History of American Coins
To many people, coins are simply those shiny metal objects that jingle in pockets and come in handy at a parking meter. To numismatists, those who collect and study coins, any coin can tell a story, and every coin has a history. Coins reflect our culture, our society, and the politics of our past and present. They tell these stories in beautiful detail, and help to preserve the past, even as time moves on and the world changes around us.
To anyone with an interest in American history, and especially those that have discovered the joys of coin collecting, the history of U.S. coins is rich and fascinating. If you're curious about the history of American coins, we're happy to take you on a journey, from the earliest days of American coinage to the present, and help you decide which coins are worth collecting. In this guide, you’ll find answers to questions such as:
· What was the first coin ever made in America?
· What is the rarest coin in America?
· What was the first coin called?
· What are the current coins in circulation?
· What are current U.S. coins made of?
We'll also explore coins from the 18th and 19th centuries, and how much they're worth –– including the famous Morgan silver dollars. Whether you've been collecting coins for years or are just getting started, you'll soon learn the America’s fascinating and unique history of coinage. If you have any questions along the way, feel free to reach out to us at American Mint. By the time you finish this guide, you'll be sure to double-check what's in your pocket before you trade it for a parking space.
Chapter 1: The First American Coin Ever Made
When you imagine the first American coin, what comes to mind? Do you envision a wooden token or a carved piece of rock? Humans have been using some form of currency, from whale teeth to feathers, for thousands of years as a medium of exchange. The first coins can be traced back to the seventh century B.C. They were made of a mixture of gold and silver and designed by the Lydians of Asia Minor. While U.S. metal coins do not date back as far, their past is still rich and revealing.
In this chapter, we'll share the stories of early U.S. coins. We'll explore what the first coins looked like, what they were called, and when they were produced. If you would like to examine early American coins, browse our American History collection or fascinating U.S. Currencies collection.
What Was the First Coin Ever Made in the US?
Before coin production, colonists, who were still controlled by Great Britain, did not have much access to British tender. They were forced to use other forms of money, such as Spanish coins known as "pieces of eight," or the Spanish dollar, but these were still rare. Colonists would cut the Spanish dollar into halves, quarters, eighths or sixteenths to make change for a dollar, using the coin similar to how we divide the dollar today. Other coins that circulated throughout the colonies included German thalers and British pounds.
From 1643 to 1660, colonists in Massachusetts used wampum — shells that were valuable to local Native American tribes. Wampum helped the colony develop, but the British did not approve and ended this system of trade in 1660. Colonists who lived in Virginia and North Carolina used tobacco leaves for money, but they were not easily divisible. This eventually led to local colonial governments turning to paper money and land for currency as gold and silver were still hard to obtain.
After the Revolutionary War, the Articles of Confederation allowed each state to make their own coin and assign values to them, which led to a lot of confusion. This is because the same coin would have a different value depending on the state. In 1787, in response to the debate about national coinage, Congress authorized the production of national copper cents called Fugio cents.
However, the first coin ever made in the U.S. is still a bit of a mystery. One coin collector may have found the very first coin minted in the United States, which was made in 1783. The silver "quint" coin was purchased at an auction for over $1 million by a seasoned numismatist. He had found the coin mentioned in the diary of Robert Morris, a merchant who served as superintendent of finance for the U.S. was it still governed by the Articles. Morris wrote of a silver coin being the first-ever struck as an American coin in April 1783. It's believed the coin was part of a project to demonstrate a currency system based on the Spanish dollar, which was never implemented. Only one other similar coin has been found.
What Did the First US Coins Look Like?
The first official penny of the United States was the Fugio cent, which was produced in 1787 — a few years before other official coin denominations were minted. The Fugio was designed by Benjamin Franklin and featured a sun, sundial, and the inscriptions "Fugio" and "Mind Your Business" on the obverse. "Mind Your Business" was stamped to remind Americans to pay attention to their work.
On the reverse of the Fugio, you'll find 13 links and the legends "We Are One" and "United States." The Fugio cent saw very little circulation because copper dropped in value.
When Were the First US Coins Produced?
Early official circulating coins were produced as a result of the Coinage Act of 1792. The Coinage Act established the first national mint, located in Philadelphia. The Act authorized the Mint to produce copper, silver, and gold coins for circulation.
According to the Act, the government was required to buy copper for cents and half cents as a raw material. Banks or individuals provided the silver and gold, which were then melted down. The Coinage Act also required all coins to have an inscription of Liberty and the year of coinage on the obverse side. The reverse side of gold and silver coins were required to have an eagle and the "United States of America" inscribed. Later acts changed the inscriptions and are why coins are different today.
During 1792, when the Mint was being constructed, 1,500 silver half dimes were made in a nearby building. Legend has it that these half dimes or "half dismes" were produced from Martha Washington's silverware. These were not circulated and were likely distributed among friends and prominent figures.
The first circulating coins were sent out on March 1, 1793, and they were copper cents. Silver coin minting did not begin until 1794, and gold coin production followed a year later. The first U.S. coins include:
- Copper half cents and cents
- Silver half dimes, dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollars
- Gold quarter eagles, worth $2.50
- Gold half eagles worth $5
- Gold eagles worth $10
The Mint did not have much experience designing and engraving coins, so production was exceedingly slow in the early days. In fact, the newborn Mint could not provide the coins needed for circulation in large enough quantities. Congress allowed certain foreign coins to be used as legal tender temporarily until production caught up with the demand. These included coins of Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, and France. Congress didn't ban the use of foreign coins as legal tender until they passed the Coinage Act of 1857.
Chapter 2: US Coins in the 1800s
The U.S. coins of the 18th century did not please the general population. The public was not too happy with the new copper cents that were considered large and bulky, or bigger than the modern quarter. The design also did not appeal to the people as they felt the image of Liberty on the obverse had a frightful expression, and the 15-link chain on the reverse represented slavery, though it was meant to symbolize unity. As a result, the Mint replaced the chains with a wreath and designed a new version of Liberty.
In general, the 1800s welcomed big changes that would affect coin production, such as the switch from using horse-powered tools to steam-powered machinery. In the previous century, one to three workers had to operate screw presses to stamp designs into the coins manually, and small presses were used as cutters. Coin production was a slow, laborious process, with each press only being able to produce about two dozen coins a minute.
Even though some early 1800s coins were still made the old-fashioned way until the Mint adopted more advanced technology, the introduction of steam power eventually changed everything. The transition began in 1816 with cutting presses and rollers being the first steam-powered machines used in coin production. Next, in 1833, the Mint hired Franklin Peale to voyage to Europe to observe how they produced coins. Two years after his return, the Mint built coining presses inspired by the ones Peale saw during his journey abroad. As a result, coin making became much less tiresome, and production numbers increased to around 100 coins per minute. Other branches soon opened, and the country finally had the coins it needed in circulation.
In this chapter, we'll look at U.S. coins in the 1800s, including some which are considered extremely valuable in modern times. To explore early U.S. currency or add pieces to your collection, browse our site or contact us for more information.
Early 1800s US Coins
The early 1800s was a turbulent and exciting time for coinage in America. Throughout this half of the century, the Mint saw both tragedy and innovation. The Philadelphia Mint closed its doors in the summer and fall due to yellow fever outbreaks in 1802. The British burned the Treasury Department in 1814, and arsonists burned it in 1833. On the bright side, the new steam presses boosted production and opened up new jobs. In 1850, over 40 women were hired to work at the Philadelphia Mint.
You'll find plenty of interesting and valuable coins worth adding to your collection from the 1800s. To get started, consider the U.S. half cent. The half cent is the smallest denomination ever produced in the country. Half cents were minted from 1793 until 1857. Many half cents were stamped by handmade coin dies, which is why there's such a large variety.
It's hard to imagine buying something with half a penny today, but in the early 1800s, when butter cost less than 20 cents a pound, it made sense to keep such small coins handy. Early 1800s half cents include:
- 1800 to 1808:Draped Bust half cent
- 1809 to 1836: Classic Head half cent
- 1840 to 1857: Braided Hair half cent
The half-cent series has many rare die varieties, such as the 1802 Draped Bust design. This design is the rarest of the kind because they were struck on top of large cent pieces. Other exceptional half cents from this period include the 1804 Stemless Wreath and the 1828 Twelve Stars.
Large cents were also hallmark coins of the early 1800s. Large cents were one of the first coins produced in the U.S. and were made every year from 1793 until 1857, except for 1815 due to the fire at the Mint. As we mentioned in the last chapter, the public wasn't very fond of early bulky pennies, so they were eventually replaced with the smaller cents we're used to today. However, you'll be happy to find one of these once-loathed large cents as they are now very collectible. Some 1800s large cents include:
- 1808 to 1814: Classic Head
- 1816 to 1835: Matron Head
- 1836 to 1839: Modified Matron Head
- 1839 to 1857: Braided Hair
Look out for the Classic Head large cent, which is hard to find in good condition. Matron Head large cents from 1821 and 1823 are scarce and can be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars because they contain several unique varieties. The 1857 Braided Hair large cent is popular for being the last one of the denomination.
Copper coins were not the only treasures created during the early 1800s, as there are many sought-after pieces that were produced during this time. For example, the 1804 silver dollar is one of the most desired coins in the world due to its fascinating and misleading past. The coin wasn't actually struck in 1804 but decades later under illegal circumstances.
The story started in 1804 when the Mint struck 20,000 silver dollars with casts from 1803. It wasn't until 1834 that the Mint would produce silver dollars again. That's when President Andrew Jackson wanted to give the King of Siam a gift of every coin in circulation. The Mint checked their records and saw that silver dollars were minted in 1804, so they made a small batch for the president and stamped the coins 1804 — even though the coins minted in 1804 were all dated 1803.
But that's just the beginning.
The "1804" coin, which was actually made in 1834, became popular with coin collectors. To make a profit, a Mint employee decide to strike false 1804 coins between the years of 1858 and 1860. These illegal coins, known as Class ll 1804 coins, were destroyed by the Mint once the scheme was discovered. Only one of these survived and is now kept safely at the Smithsonian.
The moral of the story? Even though the 1804 silver dollar is a fake of a mistake, it's now one of the world's most famous pieces and proves what makes a coin valuable to collectors — an interesting story and high demand.
Other important coins from this period include the now-rare Seated Liberty dollar, which debuted in 1836, and the $20 gold coin of 1849 — a relic of the California Gold Rush. The Liberty Head gold dollar is also a coveted coin from this year, as most were melted down during the Great Depression.
US Coins in the Late 1800s
Imagine living in the late 19th century, when a pound of cheese cost a nickel, or you could buy three fresh peaches for a dime. You could save your pocket change and buy a cow for $26 or a wagon for $65.
Coins were of great importance to everyday civilians during the 1800s, and they reflect life back then. For example, during the Civil War, people hoarded coins, especially those made of silver and gold, due to wartime anxiety. This made it difficult for the Mint to keep up with the demand, and it led to monetary experimentation.
With rapid innovation and industrialization also defining the end of the century, the Mint had the tools and knowledge to experiment with new coins. As you'll see, some of the coins and denominations we use today were designed during this time.
When large cents were discontinued in 1857, they were replaced by small cents that weighed less and were not made of pure copper. This wasn't due to complaints of bulky coins but because the cost of copper was on the rise. The small cents include:
- 1856 to 1858: Flying Eagle
- 1859 to 1909:Indian Head
The Flying Eagle cents of 1856 to 1858 and the Indian Head cents of 1859 to 1864 were known as "white cents" because they were made of copper and nickel, which produced a light color.
Indian Head cents, in particular, are popular among coin collectors, and some may be worth more than one might think. Keep your eyes peeled for the following Indian Head cents, which are considered the most valuable of the type:
- 1869 9 Over 9: This error penny has a doubled "9" in the year.
- 1874 Double Liberty: This penny is valued because the word "Liberty" is doubled.
- 1877: There's nothing especially unique about the 1877 Indian Head penny in terms of design. However, this sought-after coin is highly valuable because it's difficult to find in good condition.
- 1888 8 Over 7: This penny is special because the date 1888 was stamped over the year 1887.
There are many interesting dates to remember and unusual denominations from the end of the century when many lasting changes took place. Here are some dates to keep in mind:
- 1851: In 1851, the smallest physical coin, known as a trime, was made. This three-cent coin featured a shielded six-point star in its center and was made of silver. The coin was originally minted to encourage the purchase of postage stamps, but it was easily lost and soon went out of style. The last trime was struck in 1889.
- 1863: This is the year Congress established a mint in Carson City, Nevada, and it's also when the branch opened in Denver. The Carson City Mint was built to help fill the demand for coinage brought by the largest silver strike in history. However, the building wasn't completed until 1869. Some of the first coins produced there were the 1870 Seated Liberty dollars with the CC mintmark. The Morgan silver dollar was one of the most popular coins minted in Carson City.
- 1864: The year 1864 was significant for American coinage. During the Civil War, Congress passed a law that changed the weight of the one-cent coin. The law also led to minting a two-cent piece, which was produced from 1864 until 1872. Also during this year, "In God We Trust" first appeared on the two-cent coin. According to the Department of the Treasury, the motto was used mainly due to the increased religious beliefs which existed during the Civil War. It has been stamped continuously on almost all American coins since then.
- 1866: In 1866, the five-cent nickel was introduced and gradually replaced half dimes. Nickel was abundant, and since it wasn't a precious metal, the Mint didn't have to worry about people hoarding it. The Mint produced 15 million five-cent nickels — more than 100 times the silver half-dimes minted the previous year. Nickels caught on, and in the next century, were perfect for jukeboxes and vending machines.
- 1870: Coins from 1870, which were produced in San Francisco, such as the 1870-S half dime, 1870-S silver dollar, and the 1870-S gold three-dollar coin, are especially sought-after by coin collectors. This was the year the new mint was built in San Francisco, and only a few coins in the above denominations were minted in 1870.
Many symbols were used on coins throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, such as wreaths to symbolize victory and olive branches to represent peace. A lot of the symbols you'll find on American coins, even today, stem from Ancient Greece or Rome. Next time you examine coins from your pocket or collection, consider the following symbols and their meanings to enhance your experience:
- Liberty cap: Represents freedom as the cap was given to freed Roman slaves. A cap with wings symbolizes freedom of thought.
- Stars: The stars represent the states. With clouds, they symbolize the unity of the states and America as a nation.
- Oak branch: The oak branch is a symbol of independence.
- Arrows: Arrows represent war.
- Torch: A torch stands for liberty.
- Bald eagle: The bald eagle is the national bird.
- E Pluribus Unum: This U.S. coin motto is Latin for "Out of many, one."
How Much Are Coins From the 1800s Worth?
Many factors go into determining the worth of a coin. First, the value is determined by the supply of a coin in a particular grade that is available for people to buy. This is determined by the original mintage of a coin.
Other factors, such as the demand for the coin, the melt value, and the condition, are considered. Therefore, coin values from the 1800s can vary widely. For example, an 1834 Proof Capped Bust quarter may be valued at over $300,000, while an Indian Head cent from the mid-1800s may be worth $50 at most.
If you have old coins that you're curious about and want to find out their value, you might start with the coins' dates. The date of issue, which is usually imprinted on the front or back, will tell you the specific coin you're looking at. Next, inspect the condition. Coins are rated from mint or perfect condition, down to poor condition. Typically, the better the condition, the higher the value. If you find a valuable coin that's very dirty, it's recommended to have it cleaned by an expert to avoid damage.
Lastly, look your coin up in a book like the Standard Catalog of World Coins. If you find a valuable coin in your hands, your next step would be to have it appraised by a professional. An appraiser can provide the most accurate information about your coin.
Are Old US Coins Still Legal Tender?
According to the Coinage Act of 1965, United States coins and currency are legal tender for paying debts. However, it's up to a business whether or not they will accept your old coins for payment. Foreign coins, on the other hand, are not considered legal tender and haven't been since the Coinage Act of 1857 — but accepting a foreign currency can also be decided by the payee.
In either case, you'll want to check the value of your old coins before spending them. No one would want to accidentally slip a high-value quarter from the 19th century into a vending machine.
Chapter 3: US Coins in the 1900s
During the 1900s, electricity made a major impact on coin production. In 1901, the third mint opened in Philadelphia, equipped with new, faster electric equipment, and the building cost $2 million to build. The advanced machinery, which the Mint was proud to call the best, led to a great increase in coin production. The Great Depression and World War ll also impacted coin production during the 1900s, affecting the type of metal used.
Most of us have coins from the 20th century sitting around, which can be fun to dig through and examine. There are still plenty of treasures to be found. In this chapter, we'll explore rare coins and look at how U.S. coins from the 1900s differ from 19th-century coins. We'll also talk about the Morgan silver dollar — a popular collector's coin.
US Coins From the 1900s
A lot of important changes took place during the 1900s, which are still apparent in the coins we see today. For example, the first commemorative gold coins were produced in 1902 when Congress permitted the minting of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition gold dollars, which were released in 1903. These coins featured either a portrait of Thomas Jefferson or William McKinley on the front and an olive branch on the back. The Lewis and Clark Exposition commemorative gold dollar soon followed in 1904. Today, commemorative coins are still produced in limited numbers to raise money and celebrate American history and culture.
The year 1909 is one that changed American coins forever. It was during this year that Abraham Lincoln replaced the image of Liberty on the penny in honor of the centennial of his birth. It was the first circulating U.S. coin to feature a real person and a president. Other presidents followed on other denominations, such as the quarter in 1932, the nickel in 1938, the dime in 1946, the half dollar in 1964 and the dollar in 1971.
Here are some other interesting dates to remember regarding U.S. coins of the 1900s:
- 1907: This is the year the Mint produced the Augustus Saint-Gaudens $20 Double Eagle coin which is considered by many to be the most beautiful coin ever minted by the U.S. This brilliant coin features Liberty holding an olive branch and torch as she poses in front of sun rays, with stars circling the design. A gold-layered replica is a must-have for an early 1900s U.S. coin collection.
- 1916: In 1916, during the Art Nouveau movement, Hermon A. McNeil designed a risqué Lady Liberty quarter called the Standing Liberty quarter. The coin was chosen to show the nation's readiness to defend itself while at the same time promoting peace. The design featured Lady Liberty wearing a gown that did not cover her top completely. When it circulated in 1917, the public immediately responded, calling the piece "obscene," and the design was soon changed. No one is sure why the design was chosen in the first place, but it makes for a great conversation today.
- 1933: In 1933, the Mint stopped producing gold coins in an effort to stabilize the value of gold during the Great Depression. President Franklin Roosevelt also required citizens to send gold coins to the federal government as they were not allowed to hoard any coins or bullions made of gold. The law changed in 1974, but the Mint still no longer used gold for circulating coins.
- 1943: In 1943, pennies were made of steel coated in zinc because copper was needed to be used in ammunition and equipment for World War ll. A limited number of copper pennies were made during this time and are therefore rare. Tin was eliminated in 1962, and in 1982, the penny became zinc with 2.5% copper.
- 1959: In 1959, the wheat design on the back of the penny was replaced with the Lincoln Memorial to celebrate the former president's 150th birthday.
- 1999: The 50 State Quarters Program began in 1999. This 10-year program changes the quarter's design on the reverse five times every year, once for every state. The program was funded by the Department of Education to help teach history, geography, and math and to encourage numismatics. Also, in 1999, a dozen gold Sacagawea dollars flew on a space shuttle with Eileen Collins — the first woman to ever command a spacecraft.
Rare US Coins of the Early 1900s
We'll look at modern rare coins minted after 1965 in Chapter 4, but the earlier half of the 20th century produced highly coveted coins as well. Here's a list of some of the most desired 1900s coins, including the famed 1943 penny:
- 1901-S Barber quarter: The 1901-S Barber quarter is an extremely rare piece and is one of the fewest minted coins of the series. Even when graded low, this coin can be worth thousands of dollars. There are a lot of counterfeit 1901-S Barber quarters out there, which only adds to the rarity and value of the genuine coin.
- 1913 Liberty Head nickel: The 1913 Liberty Head nickel is a collector's gem because only five were made after this piece retired in 1912. No one is sure why five were produced in 1913 when the Liberty Head design had been replaced with the Buffalo design. These coins are among the most valuable in the world and always draw attention whenever they go on sale at an auction.
- 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle: According to the United States Mint, the 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle is the most valuable gold coin in the entire world. This is because after it was struck in 1933, President Roosevelt took the country off of the gold standard to help bring it out of the Great Depression and ordered all the Double Eagles destroyed — but 10 survived. Since they were never officially issued, they were not allowed to be legally owned. Nine of the 10 were seized and destroyed. The remaining one was returned to the government in 1996 and was authorized for private ownership and sold at an auction in 2002.
- 1943 copper penny: Many people have heard of the 1943 copper penny, whether they collect coins or not, and some wonder — what makes this penny so unique? The reason this penny is a collector's dream is because, during World War ll, most pennies were not made of copper and instead were produced from zinc-coated steel. Copper and nickel were needed for the war — not coin production. However, about 40 copper-alloy pennies were struck by accident when copper blanks remained in the press after the new steel pennies were to be produced. One way to determine if a 1943 penny is made of steel or copper is to test it with a magnet. If it sticks to a magnet, it's not copper, but if it doesn't stick, it might be copper and should be appraised by an expert.
When Did the US Remove Silver From Coins?
The U.S. removed silver from coins when President Johnson approved the Coinage Act of 1965 in response to a silver shortage. Under the Act, no circulating coins should contain silver and instead use alloys of copper, nickel, zinc and manganese. This means that some coins that had been minted prior to 1965, such as quarters, dimes, and half-dollars, contain silver.
List of Uncirculated Morgan Silver Dollars of the 19th Century
The Morgan silver dollar is a beloved coin among numismatists. Named after George Morgan, the coin's designer, Morgan silver dollars were first struck in 1878 and were produced at five different mints. The coins were initially minted to benefit the silver mining companies of the West. Production started in response to the Bland-Allison Act of 1878, which demanded the Treasury purchase up to $4 million worth of silver from miners each month. The Treasury had to do something with the abundance of silver they had on hand, so they made Morgan silver dollars.
In 1904, production stopped, and the coins were only minted at the Philadelphia, New Orleans, and San Francisco mints. Silver dollar production resumed in 1921, and the Morgan design was stamped on coins until the Peace dollar design was ready.
What inspired the Morgan silver dollar? George Morgan came up with the idea that Lady Liberty should be modeled after an American woman rather than a traditional Greek figure. Morgan modeled Lady Liberty after a woman named Anna Willess Williams, a Philadelphia schoolteacher.
Morgan silver dollars became popular with collectors during the 1970s. Although not all Morgan silver dollars are worth more than their face value, some are considered highly valuable, usually due to the die variety or an error. If a Morgan silver dollar has no evidence of wear, it is considered uncirculated. Rare Morgan silver dollars include:
- 1881 CC
- 1885 CC
- 1889 CC
- 1893 S
- 1895 Proof
- 1895 S
Where Is the Mintmark on Morgan Silver Dollars?
You can find the mintmark on the reverse side of the coin below the bow in the wreath. The United States Mint produced the Morgan silver dollar at the following mints:
- Philadelphia: No mintmark
- Carson City: CC
- New Orleans: O
- Denver: D
- San Francisco: S
How Many Morgan Silver Dollars Are There?
Over 650 million Morgan silver dollars were produced over the years.
Are Morgan Silver Dollars Magnetic?
Silver isn't magnetic, so if a Morgan silver dollar is attracted to a magnet, it isn't real. Real Morgan silver dollars contain at least 90% silver.
What Is the Rarest Coin in US History?
The 1794 silver dollar may be the rarest coins in U.S. history and is one of the most valuable. Many believe this was the first such coin struck by the U.S. Mint. In 2013, it sold at an auction for $10 million.
Want to learn more about rare coins? Contact us at American Mint where we're excited to share our diverse selection of coins.
Chapter 4: Current US Coins in Circulation
All modern U.S. coins are surprisingly not much different than the coins of the 20th century. The Mint uses the same basic process as it did two centuries ago, but with faster, computerized machines. Today, the Philadelphia Mint can produce 46,800 coins per minute. Even though the Mint can stamp out coins much faster than the early day, it doesn't mean that some modern coins aren't rare.
In this chapter, we'll look at modern American coins and the composition of current coins in the U.S., and we'll answer a few common questions. If your curiosity pushes you to learn more, we'll be happy to answer your questions at American Mint or help you find your next coin for your collection.
Current US Currency Coins
Circulating coins are the ones the Mint produces for transactions. Current circulating coins include:
- Penny: Current pennies feature the Union Shield design on the reverse rather than the Lincoln Memorial. This design was first issued in 2010 and represents Lincoln's safeguarding of the U.S. as a unified country. The obverse still includes an image of President Lincoln, as it had since 1909. To honor the Mint's 225th anniversary in 2017, pennies made in Philadelphia were stamped with a "P" mintmark.
- Nickel: Modern nickels feature a more detailed Monticello design on the reverse than the original 1938 image. These new nickels were issued in 2006 and also feature a portrait of Thomas Jefferson on the obverse, which is based on a Rembrandt Peale painting from the year 1800.
- Dime: Since 1946, the dime has featured a bust of Roosevelt on the obverse. On the reverse, you'll find a torch for liberty, an olive branch for peace and an oak branch for independence.
- Quarter: Current quarters show the image of George Washington using the same design from 1932 — the year he first appeared on the quarter in honor of the 200th anniversary of his birth. Currently, the reverse design changes five times a year under the America the Beautiful Quarters Program. The final design under this program is set for 2021.
Many people wonder if the penny is obsolete in modern times and if it'll be removed from circulation. According to the Department of the Treasury, the penny, or one-cent piece, is the most widely used denomination and is still profitable to produce. It costs .81 of a cent to produce a penny. Therefore, there are no plans to retire the penny any time soon.
Modern US Dollar Coins
Half dollar and $1 dollar coins are produced as collectibles but can still be used as legal tender. Current circulating U.S. dollar coins include the American Innovations coin and the Native American coin.
What Are US Coins Made of Currently?
Unlike the old days when coins were made of silver or composed of pure copper, modern coins mainly consist of alloys. According to the United States Mint, here's what modern U.S. coins are made from:
- Penny: Copper-plated zinc, containing 2.5% copper
- Nickel: Copper-nickel alloy, also known as cupronickel, containing 25% nickel
- Dime: Cupronickel containing 8.33% nickel
- Quarter: Cupronickel containing 8.33% nickel
- Half dollar: Cupronickel containing 8.33% nickel
- Dollar: Manganese-brass containing 88.5% copper, 6% zinc, 3.5% manganese and 2% nickel.
Rarest Modern US Coins
When you think of the rarest coins in America, does an image of an 18th- or 19th-century piece come to mind? Although there are certainly high-value treasures from centuries of the past, there are also valuable error coins and die varieties in circulation today. It's exciting to think you might have a gem hidden in your pocket or coin jar at home.
What coins are considered modern? The modern era began in 1965 when copper and nickel replaced silver. Some of the rarest modern U.S. coins include:
- 1969-S Lincoln cent with doubled obverse
- 1972 Lincoln cent with doubled obverse
- 1975 No S Roosevelt dime, proof (PR)
- 1974 Aluminum Lincoln cent, mint state (MS)
- 1976 No S Eisenhower dollar, PR
- 1999 Lincoln cent with wide "AM" on the reverse
- 2000-W 22kt gold Sacagawea dollar, PR
- 2004-D Wisconsin extra leaf quarter, MS
- 2005 "In God We Rust" Kansas quarter
It can be easy to overlook rare and valuable modern coins if you don't know what to look for. It helps to have a magnifying glass handy, so you can zoom in on easy-to-miss characteristics such as doubling or tiny differences in the sizes of letters. The key is to search for unusual traits and errors, which may be something as simple as letters that had been placed too close together. Also, don't forget — many coins before 1965 contain silver, so theses pieces usually have higher values than their denominations.
Is There a $100 Coin?
How Much Are Error Coins Worth?
Not all error coins are valuable, while some are worth far more than their face value. For example, 1909 Lincoln wheat pennies minted in San Francisco are rare error coins worth thousands of dollars, while other wheat pennies may be worth 5 cents. The value of a coin depends on many factors such as demand, rarity, and condition. So, if you find an error coin, it's best to get it appraised by a professional.
Conclusion: Celebrate the History of Coins in the United States
American coins have seen many events throughout the years, from wars to recessions and everything in between. Each coin tells a story, and some are more mysterious than others. Whether a coin is from the past or fresh from the mint, it's a beautiful token that represents are part of who we are.
At American Mint, we are proud to bring high-quality collectible coins to collectors around the globe at reasonable prices. We offer many coin programs and privately minted coins to give you a chance to own something special. We are committed to product quality, authenticity, and exclusivity, and offer a money-back guarantee if you are not completely satisfied. With over 30 years of experience, we look forward to sharing the joy and fascination of coin collecting with you. To learn more about our coins, call us toll-free at 1-877-807-MINT, or browse our site for exquisite collectible coins today!
Thank You Page:
Thank you for downloading our Guide to the History of U.S. Coins. Coins are beautiful objects that tell many stories about America's past. If you've recently developed a fascination with coins and would like to start collecting pieces or simply want to learn more about the history of U.S. coinage, you've come to the right place. In this guide, we'll take you on a journey through time to discover coins from the earliest days of minting to the rare pieces still in circulation today. We'll answer questions such as:
- When did the U.S. start making coins?
- What did the first coins look like?
- What are the most valuable coins in the U.S.?
- What is the composition of current U.S. coins?
Read this guide to learn more, and deepen your appreciation for American coins. If you have any questions along the way or want to jumpstart your coin collection, feel free to contact us at American Mint!
Thank You Page: