When the U. S. Mint was established the law required that all coins be made of gold, silver or copper. For a considerable period of time afterwards, gold was used in the $10, $5 and $2.50 pieces, silver was used to make the dollar, half-dollar, quarter, dime and half-dime while the penny and half-cent coins were made of copper.
In 1933, during the Great Depression, the U.S. Mint stopped making gold coins altogether. In 1965, as a result of a severe silver shortage, Congress dictated that silver no longer be used in making quarters and dimes. In addition, the silver content of the half-dollar (previously 90%) was reduced to 40% in 1965 and then eliminated entirely in 1971.
As previously mentioned, all of these coin denominations are now composed of copper-nickel clad with an outer layer of a 75% copper, 25% nickel alloy and a pure copper core. Nickels are made of the same copper-nickel alloy but without the copper core.
The penny’s composition was altered in 1982 from 95% copper 5% zinc, to the current 97.5% zinc, 2.5% copper mix. This was done as a cost cutting measure and to make the penny lighter in weight.
The 25-cent (quarter), 10-cent (dime), five-cent (nickel) and one-cent (penny) pieces are the coin denominations commonly in use today in the U.S. Half-dollar and dollar coins continue to be issued but rarely circulate in everyday commerce. Foreign coins exist in all sorts of denominations, so it’s impossible to list them all here.
U.S. coin denominations issued in the past but no longer in use include the half-cent, two-cent, three-cent, and 20-cent copper pieces and a small silver coin called a half-dime. Gold coins in denominations of $1, $2.50 (“Quarter Eagle”), $3, $5 (“Half Eagle”), $10 (“Eagle”), and $20 (“Double Eagle”) were issued from time to time from 1793 until 1933.
Silver half-dollars have been minted in large quantities since 1793 and peaked in popularity with the introduction of the Kennedy half-dollar in 1964. Silver-less half-dollars were first introduced in 1971.
Silver dollars have been issued at various times since 1793, were discontinued in 1933, and then re-introduced in 1971 in the form of the silver less Eisenhower dollar. The Eisenhower dollar was replaced in 1979 with the silver less Susan B. Anthony coin, in honor of the famed women’s suffrage pioneer.
A new dollar coin replaced the Susan B. Anthony coins. That coin portrays Sacagawea, the Native American woman who contributed to the success of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The coin is golden in color and made from a manganese brass metal alloy.
In addition to the above, various so-called “commemorative” coins have been issued from time to time in various denominations to honor a particular noteworthy person, place or event. The first such coin was issued in 1892 to commemorate the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. These coins are usually made in limited quantities, sell at a premium and rarely circulate as normal coinage.
With the exception of commemorative coins and the Susan B. Anthony dollar, U.S. coins currently minted portray past famous U.S. Presidents. These coins are the Lincoln penny, introduced in 1909, the Washington quarter, first issued in 1932, the Jefferson nickel, adopted in 1938, the Franklin D. Roosevelt dime, introduced in 1946, and the Kennedy half-dollar, which was first minted in 1964.
In 1792, Congress required that all American coins show on one side “an impression emblematic of Liberty, with an inscription of the word Liberty, and the year of coinage”. This requirement has been followed since.
The phrase “In God We Trust” was first used on U.S. coins in 1864. This motto now appears on all U.S. coins.
In 1999, the design of the U.S. quarter changed. Reverses of circulating quarters will be replaced with designs representative of each of the fifty states. Each year from 1999 through 2008, five different quarters, commemorating five states will be issued in the order in which the states ratified the Constitution or were admitted to the Union. These “State Quarters” are intended for general circulation but special silver proof coins will also be sold to collectors.
The coins of other countries can reflect many different images including animals, scenes, famous buildings, and more. They often reflect the history of the country and are interesting for the novice collector because of their uniqueness.
The first international convention for coin collectors was held in August of 1962 in Detroit, Michigan. It was sponsored by the American Numismatic Association and the Canadian numismatic Association. It was estimated that over 40,000 people attended this first convention
As you can easily see, this hobby is a very popular one and the numbers are sure to be growing every day as interest is piqued. Now that we’ve got some facts about coins in general, let’s look specifically at the art of numismatics beginning with the terms you’ll need to know.