We've put together some basic information on our country's coinage history below. First up is historical information on copper and nickel pieces. Next, it's on to silver coins. And finally, we make our way to the gold, also known as "The Caviar of U.S. Coins."
U.S. Minor Coinage
United States Coppers were the first produced by the Federal Mint when it officially opened for business in 1793. At the time, half-cents and cents were needed desperately for everyday commerce. The half-cent continued to be struck until its last appearance in 1857. Basic Half-Cent Types include the Liberty Cap Left (1793 only), Liberty Cap Right, Draped Bust, Classic Head and Braided Hair issues. The cent during this period (1793-1857) went through several major design changes as well. Large Cents, as this group has become collectively known, are a member of one of six major types. These include the Chain (1793 only), Wreath (1793 only), Liberty Cap, Draped Bust, Classic Head and Braided Hair issues.
The year 1857 brought about the end of the Large Cent era with the introduction of the new Flying Eagle cent. This new cent was struck in copper/nickel composition (88% copper and 12% nickel) in about the same size as the Lincoln cent we use today. The public at the time, referred to these new cents as "nickels" because of this new addition to the metal composition. Today of course, we use that term to describe our 5-cent pieces.
Nickel is an extremely hard metal and most nickel coinage actually contains more copper that nickel. If this were not true, the coin planchets (round discs of metal prior to striking) would be so hard that the dies would fall apart under the pressure of trying to "bring up" the coin design during impact.
Many of history's most disciplined numismatists have focused their studies of numismatics primarily to the early U.S. copper coinage. Dr. William Sheldon famous Large Cent researcher and collector, authored the book Penny Whimsy in 1958. In addition to his painstaking research on the cents of 1793 through 1814 (known as the early dates), he also gave the collecting community the first widely accepted grading scale. His scale was based on numeric figures from 1-70 to describe the condition of a coin. A score of 70 was a perfect coin while a grading score of 1 was a barely identifiable piece.
Early American Coppers "EAC" is an organization you should look into if you have a serious interest in early coppers. The Colonial Coin Collector's Club "C4" is another organization to check into. Many collectors of EAC are also members of C4. This is because of the similar nature and charm of pre-federal coppers and the half cents and cents manufactured at the first U.S. Mint.
U.S. Silver Coinage
United States Silver Coinage consisted of the bulk of issues made by The United States Mint. Five of the most famous of these issues are included in the current exhibit.
Many of the most popular coins in the collecting community are struck in silver. With the attitude that gold coins are too expensive while copper/nickel coins just don't have the visual appeal, many collectors migrate towards the Morgan Dollar or Bust Half-Dollar series to provide them with the right combination of price and enjoyment. This author believes that the Morgan Dollar is easily the most collected coin of all time. Enough specimens exist to allow millions of collectors the opportunity to own "near complete" collections of this series. When the Wall Street gang became involved in rare coins, this was definitely one of their babies.
Silver coins have been struck in many denominations throughout U.S. history. The 1792 half-disme or half-dime is rumored to have been made from George Washington's own silverware. This was the year before the U.S. Mint actually opened for business. The first president was very eager to have local coinage, so that we would have less dependency on Mother England in such a vital area. It may seem strange to us today that we had a denomination of 5-cents that wasn't referred to as a nickel, but in all actuality we didn't have a 5-cent nickel until 1866 with the introduction of the shield nickel. The silver half-dime was struck by the U.S. Mint from 1794 through 1873 undergoing several design changes.
Other denominations that have been struck in silver include the 3-cent piece or "trime" as it was known, the dime, the 20-cent piece, known simply as the 20-cent piece, not the double-dime, the quarter dollar, half dollar and one dollar coins.
Why in the world did we have a 3-cent silver? Postage stamps cost 3-cents for many years. This made having a 3-cent coin quite convenient. It was so convenient, in fact, that the U.S. Mint produced 3-cent nickels as well. The silver 3-cent piece was struck from 1851 through 1873 while the nickel version of this denomination was produced from 1865 through 1889. If you've ever held a silver trime, you've probably asked yourself just how convenient this itsy-bitsy-teeney-weeney piece of silver could have really been to carry around. Guaranteed, I would have lost most of mine before I could have spent them. But then, I'd lose my head if wasn't attached.
The 20-cent piece was second only to the flying-eagle cent as far as short-lived coins are concerned. The coin was struck for four years total, the last two in proof format only for collectors. Carson city specimens are very rare having only been struck in 1875 and 1876. The 1875-CC is the only real collectible issue with the other being an extreme rarity in any condition. The final production of 20-cent pieces was in 1878.
Didn't you think goofed with the Susan B. Anthony Dollar because it so closely resembled the Washington Quarter? Well, at least the design was completely different. The 20-cent piece had the exact same design as the quarter of the period with the only difference being the ever so slight difference in size and weight and the denomination on the coin, of course. No wonder it had such a short "life cycle."
U.S. Gold Coinage
United States Gold Coinage is perhaps the most desired group of rare coins in the entire world. Here you will find the rarest of the rare. Most of these coins have known survivors of less than a dozen specimens. At least one specimen of each of the featured coins is in private hands and can be obtained by a collector with the right amount of perseverance. A hefty wallet is required!
U.S. Gold was first produced by the Mint in 1795 with the release of $5 and $10 denominations, each in the "Bust Right/Small Eagle" design. Gold denominations throughout U.S. history have included the $1, $2.50, $5.00, $10.00 and $20.00 coins. In 1879 and 1880, $4.00 Gold Pieces or Stellas were struck as patterns for a possible new coin. This $4.00 denomination, as well as the $50.00 Gold Half Union, were produced as pattern coinage, but never released with official status. Today we can buy gold coins from the U.S. Mint in $5, $10, $25 and $50 issues, but these are bullion pieces. I have a hard time with calling these them coins. Technically, they do have a denomination, but they aren't obtained at face value. They aren't meant to circulate in the normal channels of commerce but, rather to be traded on and valued with the price of the international gold market. This exhibit is predominately concerned with the Gold dollar through the Double Eagle (1795-1933) issues.
That said, and I still put a Brasher Doubloon on the page. But seriously, who's going to complain about a Brasher Doubloon being included? This Pre-Federal issue was struck when George Washington was thinking seriously about the need for a Mint of The United States. And the creator of the Doubloon was a friend and neighbour of our first president. That's about all of the justification that I need. Besides, I'll probably move the doubloon to the colonial exhibit once it's complete.
In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put a stop to the private ownership of gold in the United States of America and took us off the gold standard with Presidential Order 6260. Many, many rarities found there way to the melting pot! Perhaps the most ironic aspect to this fact is the new $5 commemmorative gold coin introduced by our infinitely wise U.S. Mint. Normally, I'm not really a Mint slammer, but this just isn't one of their more proud moments. This new gold coin has none other than F.D.R. himself on the obverse! This ought to be a real popular issue... NOT!
President Ford gave the right of gold ownership back to the American people in the late 1970's. The United States Mint began producing gold bullion coins in 1986. When the photographs for several of these issues were taken for the gold portion of the great Eliasberg collection, the Roosevelt gold order was still in effect.
Mitch Hight is the owner of Rarity Exchange Company. He has been involved in numismatics for over 30 years and is a life member of the American Numismatic Association. Mr. Hight may be contacted at Rexco, P.O. Box 8123, Colorado Springs, CO 80933 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source : Coin-Gallery.com