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Here are some randomly selected U.S. coin facts and trivia which may be of interest to collectors.
1. A foreign coin was the main coin in use for decades in the American colonies. The Spanish milled silver dollar, commonly known as the "pillar dollar" or "piece of eight" was legal currency in the U.S. until 1857.

2. The word "dime" is derived from the Latin word "decima", which means the "tenth part".

3. The Kennedy half dollar has been issued in three different metallic composition varieties, namely: .900 Fine Silver in 1964, .400 clad silver from 1965 and 1970, and cupro-nickel clad copper since 1971.

4. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST first appeared on a U.S. coin in 1864, during the Civil War. In particular, the two-cent piece, first minted in that year, was the first coin with the slogan.

5. The smallest monetary denomination coin ever issued in the U.S. was the half cent, minted from 1793 through 1857.

6. The Booker T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar was the first coin to feature a portrait of an African-American. It was minted from 1946 to 1951.

7. Calvin Coolidge was the first and only President to have his portrait appear on a coin minted while he was still alive.

8. Since gaining independence, the U.S. has minted coins in denominations that today may seem odd. For example, the U.S. has minted half cents (1793-1857), two-cent pieces (1864-1873), three-cent pieces (1851-1889), twenty-cent pieces (1875-1878), $2.50 gold pieces (1796-1929), $3.00 gold piece (1854-1889), $4.00 gold pieces (1879-1880), $5.00 gold pieces or half eagles (1795-1929), $10.00 gold pieces or eagles (1795-1933), and $20.00 gold pieces ("double eagles") (1849-1933). Currently, the only coin denominations being minted are the penny, nickel, dime, quarter, half dollar, and dollar.

9. The Liberty Head Nickel, when first minted in 1883, did not have the word "cents" inscribed on it. Enterprising individuals illegally gold plated the coins and attempted to pass them off as $5 gold pieces, often successfully. The U.S. Mint soon caught on to the scam and added the word "cents" to the nickels shortly thereafter.

10. The inscription "E Pluribus Unum," meaning "One from Many" (e.g. one nation comprised of a union of many states) was first used on the 1795 Liberty Cap-Heraldic Eagle gold $5 piece.

11. The U.S Mint estimates that the average life expectancy of a circulating coin is about 30 years, whereas paper currency usually only lasts for as little as 18 months.

12. The Mint produced its first circulating coins (a "whopping" $111.78 worth) in 1793. This consisted of 11,178 copper cents. Today there is more than $8 billion worth of coins circulating in the US and, in the past 30 years, the US Mint has minted over 300 billion coins, worth in excess of $15 billion.

13. If you have three quarters, four dimes, and four pennies in your possession, you have the largest possible amount of money in U.S. coins without being able to make change for a dollar.

14. The slang term for a dollar ("buck") is thought to have originated in the early US frontier days when the hide of a male deer (a buck) was a common currency, due to the scarcity of coinage.

U.S. Mint Coin Facts

  1. David Rittenhouse was appointed by George Washington as the first Director of the Mint.
  2. The first Mint building was the first Federal building erected by the U.S. Government under the Constitution.
  3. Past Mints have included Dahlonega, GA; Charlotte, NC; New Orleans, LA; and Carson City, NV.
  4. The first Philadelphia Mint used harnessed horses to drive the machinery that produced coinage.
  5. A two-cent coin was minted between 1864 and 1873 and was the first coin to bear the motto "In God We Trust".
  6. Legend holds that George Washington donated some of his personal silver to the Mint for manufacturing early coinage.
  7. The Mint's first delivery of coins occurred in 1793 and consisted of 11,178 copper cents.
  8. Mint marks, "S", "D", "P", or "W" designate the Mint facility, which produced the coin.
  9. Thomas Jefferson first proposed the decimal currency system, which we use today.
  10. By provision of the Coinage Act of 1965, Mint marks were not carried on coins made in 1965, 1966, or 1967.
  11. The first U.S. commemorative coin was produced in 1892 and featured Christopher Columbus.
  12. The Mint's original coins were made of gold, silver, and copper.
  13. In 1943, the content of the cent coins was changed to zinc-coated steel due to copper shortage during World War II.
  14. According to the artist, the Indian head on the buffalo nickel (1913-1938) is a composite picture.
  15. The Philadelphia Mint mark appears on each of its coins except the Lincoln cent.
  16. Sacagawea, Susan B. Anthony, and Helen Keller are the only women honored on a circulating coin. Sacagawea appeared on the obverse of the golden Dollar, Susan B. Anthony appeared on the obverse of the dollar coin, and Helen Keller appeared on the reverse of the Alabama quarter.
  17. The Philadelphia Mint covers five acres of land.
  18. The first coin to feature an African-American was the Booker T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar.
  19. Calvin Coolidge was the first President to have his portrait appear on a coin struck during his lifetime.
  20. George Washington first appeared on a commemorative dollar, with the Marquis de Lafayette, in 1899.
  21. In 1893, Queen Isabella of Spain became the first woman to be featured on a U.S. commemorative coin.
  22. All commemorative coins legislated by the U.S. Mint are legal tender.
  23. Original gold coinage included $10, $5, and $2.50 denominations.
  24. The Act of April 2, 1792, which created the Mint, required coins to have "...an impression emblematic of liberty."
  25. The Roosevelt dime torch, olive branch, and oak branch portray liberty, peace, and strength and independence.
  26. The donation of $508,316 in gold to create the Smithsonian Institution was assayed in the [Philadelphia] U.S. Mint.
  27. The first Lincoln cent was produced in 1909 and carried wheat ears patterns on the reverse side.
  28. From 1799 to 1873, the Mint was an independent agency reporting directly to the President.
  29. The Lincoln cent is the only circulating coin currently produced in which the portrait faces to the right.
  30. The United States has two mottos that appear on each circulating coin, "In God We Trust" and "E Pluribus Unum."
  31. Designers' initials can be found on each circulating coin.
  32. The design on the back of the Kennedy Half Dollar is the presidential coat of arms.
  33. The San Francisco Mint, established in 1854, survived the great earthquake of April 18, 1906.
  34. Before creation of a national Mint, "currency" included foreign and colonial currency, livestock, produce, and wampum.
  35. The Denver Mint opened in 1863 as a U.S. Assay Office.
  36. The present Philadelphia Mint opened in 1969 and is the fourth facility which has been located in that city.

Is the “Turban Head” design the same on all the denominations?

If you look closely, you will find that there are differences for almost all the denominations, or at least each different metal. For example, on the gold $2.50 and $5 coins the top of the cap is folded backward, while on the small denomination silver coins the top is folded forward.

Why is the “Turban Head” design called that if it is actually a cap rather than a turban, which usually consists of a long cloth band wrapped around the head?

Perhaps one of our fashion-designer-turned-numismatists can answer that one for us. Probably some of the same “reasoning” that causes Miss Liberty’s winged cap dime to be called a Mercury dime.

Are there really three kinds of Ike proofs?

No, only two. They are the clad copper nickel, and the clad 40 percent silver. The confusion may arise because there are also special uncirculated 40 percent silver Ikes. I said that the only other proofs struck in two different alloys were the 1942 nickels, which were struck in copper-nickel and in the 35 percent silver alloy adopted that year. This left off the 1976 proof quarters and halves, and since 1992 the proof dimes, quarters and halves. Thanks to Rick for catching this.

Is there a U.S. coin that has all of the Presidents appearing on it?

An automatic “no” to that one. There are tokens or medals with group portraits, at least some of which were advertised as “coins.” None of them are coins, and none are official issues.

Which was smaller, the gold dollar or the silver 3-cent piece?

Hedge your bets on this one. The Type I gold dollar (1849-1854) measured 13 mm. The Type II and III (1854-1889) measured 15 mm, while the silver 3-cent piece measured 14 mm.

Why is it there seems to be so much controversy over coin design? Seems like nobody has a good word for them.

The problem seems to be that coin designs, because of mass production, reach the attention of far more people than other works of art. Since you can’t please everyone with a given design and “complainers shout while praisers whisper,” the coin designer’s lot is a hard one. This has been true of the state quarters, with almost every design causing some controversy.

It’s been some time since I checked the proof set listings, so I was surprised to find two types listed for three dates: 1942, 1979 and 1981. Please explain.

The 1942 sets contained either the copper-nickel nickel or the silver nickel with large mintmark. The 1979 and 1981 sets also have different shaped mintmarks, so all three years have mintmark-related varieties. In all three cases, the variety or “type” is the rarer and more valuable set.


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