In ancient times, pieces of gold and silver were widely used in trade, being
exchanged for other goods by weight. The weight and purity of the metal had to
be tested every time it changed hands. In Asia Minor, sometime around 600
the Lydians hit upon the idea of shaping electrum, a natural alloy of gold and
silver, into bean-shaped lumps of fixed weight and purity and stamping them with
official symbols. By 550
the practice of striking coins was established in all the important trading
cities throughout the known world. Although most Greek coins portrayed gods or
goddesses, coins of the Roman Empire (from about the 1st century scaps bc to the
5th century scaps ad) offered portraits of the emperors. Because Islam prohibits
graven images, Arabic coins (at least before the 20th century) were restricted
to inscriptions, often from the Qur'an (Koran), the sacred scripture of Islam,
on obverse and reverse.
From earliest times, silver was the principal metal for trade in the Far East. It was cast in cakes or ingots of various forms marked with inscriptions giving the name of the merchant and the denomination and purity of the piece of metal. Regular machine-made round coins of the Western type did not appear until 1870 in Japan and 1889 in China.
Except for the Orient, most coins throughout the world were handstruck until about 1500. The Italians are credited with devising mills for punching out uniformly round, blank metal disks, or planchets, and screw presses for impressing designs onto them. The discovery of the Americas, with their wealth of precious metals, led to greatly increased coin production, including large silver pieces. During this period almost every kingdom, duchy, principality, and free city in the Western world issued its own coins.
Minting of coins in the New World began in 1535 in Mexico City, after the Spanish conquest. The British government did not provide its North American colonists with a coinage of their own; therefore, although the colonists used British money, reckoning values in pounds, shillings, and pence, they also used French, Dutch, German, and assorted Spanish coins.
An official mint in the United States was established in 1792, and coinage began in 1793. In addition to the denominations still in use today, the mint over the years produced ½-cent, 2-cent, 3-cent, and 20-cent pieces as well as gold coins ranging from $2.50 to $20. The original 5-cent pieces were half-dimes made of silver. With a few exceptions, U.S. coins carry a year date and a mint mark to show where they were produced. The last regular issue gold coins were struck in 1933, and the last fine silver coins were dated 1964. Since 1982, however, the United States has issued silver and gold commemorative coins to mark certain memorable events such as the 23rd Olympic Games in Los Angeles (1984), the centennial of the Statue of Liberty (1986), and the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution (1987). Since 1986 the U.S. Mint has issued gold and silver bullion coins, principally for precious metal investors.
All early U.S. coins had a personification of Liberty on the obverse; on the 1859 cent this figure was depicted with a Native American in a feathered headdress. A design featuring a representation of a Native American came into use on the $2.50 and $5 gold pieces of 1908 and on the 5-cent pieces (made of copper and nickel) of 1913. The practice of picturing deceased presidents on U.S. coins dates from 1909, the centennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. A series of 50 types of special commemorative silver coins was issued between 1892 and 1954; many carried likenesses of historical figures other than presidents, including the explorer Daniel Boone and the showman P. T. Barnum. The first regular-issue coin with such a design was the Benjamin Franklin half-dollar (honoring the American statesman), issued from 1948 to 1963.
People have always had some type of monetary unit or compensatory method. In the
ancient days of China shells were used, then later the Mesopotamians invented a
type of banking where people could keep their grain, gold, livestock or other
things safe or trade them by making a system of deposit. Actual coins began to
appear a little later in time, and made life a lot easier for those who used
The full history of coin covers a time span that ranges from ancient to modern day and is in fact, still unfolding.
The First Coins
Coins were invented at some point around 700 BC. Depending on who you ask, they were invented near Aegina Island or according to other scholars; the point of invention was in Ephesus Lydia at about 650 BC.
However you slice it, the first coins in the world appeared around 650-700 BC and were tied to the ancient Greeks. They were made of an alloy which was called electrum, which was a mingling of gold and silver and featured the head of a lion on the front side.
Many people believe that keeping things neater, making life more convenient was the impetus for development of actual coins. Since the time of those first coins and the lightweight, convenient means of payment that they offered, different countries have developed their own throughout history.
The Byzantine Empire was responsible for the minting of numerous different coins, many of them which bore the images of the emperors and later, of the cross of Christianity.
Tombs found as early as the latter part of the 11th century BC in China show us what are some of the first copper coins that have been found and from those tombs we know that coins were widely used by the Han Dynasty of China.
How Were Coins Made?
Many of the earliest coins were beaten around the edge so that they imitated the shape of a cow, which was their approximate value. Some coins were rectangle in shape while others were round. Many had holes in them so that they could be strung and carried even more conveniently.
The first coins that we find in history were made of little more than scraps from various metals. They were made by a hammer hitting the metal scrap that lay on an anvil. The Chinese introduced the first cast type of coinage that was seen, and this soon spread to Japan and other parts of Asian but aside from these, very few governments used cast coins.
The earliest coins that we find which were made of entirely gold or silver were the gold Dinars and the silver Dirhams which were found in the 7th century in the earliest years of the Islamic Caliphate.
United States Coins and Mints
The United States coins that are in use today have seen multiple changes since they began. The US Mint, which is the organization that makes United States coins was established by an act of Congress in 1792, and has operated continuously since that time. It was not until nearly a hundred years later, in 1873 that it became part of the Treasury Department.
United States coins have seen a wide array of change since they began to be made. Originally only a few coins were minted. Many of these contained some level of silver. Due to a wide range shortage of silver that took place the world over the Congress of the United States passed a coinage act.
The Coinage Act of 1965 caused a change to be made in the makeup of such coins as dimes, quarters, and fifty-cent pieces. These had all previously been made of about ninety percent silver. The silver content was completely removed from the quarter and the dime, while the half dollar content was lowered to about forty percent silver. That coins silver content too was removed in the early 1970's so that now the half dollar bears no silver in its makeup.
U.S. coins which were made in the beginning were these:
Gold Coins in the United States appeared in the following denominations:
Many of these coins were in play in the United States from about 1795 until 1933 in the United States.
Coin denominations that are in use today in the United States are the familiar penny, nickel, dime, and quarter, although at various times others are minted such as the Susan B Anthony and the Sacagawea dollars.
Mints and Mint Marks
The United States coins were given mint marks in many cases, which changed the appearance, and sometimes the value of the coins.
There are only a few mints that are now in operation but there have in the past been more. The Philadelphia mint began in 1792 and has functioned since that time. Denver mint entered into play beginning in 1906, while West Point Mint, which was at one time the bullion depository, does primarily gold Silver & Platinum coins. It was not officially recognized as a mint until 1988.
All coins in the United States offer a mint mark that lets you know which mint produced those coins. This is true with just a few exceptions. Between 1965, when the Coinage Act specified that no mint marks be used, and 1968, when they were authorized to reappear, no mint marks appeared on US coins. U.S mint marks usually show a P, or no mint mark for Philadelphia and D for those coins minted in Denver, while an S is shown for San Francisco, and a W mint mark for those coins minted at West Point.
Coins are not only a means of payment. They are now, and have been for many years, a means of investment, as well as something that is avidly and ardently collected. Coin collectors have spent many thousands, sometimes millions of dollars on a rare coin that was highly sought after.
Highly Expensive Coins.
In 1933 the US government decided they would no longer distribute the Double Eagle gold coin and destroyed all that existed. The problem was that they didn't. One man had managed to steal several which the government thought they had recovered and destroyed.
Again, they thought wrong. Three of the Double Eagle coins survived the destruction. Two of them were in the Smithsonian Museum, while the third came into the hands of a private collector. That coin was stored in a vault in the World Trade Center after being seized when it entered the country to be sold in New York.
Fortunately the coin was moved just a few weeks before the 9-11 attacks and had ended up in Fort Knox. In 2002 it was sold to a collector who remains unnamed at a cost of more than 7 Million dollars, which makes it the most costly coin ever sold.
Among the most avidly collected coins that have been sought after are some which are the most ancient and unique, as well as others which are not quite so ancient, but piqued the interest of collectors. Roman coins, Greek Coins, Pirate doubloons and Byzantine coins are some of the most prized by collectors throughout history, but so too is the Kennedy half dollar. Highly prized by collectors as well are mint sets and proof sets.
What is a Proof Set?
A proof set is a set of coins that are packaged by the mint which produced them. These coins are specially made types of the coins. They are coins which has had the planchet( the blank metal of which the coin is made) very highly polished. The coins are then struck not once but several times so that the quality of the image on the coin is extremely detailed.
What is a Mint Set?
A mint set is a set of coins that are uncirculated and specially packaged. They contain one of each denomination for the coins that were minted in that year.
Gold and Silver Coins and Bullion
Also prized by both collectors and investors are the various other types of bullion coins. They are minted specifically for use as pure precious metal coins. They are comprised of gold bullion, silver bullion, or sometimes even platinum. The coins are made in multiple ways, by multiple countries. Not only United States coins are ardently collected.
Among those coins which are minted world wide and are collected and sought after are:
American Eagle gold, silver and platinum coins
Buffalo Gold Coins
Canadian Maple Leaf gold & silver
South African Krugerrands
Chinese Panda gold and silver coins
British Sovereign gold coins
.999 Fine Gold & silver Bars
Coins, as you can see have enjoyed a long and diverse history. Collecting coins and precious metals is a unique hobby as well as an investment that can net you some remarkable returns, both in monetary compensation, as well as personal satisfaction.
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