"Bad money drives out good" said Gresham many years ago, and Gresham's Law still applies today. In fact, you can profit from Gresham's Law by following it.

As inflation eats away at the value of money, governments are forced to debase circulating coins to use cheaper materials. (Debasing is the process of substituting cheaper materials into coins with the same face value as before).

In the US, for example, inflation and rising copper prices caused the US Mint to stop making 95% copper pennies in 1982, switching to Zinc core pennies with a copper coating. Now the cost of the zinc in the penny (due to inflation) exceeds the value of the penny it is made of. We can expect that the US will either drop the penny, which is politically a problem because it admits to the inflation issue, or replace the materials in the penny with something even cheaper. In Canada the Royal Canadian Mint switched to a copper coated steel penny back in 2000, but the Americans have not yet followed suit.

Silver coins were phased out in the 1960's by most countries for similar reasons. The public and the Mints extracted the silver from circulation to the point that finding a silver coin still circulating is very rare. US Silver coins now trade openly at around the intrinsic silver value contained in the coins. If you have a bag of silver coins you can sell them on ebay or to any coin dealer very easily.

While it is hard to find wild silver, individuals can participate in extracting 95% copper coins from circulation and ultimately profit from the change in the penny composition from mostly copper to mostly zinc. This process is sometimes called "coin roll hunting" or CRH. By coin roll hunting you get the opportunity to invest in the valuable commodity copper at a big discount a few cents at a time.

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Things You'll Need to Start Coin Roll Hunting1 ton of Copper Pennies

  • Coins (some working capital)
  • Time
  • Several Bank Accounts
1 Ton of Copper Pennies

To start coin roll hunting you will first need to know which coins to hunt. You want to find which coins have more in metal value in them then the face value on the coin. Coinflation.com is a very helpful reference because it calculates the intrinsic value of circulating American and Canadian coins on a daily basis, updating based on the metal commodities markets. Realcent.org is an active forum dedicated to coin roll hunting with tons of helpful information.

You will be targeting older coins that are still circulating. The North American coins that are worth collecting are made of silver, copper and nickel or alloys of these metals. Zinc pennies may be worth more than face in theory but because the US Mint is still pumping them out there is no chance of a secondary market developing for zinc based pennies for a long time.

Popular target coins for coin roll hunting include:

US 95% Copper Pennies to part way through 1982

US 90% Silver Coins (dimes, quarters and halfs) to 1964

US 40% Silver 1/2 Dollars to 1970

Canadian 98% copper pennies to 1996

Canadian Pure Nickel 5 cent pieces to 1981

Canadian 80% Silver Coins (dimes, quarters) to 1967

Canadian 50% Silver Coins (dimes, quarters) from 1967 to 1968

How to Get Coins to Coin Roll Hunt

1927 Canadian PennyNow that you know what to look for, go to your bank and ask to buy rolls, boxes or bags (if possible) of circulation coins. Every bank branch will carry some coin, but to coin roll hunt on a larger scale requires requesting the bank to order coins by the bag or box. The commercial or head teller is the best person to talk to because they order the coin for the bank branch. Don't pay extra fees for coin since that eats into your profits too much.
Once you have the coins at home, unroll them and sort out the coins that are worth keeping.
How to Get Rid of Sorted Coins
Return the rest of your coins to a different bank (dump bank). You want to avoid returning coins to the bank you get coins from for two reasons - first you risk annoying the bank and second you don't want to buy back coins you already sorted through.
You can return coins loose through coin counters at banks (where available - and don't pay a fee). Don't use Coinstar (or similar) because they take a large percentage off your deposit.
If you can't find a free coin counter you can roll up your remaining coins and deposit them. Some coin roll hunters like to mark the coin rolls with an S for Sorted to help keep things straight at home and for interest to see if they get the same roll back from the bank.
If you are doing enough volume of coin and you have a coin counter at home you may be able to deposit bags of loose coin. Ask your banks.
Pure Ni Canadian Nickels
Repeat this process of buying coins at source bank branches and returning the rejects at dump bank branches. Over time you will build up a hoard of valuable base and precious metal coins for face value plus time invested that is worth more than the intrinsic value of the metal in the coins. You are also going to find other interesting collector coins and international coins while you search that will build up a nice coin collection.

Where to Sell Your Coin Roll Hunting Finds

If you can't afford to hold your base and precious metal coins as a long term investment, you can find an active market on eBay for copper, silver and nickel circulation coins that trade above face value. Like any market, prices depend on how the coins are marketed and on supply and demand. Many sellers of copper pennies use USPS flat rate boxes to move about $100 face in pennies in each transaction.

The realcent.org forum is a great place to trade all kinds of coins pulled from circulation. It is open to established and active forum members, but membership is free and there are no fees.

Any coin dealer, online or local, will buy circulated silver coins.