Sorting pennies and nickels

My mother has a large pile of pennies and nickels. She wants to convert them into more convenient currency or deposit them in a bank account. But she has two concerns.

First, she’s worried about turning in some coins that might have numismatic value. Is there an easy method she can use to sort out pennies and nickels that might have significant value?

I pointed out that nickels and pre-1983 pennies have some base metal value for the copper content. Is this realistic and is there any reasonable way to trade these coins in for their metallic value?

Second, if she does decide to trade them in, what’s the best method? Dump them all in one of those change sorting machines (which charge what I feel is an excessive fee)? Take them to the bank in rolls? Use them to buy chips at a casino? Something else?

Not sure about the other questions, but if you decide to go with a Coinstar machine, you can opt for a fee-free gift certificate at more than a dozen merchants instead of an expensive cash return.

Roll them. Deposit them into the bank.

Unless they are really old, there is probably nothing there. Pre-1982 pennies are pure copper and worth about 2c each IF and a big IF THEY ARE MELTED and sold for scrap. Probably not something you want to do, being illegal and all. There are nutcases on ebay that pay more than 1c face value, and you could sell them there, but it really can’t be worth the effort. YMMV.

I can’t help you on the numismatic value. But on the metal-content value–forget about it. I think it’s illegal to melt down currency, so there’s no way to realize that value.

Coinstar is probably the best way to go here.

It’s a big longshot, but you might go through to see if any of these in there. A coin collecting member of my wife’s family passed away recently and had one of these in his collection valued at around $1400 (not by accident, he knew what it was).

How many coins are we talking about? And how long has she been saving them?

Unless she has been hoarding them for at least 30 years or more, I wouldn’t bother looking for diamonds in the rough. Extremely unlikely.

Also, my bank has a free coin sorter in the lobby for customers; are you sure yours does not?


Really? Which bank? Where?


An East Coast chain called TD Bank does – dunno about elsewhere in the country. AFAIK, you don’t have to be a customer – just run the coins through the machine, take the resulting slip to the counter, ask for cash.

Whoa there. You’re not talking of a mere “chain”, you’re talking about a Canadian Chartered Bank.

Numismatic-wise, keep any wheat cents, and be on the lookout for Lincoln Memorial cents that are dated 1992 or between 1998 and 2000; they may be the Wide AM variety (which you can find info on here The Most Valuable U.S. Coins Found in Circulation Today along with other coins to watch out for). As to nickels, any dated before 1955 have potential.

If you are already of a customer of Wells Fargo they will count your change for free. Just don’t show up with rolled coins.

How closely do you want to look at the coins? There are known error coins in the Lincoln Memorial series (1959-2008), but they generally require close examination to find. Wheat cents (1909-1958) have some key dates and errors, but they are extremely rare in circulation.

Some people save all copper Memorial cents as well, before the alloy change in 1982. I think this is a waste of time and space.

For nickels, 1955 is the most recent semi-semi-key date - not very valuable, but tough to find because of low mintage…

If I were you, I’d sort out the wheat cents and 1955 and earlier nickels, then come back here to this thread and tell what you saved - I or someone else can tell you what’s worth saving.

ETA : Agree with In Winnipeg about the 1992, 1998, 99, and '00 cents. Easy to separate out while counting. For 1992, It’s probably futile - it’s EXCEEDINGLY rare. For 98, 99, and 2000, DON’T save D-mintmarks coins - Only no-mintmark coins, minted in Philadelphia, have the chance of the Close AM error.


A lot of banks will count coins for free, if the person has an account with them. So first check your bank. If it does not, look around, maybe you’ll find a bank that does and you can open a free checking account with them. Keep the account for six months till the closing fee (fee to close the account) date passes then close it down.

TCF - not sure if they’re nationwide, though.

DO NOT ROLL THE COINS if you plan to deposit them.

The tellers just have to unroll them all again anyway and they will curse your mother under their breath the whole time they’re doing it.

Most banks have a coin counter behind the teller line, at least at the main branch. Just take them in a bag and they will dump them into the machine and then either give cash or deposit the sum. If you want to be sure, just call the branch where you plan to take them first. Most banks require the coin holder to be an account holder, too.

I take baggies of coins in to my local community bank all the time.

Another vote for don’t roll; just go to your bank and ask them to count them.

I don’t know how much coinage you have, nor how poor you or your Mom are. But I can’t see digging through them for high value coins. If you have, say, 2000 mickels, you have $100 face value. If you spend 1 second evaluating each nickel, you’ll spend 35 minutes looking through them. And you’ll miss a few unless you’re used to doing assembly line work & paying close attention to a boring task for long periods of time.

If you’re real lucky, you’ll find a coin worth 75 cents instead of 5 cents. That’s not a real high hourly wage. And then you have to spend some money to find a way to sell the coin.

Sure, there are pennies & nickels worth hundreds of dollars. But the odds on you having one of those in a pile of random coins is about the same as the odds on having a lottery ticket worth a couple grand.

So take the coins to the bank, get them converted to cash with no fee, then take the cash to the convenience store & buy a couple lottery tickets. Keep the rest of the cash. You’ll have the same likelihood of a small windfall and a lot less work. And unlike inspecting each of your coins, you might hit it big.

TD Bank in the US refers to their bank branches as “stores” so I don’t think they’d mind anyone calling them a “chain.” Most of their locations were acquired when they bought Commerce Bancorp, which marketed itself as a retailer, not a bank. See Wikipedia.

Hope I’m not hijacking. Wheresgeorge04, I have a large box (at least 20 pounds) of wheat pennies that my dad has saved over the years. Heaven knows what’s in there. I do know he did this for over 40 years. Is it really worth sorting them out and trying to sell them? I mean, it’s hardly worth the touble to turn $50 worth of pennies into $100 worth of collectables. And, if there might actully be value there, would I just sort them by date and take them to a dealer and/or ebay?

I would call your bank and ask how they would prefer you to bring the coins in. IME, I haven’t found a bank to take large amounts of unrolled coins. Then again, I have never seen a bank with a sorting machine either. I need to bank where you guys bank!

I’m surprised by this. Even the nearest branch of my insignificant little credit union has a coin sorter in the lobby for customers. No service charge, either.

If you’re willing to spend at least the time to look at the dates, save these:

All pre-1930
1943 - all mints, if in good shape (people like the steel cents, even though not worth much)
1955 Doubled die - you’ll know it if you see it (you won’t see it, though)

Roll up the rest, take them to the coin shop, and get maybe 3X face value

The really good coins are :

1909 S, 1909 VDB on the back, 1909-S VDB on the back, S-mints through 1915, 1922-D, 1922 No D, 1922 Weak D, 1924 D, and 1931 S. The other pre-1930s will get a small premium over the other, newer wheats.