Forty years ago, your spare change might yield all kinds of things: Indian-head cents, buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, Standing Liberty quarters, Walking Liberty half dollars, and plenty of the more modern silver coins that had been discontinued a few years earlier. These are all but gone, but recent developments have brought all kinds of people back to coin collecting, and budding numismatists are searching their spare change for treasure. Here are some reasons people are getting excited about coin collecting again.

50 State Quarters

In 1999, the U.S. Mint began the 50 State Quarters program, a series of 50 special quarter dollars, each representing an individual state and released in the order in which the states entered the Union. The new coins share a common obverse (coin front); the reverses (coin backs) are chosen from designs submitted by each state. Five new quarters are issued each year. The U.S. Treasury reports that over 100 million Americans are collecting the state quarters, many of them completely new to collecting.

Sacagawea dollar

In what was perhaps the biggest and most expensive advertising campaign ever seen for a new coin, the U.S. Mint introduced a new $1 coin in 2000. The new dollar featured the Native American guide Sacagawea (and her infant son) on the front, and an eagle on the back. To make the coin distinctive, the edge was left flat and plain, and the entire coin was struck from a gold-colored alloy. In a stroke of genius, the U.S. Mint contracted with Wal-Mart stores throughout the country to distribute the new coins in limited quantities. Banks received very few of the coins, creating the false impression that the new coins were rare. In fact, billions of the Sacagawea dollars have been produced and they will never be rare.

New commemorative issues

In 1982, the U.S. Mint began tentatively issuing commemorative coins again. Today, the U.S. Mint has hit its stride, issuing one or more commemorative coins each year in a variety of metals, set combinations, and price levels. New commemorative coins are available in gold, silver, and copper-nickel on subjects that appeal to a broad audience. Each new issue creates excitement among existing collectors and brings new collectors into the hobby.

Error coins

The U.S. Mint is far from perfect. However, as far as numismatics goes, that's a good thing. Few industries have product lines in which the rejected items are more valuable than the perfect ones. In 2000, a number of spectacular error coins stunned the numismatic world. One such error was a coin with the front of a 50 State Quarter and the back of a Sacagawea dollar — the first U.S. coin ever to bear two denominations. Because the two dies differ in diameter, no one believed it was even possible for such an error to exist; in fact, some professionals believe these error coins were made deliberately. The error received tremendous publicity in the national media, causing millions of non-collectors to begin examining their change.


Occasionally, a Wheatie (the Lincoln cent with wheat ears on the back, struck prior to 1959) still shows up in your pocket. As the years go by, they will become rarer.