Imagine getting change back from an everyday purchase and then putting it wherever you happen to keep loose change. This happens all the time, but what if one of those coins you just got back was actually worth millions? This kind of thing is very unlikely to happen because collectors have taken valuable coins out of circulation.
On January 11, 2015 a 1792 American penny known as a Birch Cent sold for $2.6 million making it the most expensive one-cent piece ever sold at auction. Only 10 of these coins are believed to exist and are named for their engraver Robert Birch. The coin was purchased by collector Kevin Lipton who said that it is in the best condition of any of the 10 coins. Lipton of Lipton Rare Coins Inc. said that the coin was "a really good buy" and that he thought it would bring more money.
The $2.6 million sale almost doubled the previous record of $1.38 million for a penny. At the same auction Lipton paid $2.2 million for a Wright quarter and altogether spent $4.8 million on 26 cents.
While this was the most expensive penny ever sold, it is not nearly the most expensive coin that has ever been purchased. In 2013 a 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar coin sold for just over $10 million! This was the first dollar coin ever issued by the U.S. Federal Government and was made up of 90% silver and 10% copper.
A 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle gold $20 coin and a 1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle coin have sold for $7.6 million each while a 1787 Brasher Doubloon coin sold for $7.4 million. A 1913 Liberty Head Nickel sold for $3.7 million in 2010.
So the most expensive penny went for $2.6 million and the most expensive nickel for $3.7 million. A 1916 D Mercury Dime is said to be worth about $30,000. A 1901 S Barber Quarter is estimated at $49,000 and of course the 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar went for $10 million.
What would our economy look like if every penny were worth $2.6 million? Something off the McDonald's Dollar Menu would cost $260 million. That may sound like a lot but the 2014 median income of $53,891 would now be at a whopping $14,011,660,000,000 or $14 trillion!
Before you toss all your spare change in the CoinStar machine you may want to at least quickly glance over them to make sure they aren't anything special.