user_28318's Blog

27 May 2021

A Little History of U.S. Circulating Coins

| user_28318

The History of U.S. Circulating Coins:

Copper: Half Cent and Cent

Silver: half dime, dime, quarter, half dollar, and dollar

Gold: quarter eagle ($2.50), half eagle ($5), and eagle ($10)


Basically, one of the most significant acts or laws in allowing for the mintage and different types of U.S. coins and currency that we know and love today is the Coinage Act of 1792. What it did, was that it established a national mint located in Philadelphia. Congress chose decimal coinage in parts of 100 and set the U.S. dollar to the already familiar Spanish milled dollar and its fractional parts (half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth). This then resulted in coins of the metals and denominations listed above. In 1792, during the construction of the new Mint, 1,500 silver half dimes were made in the cellar of a nearby building. These half dimes were probably given out to dignitaries and friends and not released into circulation. The Mint delivered the nation’s first circulating coins on March 1, 1793: 11,178 copper cents.

These new cents caused a bit of a public outcry. They were larger than a modern quarter, a bulky size for small change. The image of Liberty on the obverse showed her hair streaming behind her and her expression “in a fright.” The reverse featured a chain of 15 links, similar to the Fugio cent. However, some people felt that it symbolized slavery instead of the unity of the states. The Mint quickly replaced the chain with a wreath, and a couple of months later designed a new version of Liberty.

Although individual states were no longer authorized to produce coins, legislation temporarily allowedcertain foreign coinsto continue to circulate until the Mint released enough coins to handle the country’s needs.

Barriers to Circulation:

Unfortunately, the Mint struggled with putting enough coins into circulation. Copper cents enjoyed relatively stable production, but not in high enough numbers. This was partly due to the rise in the cost of copper. In 1857, Congress discontinued the unpopular half-cent and made the cent smaller to cut back on the amount of copper needed.

The coinage of silver and gold coins started in 1794 and 1795. But at first, these coins didn’t circulate. The Coinage Act of 1792 set the ratio of silver to gold at 15:1, which was different than the world market. U.S. gold coins were undervalued compared to silver, so they were exported and melted. Silver dollars were also exported for use in international trade or stored as bullion.

During the early 19th century, depositors such as banks supplied silver and gold for coining and chose which coins they wanted back. Their preference was for the largest denominations of each metal. The Mint rarely coined the smaller denomination silver coins – half dimes, dimes, and quarters – needed for daily transactions.

In an effort to bring gold and silver coins into circulation, Congress passed various Acts to discontinue the silver dollar and gold eagle, and to change the weight of coins and ratio of gold to silver. With the help of these laws, new coining technology, and the opening of branch Mints around the country, production increased. Smaller denominations entered circulation in great enough numbers to provide for the country’s needs.

Finally, with the passage of the Coinage Act of 1857, Congress banned foreign coins as legal tender.

The Coinage Act of 1792 specified that all coins have an “impression emblematic of liberty,” the inscription “LIBERTY,” and the year of coinage on the obverse side. The Act required that the reverse of gold and silver coins have a representation of an eagle and the inscription, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” The only requirement of copper coin reverses was to list the denomination of the coin, although a wreath became the standard design until the 20th century. Later Acts were responsible for changing the inscriptions and elements that we recognize on our coins today.

Obverse Designs:

The face of Lady Liberty appeared on our circulating coins for more than 150 years. When considering options for our first coins, Congress debated over whether to feature George Washington and later presidents. Many believed that putting the current president on a coin was too similar to Great Britain’s practice of featuring their monarchs. Instead, Congress chose to personify the concept of liberty rather than a real person.

The figure of Liberty, often with a cap and pole, had been a symbol used during the American Revolution. Because of Liberty’s origins as a Greco-Roman goddess, early coin designs portrayed her with classical style clothes, facial features, and symbols.

In 1909, Abraham Lincoln replaced Liberty on the penny. Presidents then appeared on other denominations: the quarter in 1932; the nickel in 1938; the dime in 1946; the half dollar in 1964; and finally, the dollar in 1971. Liberty last appeared on a circulating coin in 1947 in the final year of the Walking Liberty half dollar. Below is a little picture of different varieties of flowing hair cents. I hope you all gained some knowledge from this article and hope to continue providing you all with useful and interesting U.S. coinage history and knowledge. Thanks again for reading!

Obverse designs in the 1790s: Flowing Hair (cent); Liberty Cap (half cent, cent); Draped Bust (cent, half dime, dime, quarter, half dollar, dollar); Flowing Hair (half dime, half dollar, dollar).


I. R. Bama

Level 5

Still no bibliography. No sources raises questions about originality of work


Level 7

Bibliography please I would like to know more!! The Fugio was the first coin authorized by the United States. 1787 Designed by Ben Franklin. It's also called a cent not a penny. Penny's are in England.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

Sources? Detailed info presented require sources.


Level 5

Thanks for the history lesson.


Level 6

Nice research for your blog! Coinage during those times was very cool indeed!


Level 7

The first coin authorized by the United States was the Fugio Cent. Made at the Sovill mint. It was designed by Benjamin Franklin. Bibliography please I would like to see more.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

I don't think that a cent was small change in those days. In the 1800s sugar was 20 cents for ten pounds. A bushel of potatoes was 12 cents and an acre of land two dollars. One cent bought quite a bit in those days...


Level 6

Could add 2 cent piece to copper and a 3 cent piece to silver

I. R. Bama

Level 5

And a one, three, four and 20 dollar gold


Level 5

Nice history lesson on coinage. It amazes me what took place back in the day's of lat 1700's. The coinage was beautiful over the years. The large cent was something. Would like to travel back in time in the large cents days to see what it was like.

Long Beard

Level 5

We can thank Robert Morris for both a mint and the system based on a dollar being 100 and fractions thereof for each denomination. Alexander Hamilton all too often get's credit for this fact. What I find interesting is that despite breaking away from England, the Seated coinage for instance is a take on Britania found on their coinage.

We use cookies to provide users the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your cookie settings, we'll assume that you agree to receive all cookies on money.org. You may disable cookies at any time using your internet browser configuration. By continuing to use this website, you agree to our privacy policy and terms of use. To learn more about how we use cookies and to review our privacy policy, click here.