins would be collectible oddities sold only for their numismatic value, but there’s actually a widespread market of people buying and selling old coins--normal, everyday coins--for their silver content.

Coin roll hunting is the act of looking through coin rolls, especially older ones, to find rare treasures. Coin roll hunting doesn’t just refer to looking for silver coins, although that seems to be a common theme. Some people also look for pennies with high levels of copper and for rare coins found in circulation.

A talk on coin roll hunting

What to look for when hunting coin rolls

Depending on what your focus is, there are several coins to keep an eye out for. If you’re hunting for pennies to sell for their copper value, a general rule of thumb is to keep an eye out for pennies dated 1982 and earlier. During this time, pennies were made of 95% copper. There are some zinc pennies, so keep an eye out.

For silver, your best bet is to hunt for half-dollar coins dated before 1964. Certain coins minted between 1965 and 1971 are clad in silver.

For all coins, Google is a useful tool for checking the value of certain dates and conditions. Just google the coin and the date, and a page is sure to come up that will tell you all you need to know.

Half dollars by zcopley on Flickr
Half dollars by zcopley on Flickr

When I tried coin roll hunting…

I didn’t find a thing. Not a one.

First of all, silver dollars aren’t minted very often any more. There is a relative scarcity to the coins simply because people don’t use them anymore. In their heyday, they were used in casinos, but now that casinos used cards and paperless betting, there’s no place for the heavy coins that don’t even work in most vending machines.

When I asked the teller for half dollars, he blinked. “Half dollars?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’d like to buy a roll. I like to use them for tips.” Something told me I shouldn’t say I was looking for junk silver.

He shook his head. “Sorry,” he said. “We don’t have any our drawer.”

Another bank said the same thing, and I began to see a trend. I’d read online about people buying huge pallets of half dollar rolls, and the costs of both time and money seemed pretty extravagant for something that wasn’t a sure deal.

I started getting rolls of pennies to look for copper, and looking through them, I was able to find the occasional copper coin. I started saving them in a jar and imagining a big payday. When I looked at going rates, however, my collection wasn’t worth the effort of searching.

Money, money, money by somegeekintn on Flickr
Money, money, money by somegeekintn on Flickr

So is it worth it?

For me, no.

The time and effort involved in securing the coins and getting lucky with a rare find is too great, and I’d rather try another way to earn a little extra money. For those who work around money like retailers, however, it may be worth it to scan your drawer for rare coins during close-out.

As for me, I’ll stick with checking my pocket change for the occasional rare coin. There are still gems to be found in circulation, and although finding something truly valuable is akin to winning a scratch ticket, it’s more fun than poring through coin rolls for melt value coins.

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