The Most Valuable Coins of the 20th Century: What to Look For

The Most Valuable Coins of the 20th Century: What to Look For

The 20th century was a transformative era for coinage, marked by significant changes in design, composition, and production techniques. For numismatists and coin collectors, this period offers a treasure trove of valuable coins that are not only rare but also steeped in history. Whether you're a seasoned collector or a novice enthusiast, understanding what to look for in 20th-century coins can help you identify and acquire some of the most prized pieces in numismatics. In this article, we'll explore the most valuable coins of the 20th century and what makes them so sought after.

The 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent

The 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent is one of the most famous and coveted coins of the 20th century. Designed by Victor David Brenner, the coin features his initials "VDB" on the reverse side. However, the inclusion of these initials sparked controversy, leading to their removal from subsequent issues. Only 484,000 of these coins were minted in San Francisco before the change, making the 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent extremely rare. Collectors should look for well-preserved examples, as coins in higher grades can fetch substantial prices.

The 1913 Liberty Head Nickel

Arguably one of the most legendary coins in American numismatics, the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel is surrounded by mystery and intrigue. Only five specimens are known to exist, and their origins are shrouded in secrecy. It's believed that these coins were produced clandestinely at the Philadelphia Mint. The rarity and unique backstory of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel make it one of the most valuable coins in the world, with individual specimens selling for millions of dollars at auction.

The 1921 Peace Dollar

The Peace Dollar, designed by Anthony de Francisci, was introduced in 1921 to commemorate the end of World War I and symbolize the hope for lasting peace. The 1921 Peace Dollar is particularly valuable due to its high relief design, which was modified in subsequent years to a lower relief for easier stacking and minting. Collectors should seek out the high relief 1921 Peace Dollar, as it represents the original and more intricate design, commanding higher prices in the numismatic market.

The 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle

The 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle is perhaps the most famous U.S. coin of the 20th century. Due to the Gold Recall Act of 1933, almost all of these $20 gold coins were melted down before they could be issued. However, a few specimens escaped destruction, and one in particular was legally sold to King Farouk of Egypt, later becoming a centerpiece at various auctions. The 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle is highly coveted, and its value is astronomical, with one specimen selling for over $7 million.

The 1943 Copper Penny

During World War II, the U.S. Mint switched to zinc-coated steel for penny production to conserve copper for the war effort. However, a small number of copper pennies were mistakenly struck in 1943. These rare 1943 copper pennies are highly sought after by collectors. The easiest way to identify one is to use a magnet; if it sticks, it’s steel, but if it doesn’t, you might have a valuable copper penny. Well-preserved examples of the 1943 copper penny can fetch tens of thousands of dollars.

The 1955 Double Die Penny

The 1955 Double Die Penny is a famous error coin that resulted from a misalignment during the minting process, causing the date and inscriptions on the coin to appear doubled. This dramatic doubling is easily visible to the naked eye, making the 1955 Double Die Penny a favorite among collectors. With only a few thousand of these error coins released, they are considered rare and valuable. Collectors should look for coins with clear doubling and minimal wear.

The 1969-S Double Die Obverse Penny

Similar to the 1955 Double Die Penny, the 1969-S Double Die Obverse Penny features noticeable doubling on the obverse, particularly in the inscriptions "LIBERTY" and "IN GOD WE TRUST." This error was corrected quickly, resulting in a limited number of these pennies entering circulation. High-grade examples of the 1969-S Double Die Obverse Penny are rare and can command high prices at auction.

The 1975 No S Proof Dime

Proof coins are specially made for collectors, with sharper details and a mirror-like finish. The 1975 No S Proof Dime is an error coin where the San Francisco Mint’s "S" mintmark was accidentally omitted. Only two examples of this error are known to exist, making the 1975 No S Proof Dime one of the rarest and most valuable dimes in existence. If you ever come across one, it could be worth a small fortune.

The 1995 Double Die Obverse Penny

The 1995 Double Die Obverse Penny is another significant error coin from the 20th century. The doubling on this coin is less dramatic than the 1955 version but still noticeable, particularly in the word "LIBERTY" and the date. While not as rare as some other error coins, high-grade examples of the 1995 Double Die Obverse Penny are valuable and highly collectible.

What to Look For in Valuable Coins

When searching for valuable 20th-century coins, consider the following factors:

  • Rarity: Coins with low mintage numbers or unique error coins tend to be more valuable.
  • Condition: The better the condition of the coin, the higher its grade and value. Look for coins with minimal wear, clear details, and original luster.
  • Historical Significance: Coins with interesting backstories or those that commemorate significant events can be more desirable.
  • Authentication: Ensure the coin’s authenticity, especially when dealing with high-value pieces. Professional grading services like PCGS and NGC can provide certification and grading.


The 20th century produced some of the most valuable and intriguing coins in numismatic history. From the elusive 1913 Liberty Head Nickel to the famous 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, these coins offer a glimpse into the rich tapestry of American coinage. By understanding what to look for in terms of rarity, condition, and historical significance, collectors can enhance their collections with some of the most sought-after coins from this remarkable era. Whether you are just starting your numismatic journey or are a seasoned collector, the pursuit of these valuable 20th-century coins can be both rewarding and exhilarating.