United States Coinage History

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 mitch@coin-gallery.com

Source : Coin-Gallery.com

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The Virtues of Toned Coins

While grading is perhaps the most hotly debated topic in American numismatics, there is another issue that can lead to much discussion pro and con. This is the subject of toning on coins. It seems that every few years someone writes an article or letter to the editor attempting to warn collectors away from toned coins. This is usually answered almost immediately by a number of responses in defense of naturally toned coins. Even so, the long-term effect of negative articles on toning has been to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of many coin dealers and collectors. There are some who refuse to buy toned coins or do so reluctantly, and I believe this is a misguided policy.

Any experienced coin collector or dealer knows that most metals used for coining have a natural tendency to acquire toning over time. This is a completely natural process that occurs as atoms at the coin's surface interact with their environment, forming new compounds. The resulting veil refracts light according to its variable thickness, producing one or more colors within the visible light spectrum. These may appear in a uniform pattern, coloring the entire coin evenly, or they may produce intermittent blushes of color. Perhaps the most desirable toning is that which appears in concentric circles of distinctive colors. These typically emanate from the coin's border and reach toward its center, with the latter often remaining untoned or just lightly toned. While toning is not always so finely drawn, in many instances the beauty of such atmospheric action on a coin can be simply breathtaking.

The late Dr. William Sheldon, author of the book Penny Whimsy, knew well the appeal of natural toning on his beloved early cents, and he captured its allure in words: "Old copper, like beauty, appears to possess a certain intrinsic quality or charm which for many people is irresistible . . . copper seems to possess an almost living warmth and a personality not encountered in any other metal. You see the rich shades of green, red, brown, yellow, and even deep ebony; together with blendings of these not elsewhere matched in nature save perhaps in autumn leaves."

While Sheldon was speaking only of copper coins, it's true also that silver, nickel and, to a lesser extent, gold may likewise acquire attractive coloration over time. Again, this is not universal, as some coins become blotchy or spotted, but there are plenty examples of superb toning in the marketplace and such coins are eagerly sought by knowledgeable and experienced buyers.

Why then are so many collectors seemingly afraid of toned coins? There appears to be a predisposition in the United States coin market toward favoring untoned or "white" coins over those possessing rich coloration, and it simply doesn't make any sense. It's only natural that old coins, particularly silver pieces, acquire various degrees and shades of color over time. This is one of the most charming qualities of antique coins that distinguish them from more recent issues, and I believe collectors who don't already do so should learn to appreciate the virtues of toned coins.

In other areas of collectibles the value of natural toning, or patina, is widely understood. In fact, experts in antique furniture frequently extol the virtue of such original patina, and it often adds to the value of the object. Even collectors of toy trains or mechanical banks will agree that the original surfaces of a collectible item, no matter what its condition, are more desirable than any skilled attempt to replicate its appearance when new.

It's not surprising that persons new to collecting coins will consider a shiny example to be more appealing than one that appears aged. I suppose we all buffed our first coin acquisitions before placing them in our Whitman folders, but time and experience soon taught us that this is not the thing to do with coins. So then why do collectors still resist toned coins even when such pieces are so revered by experienced numismatists?

I believe the answer lies in the fact that some collectors and dealers perceive toning as a form of damage. Also, many are unable to distinguish original toning from so-called artificial toning, and that induces both suspicion and fear. Yes, people do induce toning on otherwise white coins for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it's simply to make the piece more natural looking, but there are also times when it's done to conceal harsh cleaning or some flaw in the coin such as hairline scratches or repairs. The fear of unknowingly acquiring these deceptive pieces seems to lie behind the resistance many collectors and dealers have toward toned coins.

That's where certification makes the difference. While the originality of a coin's color can be subjective, the experts at the various grading services usually know the difference between a naturally toned, original coin and one that has been altered in any way. Believe me, when it comes to "doctored" coins we've seen nearly everything, and that has only reinforced our appreciation of nice, original pieces. While encapsulated coins may not appeal to all collectors, no one is saying that you can't buy such coins for the assurance that they offer and then simply remove them from their holders. It's certainly better than having to rely on limited experience to determine whether a particular piece has a shady past.

While a coin that has very dark or otherwise unattractive toning may actually be improved by a skillful chemical dipping to remove the unsightly tarnish, many pieces are harmed through improper dipping. This is especially true when the work is being performed by someone who lacks either the knowledge or the inclination to do it properly. Such carelessness can lead to a coin that acquires unattractive spotting or staining over time, because the chemical was not thoroughly rinsed away. In addition, many coins are over-dipped, resulting in a loss of luster. This leaves a coin that has a very flat, lifeless look to it. Certification services come down hard on such coins, reflecting a coin market that places little value on impaired pieces. In contrast, an attractively toned coin may actually grade a bit higher than it would have otherwise, since nice toning is viewed in the marketplace as an asset.

Some coin types are more likely than others to tone attractively. While there are always exceptions to every rule, coins having more centralized devices tend to tone more symmetrically, as do those having very simple designs. For example, modern coins such as Roosevelt Dimes and Washington Quarters typically will acquire very nice toning. More complex coins, particularly those in which the devices are less well centered, frequently tone in an irregular pattern. A good example of this is the Walking Liberty Half Dollar, which tends to acquire unbalanced toning. Also seldom seen with rich and symmetrical toning are Peace Dollars. Though millions were stored by the U. S. Treasury in the same environment as Morgan Dollars, only the latter are commonly seen with desirable toning. In fact, a beautifully toned Peace Dollar is such a rarity that I don't believe the market truly appreciates this quality, clearly favoring brilliant over toned coins.

With the prevalence of certified and encapsulated coins in the current market, one doesn't see many high-grade collections being placed within albums anymore, as was the custom just twenty or thirty years ago. Largely unknown to the current generation of collectors and dealers is the power these cardboard albums held to turn white coins into splendidly toned beauties. Particularly noted for this attribute were the sulfur-rich albums manufactured by Wayte Raymond and his successors. Known variously as the National Album or the American Album, this line produced some of the finest toning seen on vintage silver coins. Some people are still acquiring these obsolete albums for the sole purpose of toning coins, though the results are not always predictable, and you proceed at your own risk. In any case, such toning takes years to develop, but there are evidently collectors willing to wait a decade or two to achieve the desired effect.

Certain coin types are notable for having particular forms of toning. For instance, many of the commemorative halves from the 1930s were mounted in cardboard holders and then placed within envelopes for delivery to their purchasers. These cardboard holders secured the coin by having a strip of paper projecting across the hole. The paper projection was cut so that it included a disc shape somewhat smaller than the coin. If left undisturbed for many years, the coins stored in such holders typically acquired a pattern of toning that mimicked the shape of this projection, or tab. For that reason, such coins are described as having "tab toning," and this feature is valued as an unmistakable sign of originality. Some of these holders were generic, being used for several different commemorative coin issues, while others were manufactured for specific coins. In either case, the resulting patina adds a dimension of aesthetic and historic value lacking in a coin that is brilliant.

It is this feature of toning that often adds a distinctive quality to coins, permitting them to rise above their peers. After all, there are thousands of 1942 Walking Liberty Halves in fully white, mint state condition, but how many are there with charming, original toning? Unfortunately, the population reports issued by certification services can't distinguish between toned and brilliant coins, with the sole exception of copper pieces. If it were possible to do this, I believe that many recent coins would prove to be quite scarce with nice toning. From my first-hand observation of thousands of coins monthly, I know this to be true.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to appreciate nice toning is this: Once removed, it may never reappear in the same manner. It takes many years for coins to tone naturally, though this process is accelerated in certain environments. The best toning occurs over a period of several decades, as witnessed by the superb coins seen in a number of prominent, old-time collections. For example, the Garrett Collection, assembled between the 1860s and 1942, was rich in splendidly toned copper and silver coins. The Eliasberg Collection, which included the former holdings of the Clapp Family, was a contemporary of the Garrett Collection, having been assembled between the 1880s and 1950. It too featured hundreds of stunningly toned coins, many of which were acquired directly from the U. S. Mints of manufacture when new. These were carefully set aside and never cleaned, permitting nature a free hand at providing them with gorgeous patinas.

It takes only a second or two to wipe away a lifetime of nature's splendid handiwork. The number of originally toned United States coins has dwindled over the past forty years, as a couple generations of collectors have been misled into believing that "brighter is always better." Unfortunately, no chemical or mechanical cleaning can ever make a coin look exactly as it did when new, and countless pieces have been irreparably harmed by unskilled attempts at cleaning.

At NGC, we recognize the appeal of both brilliant and toned coins, and each piece is evaluated on its merit, without prejudice for or against toning. But I believe that as values rise and the coin market becomes ever more sophisticated, originality will prove to be as important as luster in determining a coin's value. As with any endangered species, we have an obligation to preserve the natural character of such desirable pieces for future generations.

Mark Salzberg is President of Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of America. He has been involved in numismatics for over 30 years. Mr. Salzberg may be contacted at NGC, P.O. Box 1776, Parsippany, NJ 07054 or by email at Msalzberg@NGCcoin.com

Source : Coin-Gallery.com

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U.S. Botanic Garden Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin

Treasury Secretary Approves Designs For U.S. Botanic Garden Commemorative Silver Dollar

New Silver Dollar Included in Mint's Final Edition of 80,000 Prestige Sets Limited Edition of 25,000 Coin & Currency Sets Also Planned

Washington, D.C. -- The United States Mint nowadays announced that Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin has standard the designs for the United States Botanic Garden Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin.

Designs for the coin have been mandated by the authorizing legislation, Public Law 103-328, which specifies that a rendering of the French frontage of the U.S. Botanic Garden be depicted on the face margin, and a rose and the anniversary dates of 1820-1995 perform on the setback area of the coin. The face rendering of the French facade is by U.S. Mint Sculptor/Engraver Edgar Z. Steever, IV, and the transpose rose and anniversary dates by U.S. Mint Sculptor/Engraver William C. Cousins.

Signing by the President on September 29, 1994, the law provides for the minting of not more than 500,000 90 percent silver coins with a $10 surcharge included in the price of each coin. All surcharges will go to the National Fund for the United States Botanic Garden to furnish the projects and mission of the patch in Washington, D.C.

Of singular concern to collectors, the U.S. Botanic Garden Commemorative Silver Dollar will be included in the last Prestige Set that the U.S. Mint will suggest, with a narrow copy of 80,000 sets.

The Mint will also agreement an imperfect book of 25,000 Botanic Garden Coin & Currency Sets, featuring an uncirculated Botanic Garden silver dollar, an uncirculated 1997 Jefferson Nickel, a modern George Washington one-dollar remark with a Virginia Federal Reserve Bank seal, and a historical booklet, to vindicate the significance of the national patch and to commemorate the task the founding fathers played in establishing the backyard in Washington, D.C. Contact: Press study: Michael White (202) 354-7222 Customer Service information: (800) USA MINT (872-6468)

Coin Information Provided Courtesy The United States Mint.

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