History of United States Coins
United States coins or American coin are manufactured by the United States Mint, an agency of the Department of the Treasury. The mint makes five coins for general circulation today, the
half-dollar. The mint has periodically issued one-dollar coins for general circulation, such as the
Sacagawea dollar released in 2000.
The United States established its first official mint in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1792. Regular coinage began the following year, based on a new unit of currency called the dollar. The word dollar was derived from the German thaler and later adapted to dollar. The dollar was the world's first unit of currency divided into decimal subunits, which simplified the use of money here in the United States and elsewhere. By the end of the 20th century, all developed countries had switched to a decimal system
as their units of currency. In addition to the regular denominations in circulation today such as the cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents, and dollar), the U.S. mint has produced
20-cent pieces as well as
gold coins ranging from $1 to $20.
Traditionally, coins of higher value have been made of silver or gold, and small value coins were struck from copper alloys. In the 1930s and 1940s the United States
stopped producing gold coins. Silver was replaced with nickel or nickel alloys and copper to make coins in the 1960s. Today's coins do not contain precious metals nor can they be exchanged for gold or silver.
From 1793 until the middle of the 20th century, most regular-issue U.S. coins portrayed a Miss Liberty. The principal exception was the Indian Head Cent, struck from 1859 to 1909. The practice of picturing deceased presidents on U.S. coins dates from 1909, when the first
Lincoln Cents appeared during the centennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth.
George Washington's profile was used on the quarter-dollar of 1932. The design quickly became so popular that it was retained for regular-issue quarters and is still being used today.
Franklin D. Roosevelt,
John F. Kennedy, and
Dwight D. Eisenhower are the other American presidents who have appeared on regular issue U.S. coinage.
Other historical figures have also been featured on U.S. coins. Statesman like
Benjamin Franklin appeared on the half-dollars of 1948 through 1963.
Susan B. Anthony, the noted feminist, was featured on the first small size dollar coins, struck from 1979 to 1981 and again in 1999. Representations of Native Americans Indians have been popular on U.S. coins such as the obverse of the
Buffalo Nickels produced from 1913 to 1938. In 2000, the United States issued the first golden dollar coins honoring
Sacagawea, a young Native American woman who guided Lewis and Clark in their exploration of the West.
Coins old and new have a special attraction for many hobbyists as well as professional dealers and investors. Estimates of the number of active collectors worldwide range into the millions.
Many numismatists start with collecting coins from their own country because of easy availability. Every date, mint mark, and variation in design is counted as a different coin. A typical beginner method is to acquire one of each piece within a series.
A collector may continually attempt to find better quality specimens of the coins already acquired. The number of collectable coins found in circulation has become very limited, so a collector must usually resort to trading or buying coins to complete or upgrade their collection.
Another popular form of collecting is to assemble a type set coin collection. The word type refers to a classification of coins by their metal, denomination, and design. For example, instead of acquiring a specimen of every date and mint from a series of dimes, a collector obtains a single coin to represent this series. In this kind of collection every coin is distinct and has its own history.
The United States Mint has promoted coin collecting through various programs and efforts over the years, such as special commemorative
coin issues, collectable sets such as
Mint Sets and
Proof Sets. One project of the United States Mint is the
50 State Quarters Program, which began in 1999. Under this program, the mint issues five new state quarters each year for ten years. Each coin featuring a special design that recalls something from that state's history or heritage. The effort has been very successful, attracting many new collectors, especially children.
The market value of any old coin is the a price that is determined by supply and demand
or coin appraisal. Some coins are quite scarce, but their prices remain low because there is no great demand for them. Some coins are more available, but their prices are relatively high because there are far more numismatists who collect them. As with any collectible, the
coin grading or condition of a coin is a major factor in determining what a coin
is worth or its value.
When deciding on the purchase of expensive coins, collectors must do the research necessary for any other major investment. The collector must assess the current market value of the item, its current resale value, and its potential appreciation. Above all, the
coin collector must be knowledgeable enough to know if a coin is genuine and properly graded as to condition or must have confidence that the coin dealer does.