So many of us have some coins stashed away in cupboards and wardrobes. They always make a *cling* sound whenever you look for something and move that little box you store them in. Kind of annoying and pretty heavy, but you never got rid of it. It just sits there gathering dust.
What if we told you that it might actually be worth quite a lot of money?
But how can you find out what are your coins worth? The best practice is always to send your money to a professional grading service, however, if you don’t have the means or time, you may opt for a DIY solution. It’s also a great option if you want to try something new and broaden your skill range.
We’ve found that a ‘how to grade coins by yourself’ Google search mostly provides links to advice articles on how to submit your pieces for grading. They do not really explain the methods and techniques you need to do it yourself. We do things a bit different here at Spot4Coins, trying to give coin and precious metals owners as much autonomy as possible – this is why we’ve decided to publish this article.
So, if you’ve ever thought about assessing the value of your coins at home, or simply don’t know where to start, this article is for you! We will provide you with several useful tips and focus points that are vital when determining the value of your coin.
First, let’s find out whether or not your coin is really made of precious metals!
While in the past, coins were beaten from gold and silver, nowadays, this isn’t always the case. As paper banknotes have started occupying the highest denominations, it became unprofitable to use precious metals to mint coins such as quarters. Cheaper metals such as copper or nickel were used for this purpose. That’s why, if you have a literal hodgepodge of coins laying around, you need to see what they are made of. Or, at least, determine if what you’re holding is a little disc of gold or an almost worthless piece of nickel. Luckily, there are several ways to do this, which we’ll talk about in this section of the article.
1. The ‘ping’ test
Let’s take it one step further from the bling era, straight to the *cling* era. Gold and silver not only have a lovely shin to them, they also have a quite unique sound when you strike them with another coin. This *cling* is recognizable enough for you to be able to tell whether or not your coin is made out of a precious metal or if it’s a dud.
The sound of a fake is blunt and the sustain is almost non-existent. The sound of striking a genuine golden or silver coin has been compared to one of tuning forks. It’s pure, has a beautiful ring to it and sustains for several seconds. Check out this video if you want to hear some examples.
Should you want to do the ‘ping’ test by yourself, simply take two coins. Balance the one you want to test on your index finger and strike it
2. The bite test
Remember all these western movies where cowboys would bite a piece of metal to see if it’s gold or a fake? In case of the former, we’d get a ride-out-into-the-sunset type of scene, with the latter – a bloody shootout. Quite cool, right? The thing is, while cowboys probably didn’t have access to better methods of grading gold, you do! And, to be fair, we’ve only included the bite test method to warn you NOT to do it. Here’s why:
When pure, gold is a very soft metal. It is said that when you bite it, your teeth will leave marks on the piece. That will let you know your coin is indeed made out of gold, but it will also damage it reducing its value significantly. Not to mention the risk of inflicting harm upon your poor teeth! If you’re planning on investing in gold, avoid this method!
3. Magnet test
Another simple test you can do to see if your coin is made of gold or silver is putting a magnet to it and seeing if the piece sticks to it. The stronger your magnet, the better and more accurate the result will be.
This test works, because gold and silver are non-conductive, therefore, they will not work with a magnet in a way a piece of iron would. Keep in mind, however, that some metals used to make counterfeits are also non-conductive, so it’s best to use this method alongside others.
4. Temperature test for silver
Silver is famous for its incredible thermal conductive properties. Because of that, its use has skyrocketed in tech industries in recent years, especially in hi-tech or solar energy. This property can also be used to see whether or not your coin is a fake. The most popular way of doing so is by placing your coin on top of an ice cube. If it’s silver, the ice should start melting right away, because the metal transfers heat very quickly and efficiently. You won’t get such a reaction from a counterfeit and the cube will remain intact for long.
Once you’re sure your coin is golden or silver, you need to check how much it might be worth:
While the same coins are often equal in terms of their value, there are plenty of factors that might tip that balance. Two golden pieces from the same year and mint might be similar, but their prices may vary depending on their physical state, rarity, damages and scratches, and precious metal content. Knowing whether or not your coin is made out of gold or silver is just the first step – we devote the second section of this article to outlining at-home methods you can employ to estimate how much your coin might actually be worth and how does it compare.
1. Perform an acid test
An acid test is both a way to see if your coin is made out of gold or silver as well as a way to test its fineness. We will briefly talk through the equipment you need to get started as well as the procedure.
First of all, to perform an acid test, you’re going to need an acid test kit. It’s a set of acids of different strength, which you can easily get online for around $12-13. The second thing to buy is a test stone. It’s actually not a stone, but a small square plate of obsidian, which will cost you about $15. We are going to focus on gold in this paragraph, but this method works for silver as well
To perform the test, take the coin you want to examine and scratch it against the test stone. It will leave a mark on the surface. Next, pour a couple drops of your acid onto the scratch. If it melts away, it means your coin is not golden. If it remains unaffected – you have a gold coin!
If you want to check the fineness gold in your coin, you need to get yourself a test kit that contains several acids of different strengths. To test the gold, make a scratch on the test stone and pour acids, from the weakest to the strongest. A 24k precious will require the strongest acid to dissolve it, while for gold of lesser fineness, a weaker acid will suffice.
2. Get yourself a good lamp and a magnifying glass
Although the gold or silver content is what’s usually being used to define a coin’s value, there’s a bit more to it. When it comes to bullion coins as well as collectibles, the condition of a piece is just as vital. Scratches, damage, missing details or faded design can greatly influence the price.
The best way to examine your coin at home is under a good light source with a magnifying glass in hand. In this way, you will be able to identify most of the blemishes on your piece.
3. Use the PCGS photograde service
PCGS stands for Professional Coin Grading Service. It’s a company specializing in… you guessed it – grading coins! Most notably, they have released a grading system that details coins’ condition on a 70-point scale.
PCGS is one of the most trusted US companies occupying this niche. Having a coin graded by them gives you an irrefutable argument when negotiating price at a dealership. However, if you’re planning on having a go at grading your own coins yourself, PCGS offers a useful tool called Photograding. It contains detailed hi-res photographs of American coins, which you can use to juxtapose to the coin you already own. Because you need to know all the nooks and crannies of your own coin, it’s best to combine this method with the previous one we described in this article.
Using Photograde, while definitely not as accurate as sending a coin for grading, is a good DIY way to find out how does your piece compare to others of the same denomination and mintage.
Please refer to this video by PCGS, should you need more detailed instructions on how to access and use their Photograde tool.
We’re hoping you’ve found this article useful and filled with helpful advice! Are you using any other DIY ways of grading coins? Let us know in the comments!