As the U.S. moves toward digital money and away from
metal coins and paper currency, an earlier age of odd
coinage is further forgotten except by numismatists who
Today, our coinage includes the penny, nickel, dime,
quarter. half dollar and dollar. One hundred fifty years
ago., there were many more coin varieties in general
circulation, some of them with odd denominations
that might seem strange in 2021.
In fact, most Americans have not ever seen a half penny,
two cent, three cent, half dime or twenty cent coins.
The earliest U.S. general circulation coins were minted
in the 1790s. Prior to that colonial coinage circulated,
and after independence, each state state provided its
own coins. After 1789, a national coinage was needed,
and official coins with “United States of America” on
them appeared, including the half penny, penny, half
dime, dime, quarter, half dollar and dollar.
The copper half penny circulated from 1793 to 1836.
The silver half dime was used from 1794 to 1873. The
modern nickel five cent piece was introduced in 1865.
A copper two cent piece was introduced in 1864, but
was discontinued in 1873. A silver three cent piece
circulated from 1851 to 1873, and a larger nickel three
cent coin was used from 1865 to 1889.
Form 1875 to 1878, a silver twenty cent piece was in
U.S. gold coins were minted from the nation’s
earliest days in a variety of denominations,
including a dollar in the precious metal (1849 to 1889),
a half eagle ($5.00), eagle ($10.00) and double eagle
($20.00). Like the lower value coins in copper, nickel
and silver, gold coins also came in odd
denominations, including $2.50 (1796-1929), $3.00
(1854-89, and briefly ,$4.00 (1879-80). The latter gold
coins, called “Stellas,” were minted in very few
quantities, and are today extremely valuable, often
selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars in the
rare coin market.
Indeed, silver and gold coins, especially the latter,
now have a metal value that notably exceeds their
stated value, and command premium prices in the
numismatic market. (Rarity and coin condition
determine the exact price.)
These days, vending machines, parking meters and
laundromats are increasingly using plastic for use,
as are most retail stores and restaurants for payment.
Bills are paid via the internet or check. The pay
telephone is virtually extinct. Some places won’t even
Is the time coming soon when whole generations of
Americans will have not ever have seen a coin or a
dollar bill, and will regard them as strange as most
Americans do today about the three cent piece?
Copyright (c) 2021 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.