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United States Coins and Currency

Updated on February 20, 2015

Silver American eagle Coin

Silver Eagle
Silver Eagle | Source

Coins and Currency Issued by the United States

The United States has issued coins and currency for well over two centuries. In addition to regular circulating issues, commemorative coins and both proof and mint sets have been minted. Currency can be purchased from the mint in sheets. And, some special issues not intended for circulation in the United States have been released.

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Obtain the Proper Resources Before Making a Collection

Any collection requires the collector to be knowledgeable of the items collected. It is important to know the value of each item before purchasing it. It is also important to know the current value of the collection for insurance purposes. Since values of collectible items change frequently, always assure that the information you have is current information.

Buy books that provide you with the values of items you might wish to add to your collection and the values of the items already collected. Update your reference books regularly. Prices change. Current books are at least a good starting point.

Insure your collection. Members of the American Numismatic Association have an opportunity to buy insurance specifically for such collections. The insurance you have on your property may not cover collectible coins and currency, or may require a special rider.

Maintain a proper inventory of your collection, with pictures if possible, that includes the item and its condition.

Half Cent

The lowest denomination coin issued by the United States is the half cent. Larger than the current penny, it carried a denomination that allowed the dollar to be divided into two hundred equal parts. When it was in general use, the half of a cent had meaningful value. Today, a fraction of a cent would be considered insignificant.

Half cent pieces carry dates from 1793 through 1857.

The major varieties of half cent pieces are the Liberty Cap, the Draped Bust, the Classic Heard, and the Coronet types. Some variations exist, but these are the general types that were produced.

Cent Pieces

One cent pieces were first issued in 1793, and are still being released today. They can be subdivided into Large Cent and Small Cent varieties.

The Large Cent pieces were issued in the Flowing Hair, Liberty Cap, Draped Bust, Classic Head, and Coronet types. There are variations within these types. The last date used on a Large Cent piece was 1857.

The Small Cent types include the short series Flying Eagle type, which has issues dated 1856 through 1858. Notice the overlap of the large and small cent pieces. The other types include the Indian Head, the Lincoln Type with Wheat Heads on the reverse and the Lincoln Type with the Memorial Reverse.

The metal composition of the 1943 pennies from each of the three mints was changed for one year only.

The reverse of the Lincoln Cent now is being produced with different images.

Two Cent Pieces

Two Cent pieces first appeared in 1864 and the last date issued was 1783. These pieces had a shield on the obcerse and a wreath surrounding the number two and the word cents on the reverse.

Because of the extensive raised field, the two cent pieces did not wear well.

Two cent pieces do not photograph well, so selling them online often yields disappointing results. While this is bad for the seller, the buyer often does well.

Three Cent Pieces

Three Cent pieces were minted in two very distinct forms. The silver three cent piece is the smallest coin minted by the United States.It was released with dates from 1851 through 1873 Concurrently issued was the Three Cent Pieces, which bear the dates in the 1865 through 1889 range. These were of a more practical size, but did not contain precious metal.

There was only one major variety of each type of three cent piece.

Five Cent Coins

Fractional Currency will be discussed in another part of this lens.

Two distinct types of five cent coins have been issued by the United States. The first type is called the half dime. This was a silver coin, and had similarity to the dime, except is was made smaller. Half dimes bear dates from 1794 through 1873.

The major types of half dimes that were issued include the Flowing Hair, the Draped Bust, the Capped Bust, and the Liberty Seated.

Beginning in 1866, and being issued concurrently with the half dime for many years, the United States Mint coined nickels. The varieties include the Shield, the Liberty Head, the Buffalo, and the Jefferson.

The buffalo nickel is regarded by collectors as one of the most beautiful coins produced by the United States Mint.

During World War II, because nickel was needed for the war effort, the Jefferson nickel was made with a silver content, and the mint mark enlarged to denote the special issues.

The Jefferson nickel eventually yielded to a variety of obverse and reverse designs. Only the subject of Jefferson was preserved.

The Dime

Dimes were first produced with the date 1796 They were first issued with a significant silver content, but today they are clad and contain no silver. They continue to be released today.

Because of its long standing as circulating coinage, there are many varieties of dimes. These include the Draped Bust, the Capped Bust, the Liberty Seated, the Barber, the Mercury, and the Roosevelt.

As with the five cent pieces, fractional currency bearing the denomination of ten cents will be discussed later in this lens.

Twenty Cent Pieces

Twenty Cent pieces carry the dates from 1875 through 1878. This coin had a short run. The problem is the Liberty Seated design was used during the same period it was used for the quarter. The size difference between these two coins was small, and the metal composition the same. Hence, the twenty cent piece was often mistaken for the quarter. The mint quickly realized the problem could best be resolved by discontinuing the new coin, so minting of the twenty cent piece ceased.

Of course, twenty cent pieces as a type are rare. Some collectors wish to have one of each type of coin in a collection..Since they all need a twenty cent piece to complete their type collections, the few surviving pieces have a high demand.

Effectively, the twenty cent piece was only released with 1875 and 1876 dates, since less than a thousand coins total of proof coins were issued in the other years.


Quarters have a denomination of twenty-five cents. They were first issued with the date of 1796, and are still a significant part of United States coinage.

Initially, quarters had a silver content, but today they are clad with no silver content.

Quarters have been issued in the Draped Bus, the Capped Bust, he Liberty Seated, the Barber, the Standing Liberty, and the Washington types.

A special 1776 - 1976 bicentennial quarter with a unique reverse was issued in place of the 1975 and 1976 quarters. No quarter with the date 1975, nor 1976, were issued.

The mint eventually issued fifty unique state quarters, six territory quarters, and is currently issuing National Park quarters. These are Washington quarters with unique reverses.

The Standing Liberty quarters did not wear well. The date was placed too close to the edge, and as a result was handled frequently. Many standing liberty quarters have had the date obliterated over the years. Finding a high grade Standing Liberty quarter is significant.

Half Dollars

The half dollar coin was first introduced in 1794. Like other coins, they were first issued in the Flowing Hair design. Other types include the Draped Bust, the Capped Bust, the Liberty Seated, the Barber, the Liberty Walking, the Franklin, and the Kennedy. The half dollar was coin with a high silver content, and eventually was changed to a clad coin. However, unlike the quarter and the dime, the clad coinage contained some silver through 1970.

The silver version was one of the types available in the 1776 - 1976 issue. Both the silver and copper-nickel 1776 - 1976 coins had a special reverse.

No 1975, nor 1976, half dollars were issued.

Silver Dollars and Newer Dollars

The earliest date on any silver dollar is 1794. The United States Mint made silver dollars until 1935, with a gap spanning 1929 through 1933. When the mint resumed coining dollars in 1971with the Eisenhower Dollar, silver was no longer the metal of choice, except for special dollars minted for collectors, some of which had a silver content. In 1979, the mint changed the size with the Anthony Dollar. After a brief run there was another gap. The Anthony dollar was minted from 1979 through 1981, then again in 1999. Sacagawea dollars followed, and continue to be minted today. They are supplemented by the Presidential dollars. The problem with the Anthony dollars was the size and color made them easily mistaken for quarters. A change in metal content, and consequently a change in color, made the Sacagawean and Presidential dollars acceptable.

As with the half dollar and the quarter, no 1975, nor 1976, Eisenhower Dollars were minted. Instead, bicentenniel Eisenhower Dollars with special reverses were made with the dual date 1776 - 1976.

The dollars used in the early varieties include the the Flowing Hair and the Draped Bust. From 1805 through 1839 no silver dollars were minted. When minting resumed the Liberty Seated Dollars were coined. No regularly circulating silver dollars were minted from 1874 through 1877. In 1878, the Morgan, a coin held in high esteem by most collectors, was minted. It was replaced with the Peace Dollar in 1921.

From 1873 through 1883 the United States Mint produced the Trade Dollar. The Trade Dollar was never intended for circulation in the United States. Because of the quantity of silver being unacceptable to foreign merchants, especially in the Orient, a dollar with a greater silver content was produced, and called the Trade Dollar. It was intended only for foreign trade, so few have survived in the United States.

A one dollar fine silver coin using the Liberty Walking design of a discontinued half dollar began to be minted in 1986. The American Eagle is a bullion coin, containing one Troy ounce of fine silver, and the denomination is nominal for its value. The denomination is simply to appease collectors.


Gold pieces exist in the many styles similar to the silver coins that were being minted. Some had flowing hair, some capped busts, some were of the classic head design, others had draped busts, and there were those with coronet designs.

The double eagle, or twenty dollar gold piece, contained almost one troy ounce of 0.900 gold. The metal content iny lower denominations was always in proportion to the double eagle, so a one dollar coin had about one-twentieth of a Troy ounce of gold, and so on. The ten dollar coin was called an eagle, the five dollar coin was called a half eagle, and the two and a half dollar coin was called a quarter eagle.

Gold coins were minted in denominations of one dollar, two and a half dollars, three dollars, four dollars, five dollars, ten dollars, and twenty dollars. Of these, the four dollar gold coins, called "Stellas" were minted only in 1879 and 1880, and in very low numbers.

In 1908 the United States began minting Indian Head gold coins. These had an incuse design, which means the image is sunken into the coin instead of being raised. The double eagle was different. Instead of using the Indian Head design, the coins were produced using the Saint Gaudens design.

In 1933 the United States government made owning gold, for the most part, illegal. Production of gold coins ceased completely, and many were turned in to the government to be melted.

Gold coins resumed in 1986 with the American Eagle, and exists in one-tenth, one fourth, one-half, and one Troy ounce sizes, with denominations that go from five to fifty dollars. These coins are intended as bullion, and the denomination is to placate numismatists, who insist that coins have a monetary denomination.

More recent gold coins are those in the First Spouse gold coin series.

Fractional Currency

Beginning in the 1850s and going well into the 1870s, metal was in short supply. Minting of coins was difficult. To alleviate the problem of too few coins for America to have commerce continue, the government authorized paper currency with denominations lower than one dollar. These became known as fractional currency.

Fractional currency exists in denominations fo five cents, ten cents, twenty-five cents, and fifty cents.

Surviving pieces are, technically, money, and could be used today if anyone would take them.

Paper Currency

Paper currency exists in denominations from one dollar up. Recently, to prevent counterfeiting, the mint changed larger bills. The one and two dollar bills have not yet been changed.

Before this major change, several other changes have occurred over time. Older bills have a gold seal and are gold certificates. This meant the government guaranteed these bills with gold. When gold became illegal to own, these disappeared.

The blue seal bills are called silver certificates. The government no longer makes silver certificates, but many still survive.

Currently, the bills have green seals. Older bills with red seals also exist.

Very early bills were larger than the current dollar bill. Large bills are not likely to be found in circulation. Their size makes detection too easy. Large bill are occasionally sold to a dealer or a collector, or they are kept by the person who has made the discovery, perhaps in a wall or an attic..

Currency is more difficult to collect than coins. Bills with folds, pin holes, markings, tears, or damaged corners can be worth much less thaan crisp bills. Protecting a currency collection is problematic, and damage is too easily made.

Military Script

In World War II the Allies occupied parts of several countries as the Axis forces retreated. The members of the armed forces needed a method to make purchases from the townspeople, but these people had no idea how to convert currencies. Since the Allies consisted of troops from several countries, and multiple countries were occupied, the solution was to have currency in the form the townspeople could understand available to the troops. So, paper currency was printed in denominations such as German marks, French francs, Italian lire, and Japanese yen. This currency was distributed to the troops and backed by the government that issued it.

Many troops brought this script back as souvenirs. So, it is possible to find military script today. In fact, many pieces are common enough that they are inexpensive.

Please leave your comments

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      One generation back, these small dimes were worth and they could buy you a lot; now even huge denominations cannot buy basic things due to the inflation.

    • SgtCecil profile image

      Cecil Kenmill 

      5 years ago from Osaka, Japan

      Coins fascinate me but I'm not a collector. This lens is informative and fun.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      How very fascinating, I wasn't aware that many of these coins ever existed, like the half dime, two cent and the large cent. Back in the 60's my Grandpa had dozens of Kennedy Half dollars and unfortunately brought them to the bank to turn in because he saw and article in the paper that there was a shortage of them in circulation, too bad.


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