The first task is to determine if your coin is on official product of the mint of the United States of America. If it is not, then this guide will not help you. To determine if your coin is a product of the U.S. Mint, Look for the following indicators:
Proofs and Specimen Strikes - These coins were produced especially for collectors. Usually, they are struck twice to bring out the full design in great detail. In general, they are prettier than regular issue coins (given that it is a subjective aesthetic judgment). Normally, they are rarer, with some notable exceptions when regular issue coins were issued in extremely small numbers.
Patterns - A pattern is essentially the result of a mint test. The mint has made coins as part of testing equipment, different metals and sometimes as approval pieces. Prior to this century, these patterns were often given away or sold by the mint and legitimately worked their way into the collector market. Occasionally, patterns were released in rather large numbers such as the 1,500+ 1856 Flying Eagle cents.
Commemoratives - These coins were produced for collectors. Most commemoratives are half dollars. They were minted from 1892-1954, resuming in 1982-present. There was a commemorative quarter in 1893, and the circulating Bicentennial Commemoratives in the quarter, half and dollar denominations in 1976. There have been a few silver dollar commemoratives as well as a few gold commemoratives of various denominations including the only official $50 coin in the history of the United States.
Bullion - These coins are all relatively recent. They were first made in 1986. These include the Walking Liberty Silver Dollar and several gold issues.
Commemoratives and bullion coins (and most patterns) will still have "United States of America" somewhere on the design. All gold coins issued since 1934 are commemoratives, pattern or bullion coins. All silver coins issued since 1971 are commemorative, pattern, bullion or special collector coins.
Miscellaneous - There are some coins that are clearly products of the U.S. Mint that do not fit neatly into one of the above categories. The famous 1913 V Nickel (the first coin publicly auctioned for more than US$1,000,000) wasn't a presentation piece, or a proof coin, yet it is clearly a mint product. The coins in this category are generally EXTREMELY rare.
Not a Coin - Your "coin" might also be a medal or token of some kind. The mint has produced materials of this type such as inaugural medals, peace tokens, etc. throughout the years. Remember also, that during much of our country's history, it was legal for banks and even business men to make their own coinage and paper money, as long as it wasn't a counterfeit copy of a US design.
If you want to identify a coin in your possession, I would suggest beginning with the regular issues. If you can't identify a coin from this guide, but still believe it to be a product of the United States mint, please contact us by e-mail and we will be glad to help.