Check your small change – it could be worth a fortune

Take a close look at your small change, because lurking at the bottom of a pile of insignificant-looking coins could be some serious money.

It’s time to tip out your piggy bank, empty out your loose change jar and take a close look at the contents. Because, while you might think you’re staring at a mountain of pretty low-grade change, you could be in for a pleasant surprise. Lurking at the bottom of your jar of old coins could be a rare piece worth far more than its face value.

And you don’t have to unearth a Queen Anne farthing to be in the money. Some far more recent coins can fetch equally large amounts from collectors willing to part with some serious cash.

Top of the list is an undated 20 pence piece (pictured above) that could fetch you at least £100. Not a bad return on a piece of loose change that wouldn’t even buy you a bar of chocolate.

When the Royal Mint struck a batch of 20 pence coins in 2008 an error in the minting process meant that some accidentally had no date printed on them. Find one and you could get £100 for it from The London Mint Office, or try your luck on the likes of eBay and you could possibly get even more.

Tim Banks from the London Mint Office says these rare coins still turn up today, although the odds of finding one are longer than they were. “The quality at the Royal Mint is amazing, so this is the first time something like this had happened in something like 300 years. It’s quite extraordinary and it doesn’t happen that often, which is what made them so rare and therefore collectable.”

The prospect of finding a 20p worth £100 certainly got the nation rifling through their wallets in the hope of finding one of the rare coins. Tim says: “The day we revealed the minting of these rare coins was the same day Michael Jackson died and the undated 20p story got more hits on the Sky News website than the Michael Jackson story. It captivated the audience.”

And the future value of these coins could be even greater. “In the world of numismatics, dealers are by nature, hoarders, and there may be private dealers out there who have hoarded these rare 20p pieces in the knowledge that in 20 years time, when this has all gone away and there are fewer pieces around, they will be worth even more,” Tim adds.

More new rare coins

While it’s incredibly rare for the Royal Mint to make errors, it’s not the first time it has happened. In 1983 a two pence coin was minted that incorrectly had ‘new pence’ printed on the reverse side of the coin. It fetched £600 at auction. It’s well worth taking a look through your pile of coppers to see if you have any of these twopenny ‘mules’. If you do find a coin dated 1983 that has the word ‘new’ on the reverse side you’ve got a rare coin in your hand.

So what are the odds of a coin minted today, maybe for the Olympics, being worth a small fortune in the future? Tim says: “It’s really difficult to say for sure what value a coin will have in the future. The world of numismatics is based partly on metal content but mainly availability. So if a coin was to be struck for the Olympics that was in pure gold and there were only five or so struck then it would make that coin collectable, because of the lack of availability. But because they have been struck in such large quantities they aren’t necessarily going to appreciate in value.”

The rule of thumb is, the rarer the coin, the greater the potential future value. “The further back you go in history and the rarer the coins are, particularly gold coins, then you move into a slightly different world. Those sorts of coins make their own market because the limited availability makes them highly desirable,” he says.

Old money still good

However, you don’t need to be fortunate enough to find a rare coin to get something back for what looks like worthless old money. Find a pile of pre-decimal shillings and florins and most of the high street banks will give you something for them.

But find a stash of old cash and you might be better off contacting a dealer first to see if you can get a little more for it than face value. Go to for a list of members of the British Numismatic Trade Association.

Member and coin dealer Chris Perkins of, says post-1947 silver coins are better off exchanged at the bank, but if you find any silver coins that date back to before 1947 you’re in luck. These coins contain silver, which, at its current two-month high, makes these coins worth substantially more than face value. Take them to auction where they will be treated as bullion. 

Holiday money too

And don’t forget that jar of coins that you’ve been saving as a souvenir of sunny days in Ibiza back in the 1990s. The great news is that you can convert those old pesetas into cold, hard cash, just as you can many other European currencies from pre-euro days.

Former national banknotes and coins, like the German mark and Spanish peseta, can still be exchanged for euros at the relevant national central bank.

Also worth hunting for are old French franc notes, but you’ll have to hurry, the deadline for exchanging them at the Banque de France is 17 February and only five particular notes are eligible for exchange. They are the 500 franc note with Pierre et Marie Curie on it, 200 francs depicting Gustave Eiffel, the 100 franc notes featuring Cézanne, 50 francs adorned with Saint-Exupery and the 20 franc note featuring Debussy.

As for Italian lira, if you’ve got any lira you may as well stick them in your scrapbook because you can’t exchange them any longer.  For a full list of the European notes and coins that are redeemable look on the European Central Bank website.

So the next time you find a pile of old coins in a drawer, take a close look, because you could be in for a pleasant surprise.

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