Rare and valuable coins: is your spare change worth a fortune?

Certain rare coins are highly sought after by collectors, and could be worth hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

Woman holding a jar of small change
(Image credit: Getty images)

Is the money in your wallet worth more than you think? With rare coins selling for hundreds of times their face value - it’s possible.

There are all sorts of reasons why a specific coin may be in demand with collectors, and therefore offer you the chance to make a serious return from what you may have thought was simply the change from your last purchase.

So which coins are worth looking out for? And will the change to King Charles make a difference to the value of your coins?

The rare coins in demand 

The Kew Gardens 50p

The Kew Gardens 50 pence coin

(Image credit: Royal Mint)

One of the most sought after rare coins is the Kew Gardens 50p from 2009. The coin features an image of the Chinese Pagoda which is located within the botanical gardens in West London. 

A big factor in its value is the fact that it’s so rare. A paltry 210,000 coins were minted and issued into circulation. What’s more, since collectors have started snapping them up, the numbers available have dropped still further, which has only pushed the price you’ll need to pay to acquire one up even more.

One of the methods used by collectors to purchase coins is through the auction site eBay, and from checking the sold prices on the site, it’s clear just how keen collectors are to add the Kew Gardens 50p to their collection.

Just in the last week a host of collectors have dug deep and spent upwards of £150, and in some cases even more than £200. 

That’s a hell of a return from a humble 50p piece that could easily be sitting in your wallet.

One potential wrinkle to be aware of however is that it’s not the only Kew Gardens 50p coin ‒ the Royal Mint issued a second one in 2019, which is not as valuable.

The EC Presidency 50p

The EC Presidency 50p

(Image credit: The Royal Mint)

It’s certainly not the only rare 50p coin that collectors are keen to snap up.

One coin that’s even more limited was the 50p issued back in 1992-3 to mark the UK’s presidency of the European Council of Ministers. The coin includes the image of of a conference table with 12 seats and 12 stars, one for each member of the council.

A tiny 109,000 EC Presidency 50p coins were minted ‒ that’s only a little over half the number of Kew Garden 50p coins.

Interestingly though this lower coinage has not boosted the value of the coin beyond that of the Kew Gardens 50p ‒ relatively few have sold on eBay in recent weeks, while the values tend to run from around £40 to a little over £100.

The BBC 50p

BBC 2022 100th anniversary UK 50p Uncirculated Coin Reverse

(Image credit: The Royal Mint)

A new 50p coin that is sure to be sought after is the coin being issued to commemorate the 100th birthday of the BBC.

However, it’s not the draw of the broadcaster that makes the coin notable, but rather the fact that it bears the profile of her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, since it was struck before the passing of the monarch.

The coin costs an initial £11.

The Harry Potter collection

50p coin commemorating 25 years since the first Harry Potter novel was published

(Image credit: The Royal Mint)

Another coin collection which may have caught the eye of collectors is the Harry Potter collection of four coins, which are due to be launched by the Royal Mint imminently.

The coins are being launched to commemorate 25 years since the first Harry Potter novel was published.

The first coin will display the titular wizard, with the others depicting the Hogwarts Express, Albus Dumbledore and Hogwarts. 

While the Royal Mint has yet to confirm precisely when the coins will be released, collectors can register on the Royal Mint website for updates (opens in new tab).

What makes a coin valuable?

The reality is that virtually every coin you own will be worth the face value it bears. It takes something special to set a particular coin apart from the rest, and means that collectors will be willing to pay big money for it.

According to the Royal Mint (opens in new tab) there are certain features that make specific coins stand out, most obviously the mintage figure. If a coin has a low mintage, then it is obviously more rare, which in itself makes it more appealing to collectors. As a result this can push up the value of the coin.

The mintages of coins can be checked on the Royal Mint website.

However, as we have seen above with the Kew Gardens and European Council 50ps, scarcity alone is not enough. The design of the coin is also going to have a bearing too ‒ there needs to be something about the way the coin looks that makes it appealing.

This is increasingly likely to be a feature of rare coins featuring the profile of Queen Elizabeth ‒ there have been reports from coin dealers of a spike in interest from collectors for particular coins featuring the monarch since her passing.

Finally, the condition of the coin will also play a role ‒ the better the condition of the coin, the more likely it is to catch the eye of collectors, and they could also pay a higher premium in order to take it off your hands.

As Rebecca Morgan, head of collector services at Royal Mint, puts it: “The closer to ‘Mint Condition’ ‒ the condition it was in when it came off the production line at the Royal Mint ‒ the higher value it could be."

The valuable coins to look out for

So which other coins might be sitting in your wallet and purse but are worth far more than face value?

The Royal Mint has published a list of some of the rarest 50p pieces of the last decade or so which are still in circulation, which is a good starting point. 

Seven of these coins are from 2011 and are related to the Olympics, with each coin depicting an Olympic or Paralympic event, such as shooting, judo and wrestling.

Alongside the Kew Gardens 50p, the list is rounded out by two Beatrix Potter-themed 50ps, one featuring Peter Rabbit and the other Flopsy Bunny. Only 1.4 million of each were minted.

This is reinforced by the ‘scarcity index’ published by the coin website Change Checker, with scores awarded based on the rarity of a coin and therefore the potential to make some cash from it. 

The Kew Gardens 50p, perhaps unsurprisingly, scores the maximum 100, with the rest of the top five made up of those Olympic-themed 50p coins. All of these coins have sold for upwards of £10 on eBay recently.

Coin Checker publishes an index for other coins too, such as the 10p and £2 coins. Among 10ps, the most sought-after is the Robin coin from 2018 and 2019. In total less than 290,000 were issued into circulation, and because of that scarcity it scores a full 100 from Change Checker.

And among £2 coins there’s another athletics theme, with the Commonwealth Games coins from 2002 scoring highly. The Northern Ireland edition gets the full 100 score, followed by scores of 84 and 82 respectively for the Scotland and England editions. The Northern Ireland coin has sold for as much as £40 recently on eBay.

How can I sell valuable coins?

It’s one thing to discover that you have a valuable coin like the 2009 Kew Gardens 50p in your possession. But how do you go about selling it for the best possible price?

As we have highlighted, eBay can be a useful place to start ‒ there are plenty of potential collectors that use the auction site, in the hope of snapping up a rare coin at a good price.

Maximising your sale price on eBay comes down to the quality of your listing. First and foremost, it’s crucial that you not only get all of the key details about your coin into your listing heading, but that you spell it correctly too. 

Spelling mistakes mean it will be harder for possible buyers to find your listing, impacting the price you eventually get. It’s also useful to include good quality photographs so that buyers know exactly what they are bidding for.

While it’s possible to fetch a significant profit through an auction site, there is always the danger that your coin won’t sell, meaning you’ve effectively wasted your time. 

An alternative option may be to make use of a coin dealer. As the name suggests, these firms will pay you for those rare coins you’ve stumbled upon. All you have to do is share the details of the coin in your possession, and you’ll be provided with a quote. If you’re happy, you can then arrange to send the coin to the business and pocket the cash. 

While this may be a more straightforward process, this will never be the biggest possible earner ‒ these dealers will want to sell the coin for a profit themselves.

Finally, the Royal Mint usually operates a coin buying service of its own, though it is currently suspended while it works through a backlog of cases.

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John Fitzsimons
Contributing editor

John Fitzsimons has been writing about finance since 2007, and is a former editor of Mortgage Solutions and loveMONEY. Since going freelance in 2016 he has written for publications including The Sunday Times, The Mirror, The Sun, The Daily Mail and Forbes, and is committed to helping readers make more informed decisions about their money.