Most Valuable U.S. Coins
by Zack O'Malley Greenburg
As the federal government prints billions of
dollars to prop up a sagging economy, some worry
that a dollar just isn't worth anything these
days. They've probably never seen an 1804 Silver
A specimen in good condition is worth $10
million, making it America's most valuable coin.
With only 19 copies known to exist, it's also
the envy of numismatists across the country.
"The major collectors who don't have one just
sort of put their heads down," says John
Albanese, president and founder of Certified
Acceptance Corp., under whose auspices he has
bought and sold more than 20 seven-figure coins.
The 1804 Silver Dollar is one of four coins
worth more than $5 million in good condition.
The star-crossed 1933 Double Eagle is second on
the list at $8.5 million, followed by the 1913
Liberty Nickel at $5.9 million--bizarrely, one
of the only legal coins ever produced without
the knowledge of the U.S. Mint. Rounding out the
top five is the $4.4 million 1861 Double Eagle,
of which only two examples are known to exist.
Behind the Numbers
Our values of these rare coins are courtesy of
Nostomania.com, a collectibles evaluator run by
software developers and engineers that generates
pricing data by processing actual-sales figures
through a set of proprietary algorithms. These
are theoretical values--they assume that each
coin has a grade of MS-63 (on a 1-70 scale),
numismatic lingo for very good condition. Some
of these coins are not known to exist in this
precise condition, but this is the only way to
make an apples-to-apples comparison.
With the stock market tanking, many
high-net-worth investors have started paying
attention to rare coins because they have some
degree of inherent value. David Albanese,
president of coin dealer Albanese Rare Coins (no
relation to John Albanese) estimates that rare
coin values are up by almost 25% over the past
"If you buy $1 million worth of stocks, it could
go down to $20,000," he says. "That just doesn't
happen with coins. They really are artifacts,
and there are a finite number of the rare ones
Catch Me If You Can
The stories behind the coins often contribute to
their value--but can also be their undoing.
The aforementioned 1933 Double Eagle, for
example, is perhaps the rarest and most famous
coin. As a result of a bizarre series of events
that started unfolding nearly a century ago,
there is only one in existence that's legal to
Shortly after the coins were minted, President
Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order
outlawing the circulation and possession of gold
currency in an attempt to stabilize the
country's teetering bank system. As legend has
it, a U.S. Mint cashier by the name of George
McCann smuggled out a handful of the coins
before they could be destroyed.
The government discovered this in 1944, and the
Secret Service immediately embarked on a quest
to hunt down the missing coins. However, shortly
before the search began, Egyptian King Farouk
acquired a Double Eagle and applied for a
license to own it. Government officials
unknowingly accepted his application, and the
coin was pronounced legal to own. When Farouk
was deposed in 1952, the coin went missing
Four decades later, a British coin dealer named
Stephen Fenton was found in possession of what
he claimed was King Farouk's coin during a sting
operation in New York. As part of a settlement,
he agreed to sell it in an open auction, and the
record $7.6 million it fetched from an anonymous
buyer in 2002 was split between Fenton and the
U.S. government. Leading up to the auction, the
coin was stored in a safe at the World Trade
Center, then transferred to Fort Knox just
months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In 2003, there was another twist in the saga: A
woman from Philadelphia named Joan Langbord
discovered 10 Double Eagles in a safe deposit
box belonging to her late father, Israel "Izzy"
Switt, a jeweler long linked to rumored
coin-pilferer McCann's stash. A year later
Langbord handed the Double Eagles over to the
U.S. Mint to have them certified. But the Feds
confiscated the coins in 2005, claiming they
were taken in an unlawful manner, and Langbord
is now suing the government to have them
returned. The potential flood of Double Eagles
has kept the coin from ascending to the top of
"If these come to market, the sale prices will
certainly drop significantly," says Nostomania's
Still, some collectors argue that
machine-generated values aren't always accurate.
John Albanese thinks the 1933 Double Eagle is
worth $7.5 million--just shy of its 2002 auction
price, and 12% less than Nostomania's figure.
Albanese has also heard rumors that the "Farouk
Double Eagle," now on display at the Federal
Reserve in New York isn't actually the one that
was owned by King Farouk. He says the Egyptian
monarch was famous for excessively wiping down
his coins, and the one in New York bears no such
marks. Might the real one still be out there?
"I think so," says Albanese. "But how are you
going to prove it?"
Maybe the stock market isn't such a bad place to
invest, after all.