During one period of history, coins were valued only by the metal from which they were made, and in another, the coinage was deemed as strong as the armies of the kings they depicted. These days we think of coins in terms of the dollars and cents they represent, but the rarest coins in the world hold incredible value, so much so that a few of them are worth that of a small Picasso or Monet painting. Several factors contribute to a coin earning a place on our list of the top 10 rarest coins of all time, from early minting errors to the novelty of an enormous, handcrafted gold masterpiece.

What Makes Rare Coins Valuable?


silver coins

Why are some coins so much more expensive than others? In a word: rarity. Historically, if an error was made during the minting of a coin, it was quickly corrected. The correction would leave small numbers of coins with the distinguishing mistake, and rarely would these anomalous coins make it into circulation. Sometimes the rarest coins have survived over centuries, even as others of their kind were lost to history, and as we will see in one instance below, the sheer size and substance of a coin demanded that only a few be made, giving it a high value from the outset.


Is There a Need for Collecting Rare Coins?


coins

Many rare coin collectors are hobbyists, interested more in history and the minutia of intricate items than amassing any real worth. Others go after only the rarest of rare coins, perceiving in their value an investment opportunity. Instances of coin speculation and even competitive coin collecting have created the emergence of coin grading services and coin registries. If there is value, there is a need for collectors. Let’s have a look at what the experts deem the rarest coins in the world.


10 Rarest Coins Know to Man


1. 1804 Bust Silver Dollar - Class I (Mickley-Hawn-Queller Specimen)  

1804 Bust Silver Dollar Coin
  • Value: $3,737,500
  • Sold at Auction: April 17, 2008, by Heritage Auctions, Dallas TX

Often referred to as the King of U.S. Coins, this rare coin has been on collector’s lists for over one hundred years. Also known as the Bowed Liberty Dollar, its distinguishing feature is the misleading date. While it has the year 1804 printed on it, the coin was actually minted in 1834. That was the year the United States Mint was commissioned to make full sets of so-called “proof coinage,” meant to act as gifts to diplomatic envoys from other countries.

When the United States Mint discovered that no silver dollar was ever made in 1804, they created one by a stroke of good fortune. An unfinished mold for the eagle was left over from the early 1800s, and while it required a good deal of re-working to make it usable, it was amended to add the 1804. Eagle-eyed collectors, however, discovered the deception through the differently styled “4” in the date. This later discovery makes the Bust Silver Dollar one of the rarest and most expensive coins ever to be made.


2. 1913 Liberty Head Nickel - Hawaii Five-O Star

 1913 Liberty Head Nickel Coin
  • Value: $3,737,500
  • Sold at Auction: January 7, 2010, by Heritage Auctions, Dallas TX

The Liberty Head nickel is one of the best known and highly sought after coins in our list. While it is said that one of them might fetch $20 million if presented in mint condition, even a lesser specimen is worth a pretty penny. Why is it so valuable? Only five are known to exist due to a printing error that stopped its first press: the coin was to be forged with the profile of a Native American, not that of lady Liberty.

A guest spot on the 1970s TV show Hawaii Five-O makes this nickel a particular point of interest with the collectors of the rarest coins. Of the five known examples of the Liberty Head nickel, two reside in museums, and three are in the hands of private collectors. Former owners of the Hawaii Five-O Liberty Head Nickel have included Egyptian King Farouk, New York City department store owner Edwin Hydeman, and former Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss.


3. 1804 Bust Silver Dollar - Class I (Dexter-Pogue Specimen)


1804 Bust Silver Dollar Coin
  • Value: $3,865,750
  • Sold at Auction: March 31, 2017, by Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Sotheby's

Here we find another example of a coin minted with the intrinsic value of one single dollar, only to become one of the rarest coins known to man. Inscribed with the iconic phrase E PLURIBUS UNUM on its reverse side, this coin spent 14 years in the hands of James V. Dexter, one of the richest and most famous collectors of the 19th century.

Mr. Dexter applied its now distinguishing mark: a tiny imprinted "D" placed among the coin's 13 stars above a cluster of six clouds. The Dexter-Pogue Bust Dollar changed hands twice in less than 48 hours in 2017, when it was first purchased at auction by an investors group on a Friday night, and then flipped to Super Collector Bruce Morelan on Sunday morning. This was only the latest example of a Bust Silver Dollar breaking records.


4. 1804 Bust Silver Dollar - Class I (Mickley-Hawn-Queller Specimen)

1804 Bust Silver Dollar Coin
  • Value: $3,877,500
  • Sold at Auction: August 9, 2013, by Heritage Auctions, Dallas TX

The batch of 15 specimens of this rarest of coins, the 1804 Bust Silver Dollar, are classified by coin experts as Class I "Original," Class II "First Restrike" or Class II "Second Restrike." This Bust Silver Dollar, nicknamed the Mickley-Haw-Queller Specimen, is another Class I, and while it didn't appear on a 1970s TV show, it never failed to make its owners rich at auction. As early as 1867 the 1804 Mickley Bust Silver Dollar was America’s most prestigious and talked about coin. The "Mickley" was the first of the 1804 Class I originals to cross the $1,000 mark at auction, and it performed that feat in the 1880s.


5. $1 Million Gold Canadian Maple Leaf

$1 Million Gold Canadian Maple Leaf Coin
  • Value: $4,020,000
  • Sold at Auction: June 2010 by Dorotheum Auction House, Vienna, Austria

In 2007, the world's premier million dollar coin was forged by the Royal Canadian Mint. This beautiful specimen spans a full 50 cm (20 inches) in diameter and is 3 cm (1.2 inches) thick. Developed as the centerpiece to a line of pure 1 ounce Gold Maple Leaf coins, the Royal Canadian Mint fashioned an elite auction item that five deep-pocketed investors have purchased to date, the last for the incredible sum of $4.02 million.

The obverse side of this massive coin presents the profile of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth while the reverse side features a hand-finished maple leaf designed by noted engraver Stan Witton. The Guinness Book of World Records has certified the Canadian Million Dollar Coin as the world's largest minted coin.


6. 1804 Bust Silver Dollar - Class I (The Watters-Childs Specimen)

The Watters-Childs Specimen Coin
  • Value: $4,140,000
  • Sold at Auction: August 30, 1999, by Bowers & Merena

Perhaps the finest example of the vaunted Bust Silver Dollar bearing the 1804 inscription, otherwise known as the Bowed Liberty Dollar, it has passed through the hands of the world's most famous collectors, including the incomparable 19th-century numismatist Virgil Brand and The Sultan of Muscat. Selling in 1999 for $4.1 million - it has been appraised at nearly $11 million since then - the Watters-Childs Specimen is truly a king among princes when it comes to rare coins minted in the United States.


7. 1787 Brasher Doubloon - EB on Wing

EB on Wing coin
  • Value: $7,395,000
  • Sold privately: December 2011 by Blanchard and Company

Another 1787 beauty by New York goldsmith and silversmith Ephraim Brasher, this specimen contained a not insignificant amount of gold in its metallurgical makeup. In fact, the gold in the 1787 Brasher Doubloon - EB on Breast would have been worth $15 in 1787. On this rare coin, we find Brasher's noted hallmark, a circled "EB" on the eagle's breast.

Brasher's tendency to stamp his own coins and those he proofed was new to early America, making this, as with the previous Brasher, a highly sought after collection piece. Blanchard and Company arranged this sale to a private collector for over $7 million in 2011, placing it near the top of the 10 rarest coins known to man.


8. 1787 Brasher Doubloon - EB on Breast

1787 Brasher Doubloon - EB on Breast Coin
  • Value: $7,395,000
  • Sold privately: December 2011 by Blanchard and Company

Another 1787 beauty by New York goldsmith and silversmith Ephraim Brasher, this specimen contained a not insignificant amount of gold in its metallurgical makeup. In fact, the gold in the 1787 Brasher Doubloon - EB on Breast would have been worth $15 in 1787. On this rare coin, we find Brasher's noted hallmark, a circled "EB" on the eagle's breast.

Brasher's tendency to stamp his own coins and those he proofed was new to early America, making this, as with the previous Brasher, a highly sought after collection piece. Blanchard and Company arranged this sale to a private collector for over $7 million in 2011, placing it near the top of the 10 rarest coins known to man.


9.1933 Double Eagle

1933 Double Eagle Coin
  • Value: $7,590,020
  • Sold at Auction: July 30, 2002, by Sotheby's and Stack's

While 445,500 of these $20 gold coins were minted in 1933, none were put into public circulation, and only two survived the Depression-era order to melt the lot down. Famed designer Augustus Saint-Gaudens added a bald eagle to the reverse of this beautiful coin, which featured Lady Liberty carrying a torch in one hand and an olive branch in the other.

King Farouk of Egypt once owned the coin, but If it weren't for President Roosevelt's attempt to stem the 1930s bank crisis, it would never have fetched the $7.5 million it sold for at Sotheby's and Stack's in 2002. In fact, nine other Double Eagles were in circulation as of 1944, but they were tracked down the by the United States Secret Service and destroyed.


10.1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar

1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar Coin
  • Value: $10,016,875
  • Sold at Auction: January 24, 2013, by Stack’s Bowers Galleries

Researchers claim this 1794 rarity to be the first ever silver dollar minted in the United States, and that's enough to push it over the 10 million dollar mark, the first to do so in our list of the top 10 rarest coins known to man. Designed by the Scottish watchmaker Robert Scot, it was modeled after the Spanish dollar in both size and weight.

Struck just three years after the establishment of the United States Mint, it has been called the "single most important coin" of all time. The $10 million purchase at auction in 2013 more than doubled its previous sale of $4 million. Past owners include former United States Mint director David Rittenhousen, Virgil Brand, and Steven Contursi.


Would You Recognize a Rare Coin?


In the past, the heads of kings, queens, and deities were depicted on coins, and the wealth and strength of a nation and its armies determined the value of those coins. Early coins were also stamped with the known weight of the metal with which they were forged, and as time went on, coin designers added other symbols and sayings to their work.

Today we can all tell the worth of a coin with a quick glance in an outstretched hand, but most of the items in our list of the top 10 rarest coins known to man skyrocketed in value because of a simple mistake from the time of their production. Each of the venerated coins on this list has passed through the hands of history's greatest coin collectors, but that doesn't mean some of the world's rarest coins aren't still at large. You surely won't find a $1 Million Canadian Maple Leaf Coin in your sofa, but take care the next time you feed the parking meter - you don't want to spend a Brasher Doubloon on accident!

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