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United States Half Cents
The Coinage Act, also known as “An Act Establishing a Mint, and regulating the Coins of the United States,” passed by the Second Congress on April 2, 1792, established the United States Mint and regulated the coinage of the United States. At that time, the half cent coin was valued at 1/200 of a dollar and to contain five penny-weights and a half a penny-weight of copper. All half cents were minted at the Philadelphia Mint.
During the next 64 years, the design or type changed five times to reflect the artist/engravers artistry and the Mint’s abilities. In 1793, Henry Voigt designed and engraved the first half cent; a left facing Liberty Cap type. In 1794 the second type; a right facing Liberty Cap type was issued from the new designs by Robert Scot and John Gardner. This type continued in production through 1797. In 1800, Gilbert Stuart and Robert Scot designed our third half cent. This coin is typed the Draped Bust and was issued through 1808. By this point, it seems the Mint was getting the hang of what-to-do and what not-to-do in regards to coin design and the screw press. In 1809 John Reich designed and engraved what is now known as the Classic Head type. This design continued in use until the end of 1836. In 1840, the Braided Hair type half cent was designed by Christian Gobrecht and used until the Mint ceased production in 1857 because of lack of use.
Mintage by Type:
Liberty Cap, Left 35,334
Liberty Cap, Right 350,520
Draped Bust 3,416,950
Classic Head 3,517,912
Braided Hair 544,510
For more information about half cents:
Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents 1793-1857 by Walter Breen, 1983.
American Half Cents - The "Little Half Sisters" (Second Edition) by Roger S. Cohen, Jr., 1982.
United States Large Cents
The Coinage Act of 1792 authorized the U.S. Mint to strike and coin “cents—each to be of the value of the one hundredth part of a dollar, and to contain eleven penny-weights of copper.” These large cents were minted starting in 1793 at the Philadelphia Mint and continued in production until 1857, when it was replaced by the small cent.
The first large cent type of Flowing Hair, Chain reverse was designed by Henry Voight and was immediately criticized by government officials and the public as having an unattractive Liberty obverse and a reverse that alluded to the bonds of slavery. By May of 1793 the Mint Director, David Rittenhouse, folded under the intense criticism by the public and Congress and requested the Mint’s die engraver, Adam Eckfeldt redesign the large cent. Initially, only the offending chains were removed from the reverse. This created our nations second type of Large Cent; the Flowing Hair, Wreath reverse cent which had Liberty with even wilder longer hair, and a wreath design on the reverse. The Mint Director, after being ridiculed for the earlier Flowing Hair designs, was still extremely sensitive and concerned. After all, there were many in Congress that were calling for abolishment of the Mint and thus their continued employment and so hired Joseph Wright, to yet again, redesign the Large Cent during this first troubled year. Wright’s design, the Liberty Cap cent faced Liberty to the right and "tamed" her wild hair. The cap was added as an ancient symbol of freedom. The reverse design was revised to a recognizable laurel wreath, and future Chief Engraver Robert Scot had a hand in several minor revisions to the design over the next three years.
This design was more successful and it was continued into 1796. In 1795, planchets became too thin for the edge lettering because of a weight reduction, so the mint stopped edge lettering on the cent, and the rest of these coins were made with a plain edge. Four coins from 1795 are known to have a reeded edge.
Robert Scot redesigned the whole of United States coinage for 1796, applying a new design, the Draped Bust, featuring a bust of Liberty wearing a drapery at the neckline and a ribbon in her flowing hair. The reverse design now featured an olive wreath. As with earlier types, several minor revisions to the design were made in the first few years, with the final 1797 design lasting through the end of the type in 1807. In 1808, John Reich, assistant to Chief Engraver Scot, was appointed by new Mint Director Robert Patterson to redesign Scot's Draped Bust cent (along with every other circulating coin design). The so-called "Classic Head" derives its name from the fillet worn by Liberty on the obverse, though the fillet was worn only by male athletes in ancient Greece. The copper used during the years in which Classic Head cents were minted was of a higher quality, containing less metallic impurity. Consequently, they were softer and more prone to wear and corrode quickly than issues before or after. As a result, unimpaired, high-grade specimens are especially difficult to obtain and fetch strong premiums when they appear on market, especially with original red or red-brown mint lustre.
As a response to public criticism of the Classic Head, the Mint assigned Chief Engraver Scot to redesign the cent in 1816. This newest design called Coronet cents enlarged the obverse portrait, giving Liberty a much more mature look (leading to the Matron Head reference), and surrounded the portrait with stars along the outer edge of the coin. The "Matron head" design was modified in 1835 to give Liberty a more young look and matron head cents continued to be made until 1839. Facing more negative public reaction, the Coronet cents were redesigned in 1835 by new Chief Engraver Christian Gobrecht. This last major change to the coin updated the obverse by giving Liberty a slimmer, more youthful appearance and are called Braided Hair cents. Minor tweaks continued through 1843, and the 1843 design prevailed through the end of mintage in 1857.
Mintage by Type:
Flowing Hair, Chain Reverse 36,103
Flowing Hair, Wreath Reverse 63,353
Liberty Cap 751,202
Draped Bust 16,072,068
Classic Head 4,757,722
Coronet, Matron Head 47,767,736
Coronet, Braided Hair 85,973,964
For more information about large cents:
Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins by Walter Breen, 1988.
Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of Early U.S. Cents 1793-1718 by Walter Breen, 2000.
Penny Whimsy, by William H. Sheldon, 1990.
United States Copper Cents by Howard R. Newcomb, 1985.
United States Small Cents
The Small Cent has been with us since 1856. By the time the Small Cent was introduced, its predecessor was already antiquated. Twice during the history of the Large Cent, the metal content of the coin became so expensive to purchase that the manufacture exceeded its face value. The Large Cent had been unpopular since the 1840s. It was really too large, it became unsightly once it circulated and toned and it was too heavy. Since only silver and gold coins were legal tender, banks and merchants often refused to accept the coins in commerce unless they were deeply discounted below face value.
The final straw came when, in 1851, it began costing the Mint $1.06 to strike a dollar face value in 1-cent coins. Congressional lobbyists and Mint officials sprang into action. The lobbyists were particularly interested in ensuring nickel would be used in a new coin denomination since the nickel monopoly had significant influence on the Mint. Mint officials began experimenting with pattern coins to see what alternatives to the costly Large Cent could be invented. The impact from it wasn’t great at the time, but New York dentist Dr. Lewis Feuchtwanger proposed a Small Cent of what he called “argentan” or “American silver” (actually German silver composition) as early as 1837. It was this pattern that, intentionally or not, became the model for our Small Cent. Joseph Wharton, who owned the nickel mines, got his way. Mint Director James R. Snowden decided to strike a Small Cent of 88 percent copper and 12 percent nickel at a weight of 4.67 grams (Large Cents have a weight of 10.89 grams and are composed of pure copper beginning in 1795).
The Flying Eagle cent is a United States coin that was minted from 1856 to 1858. The coin was designed by James B. Longacre. The Flying Eagle was the first small-sized cent coin minted in the US, replacing the earlier large cent. The obverse of the coin depicts an eagle in flight, a unique subject for the obverse of American coins. The reverse of the coin has the words ONE CENT surrounded by a wreath, similar to the reverse on the later Indian Head cent and Wheat cent minted until 1958. The United States Mint in Philadelphia struck about 700 Flying Eagle cents in 1856 as pattern pieces, a way to show influential congressmen and senators what these coins would look like. The coins became popular and were soon selling for $2.00 in auctions. The Mint began restriking them in 1858 and selling them to the public. Probably another 1,500 pieces were struck in Proof format and sold to new collectors. Auction prices dropped to 25¢. Today they sell for $6,000 or more.
In 1858, there was a "large letter" and "small letter" variety produced. An easy way to tell the difference between large-letter and small-letter varieties is to look at the word 'America'. In the large letter variety, the letters A and M are joined, whereas in the small letter they are not. The small letter variety is a low relief design. The eagle is shallower in the die and the letters are smaller than those used in 1857 and on the 1858 large letter variety.
Both the Flying Eagle Cent and Indian Head cents minted from 1859 to 1864 were struck in an alloy of 88% copper and 12% nickel, giving the coins a much whiter sheen than contemporary one-cent pieces. The nickel five-cent coin would not begin production until 1866, and so these nickel-alloy one-cent pieces were slangily known as "nickels".
The design didn't last long due to the obverse design opposing the reverse design. The eagle's head and tail were opposite the wreath. The presses had to strike the coins harder to get the design up fully. This caused dies to fail more often. The design was replaced by the Indian Cent in 1859.
The Indian Head cent coin, was produced from 1859 to 1909 at the Philadelphia Mint and in 1908 and 1909 at the San Francisco Mint. It was designed by James Barton Longacre, the engraver at the Philadelphia Mint 1844 - 1869.
The obverse of the coin shows "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA," the head of Liberty wearing a feather head dress of a Native American and the year of production. The word "LIBERTY" appears on the band of the head dress. From 1859 to 1864 the design did not feature any mark of the designer. When the change to bronze (see below) occurred in 1864, Chief Engraver Longacre modified the portrait by sharpening the details. He added his initial "L" on the ribbon behind Liberty's neck as well. This design would continue until the end of the series, with a minor modification by Charles E. Barber in 1886 when the portrait was changed slightly.
Two reverse designs were used for the series. In 1859 the reverse featured "ONE CENT" within a wreath of laurel (or properly olive). From 1860 until the end of the series the reverse featured "ONE CENT" within a wreath of oak and olive tied at the base with a ribbon with a Federal shield above. This design continued until the end on the series in 1909 with a minor modification by William Barber in 1870.
The coins struck between 1859 and 1864 contained 88% copper and 12% nickel. During this time, prior to the issuance of the Five-Cent nickel coin, the cent was commonly referred to as a "Nickel" or "Nick," for short. Due to the hoarding of all coinage during the Civil War, the nickel cents disappeared from daily use and were replaced in many Northern cities by private tokens. The success of these copper tokens prompted the change of the cent to a similar metal. In 1864, the alloy changed to Bronze (95% copper and 5% tin and zinc), and the weight of the coins was reduced from 72 grains to 48 grains. (This weight continued for copper-alloy U.S. cents until the 1982 introduction of the current copper-plated zinc cent.
The total production of the Indian Head cent was 1,849,648,000 pieces. The 1909-S had the lowest mintage, only 309,000. It is not considered as scarce as the 1877 issue, (852,500), since fewer of those were kept, particularly in the higher grades.
The Lincoln Wheat Cent (sometimes referred to as a Wheat penny, Wheatback, Wheat Head, or Wheatie) was a United States cent coin produced from 1909 to 1958
Both the obverse and the reverse were designed by Victor David Brenner, a New York sculptor. Brenner's initials, V.D.B., were originally included on the reverse of the coin below the two stylized wheat stalks when the coin was officially released on August 2, 1909. The secrecy surrounding the new design up to the release date created great media speculation and interest. When a reporter from the Washington Star inquited with the Treasury about the V.D.B. advertisement on the reverse, The Mint fumbled its response. There was no Treasury Secretary at the time, so the media storm fell to Assistant Treasury Secretary Charles D. Norton. By August 5, 1909 the Treasury cut off the growing public relations disaster by removing the initials. 27,995,000 pieces had been struck in Philadelphia and 484,000 in San Francisco. These all entered circulation despite rumors of a recall. Both issues were widely saved at the time. In 1918, Brenner's initials were restored to the obverse, below Lincoln's shoulder.
One of the more valuable coins to collectors is the 1909 San Francisco, California-minted VDB cent, so-named because the designer's initials were included between the stalks of wheat on the lower reverse side; only 484,000 were produced before the public outcry at the designer's initials being so prominently displayed. Even poor-quality examples of the 1909-S VDB coin bring hundreds of dollars and a high-grade mint condition example can sell for $6,000 to $12,000 or more. By contrast, the Philadelphia mint produced nearly 28 million examples of the 1909 VDB cent and such coins are far less valuable. The other key date of the series is the 1914-D, with a mintage of just under 1.2 million. Uncirculated examples have auctioned for over $26,000.
The only other wheat cents to command prices on par with the 1909-S VDB and 1914-D are both error coins: the 1922 plain ($5500 for uncirculated specimens), the result of a worn die, and the 1955 doubled die ($1000+ for uncirculated specimens).
On February 12, 1959, a revised reverse design was introduced as part of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. No formal competition was held. Frank Gasparro, then Assistant Engraver at the Philadelphia Mint, prepared the winning entry, selected from a group of 23 models that the engraving staff at the Mint had been asked to present for consideration. Again, only the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury was necessary to make the change because the design had been in use for more than the required 25 years.
The imposing marble Lincoln Memorial provides the central motif, with the legends E Pluribus Unum and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA completing the design, together with the denomination. The initials "FG" appear on the right, near the shrubbery. In his treatise Theory and Practise of Numismatic Design, Steve Crooks states that because the Lincoln Memorial is shown in sufficient detail to discern the statue of Lincoln on the reverse of the penny, Abraham Lincoln was the only person to be depicted on both the obverse and reverse of the same United States coin until the release of the New Jersey state quarter in 1999, which depicts George Washington crossing the Delaware River on the reverse.
The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 required that the cent's reverse be redesigned in 2009. This resulted in the mintage of four different coins showing scenes from Abraham Lincoln's life in honor of the bicentennial of his birth.
These four designs, unveiled September 22, 2008 at a ceremony held at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., are:
• Birth and early childhood in Kentucky: this design features a log cabin and Lincoln's birth year 1809. It was designed by Richard Masters and sculpted by Jim Licaretz. This penny was released into circulation on Lincoln's 200th birthday, February 12, 2009, at a special ceremony at LaRue County High School in Hodgenville, Kentucky, Lincoln's birthplace. The mintage was extremely low compared to prior years (see Lincoln cent mintage figures). It has been nicknamed the "Log Cabin Penny".
• Formative years in Indiana: this design features a young Lincoln reading while taking a break from rail splitting. It was designed and sculpted by Charles Vickers. Nicknamed the "Indiana Penny", it was released on May 14, 2009.
• Professional life in Illinois: this design features a young professional Lincoln standing before the Springfield Illinois State Capitol. It was designed by Joel Iskowitz and sculpted by Don Everhart. Nicknamed the "Illinois Penny", it was released on August 13, 2009.
• Presidency in Washington, D.C.: this design features the half completed Capitol dome. It was designed by Susan Gamble and sculpted by Joseph Menna. This fourth penny was released to the public on November 12, 2009. U.S. Mint released collector's sets containing this design in copper prior to the public launch of this design in zinc.
Special 2009 cents struck for sale in sets to collectors had the metallic copper content of cents minted in 1909 (95% copper, 5% tin and zinc). Those struck for circulation retained the normal composition of a zinc core coated with copper.
The 2005 act that authorized the redesign for the Bicentennial stated that another redesigned reverse for the Lincoln penny will be minted which "shall bear an image emblematic of President Lincoln's preservation of the United States of America as a single and united country". Eighteen designs were proposed for the reverse of the 2010 cent. On April 16, 2009 the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) met and selected a design that showed 13 wheat sheaves bound together with a ring symbolizing American unity as one nation. Later this design was withdrawn because it was similar to coinage issued in Germany in the 1920s. The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee later met and chose a design showing a Union shield with ONE CENT superimposed in a scroll; E Pluribus Unum was also depicted in the upper portion of the shield. In June 2009 the CFA met again and chose a design featuring a modern rendition of the American flag. As a part of the release ceremony for the last of the 2009 cents on November 12, the design for the 2010 cent was announced. The design chosen was the one that was chosen earlier by the CCAC. According to the Mint, the 13 stripes on the shield "represent the states joined in one compact union to support the Federal government, represented by the horizontal bar above." The Mint also noted that a shield was commonly used in paintings in the Capitol hallways painted by Constantino Brumidi, an artist in the Capitol active during the Lincoln Presidency. The obverse of the cent was also changed to a modern rendition of Brenner's design. The new Union Shield design replaces the Lincoln memorial in use since 1959. The coin was designed by artist Lyndall Bass and sculpted by US Mint sculptor-engraver Joseph Menna. In January 2010, the coins were released early in Puerto Rico; this was caused by a shortage of 2009-dated pennies on the island. The new design was released at a ceremony at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois on February 11, 2010.
For more information about small cents:
Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins by Walter Breen, 1988.
United States Two & Three Cent Pieces
The two-cent coin was produced in the United States from 1864–1873 with decreasing mintages throughout that time. The two-cent piece was made of 95% copper with tin and zinc making up the remainder. It was very slightly smaller than a modern U.S. quarter. The two-cent piece was designed by James B. Longacre, the Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, and was the first coin of the United States to bear the motto "In God We Trust." In terms of consumer price indexes, the 1864 coin would be comparable to $0.28 in today's money.
The obverse (so designated because it bears the date) has a shield with a ribbon over it bearing the motto, IN GOD WE TRUST. Behind the shield are two arrows, and a branch with leaves (most likely an olive branch).
The reverse has a wreath made up of several different plant components surrounding the words 2 CENTS. The words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surround the wreath.
The design is similar to the shield nickel of the same period, which was also designed by Longacre.
Two cent pieces were minted in both proof and regular issues. Although the proof mintages were normally smaller than the regular issue mintages more proofs of high grade survive as they were always special collector coins.
The two cent piece was authorized by Congress on April 22, 1864 by the Coinage Act and the same law that eliminated the coins in 1873 also did away with the half dime and the silver three-cent piece (the copper-nickel three cent piece continued to be minted through 1889). During the mid- and late-1970s there was some discussion about reviving the two-cent denomination (in conjunction with reducing the mintage of the one-cent piece), but nothing came of it.
The United States three cent piece was a unit of currency equaling 3/100th of a United States dollar. The mint produced two different three-cent coins: the three-cent silver, known also as a Trime, and the three-cent nickel. Its purchasing power in 1851 would be equivalent to $0.78 today.
The three cent coin has an unusual history. It was proposed in 1851 both as a result of the decrease in postage rates from five cents to three and to answer the need for a small-denomination, easy-to-handle coin. The three cent silver featured a shield on a six sided star on the obverse and the Roman numeral III on the reverse. The coin was initially composed of 75% silver and 25% copper to ensure that the coin would be considered real currency yet not worth melting down for the silver. The coins were physically the lightest weight coins ever minted by the United States, weighing only 4/5 of a gram and with a diameter smaller than a modern dime and only slightly greater than the smallest gold dollars. The silver coins were known as "fishscales". The term "trimes" is often used today for these coins but that was first used by the director of the United States Mint (James Ross Snowden) at the time of their production.
Starting in 1854, the three cent silver had its silver metal content raised to 90% in order to encourage circulation. At the same time, its weight was reduced to 3/4 of a gram by reducing thickness. The coin went through a design change at the time such that three lines were now used to border the star on the obverse. A final design change occurred in 1859 because of striking problems: the number of lines bordering the star was reduced to two, and the font was made taller and slightly more narrow. The size of the date numerals also varied through the years, with 1860-1863 featuring the smallest date numerals of any US coin. In 1851 only, the New Orleans Mint struck some of the silver three-cent coins. It was minted from 1851 to 1873 at the Philadelphia Mint. In the later years there were very small mintages and the 1873 issue was in proof state only. However, an earlier date silver three cent piece can be bought in worn condition for a relatively low price. The silver three cent piece (along with the silver dollar, the half dime, and the two cent piece) was discontinued by the Coinage Act of 1873.
Civil War era silver shortages led to widespread hoarding of all silver coins, and most one and five cent coins as well. Various alternatives were tried, including encapsulated postage and privately issued coinage. The Treasury eventually settled on issuing fractional currency. These small denomination (1 to 50 cent) notes were never popular, as they were easy to lose and unwieldy in large amounts. The answer to this issue was reached in 1865 with the introduction of the three cent nickel coin. This coin was composed of copper and nickel and was larger than the silver coin of the same denomination. The coin featured a Liberty head obverse and another Roman numeral 'III' reverse. The three cent nickel was never intended as a permanent issue, only as stopgap measure until the wartime hoarding ceased. However, production of the coin continued until 1889, 16 years after the three cent silver was discontinued. One reason often given for the discontinuation of the three cent nickel piece in 1889 is that this coin and the dime (10 cent silver coin) were identical in diameter, and hence caused confusion upon the introduction of mechanical vending machines. Another factor may have been that in 1883 the letter postage rate dropped to 2 cents, thus removing the justification for this coin.
The three cent nickel was only minted in Philadelphia and, except for a larger date on the 1889 pieces, had no design differences throughout its run. Over the course of the series mintage declined, and some of the dates are scarce. But, with an 1865 mintage of over eleven million, a type piece can be inexpensively obtained.
For more information about two and three cents pieces:
Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins by Walter Breen, 1988.
United States Five Cent Pieces
The Shield nickel was the first United States five cent piece to be made out of copper-nickel, the same alloy of which American nickels are struck today. Designed by James B. Longacre, the coin was issued from 1866 until 1883, when it was replaced by the Liberty Head nickel. The coin takes its name from the motif on its obverse, and was the first coin referred to as a "nickel"—silver five-cent pieces had been known as half dimes.
Half dimes had been struck from the early days of the United States Mint in the late 18th century. Those disappeared from circulation, along with most other coins, in the economic turmoil of the Civil War. In 1864, the Mint successfully introduced low-denomination coins, whose intrinsic worth did not approach their face value. Industrialist Joseph Wharton advocated coins containing nickel—a metal in which he had significant financial interests. When the Mint proposed a copper-nickel five-cent piece, Congress required that the coin be heavier than the Mint had suggested, allowing Wharton to sell more of the metal to the government.
Since coinage was to begin immediately, it was necessary for the Mint's chief engraver, James B. Longacre to prepare a design as quickly as possible. With the five cent authorization bill pending in Congress, Longacre had produced patterns as early as late 1865. Longacre produced pattern coins, one with a shield similar to the design he had prepared for the two-cent piece. Longacre altered the two-cent design by shifting the location of the two arrows in the design, removed the scroll on which "In God We Trust" had been inscribed (the first time that motto had appeared on a U.S. coin), and added a cross, apparently intending a pattee to the top of the shield. Another pattern depicted Washington, while another showed the recently assassinated president, Abraham Lincoln. Reverse designs proposed by Longacre included one with a number 5 within a circle of thirteen stars, each separated from the next by rays. Another reverse design featured the numeral within a wreath. Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch, acting on Pollock's recommendation, selected the shield design for the obverse, or "heads" side, and the stars and rays design for the reverse. Pollock did not show McCulloch the Lincoln design, believing it would not be well-received in the South.
According to numismatic author Q. David Bowers, Longacre's obverse design is "one of the most patriotic motifs in American coinage". Based on the coat of arms from the Great Seal of the United States of America, Longacre's design focused on the shield, or escutcheon as a defensive weapon, symbolizing strength and self-protection through unity. The upper part of the shield, or "chief", symbolizes Congress, while the 13 vertical stripes, or "paleways" symbolize the states; consequently the entire escutcheon symbolizes the strength of the federal government through the unity of the states. The crossed arrows, whose ends are visible near the bottom of the shield, symbolize nonaggression, but imply readiness against attack. The laurel branches, taken from Greek tradition, symbolize victory. In heraldic engraving, vertical lines represent red, clear areas white and horizontal lines blue, thus the escutcheon is colored red, white and blue and is meant to evoke the American flag. Bowers does not consider the reverse design an artistic work, but one which is purely mechanical, obtained by punching characters and devices into a steel hub.
The new coins proved difficult to produce; due to the hardness of the planchet, the coins were not of high quality and the life of the striking dies was brief. The design of the coins was widely criticized, with Wharton describing the shield design as suggesting "a tombstone surmounted by a cross and overhung by weeping willows." The American Journal of Numismatics described it as "the ugliest of all known coins". More seriously, the reverse design reminded many of the "stars and bars" motif of the defeated Confederate States. The rays were eliminated from the design in early 1867, in the hopes of eliminating some of the production problems. The transition to the new design was to occur on February 1, 1867, but it is likely the mint used up the remaining dies with the old design in the interest of economy. The design change created confusion among the population, with many people assuming one design or the other was a counterfeit, and the Mint considered abandoning the shield design entirely.
Seeking alternatives to the difficult-to-work copper-nickel alloy, in June 1867 Longacre proposed that the five-cent piece be struck in aluminum. The new Mint director, Henry Linderman, objected to the proposal, stating that the price and supply of aluminum were as yet uncertain, and that the metal was too expensive to use in a minor coin. Numismatic historian Don Taxay, in his history of the United States Mint and its coins, noted that Linderman had proposed legislation increasing the proportion of nickel in the alloy to a third despite having earlier opposed the use of nickel in coins. Taxay suggested that Linderman was most likely influenced by Wharton and the metal's other advocates.
By late 1869, enough nickels, as the coin came to be called, had been produced to meet the needs of commerce, and production dropped off. The new coins tended to accumulate in the hands of merchants beyond the legal tender limit, but banks refused to accept them beyond the one-dollar maximum. Storeowners were forced to discount the coins to brokers. Postmasters, compelled by law to accept the coins, found that the Treasury would not accept them as deposits except in lots of $100, in accordance with the authorizing statute. In 1871, Congress alleviated the problem by passing legislation allowing the Treasury to redeem unlimited quantities of nickels and other low-denomination coins when presented in lots of not less than $20. It would not be until 1933, long after the shield design passed from the scene, that the nickel was made legal tender without limit.
The Mint Act of 1873 ended the production of the half dime. Despite the abolition, the silver pieces continued to circulate in the West, where silver or gold coins were preferred, and the nickel was disliked, throughout the remainder of the 19th century. The act also gave the Mint Director the authority to suspend production of any denomination if additional coins were not needed. Improved economic conditions, combined with low silver prices, brought large quantities of hoarded silver coinage, including half dimes, into circulation beginning in April 1876. In late 1876, production of the Shield nickel was halted under the 1873 act. No Shield nickels were struck in 1877 or 1878, excepting proof specimens for collectors. As the Treasury had a large stock of nickels in storage, only small numbers were struck over the next few years; full-scale production began again on December 12, 1881. The 1880 nickel, with only 16,000 pieces struck for circulation, remains the rarest non-proof Shield nickel today.
Longacre's design was based on his two-cent pieces, and symbolizes the strength of a unified America. The nickel proved difficult to strike, and the reverse, or tails, design was modified in 1867. Even so, production difficulties continued, causing many minor varieties which are collected today. Minting of the Shield nickel for circulation was suspended in 1876 for a period of over two years, and it was struck in only small quantities until 1882. The following year, the coin was replaced by Charles E. Barber's Liberty head design.
The Liberty Head nickel, sometimes referred to as the V nickel due to its reverse (or tails) design, was an American five-cent piece. It was struck for circulation from 1883 until 1912, with at least five pieces being surreptitiously struck dated 1913.
The original copper–nickel five-cent piece, the Shield nickel, had longstanding production problems, and in the early 1880s, the United States Mint was looking to replace it. Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber was instructed to prepare designs for proposed one-, three-, and five-cent pieces, which were to bear similar designs. Only the new five-cent piece was approved, and went into production in 1883. For almost thirty years large quantities of coin of this design were produced to meet commercial demand, especially as coin-operated machines became increasingly popular.
Beginning in 1911, the Mint began work to replace the Liberty head design, and a new design, which became known as the Buffalo nickel, went into production in February 1913. Although no 1913 Liberty head nickels were officially struck, five are known to exist. While it is uncertain how these pieces originated, they have come to be among the most expensive coins in the world, with one selling in 2010 for $3,737,500.
The Buffalo nickel or Indian Head nickel, was a copper-nickel five-cent piece (or "nickel") struck by the United States Mint from 1913 to 1938. It was designed by sculptor James Earle Fraser.
As part of a drive to beautify the coinage, five denominations of US coins had received new designs between 1907 and 1909. In 1911, Taft administration officials decided to replace Charles E. Barber's Liberty Head design for the nickel, and commissioned Fraser to do the work. They were impressed by Fraser's designs showing a Native American and an American bison. The designs were approved in 1912, but were delayed several months because of objections from the Hobbs Manufacturing Company, which made mechanisms to detect slugs in nickel-operated machines. The company was unappeased by changes made in the coin by Fraser, and in February 1913, Treasury Secretary Franklin MacVeagh decided to issue the coins despite the objections.
The first coins to be distributed were given out on February 22, 1913, when Taft presided at groundbreaking ceremonies for the National American Indian Memorial at Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, New York. The memorial, a project of department store magnate Rodman Wanamaker, was never built, and today the site is occupied by an abutment for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Forty nickels were sent by the Mint for the ceremony; most were distributed to the Native American chiefs who participated. Payment for Fraser's work was approved on March 3, 1913, the final full day of the Taft administration. In addition to the $2,500 agreed upon, Fraser received $666.15 for extra work and expenses through February 14.
The coins were officially released to circulation on March 4, 1913, and quickly gained positive comments as depicting truly American themes. However, The New York Times stated in an editorial that "The new 'nickel' is a striking example of what a coin intended for wide circulation should not be ...[it] is not pleasing to look at when new and shiny, and will be an abomination when old and dull." The Numismatist, in March and May 1913 editorials, gave the new coin a lukewarm review, suggesting that the Indian's head be reduced in size and the bison be eliminated from the reverse.
With the coin now in production, Barber monitored the rate at which dies were expended, as it was the responsibility of his Engraver's Department to supply all three mints with working dies. On March 11, 1913, he wrote to Landis that the dies were being used up three times faster than with the Liberty Head nickel. His department was straining to produce enough new dies to meet production. In addition, the date and denomination were the points on the coin most subject to wear, and Landis feared the value on the coin would be worn away. Barber made proposed revisions, which Fraser approved after being sent samples. These changes enlarged the legend "FIVE CENTS" and changed the ground on which the bison stands from a hill to flat ground. According to data compiled by numismatic historian David Lange from the National Archives, the changes to what are known as Type II nickels (with the originals Type I) actually decreased the die life. The new Treasury Secretary, William G. McAdoo, wanted further changes in the coin, but Fraser had moved on to other projects and was uninterested in revisiting the nickel. The exposure of the date to wear was never satisfactorily addressed by the Mint; many Buffalo nickels today have the date worn away.
The "Buffalo nickel", as the pieces inaccurately came to be known, saw minor changes to the design in 1916. The word "LIBERTY" was given more emphasis and moved slightly; Bowers questions whether any change was made to the portrait of the Indian, though Walter Breen in his reference work on United States coins states that Barber made the Indian's nose slightly longer in 1916. According to Breen, however, none of these modifications helped, with the coin rarely found well-struck and with the design subject to considerable wear throughout the remainder of its run.
The piece was struck by the tens of millions, at all three mints, through the remainder of the 1910s. In 1921, a recession began, and few nickels were struck in the following two years. The low mintage for the series came with the 1931 nickel struck at the San Francisco Mint. The 1931-S was minted in a quantity of 194,000 early in the year. There was no need for more to be struck, but Acting Mint Director Mary M. O'Reilly asked the San Francisco Mint to strike more so that the pieces would not be hoarded. Using materials on hand, including the melting down of worn-out nickels, San Francisco found enough metal to strike 1,000,000 more pieces. Large quantities were saved, and the coin is not particularly rare today despite the low mintage.
A well-known variety in the series is the 1937–D "three-legged" nickel, on which one of the buffalo's legs is missing. Breen relates that this variety was caused by a pressman, Mr. Young, at the Denver Mint, who in seeking to remove marks from a reverse die (caused by the dies making contact with each other), accidentally removed or greatly weakened one of the animal's legs. By the time Mint inspectors discovered and condemned the die, thousands of pieces had been struck and mixed with other coins. Another is the 1938-D/S, caused by dies bearing an "S" mintmark being repunched with a "D" and used to strike coins at Denver. While the actual course of events is uncertain, Bowers is convinced that the variety was created because Buffalo nickel dies intended for the San Francisco mint were repunched with the "D" and sent to Denver so they would not be wasted—no San Francisco Buffalo nickels were struck in 1938, but they were produced at Denver, and it was already widely known that a new design would be introduced. The 1938-D/S was the first repunched mintmark of any US coin to be discovered, causing great excitement among numismatists when the variety came to light in 1962.
When the Buffalo nickel had been in circulation for the minimum 25 years, it was replaced with little discussion or protest. The problems of die life and weak striking had never been solved, and Mint officials advocated its replacement. In January 1938, the Mint announced an open competition for a new nickel design, to feature early President Thomas Jefferson on the obverse, and Jefferson's home, Monticello on the reverse. In April, Felix Schlag was announced as the winner. The last Buffalo nickels were struck in April 1938, at the Denver Mint, the only mint to strike them that year. On October 3, 1938, production of the Jefferson nickel began, and they were released into circulation on November 15.
The Jefferson nickel, designed by Felix Schlag in a Mint-sponsored contest, was minted beginning in 1938. In 1966 his initials were added to the base of the bust. The obverse features a left-facing profile of Thomas Jefferson adapted from a marble bust sketched from life by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The reverse features an elevation image of Jefferson's Virginia estate, Monticello. The steps on the building were slightly modified during 1939, but otherwise the design did not change until 2003. All three mints turned out vast quantities of Jefferson nickels until 1954, when San Francisco halted production for 14 years, resuming only from 1968 to 1970, although it still produces proof coins. Since 1970 all nickels for circulation have been minted at Philadelphia and Denver. Mint marks may be found on the reverse, in the right field between Monticello and the rim, on nickels from 1938 to 1964. From 1965 to 1967 no mint marks were used regardless of where the coins were struck, and beginning in 1968, the mint mark was moved to the obverse, just below the date, where it remains today. In 1980, the Philadelphia mint began using a "P" mint mark on all nickels. This design is by far the most common currently in circulation.
From mid-1942 to 1945, so-called "Wartime" composition nickels were created. These coins are 56% copper, 35% silver and 9% manganese. The only other U.S. coins to use manganese are the Sacagawea and presidential dollars. These coins are usually a bit darker than regular nickels, said to be due to their manganese content (as was true of many British coins minted from 1920 through 1947). However, carefully-protected proof sets of these coins are difficult to tell from the standard alloy. A more likely reason for the darker appearance of the wartime coin was due to exposure to sulfur during circulation, which invariably gave the coins a mild and somewhat distinctive dark silver tarnish.
The wartime nickel features the largest mint mark to grace a United States coin, located above Monticello's dome on the reverse. This mark was a large D, S, or P, as appropriate for each mint. Nickels of this series minted in Philadelphia have the unique distinction of being the only U.S. coins minted prior to 1979 to bear a P mint mark. There are eleven coins in the regular series (plus a moderately scarce overdate, the 1943/2-P), and they can be purchased in circulated condition at low cost. When the price of silver rose in the 1960s the "war nickels" quickly disappeared from circulation, a process often aided by their distinctive silver-tarnish appearance, which sometimes appeared in banded form from contact of coins with sulfur-containing elastic bands in pockets Many of these nickels were melted for their silver content. Accordingly, the mint production numbers are probably skewed when compared to other nickels.
Throughout the 20th century, Congress allowed the U.S. Mint to make changes to coinage every 25 years without specific authorization. Since the 1990s the government had begun to respond to lobbying in favor of changing coinage design. This led to the State Quarters series and in 2002, a proposal to change 2003 nickels as well. Initial proposals by the Mint had a new obverse based on a portrait by Gilbert Stuart, and a reverse with an American Indian and a bald eagle facing west.
Congressman Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), the Chief Deputy Majority Whip for his party, objected to the lack of consultation with Congress about their proposal, and was particularly concerned that Monticello, located near his district, would not return to the reverse of the nickel in 2006. Some raised the issue that the Mint's proposed new reverse did not relate specifically enough to Lewis and Clark or the Louisiana Purchase, the events that the proposed changes were meant to commemorate. This led to the enactment of Public Law 108-15, the American 5-cent Coin Design Continuity Act, in 2003. This act, originally dubbed the Keep Monticello on the Nickel Act by Cantor, modified the United States Code to require the return to a depiction of Monticello starting in January 2006, and permanently eliminate the Mint's right to change it again without Congressional approval. The delay and controversy meant the Mint ran out of time to change the reverse of the nickel in 2003.
Upon passage of Cantor's new law, the Mint proposed the Westward Journey nickel series. The series consisted of two new reverse designs for 2004 and two for 2005.
In 2004, the reverse of the nickel changed, with two different designs during the year. The first design, placed into circulation on March 1, 2004, featured a design based upon a rendition of the original Indian Peace Medal commissioned for Lewis and Clark's expedition. It was designed by Norman E. Nemeth.
In late 2004, the reverse changed again to feature a view of Lewis and Clark's keelboat in full sail that transported members of the Corps of Discovery expedition and their supplies through the rivers of the Louisiana Territory. This design depicts Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in full uniform, standing in the bow of the keelboat. This nickel was designed by Al Maletsky.
On September 16, 2004, the U.S. Mint unveiled its new designs for 2005. They had been chosen by John W. Snow on July 22, 2004 but were not disclosed to the public. The U.S. Mint revealed that the Felix Schlag depiction of Thomas Jefferson was being done away with in favor of a more modern depiction of Jefferson. The new obverse of the Jefferson nickel was designed by Joe Fitzgerald and engraved by Don Everhart II. Its circulation began on February 28, 2005.
Also unveiled on September 16, 2004 were two new reverses. A depiction of the American bison temporarily returned to the reverse after a 67-year absence. The new reverse was designed by Jamie N. Franki and engraved by Norman E. Nemeth. The U.S. Mint had been lobbied to include the American bison on the nickel in the hope of keeping the public interested in its continuing recovery after nearly being hunted almost to extinction after the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
The final Westward Journey nickel reverse was designed by Joe Fitzgerald and engraved by Donna Weaver. It depicts the Pacific Ocean and the words from William Clark's diary upon reaching it. In a controversial move, the U.S. Mint decided to amend Clark's actual words. He had originally written, "Ocean in view! O! The Joy!" but as the spelling "ocean" is nonstandard (and might have led to hoarding in the mistaken belief that the Mint had made an error that would soon be corrected), the U.S. Mint decided to modify it to "ocean."
In 2006, the nickel returned to using Felix Schlag's Monticello design on a newly cast reverse, while the obverse features a new forward-facing portrait of Jefferson, based on the 1800 Rembrandt Peale painting of Jefferson. It is the first U.S. circulating coin that features the image of a President facing forward. The new obverse was designed by Jamie Franki. The word Liberty is shown in Jefferson's own handwriting, as it was on the 2005 Westward Journey nickels.
Felix Schlag's initials now appear on the reverse. They are located to the right of Monticello, where the mint mark was located until 1964.
United States Half Dimes
The half dime, or half disme, was a silver coin, valued at five cents, formerly minted in the United States.
The denomination was one of the original coins first authorized in 1792, and production began in February 1795. These coins were much smaller than dimes in diameter and thickness, appearing to be "half dimes". In the 1860s, powerful nickel interests successfully lobbied for the creation of new coins, which would be made of a copper-nickel alloy; production of such coins began in 1865, and were struck in two denominations — three and five cents (the latter introduced in 1866).
The introduction of the copper-nickel five-cent pieces made the silver coins of the same denomination redundant, and they were discontinued in 1873.
United States Dimes
The dime is a coin worth 10 cents, one tenth of a United States dollar. The denomination was first authorized by the Coinage Act of 1792. The dime is the smallest in diameter and is the thinnest of all U.S. coins currently minted for circulation.
Since its introduction in 1796, the dime has been issued in six different major types, excluding the 1792 "disme". The name for each type (except for the Barber dime) indicates the design on the coin's obverse.
The Coinage Act of 1792, passed on April 2, 1792, authorized the mintage of a "disme", one-tenth the silver weight and value of a dollar. The composition of the disme was set at 89.24 percent silver and 10.76 percent copper. In 1792, a limited number of dismes were minted but never circulated. Some of these were struck in copper, indicating that the 1792 dismes were in fact pattern coins. The first dimes minted for circulation did not appear until 1796, due to a lack of demand for the coin and production problems at the United States Mint.
The first dime to be circulated was the Draped Bust dime, in 1796. It featured the same obverse and reverse as all other circulating coins of the time, the so-called Draped Bust/Small Eagle design. This design was the work of then-Chief Engraver Robert Scot. The portrait of Liberty on the obverse was based on a Gilbert Stuart drawing of prominent Philadelphia socialite Ann Willing Bingham, wife of noted American statesman William Bingham. The reverse design is of a small Bald Eagle surrounded by palm and olive branches, and perched on a cloud. Since the Coinage Act of 1792 required only that the cent and half cent display their denomination, Draped Bust dimes were minted with no indication of their value.
All 1796 dimes have 15 stars on the obverse, representing the number of U.S. states then in the Union. The first 1797 dimes were minted with 16 stars, reflecting Tennessee's admission as the 16th state. Realizing that the practice of adding one star per state could quickly clutter the coin's design, U.S. Mint Director Elias Boudinot ordered a design alteration, to feature just 13 stars (for the original Thirteen Colonies). Therefore, 1797 dimes can be found with either 13 or 16 stars.
Also designed by Robert Scot, the Heraldic Eagle reverse design made its debut in 1798. The obverse continued from the previous series, but the eagle on the reverse was changed from the widely criticized "scrawny" hatchling to a scaled-down version of the Great Seal of the United States. The Draped Bust/Heraldic Eagles series continued through 1807 (although no dimes dated 1799 or 1806 were minted). Both Draped Bust designs were composed of 89.24 percent silver and 10.76 percent copper.
The Draped Bust design was succeeded by the Capped Bust, designed by Mint Assistant Engraver John Reich. Both the obverse and reverse were changed extensively. The new reverse featured a Bald Eagle grasping three arrows (symbolizing strength) and an olive branch (symbolizing peace). Covering the eagle's breast is a U.S. shield with six horizontal lines and 13 vertical stripes. Also on the reverse is the lettering "10C," making it the only dime minted with an explicit indication of its value (subsequent issues are inscribed with the words "ONE DIME"). There are 122 varieties known of Capped Bust Dimes.
Christian Gobrecht completed the design of this dime, whose obverse was used with every circulating silver U.S. coin of the period. Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson requested a new coin design, to be reminiscent of the Britannia image found on coinage of the United Kingdom. Chief Engraver William Kneass drew the original sketches, but suffered a stroke and was too ill to finish them or to oversee preparation of the dies. The task then fell to Gobrecht, who was promoted to Second Engraver.
The obverse features an image of Liberty sitting on a rock, wearing a dress and holding a staff with a liberty cap on top. Her right hand is balancing a shield with the inscription "LIBERTY." The reverse featured the inscription "ONE DIME," surrounded by a wreath. All Seated Liberty dimes contain 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper, and are 17.9 millimeters (0.705 inch) in diameter. This size and metal composition would continue until 1965, when silver was permanently removed from circulating dimes.
There were several minor varieties during the Seated Liberty's run. The initial design (1837) had no stars on the obverse and, further, the dates were minted in a Large Date and Small Date variety. These two types can be distinguished by noting the "3" and the "7" in the date. In the Large Date variety, the "3" has a pointed serif at top, and the horizontal element of the "7" is straight. In the Small Date variety, the "3" has a rounded serif, and there is small a knob, or bulge, in the "7" horizontal element. Only the Philadelphia Mint made both varieties. The Small Date is slightly rarer. The New Orleans Mint also made the Seated Liberty Dime in this year, but only in the Small Date variety.
Thirteen stars (symbolizing the 13 original colonies) were added to the perimeter of the obverse in 1838. These were replaced with the legend "United States of America," which was moved from the reverse in mid-1860. At the same time, the laurel wreath on the reverse was changed to a wreath of corn, wheat, maple, and oak leaves and expanded nearly to the rim of the coin. This reverse design continued through the end of the series in 1891 and was changed only slightly in 1892, when the Barber dime debuted. Another variety is the 1838–40 dime minted with no drapery underneath the left elbow of Liberty.
Arrows at the date in 1853 and 1873 indicated changes made in the coin's mass (from 2.67 grams to 2.49 grams in 1853, then to 2.50 grams in 1873). The first change was made in response to rising silver prices, while the latter alteration was brought about by the Mint Act of 1873 which, in an attempt to make U.S. coinage the currency of the world, added a small amount of mass to the dime, quarter, and half-dollar to bring their weights in line with fractions of the French 5-franc piece.
This produced the greatest rarities in the Seated Dime Series, the 1873 & 1874 Carson City Dimes, with arrows and the unique 1873 Carson City Dime without arrows.
The Barber dime is named for its designer, Charles E. Barber, who was Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint from 1879 to 1917. The design was shared with the quarter and half-dollar of the same period. Extensive internal politics surrounded the awarding of the design job, which had initially been opened to the public. A four-member committee (which included Barber), appointed by then-Mint Director James Kimball, accorded only two of more than 300 submissions an honorable mention. Kimball's successor, Edward O. Leech, decided to dispense with the committees and public design competitions and simply instructed Barber to develop a new design. It has been speculated that this is what Barber had wanted all along.
The Barber dime, as with all previous dimes, featured an image of Liberty on the obverse. She is wearing a Phrygian cap, a laurel wreath with a ribbon, and a headband with the inscription "LIBERTY". This inscription is one of the key elements used in determining the condition of Barber dimes. Liberty's portrait was inspired by two sources—French coins and medals of the period, as well as ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. The obverse also contains the long-used 13 stars (for the 13 colonies) design element. The reverse contained a wreath and inscription almost identical to the one used on the final design of the Seated Liberty dime. While circulated coins of the entire series are readily available to collectors there is one outstanding rarity, the 1894-S Barber Dime. Twenty-four were minted, with 9 currently known.
Although most commonly referred to as the "Mercury" dime, the coin does not depict the Roman messenger god. The obverse figure is a depiction of the mythological goddess Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap, a classic symbol of liberty and freedom, with its wings intended to symbolize freedom of thought. Designed by noted sculptor Adolph A. Weinman, the Winged Liberty Head dime is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful U.S. coin designs ever produced. The composition (90 percent silver, 10 percent copper) and diameter (17.9 millimeters) of the "Mercury" dime was unchanged from the Barber dime.
Weinman (who had studied under Augustus Saint-Gaudens) won a 1915 competition against two other artists for the design job, and is thought to have modeled his version of Liberty on Elsie Kachel Stevens, wife of noted poet Wallace Stevens. The reverse design, a fasces juxtaposed with an olive branch, was intended to symbolize America's readiness for war, combined with its desire for peace. Although the fasces symbol was later adopted by Benito Mussolini and his National Fascist Party, the symbol was quite common in American iconography and has generally avoided any stigma associated with its usage in wartime Italy.
The 1916-D issue of only 264,000 coins is highly sought after, due largely to the fact that the overwhelming majority of the dimes struck at the Denver Mint in 1916 carried the pre-existing Barber design. Thus, the 1916-D is worth up to thousands of dollars if it is in relatively fine condition. A considerable number of common 1916 Philadelphia mint dimes have been altered with a "D" added, so buyers should be careful to purchase only from reputable dealers or to accept only sealed and graded coins.
Many coins in the "Mercury" series exhibit striking defects, most notably the fact that the line separating the two horizontal bands in the center of the fasces is often missing, in whole or in part; the 1945 issue of the Philadelphia Mint hardly ever appears with this line complete from left to right, and as a result, such coins are worth more than usual for uncirculated specimens. A valuable variety is an overdate, where 1942 was stamped over a 1941 die at the Philadelphia mint. A less obvious example from the same year is from the Denver mint.
Of particular interest to numismatics is the condition of the horizontal bands tying together the bundle on the fasces, on the coin's reverse. On well-struck examples, separation exists within the two sets of bands (known as Full Split Bands). Coins exhibiting this feature are typically valued higher than those without it.
Soon after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, legislation was introduced by Virginia Congressman Ralph H. Daughton that called for the replacement of the Mercury dime with one bearing Roosevelt's image. The dime was chosen to honor Roosevelt partly due to his efforts in the founding of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later renamed the March of Dimes), which originally raised money for polio research and to aid victims of the disease and their families. The public had been urged to send in a dime to the Foundation, and by Roosevelt's death, the Foundation was already popularly known as the "March of Dimes."
Due to the limited amount of time available to design the new coin, the Roosevelt dime was the first regular-issue U.S. coin designed by a Mint employee in more than 40 years. Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock was chosen, as he had already designed a Mint presidential medal of Roosevelt. Sinnock's first design, submitted on October 12, 1945, was rejected, but a subsequent one was accepted on January 6, 1946.
The dime was released to the public on January 30, 1946, which would have been Roosevelt's 64th birthday. Sinnock's design placed his initials ("JS") at the base of Roosevelt's neck, on the coin's obverse. His reverse design elements of a torch, olive branch, and oak branch symbolized, respectively, liberty, peace, and victory.
Controversy immediately ensued, as strong anti-Communist sentiment in the United States led to the circulation of rumors that the "JS" engraved on the coin was the initials of Joseph Stalin, placed there by a Soviet agent in the mint. The Mint quickly issued a statement denying this, confirming that the initials were indeed Sinnock's.
Another controversy surrounding Sinnock's design involves his image of Roosevelt. Soon after the coin's release, it was claimed that Sinnock borrowed his design of Roosevelt from a bas relief created by African American sculptor Selma Burke, unveiled at the Recorder of Deeds Building in Washington D.C. in September 1945. Sinnock denied this, claiming that he simply utilized his earlier design on the Roosevelt medal.
With the passage of the Coinage Act of 1965, the composition of the dime changed from 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper to a clad "sandwich" of pure copper inner layer between two outer layers of cupronickel (75% Copper, 25% Nickel) alloy giving a total composition of 91.67% Cu and 8.33% Ni. This composition was selected because it gave similar mass (now 2.268 grams instead of 2.5 grams) and electrical properties (important in vending machines)—and most importantly, because it contained no precious metal.
Soon after the change of composition, silver dimes (as well as silver quarters and half dollars) began to disappear from circulation, as people receiving them in change hoarded them (see Gresham's law). Although now rare in circulation, silver dimes may occasionally turn up in customers' change.
Starting in 1992, the US Mint re-introduced silver coins in its annual collectors sets. This included a 90 percent silver proof Roosevelt Dime, Washington Quarter(s) and Kennedy Half Dollar, a series that continues today.
Since 1946 the Roosevelt dime has been minted every year. Through 1955, all three mints, Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco produced circulating coinage; production at San Francisco ended in 1955, resuming in 1968 with proof coinage only. Through 1964 "D" and "S" mintmarks can be found to the left of the torch. From 1968, the mintmarks have appeared above the date. None were used in 1965–67, and Philadelphia did not show a mintmark until 1980 (in 1982, an error left the "P" off a small number of dimes, which are now valuable). To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the design, the 1996 mint sets included a "W" mintmarked dime made at the West Point Mint. A total of 1,457,000 dimes were issued in the sets.
In 2003, a group of conservative Republicans in Congress proposed removing Roosevelt's image from the dime, and replacing it with that of President Ronald Reagan, although he was still alive. Legislation to this effect was introduced in November 2003 by Indiana Representative Mark Souder. Amongst the more notable opponents of the legislation was Nancy Reagan, who in December 2003 stated that, "When our country chooses to honor a great president such as Franklin Roosevelt by placing his likeness on our currency, it would be wrong to remove him." After President Reagan's death in June 2004, the proposed legislation gained additional support. Souder, however, stated that he was not going to pursue the legislation any further. 2009 saw the lowest dime production since 1955 with just 146,000,000 dimes being made.
For more information about dimes:
Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins by Walter Breen, 1988.
United States Twenty Cent Pieces
The United States twenty cent coin (often called a twenty cent piece) was a unit of currency equalling 1/5th of a United States dollar. Its purchasing power in 1875 would be equivalent to $3.99 today.
The twenty cent coin had one of the shortest mintages and lowest circulations in US coin history, for both the series and the denomination. It was minted from 1875-1878, but was only released for circulation in 1875 and 1876, with only a few hundred proofs released during the remaining two years.
It also has the distinction of being one of the few types of coins minted in the short lived Carson City Mint branch of the United States Mint in Carson City, Nevada (which only operated from 1870-1893).
Nearly 1,355,000 were produced in total, with over 1.1 million of those being the 1875-S. Some 10,000 of the 1876-CC were minted, but most were melted down at the US Mint before ever being released, and now only an estimated 12-20 are thought to exist.
The U.S. twenty-cent piece was created at the urging of Senator John Percival Jones from Nevada. Jones represented the silver miners of the Comstock Lode.
The coin was invented as a tactic for increasing U.S. silver exports. It was meant to circulate on a par with the silver franc, a widely used international reserve currency of the 1870s. The French-franc heritage survives in Europe to this day; most European countries which eventually adopted decimal formats preferred the 20/100 denomination over the 25/100, and today's Euro coinage includes a 20-cent piece, not a 25-cent piece. The Province of Canada also issued 20-cent coins in 1858 for the same reason; after Confederation, Canada abandoned the innovation in favor of 25-cent coins, first struck in 1870. Newfoundland, which did not join Canada until 1949, issued 20-cent coins from 1865 until 1912.
The front of the coin is the same as the Liberty Seated used for the quarter, half dollar and dollar (although, by 1875 the Liberty Seated Dollar was no longer being minted). This was a design by Christian Gobrecht in 1838. The back of the coin is the same design as the Trade Dollar, which was actually being minted at that time. This design was created by William Barber in 1875. Both designers get credit, however it was William Barber who was in the employ of the Mint at the time the design went into production.
There were several patterns made for this coin. Of particular interest is the Liberty At The Seashore pattern, dated 1875. An identical pattern was also made for the Trade Dollar. This interesting design features a ship (typical of the day) on the horizon. Notably, the sails of the ship billow to the right, but the smoke coming from the stack billows to the left, thus it appears that the "wind" on the ship in the design is actually blowing in two different directions. Numismatic experts and authorities consider this to be an error.
For these reasons, the U.S. twenty-cent piece quickly failed to gain acceptance, and its mintage for general circulation ceased only two years after it began.
The 1876-CC twenty-cent piece is a major rarity, with one such piece having sold for $460,000 in a Heritage Auction held in April 2009.
For more information about twenty cent pieces:
Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins by Walter Breen, 1988.
United States Quarter Dollars
A quarter dollar, commonly shortened to quarter, is a coin worth ¼ of a United States dollar, or 25 cents. The quarter has been produced since 1796. The choice of 25¢ as a denomination, as opposed to 20¢ which is more common in other parts of the world, originated with the practice of dividing Spanish Milled Dollars into eight wedge shaped segments; at one time "two bits", i.e. two pieces of eight, was a common nickname for a quarter.
For more information about quarters:
Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins by Walter Breen, 1988.
United States Half Dollars
Half dollar coins have been produced nearly every year since the inception of the United States Mint in 1794. Sometimes referred to as the fifty-cent piece, the only U.S. coin that has been minted more consistently is the cent.
For more information about half dollars:
Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins by Walter Breen, 1988.
United States Dollars
Dollar coins have been minted in the United States in gold, silver, and base metal versions. The term silver dollar is often used for any large white metal coin issued by the United States with a face value of one dollar, although purists insist that a dollar is not silver unless it contains some of that metal. Silver dollars, the first dollar coin issue, were minted beginning in 1794. Gold and gold-colored dollars have also been produced by the United States. The Sacagawea and Presidential dollars are usually referred to as golden, despite not containing any gold, as they are of a golden color.
Dollar coins have found little popular acceptance in circulation in the United States since the early 20th century, despite several attempts since 1971 to phase in a coin in place of the one dollar bill. This contrasts with currencies of most other developed countries, where denominations of similar value exist only in coin. These coins have largely succeeded because of a removal (or lack) of their corresponding paper issues , whereas the United States government has taken no action to remove the one-dollar bill, due to either intensive lobbying by "Save the Greenback" or genuine consumer resistance.
Before the Revolutionary War, coins from many European nations circulated freely in the American colonies, as well as decimal coinage issued by the various colonies. Chief among these was the Spanish silver dollar coins (also called pieces of eight or eight reales) minted in Mexico and other colonies with silver mined from Central and South American mines. These coins, along with others of similar size and value, were in use throughout the colonies and later the United States and were legal tender until 1857.
In 1776, the Continental Congress authorized plans to produce a silver coin to prop up the rapidly failing Continental—the first attempt by the fledgling US at paper currency. Several examples were struck in brass, pewter, and silver, but a circulating coin was not produced, due in large part to the financial difficulties of running the Revolutionary War. The Continental Dollar bears a date of 1776, and while its true denomination is not known, it is generally the size of later dollars, and the name has stuck. The failure of the Continental exacerbated a distrust of paper money amongst both politicians and the populace at large. The letters of Thomas Jefferson indicate that he wished the United States to eschew paper money and instead mint coins of similar perceived value and worth to those foreign coins circulating at the time.
The Coinage Act of 1792 authorized the production of dollar coins from silver. The United States Mint produced silver dollar coins from 1794 to 1803, then ceased regular production of silver dollars until 1836. The first silver dollars, precisely 1,758 of them, were coined on October 15, 1794 and were immediately delivered to Mint Director David Rittenhouse for distribution to dignitaries as souvenirs. Thereafter, until 1804, they were struck in varying quantities. There are two obverse designs: Flowing Hair (1794–1795) and Draped Bust (1795–1804). There are also two reverse designs used for the Draped Bust variety: small eagle (1795–1798) and heraldic eagle (1798–1804). Original silver dollars from this period are highly prized by coin collectors and are exceptionally valuable, and range from fairly common to incredibly rare. Due to the early practice of hand engraving each die, there are dozens of varieties known for all dates between 1795–1803.
As the earliest examples of the largest circulating coins ever struck by the United States Mint, they bear a certain mystique that has enthralled collectors for two centuries. However, collectors are warned that a large number of perfect copies, apparently made in China, have been made. Buying only from known dealers, or certified specimens, is highly recommended.
It is also one of only two denominations (the other being the cent) minted in every year from its inception during the first decade of mint operation. However, the order was given by President Thomas Jefferson to halt silver dollar production due to the continued exportation of US dollars. The Spanish 8 Reale, which was slightly heavier than the US dollar, nonetheless traded at a 1-to-1 ratio. So US dollars went to the Caribbean, were traded for heavier 8 Reales, and those were then brought back to the US, where they would be recoined for free into more US dollars, and the difference in silver was kept by the exporter. This ensured that no dollars would circulate in the US, but would instead be exported for their heavier counterparts overseas, leaving little but old, foreign money to circulate in the United States in a process known as Gresham's Law.
The 1804 silver dollar is one of the rarest and most famous coins in the world. Its creation was the result of a simple bookkeeping error, but its status as the king of coins has been established for nearly a century and a half. The silver dollars reported by the mint as being struck in 1804 were actually dated 1803 (die steel being very expensive in the early 19th century, dies were used until they were no longer in working condition. This is why many early US coins exhibit all kinds of die cracks, occlusions, cuds, clash marks, and other late state die wear. Dies were used until they literally fell apart. Nearly every coin the US struck from 1793 to 1825 has an example that was struck in a year other than that which it bears.) No dollars bearing the date 1804 were ever struck in 1804, though this was unknown to mint officials at the time the 1804 dollar came to be.
The 1804 silver dollar was actually produced in 1834, when the U.S. Department of State decided to produce a set of U.S. coins to be used as gifts to rulers in Asia in exchange for trade advantages. Since 1804 was the last recorded year of mintage for both the dollar and $10 Eagle, it was decided that the set would contain examples of those coins dated 1804, as well as the other denominations currently being produced. Mint officials, not realizing that the 19,000+ dollars recorded as being produced in 1804 were all dated 1803, proceeded to make new dies dated 1804. Little did they know the stunning rarity they were creating. Only 15 silver dollars with the date of 1804 are known to exist; in 1999, one of them sold at auction for more than $4 million. There are 8 Class I dollars, struck in 1834 for the aforementioned sets, 1 Class II dollar, struck over an 1857 Swiss Shooting Thaler (and now residing in the US Coin Collection at the Smithsonian Institution), and 6 Class III dollars, struck surreptitiously sometime between 1858 and 1860 to meet collector demand for the coin.
Seated Liberty Dollars were introduced in 1840 and were minted in larger quantities than the sparsely minted Gobrecht Dollar that preceded it. The dollars were used in general circulation until 1853. The production of large numbers of US gold coins (First $1 1849 and $20 in 1850) from the new California mines lowered the price of gold..so the value of silver rose. By 1853, the value of a US Silver Dollar contained in gold terms, $1.07 of silver. With the Mint Act of 1853, all US Silver coins, except for the US Silver Dollar and new 3 cent coin, were reduced by 6.9% as of weight with arrows on the date to denote reduction. The US Silver Dollar was continued to be minted in very small numbers mainly as a foreign trade to the Orient.
The international trading partners did not like the fact that US coins were reduced in weight. The use of much more common half dollars became problematic since merchants would have to separate higher value pre-1853 coins from the newer reduced ones. From 1853 onwards, trade with Asia was typically done with Mexican coins that kept their weight and purity in the 19th Century. This ended in 1874 when the price of silver dropped so that a silver dollar has less than $1.00 worth of gold in it(huge amounts of silver coming from the Nevada Comstock Lode mines). By 1876, all silver coins were being used as money and by 1878, gold was at par with all US paper dollars. Beginning in 1878, huge amounts of the Morgan silver dollars were produced but few were used as money. The size was too large to carry on business so silver certificates were used instead. The mint make the coins, placed them in their vaults and issued the Silver Certificates instead. This is the reason so many Morgan and Peace dollars can be purchased in AU or UNC condition (near perfect)... they at in bank/US Treasury vaults most of the time.
Each coin is composed of 0.77344 troy oz of silver. They were minted at Philadelphia, New Orleans, Carson City, and San Francisco. A Silver dollar is worth $1 in silver at $1.31 per troy ounce. Current silver price (October 21, 2010) is $23.12 per troy ounce so a silver dollar is worth, melted down (melt value) of about $17.88 US.
The Trade Dollar was produced in response to other Western powers, such as Great Britain, Spain, France, and particularly Mexico, circulating large, crown size silver coins in Asia. Trade Dollars had a slightly higher silver content than the regular circulation Seated Liberty Dollars and Morgan Dollars, to compete with these foreign trade coins. Most Trade Dollars ended up in Asia during their first two years of production, where they were very successful. Many of them exhibit chopmarks which are counterstamps from Asian merchants to verify the authenticity of the coins. Many trade coins of the western powers and large silver coins from China, Korea, and Japan also bear these chopmarks. While most chopmarked coins are generally worth less than those without, some of the more fascinating chopmarks can actually give the coin a modest premium.
Trade Dollars did not circulate in the United States initially, but were legal tender for up to $5. Things changed, however, in 1876, when the price of silver spiraled downward as western producers dumped silver on the market, making the Trade Dollar worth more at face value than its silver content. That resulted in Trade Dollars pouring back into the United States, as they were bought for as little as the equivalent of 80 US cents in Asia, and were then spent at $1 in the United States. This prompted Congress to revoke their legal tender status, and restrict their coinage to exportation demand only. However, this didn't stop unscrupulous persons from buying Trade Dollars at bullion value, and using them for payment as $1 to unsuspecting workers and merchants.
Production of the Trade Dollar was officially halted for business strikes in 1878, and thereafter from 1879–1885, produced only as proof examples of the coin. The issues of 1884 and 1885 were produced surreptitiously, and were unknown to the collecting public until 1908.
In February 1887, all non-mutilated outstanding Trade Dollars were made redeemable to the United States Treasury, and approximately 8 million of them were turned in.
Collectors are warned that a large number of perfect copies, apparently made in China, have been made. Buying only from known dealers, or certified specimens, is highly recommended.
Morgan silver dollars were minted between 1878 and 1921, with a notable break between 1905 and 1920. The 1921-dated coins are the most common, and there exists a substantial collector market for pristine, uncirculated specimens of the rarer dates and mint marks. Morgan dollars are second only to Lincoln Cents in collector popularity. The large size, design and inexpensive nature of most dates of the Morgan dollar makes them highly popular. The coin is named after George T. Morgan, its designer. Some people collect Morgan dollars by "VAM" designation (named for Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis, who did extensive research on the die characteristics of this series.) The top 100 VAM varieties are highly collectible. As well, this is the most popular United States series collected by grade, with "finest known" being a very attractive selling point.
The mint mark is found on the reverse below the wreath, above the 'O' in 'DOLLAR'.
One of the keys to the series is the proof-only 1895 (struck at the Philadelphia mint), which can sell for up to $100,000 in top condition. Since the rarity of the coin was not initially realized (there were 12,000 business strikes recorded, but these were later melted), and since the coins were available at the Mint for a modest premium above face value, circulated, or "impaired" specimens are known. Because no business strike exists for this date and mint, many collectors are forced to buy the proof, or settle for what is regarded as an incomplete date/mint collection. The rarest (by mintage) business strike Morgan is the 1893-S with a paltry 100,000 examples struck, and certainly not all examples survive. A top condition example (MS67 is currently the highest known) can bring nearly $1 Million at auction. Morgan dollars from the Carson City mint ("CC" mintmark) are worth a premium. 1889-CC, while not the rarest Carson City dollar by mintage, is the rarest by surviving examples today, and is the most valuable Carson City dollar. Other rare dates include 1892-S, 1893, 1893-O, 1894, 1894-S, 1895-O, 1895-S, 1902-S, 1903-S, 1903-O, and 1904-S all worth $100 or more even in circulated (Fine-About Uncirculated) conditions. Several coins in the series, while quite common in circulated condition, are very rare in uncirculated conditions, and can command hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece. 1901 is such a coin, as is 1884-S. There is currently only a single known MS68 1884-S dollar and if sold at auction, that coin could easily bring $750,000-$1,000,000...for a "common" date coin.
Many of the spectacular rarities of the series, both by grade and absolutely, can be attributed to the order to melt down 270 million silver dollars still on hand by the Pittman Act of 1918. Because of this, and subsequent melting, it is estimated that only 17% of all Morgan dollars minted still survive. However, that's still many millions of examples.
Many examples exceed $100 in uncirculated condition, but the majority do not. A common date in uncirculated can normally be found for around $20, and often as little as $12 circulated and $16 uncirculated, depending upon the current price of silver.
High-grade Morgan dollars are generally considered "investor" coins. This is because the prices are very volatile, and the values for certified ("slabbed") pieces are set on well-established exchanges.
The Peace Dollar is a silver United States dollar coin minted from 1921 to 1928, then again in 1934 and 1935. Early proposals for the coin called for a commemorative issue to coincide with the end of World War I, but the Peace Dollar was issued as a circulating coin.
Designed by Anthony de Francisci, the Peace Dollar was so named because the word PEACE appears on the bottom of the coin's reverse. It contains 0.77344 troy ounces of silver, and was the successor to the Morgan Dollar, which had not been regularly minted since 1904. With the passage of the Pittman Act in 1918, the mintage of dollar coins was enabled to start again. Prior to the design and acceptance of the Peace Dollar, the Morgan Dollar was minted again in 1921.
After a six-year pause in minting, the Peace Dollar was again minted in 1934 and 1935. It was minted briefly in 1965 (dated 1964), but no examples of this issue were ever released to the public and the entire mintage was supposed to have been melted. The Peace Dollar is the last dollar coin to actually contain silver that was minted for circulation in the United States.
The original inspiration for the Peace Dollar was a paper published in the November 1918 issue of The Numismatist, the magazine of the American Numismatic Association. In it, editor Frank G. Duffield called for a commemorative coin to mark the impending end of World War I. The paper was to be presented at the summer 1918 convention. The convention was cancelled because of the Spanish flu pandemic. Duffield's paper stated that:
"An event of international interest, and one worthy to be commemorated by a United States coin issue, is scheduled to take place in the near future. The date has not yet been determined, but it will be when the twentieth century vandals have been beaten to their knees and been compelled to accept the terms of the Allies... It should be issued in such quantities that it will never become rare, and it should circulate at face value."
The theme for the proposed coin was elaborated upon at the Chicago ANA convention of August 1920. A paper written by Farran Zerbe called for a coin that would showcase the ideals of democracy, liberty, prosperity, and honor. The proposal called for either a half dollar or dollar, in order to provide as much space as possible for the design.
By 1928, the US Mint had struck enough silver dollars (Morgan and Peace combined) to satisfy the requirements of the Pittman Act. Since public demand for silver dollars did not materialize, the mint halted production of the Peace Dollar that year (with fewer than two million struck). The Peace Dollar returned briefly in 1934 and 1935, as the government needed additional backing for Silver Certificates.
The coin almost made a return in 1964, when Congress approved the mintage of 45 million new silver dollars to fulfill the needs of the booming casino industry in Nevada. The decision was controversial because of a critical silver shortage in 1965, which led to widespread hoarding of silver coinage. In response to the shortage, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1965, which authorized the removal of silver content from circulating coinage (except for the Kennedy half dollar) minted after December 31, 1964. But under pressure from some members of Congress from the Western states, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued an order on May 15, 1965 to resume production of the Peace Dollar. (It was dated 1964 to allow silver to be included. During 1965 all U.S. coins were minted with the previous year's date, the '65 issues not being produced until early the following year.) 316,076 Peace Dollars were struck at the Denver mint that month, before Congress overrode the Presidential order and demanded that production cease. All the coins produced to that point were ordered to be melted. Although rumors persist that some examples still survive, owning them is illegal, making it unlikely that anyone who does own one will ever come forth publicly.
Production of dollar coinage did not resume until the Eisenhower Dollar in 1971. That coin, however, has no silver content, except for some sold directly to collectors by the Mint. Likewise, the Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea dollars, and Presidential dollars that have been minted since the Eisenhower dollar contain no silver, making the Peace Dollar the last true silver dollar struck for circulation.
Because of the size and weight of the dollar coins, they circulated minimally throughout their history, except in the West (especially at casinos in the early-to-mid-20th century, where they were commonly used both at the tables and at slot machines.) As a result, the coins were generally shipped to Washington and stored in the vaults of the US Treasury; at times these stores numbered into the hundreds of millions.
They were very popular as Christmas gifts, however, and from the 1930s to the early 1960s, many bags were annually released to banks nationwide to be distributed as presents. In November 1962, during this annual distribution, it was discovered that there were some rare and valuable dates, still sealed in their original mint bags, all in uncirculated condition, among the millions of dollar coins still in the Treasury vaults. Collectors/investors/dealers lined up to purchase them in $1,000 bags, trading silver certificates for the coins. Before this event, the great rarity of the Morgan series was 1903-O, which was by far the most expensive of the entire set. It was discovered that there were millions of this specific date and mint in the Treasury vaults; an estimated 84% of the entire mintage sat in these bags, untouched for 60 years, all in uncirculated condition. While still relatively expensive in circulated grades, uncirculated examples can be had for a modest amount over common dates.
On March 25, 1964, Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas Dillon announced that Silver Certificates would no longer be redeemable for silver dollars. Subsequently, another act of Congress dated June 24, 1967, provided that Silver Certificates could be exchanged for silver bullion for a period of one year, until June 24, 1968.
Following this, the Treasury inventoried its remaining stock of dollar coins, and found approximately 3,000 bags containing 3 million coins. Many of the remaining coins were Carson City mint dollars, which even then carried a premium. The coins were placed in special hard plastic holders and the General Services Administration (GSA) was given authorization to sell them to the public in a series of mail-bid sales. Five sales were conducted in 1973 and 1974, but sales were poor, and the results unspectacular. There was much complaining among the coin buying public, many stating that the United States Government should not be in the "coin business", especially considering that the government had spent little more than a dollar to mint and store each coin. After these sales, more than a million coins were still left unsold.
These sat again until 1979-1980, where, amidst an extraordinarily volatile precious metals market, the remaining coins were sold under chaotic conditions. The GSA, having published minimum bids in November 1979, announced on January 2, 1980, that those minimum bids were no longer valid, and that prospective bidders would have to "call in" to a toll free number to get current minimum bids. Then, on February 21, 13 days after the bidding process officially began, the maximum number of coins per bidder was changed from 500 to 35. Many bidders, under these confusing conditions, ended up with no coins at all. Complaints again flooded in to Congress, but the damage had already been done, and the last silver dollars held by the United States Treasury were gone.
Over the years, many of these GSA dollars have been broken out of their special holders for purposes of grading or otherwise, and now GSA dollars still in the unbroken original holders carry a small premium. Some third party grading companies have begun to grade coins still in their GSA holders, as a means of preservation, though this is not without controversy
For more information about dollars:
Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins by Walter Breen, 1988.
United States Gold Coins
The Coinage Act of 1792 also authorized the United States Mint to strike gold coins in the denominations of Eagles – each to be of the value of ten dollars or units, and to contain two hundred and forty-seven grains and four eighths of a grain of pure, or two hundred and seventy grains of standard gold. Half Eagles – each to be of the value of five dollars, and to contain one hundred and twenty-three grains and six eighths of a grain of pure, or one hundred and thirty-five grains of standard gold. Quarter Eagles – each to be of the value of two dollars and a half dollar, and to contain sixty-one grains and seven eighths of a grain of pure, or sixty-seven grains and four eighths of a grain of standard gold.
The U.S. Mint began producing Eagles and Half Eagles during 1795 and Quarter Eagles in 1796. Later, in 1849, the Mint began to strike one dollar gold coins and continued through 1889. In 1854, the Indian Head three dollar gold coin began production and ran also until the end of 1889. Lastly, the most well known United States gold coins are the $20 Double Eagles. These began production in 1849 and ceased only upon President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 6102.
Executive Order 6102 required U.S. citizens to deliver on or before May 1, 1933 all but a small amount of gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates owned by them to the Federal Reserve, in exchange for $20.67 per troy ounce. Under the Trading With the Enemy Act of October 6, 1917, as amended on March 9, 1933, violation of the order was punishable by fine up to $10,000 ($167,700 if adjusted for inflation as of 2010) or up to ten years in prison, or both. Most citizens who owned large amounts of gold had it transferred to countries such as Switzerland.
Order 6102 specifically exempted "customary use in industry, profession or art"—a provision that covered artists, jewelers, dentists, and sign makers among others. The order further permitted any person to own up to $100 in gold coins ($1,677 if adjusted for inflation as of 2010; a face value equivalent to 5 troy ounces (160 g) of Gold valued at about $6200 as of 2010). The same paragraph also exempted "gold coins having recognized special value to collectors of rare and unusual coins." This protected gold coin collections from legal seizure and likely melting.
The price of gold from the Treasury for international transactions was thereafter raised to $35 an ounce ($587 in 2010 dollars). The resulting profit that the government realized funded the Exchange Stabilization Fund established by the Gold Reserve Act in 1934.
The regulations prescribed within Executive Order 6102 were modified by Executive Order 6111 of April 20, 1933, both of which were ultimately revoked and superseded by Executive Orders 6260 and 6261 of August 28 and 29, 1933, respectively.
Foreign Gold Coins
Gold has been used as money for many reasons. It is fungible, meaning that it can be traded easily, with a low spread between the prices to buy and sell. Gold is also easily transportable, as it has a high value to weight ratio, compared to other commodities, such as silver. Gold can be divided into smaller units, without destroying its value; it can also be melted into ingots, and re-coined. The density of gold is higher than most other metals, making it difficult to pass counterfeits. Gold is extremely unreactive. The scarcity of gold stabilizes its value.
United States Early Commemorative Coins
The Early United States commemorative coins traditionally begins with the 1892 Colombian Half dollar and extends through the 1954 Booker T. Washington issue. Each of these coins tells a story, sometimes it's a story of an important event or person being commemorated. The profits from the sale of commemorative coins was often used to fund a specific project. Commemorative coins were a money raising mechanism that provided an alternative to raising taxes.
United States Modern Commemorative Coins
The United States resumed minting commemorative coins in 1982 for the 250th anniversary of the birth of George Washington. Modern commemoratives tend to be restricted to events, buildings and personalities of national or international importance. While silver dollars remain the traditional denomination, low-value circulating commemoratives have gained in popularity.
United States Proof Sets
The U.S. had largely stopped striking proof coins in 1916, although a few later specimens exist. Beginning in 1936, the U.S. Mint began producing proof sets. Sets struck from 1936–42 and, when resumed, from 1950–72 include the cent, nickel, dime, quarter, and half dollar. (From 1965 to 1967, the production of proof sets was suspended and Special Mint Sets were made in their place. They were made at the San Francisco Assay Office but bore no "S" mintmark.) From 1973 through 1981 the dollar was also included, and also from 2000 on. Proof Susan B. Anthony dollars were struck in 1999, but they were sold separately and not included in the proof sets in that year.
Other sets, called "Prestige Proof" sets, also contain commemorative coins. These sets were sold from 1983 to 1997 at an additional premium. As Legacy Proof sets, the practice was resumed in 2005. Beginning in 1999, proof sets also contain five different Statehood Quarters. The 2004–05 series also contain the two Lewis and Clark nickels. Beginning in 2007, full proof sets include the four Presidential dollars for that year; proof sets of only Statehood Quarters and Presidential dollars are also available. Proof sets issued in 2009 contain 18 coins - the most ever included - as that year marked the Lincoln Bicentennial and featured four different reverses for the Lincoln Cent, as well as six Statehood Quarters instead of five.
Since 1992 the mint has struck proof sets in both silver and base metal. U.S. commemorative and bullion platinum, gold, and silver coins are also often issued in both uncirculated and proof types, sometimes with different Mint marks.
United States Mint Sets
In most years since 1947 the U.S. mint has also produced "mint sets", and because of the terms used there is some confusion over the difference between these and proof sets. These are uncirculated coins that have been specially packaged, and (unless a scarce coin is included) are generally neither as expensive nor as valuable as proofs. Some U.S. mints also sell annual "souvenir sets" from their production runs and individual dealers have made unofficial "year sets". The latter have no value beyond their individual coins. Members of the public should be careful to understand what products they are being offered.
A bullion coin is a coin struck from precious metal and kept as a store of value or an investment, rather than used in day-to-day commerce. Investment coins are generally coins that have been minted after 1800, have a purity of not less than 900 thousandths and is or has been a legal tender in its country of origin. Bullion coins are usually available in gold and silver, with the exception of the Krugerrand and the Swiss Vreneli which are only available in gold. The American Eagle series is available in gold, silver and platinum, and the Canadian Maple Leaf series is available in gold, silver, platinum and also palladium.
Bullion coins are also typically available in various weights. These are usually multiples or fractions of 1 troy ounce, but some bullion coins are produced in very limited quantities in kilograms and even heavier.
Bullion coins sell for a premium over the market price of the metal on the commodities exchanges. This is due to their comparative small size and the costs associated with manufacture, storage and distribution. The margin that is paid varies depending on what type of coin it is, the weight of the coin, and the precious metal. The premium also is affected by prevailing demand. The ISO currency code of gold bullion is XAU. ISO 4217 includes codes not only for currencies, but also for precious metals (gold, silver, palladium and platinum; by definition expressed per one troy ounce, as compared to "1 USD") and certain other entities used in international finance, e.g. Special Drawing Rights.
United States Currency
Currency or paper money has been in use in these United States before we were the United States. This early paper money is today considered “Colonial Notes.” Immediately after the United States was formed, Continental Currency was established and printed for use. In 1816, in an effort to rein in state bank profligacy, Congress created the Second Bank of the United States. The Bank was designed to create a sound, uniform national currency by printing paper money that was backed by specie. This policy was meant to trump the paper money being printed by state banks, thus curbing their inflationary practices. However instead of reining in the state banks, the Bank issued vast amounts of credit for these banks to cover their debts.
It has always been a question whether state banks should have been allowed to issue paper money under the prohibition of the Constitution forbidding a state to emit bills of credit. However, after the second United States Bank was destroyed, Congress virtually turned the issuing of paper money over to the states, and in 1837, the Supreme Court decided that the state banks could issue bank notes if they would not try to make them legal tender, which is specifically forbidden. Today, these notes are called “Obsolete Currency.”
The year 1861, marks the first time the United States government issued paper money for our nation. These first notes were called Demand Notes. Demand Notes came about as a way to help pay for the burgeoning Civil War that had just began. The reverse (or back) of the notes was printed in green ink at the time. Hence, the still used nickname "greenback" originated.
The Confederate States of America dollar was first issued into circulation in April 1861, when the Confederacy was only two months old, and on the eve of the outbreak of the Civil War.
At first, Confederate currency was accepted throughout the South as a medium of exchange with high purchasing power. As the war progressed, however, confidence in the ultimate success waned, the amount of paper money increased, and their dates of redemption were extended further into the future. The inevitable result was depreciation of the currency, and soaring prices characteristic of inflation. For example, by the end of the war, a cake of soap could sell for as much as $50 and an ordinary suit of clothes was $2,700. Near the end of the war, the currency became practically worthless as a medium of exchange. When the Confederacy ceased to exist as a political entity at the end of the war, the money lost all value as fiat currency.
Banknotes were ultimately issued in $1/10, $½, $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $500, and $1,000 denominations with a variety of designs, issuers and redeemable obligations. The amount of currency issued under the various acts of the Confederate Congress totaled $1.7 billion. Bills were released in 72 different note "types" in seven "series" from 1861 through 1864.
Since there were many types of Confederate notes as well as notes issued by the states of the Confederacy, and since banks could issue their own notes, counterfeiting was a major problem for the Confederacy. Many of these contemporary counterfeits are identifiable today and they can be as valuable to a collector as a real note.
Colonial Coins and Currency
A distinguishing characteristic of a sovereign nation is the right to issue its own coins. America began exercising that right in 1792 by issuing Pattern Coins, in 1793 by issuing copper coins, in 1794 by issuing silver coins, and in 1795 by issuing gold coins. Prior to 1792, everyday business was conducted using a motley accumulation of tokens, coins, medals and counterfeits issued by private individuals, private mints inside and outside of America, and official mints outside of America. These are known as Colonial Coins.
Early American currency went through several stages of development in the colonial and post-Revolutionary history of the United States. Because few coins were minted in the thirteen colonies that became the United States in 1776, foreign coins like the Spanish dollar were widely circulated. Colonial governments sometimes issued paper money to facilitate economic activity. The British Parliament passed Currency Acts in 1751, 1764, and 1773 that regulated colonial paper money.
During the American Revolution, the colonies became independent states; freed from British monetary regulations, they issued paper money to pay for military expenses. The Continental Congress also issued paper money during the Revolution, known as Continental currency, to fund the war effort. Both state and Continental currency depreciated rapidly, becoming practically worthless by the end of the war.
To address these and other problems, the United States Constitution, ratified in 1788, denied individual states the right to coin and print money. The First Bank of the United States, chartered in 1791, and the Coinage Act of 1792, began the era of a national American currency.
United States Military Payment Certificates
Military Payment Certificates, or MPC, were used from the end of World War II until the end of the Vietnam War, between the years 1946 and 1973. MPC's utilized layers of line lithography to create colorful banknotes that could be produced cheaply. Fifteen series of MPC's were created but only 13 series were issued.
Military Payment Certificates (MPC) evolved from Allied Military Currency as a response to the large amounts of US Dollars circulated by American servicemen in post-World War II Europe. The local citizens might not trust local currencies as the future of their governments was unclear. Preferring a stable currency like U.S. dollars, local civilians often accepted payment in dollars for less than the accepted conversion rates. US Dollars became more favorable to hold, inflating the local currencies and thwarting plans to stabilize the local economy. Contributing to this problem was the fact that troops were being paid in dollars, which they could convert unlimited amounts to the local currency with merchants at the floating (black market) conversion rate, which was much more favorable to the GIs than the government fixed conversion rate. From this conversion rate imbalance, a black market developed where the servicemen could profit from the more favorable exchange rate.
To reduce profiteering from currency arbitrage, the US military devised the MPC program. MPCs were paper money denominated in amounts of 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents, 1 dollar, 5 dollars, 10 dollars, and starting in 1968 20 dollars. MPCs were fully convertible to US dollars upon leaving a designated MPC zone, and convertible to local currencies when going on leave (but not vice-versa). They were illegal for unauthorized personnel to possess, thus, in theory, eliminating US dollars from local economies. Although actual greenbacks were not circulating, many local merchants accepted MPC on par with US dollars, since they could use them on the black market. This was especially evident during the Vietnam War when the MPC program was at its zenith. To prevent MPC from being used as a primary currency in the host country and destroying the local currency value and economy, MPC banknote styles were frequently changed to deter black marketers and reduce hoarding, as the old style would become worthless. Many veterans can recount a conversion day or C-Day.
C-days in Vietnam were always classified, never pre-announced. On C-day, soldiers would be restricted to base, preventing GIs from helping Vietnamese civilians--especially local bars, brothels, bar girls and other black market people--from converting old MPC to the newer style MPC. Since Vietnamese were not allowed to convert and frequently lost savings by holding old worthless MPC. Angry over their MPC loss, the nearest US base was often attacked the next night in retaliation.
To illustrate the Vietnam war MPC cycle, in mid 1970, a GI could have a friend in the states mail a US $100 bill, take it "downtown" and convert it to 180 dollars MPC, then change MPC to South Vietnamese piastres at double the legal rate. The soldier could then have a day shopping, bar hopping, or a full service massage, paying in low cost local currency, and finishing the day with a hefty profit.
To continue the black market cycle, that 100 dollar greenback would find its way to high level Vietnamese government officials, especially the corrupt ones, who could travel out of country, where the US currency could be deposited safely (Bangkok, Taipei, or Hong Kong). Rumors also suggested that this hard currency (US dollars), would find its way to North Vietnamese European exchange accounts.
Thirteen series of MPC were issued between 1946 and 1973, with varied designs often compared to Monopoly money due to their colors. After the Vietnam War MPC was never again issued, and the concept lay dormant until the late '90s when it was replaced by a Stored Value Card system, presently used by US armed forces in Iraq.
For more information about MPC’s:
Military Payment Certificates by Fred Schwan, 1997.
Canadian Coins and Currency
Beginning in 1858, various colonies of British North America started issuing their own coins denominated in cents, featuring the likeness of Queen Victoria on the obverse. These replaced the sterling coins previously in circulation. The Province of Canada was the first to issue decimal coins. They were based on the value of the American dollar, due to an influx of American silver. Denominations issued were 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, and 20¢. The 1¢ coin was issued again in 1859, but it was very unpopular due to its extremely light weight. The coins had to be discounted by around 20% to get them into circulation. Other colonies that issued decimal coinage were New Brunswick and Nova Scotia both starting in 1861, Newfoundland in 1865, and Prince Edward Island in 1871.
In 1867, the British parliament passed the British North America Act, uniting the Province of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick into the Dominion of Canada. Coins of the three former colonies continued to circulate until 1870, with all being legal tender in all provinces of the Dominion. As other colonies subsequently entered confederation, they dropped their colonial coinage and adopted the national Canadian currency.
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