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How to Find Treasures in Your Change

How to Find Treasures in Your Change

What you should look out for!

In the fields of art, literature and jewellery, for example, people think that great rarities and treasures are found only safely hidden away in museums, government archives or perhaps in the homes of the rich and famous. Sometimes, however, you only need look at the coins in your pocket to find a genuine treasure!

In this blog, over the next few weeks, we will take a look at some of the coins in circulation that you might want to keep an eye out for – and what they might be worth.

Low denomination, high value!

Throughout history, the world of coinage has always had the capacity to throw up unlikely little gems that can be found in change. Often, those gems are low denomination issues – coins that someone might have had in their pocket on any given day – but are of the highest rarity.

In the USA, for example, there is the 1943 Lincoln Copper Penny (can fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction), and 1913 Liberty Head Nickel (worth millions!) In the United Kingdom, there is the extraordinarily rare 1933 Penny – an unlikely rarity that has had generations frantically searching through their coins, and that could be worth £250,000 (AUD$400,000+) today! Australia has its iconic lower denomination rarities as well, such as the 1923 Halfpenny and the King of Australian Coins, the 1930 Penny.

The 1930 Penny – the ultimate ‘treasure in change’!

1930 Penny Fine

Australia’s highest profile rarity, the 1930 Penny is a great example of a true ‘people’s rarity’. Believed to have been struck during die-testing, then set aside and put into circulation with a later penny issue, the 1930 Penny is worth anything from $25,000 to $60,000 in circulated grade.

Apart from the statistical rarity, with approximately 1,500 known surviving examples, the 1930 Penny is also underpinned by undeniable romance. As Australia’s second lowest denomination at the time, the humble penny could have been found in any pocket – from paperboy to Prime Minister! Anyone could have struck it rich by finding the famed ’30!

You won’t find a 1930 Penny in your change today, of course, with the conversion to decimal currency in 1966, but there are plenty of other interesting – and potentially valuable – coin dates, types and varieties to watch out for.

Decimal Dynamite!

So, what sort of coins are worth looking out for in change?

Since decimalisation in February 1966, virtually all of Australia’s coinage has been struck at the Royal Australian Mint (RAM) in Canberra. The RAM was established in 1965 specifically to facilitate the changeover from predecimal to decimal currency, and has always been armed with state-of-the-art minting equipment. Under these circumstances, you would think everything would work out perfectly, and every coin would be exactly as it was intended to be – but not so!

Error coin types…

Even the latest in minting technology and the most rigorous of quality control is not enough to stop blunders making it through the system and escaping into circulation. Off-centre strikes, upset dies, broadstrikes, split planchets, brockages, double-portrait or reverse issues, off-metal strikings – there are many types of Error coins, across all decimal denominations.

With most Errors worth way more than face value – the 2000 $1/10c Mule is worth thousands in better grade – their existence is a good reason to keep a close eye on your change.

Intended or known Varieties…

Sometimes the variation in the design of a coin is not due to a mistake – it can simply be due to a change in process, or an upgrade in technology. So, for example, the positioning of the reverse die in the production of the 1972 5c varied slightly, and, as a result, we have a ‘High Echidna’ type and a ‘Low Echidna’ type!

The 1994 Year of the Family 50c is known by ‘wide date’ and ‘narrow date’ types, and the 2000 Millennium 50c can be found with part of the Australian Flag on the reverse both raised from the surface of the coin, and, on rare occasions, struck into the coin – known as an incuse strike. These are all ‘Varieties’, rather than Errors.

Waltzing Matilda 1995 $1 C Mintmark Uncirculated Coin

Not-issued-for-circulation commemorative collector coins…

For several decades, the RAM has produced coins that were not intended to circulate at all, being struck in limited numbers, specially packaged, and sold to collectors. Just a few of many, many examples, the RAM has issued a 1995 Waltzing Matilda $1, 2000 Victoria Cross $1 and a 2007 Lifesavers 20c.

These coins – and a multitude of other not-issued-for-circulation types – are struck to the same specifications as coins found in circulation, and are genuine, official Australian legal tender issues. Thus, although unusual, it does happen that these will be found in change – definitely coins to look out for!

Low-mintage issues…

Of course, a coin doesn’t have to be ‘different’ in some way to be a ‘treasure in your change’ – sometimes it’s simple mathematics! The RAM strikes coinage to demand, and what is required for circulation and, naturally enough, mintages vary wildly.

The 1985 10c, for example, had a mintage of just two million – the lowest of the denomination! The 1993 50c had a mintage of just one million, and if we look to the $1 coin, we see some extraordinarily low mintages. The 2014 Roos $1 had a mintage of 1.052 million, the 2016 Decimal Currency $1 had a mintage of just 560,000, whilst the RAM states that the 2022 Roos $1 mintage is a mere 10,000!

Remembering that Australian coin denominations are usually struck in the tens of millions – if not 100 million and more – these mintages are astonishingly low, and the aforementioned coins are naturally seldom seen in change.

When you also take into account all of the sought after colour $2 commemorative coins – virtually all of which have been produced in very small numbers – you’ll see that low-mintage issues give you a very good reason to keep your eyes peeled.

Not-issued-for-circulation standard types…

Throughout Australia’s decimal history, there are standard, non-commemorative dates in certain denominations that were never issued at all!

In this case, the particular coin was not required for circulation, and only appears in collector issues – primarily the RAM’s annual collector Mint Set. Some examples include the 1985 5c, the 1995 10c, the 1990 20c, the 1992 50c, the 1991 $1 and the 1991 $2. All not-issued-for-circulation standard, non-commemorative dates are worth well over face value, and well worth keeping an eye out for.

So, what to look out for? And how much is it worth? Watch this space!

Regardless of what sort of coin it is – an Error, a Variety, a low-mintage issue and so on – whether it’s a treasure or not will depend on the laws of supply and demand. If demand for a particular coin exceeds supply, then the price will inevitably rise. That ‘treasure in your change’ may be worth many times the face-value! Or it may be of historic value only, or simply of interest. Of course, that traditional ‘search through change’ is not only about finding a coin worth thousands – it’s also about the thrill of the chase, and just finding that something a little different.