Money Wise

Brief History of US Coinage


Very Brief Overview of the
U.S. History of Coinage

1785 -- U.S. Congress passed a resolution to designate the dollar as the monetary unit of the new nation.
1786 -- The U.S. Board of the Treasury proposed several denominations, based on multiples and fractions of the dollar unit, including Eagle ($10), Half Eagle ($5), silver dollar, half dollar, double dime, dime, cent, and mill (1/10 cent).
1790 -- Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was requested by the House of Representatives to present a report on the establishment of a national mint, which he did the following January, 1971, recommending its establishment.
1791 -- In the fall the U.S. Senate appointed a committee chaired by Robert Morris which led to the Coinage Bill, introduced in December, 1791, which suggested President Washington's likeness on the coins. But the House and George Washington himself nixed the idea as 'monarchical.' Thus, "an impression emblematic of Liberty" and an eagle on the reverse of the gold and silver coins, and "United States of America" on the copper ones proved to be the winning compromise of House and Senate.
1792 -- Many of Alexander Hamilton's recommendations had been incorporated into the Mint Act of April 2, 1792. He rejected the use of the 'pound' as the unit of measure in favor of the decimal system; advocated coinage of both gold and silver, as well as copper for portions of the basic dollar unit; gave names to the different denominations; and suggested some general design ideas.
1792 -- President George Washington appointed David Rittenhouse as the first Director of the Mint in April, 1792.
1792 -- Construction of the first U.S. Mint building began in Philadelphia in the summer of 1792. The first coinage presses (ordered from England) arrived at the Mint in 1792. The first coins (silver half dimes) were produced in the months that followed, but not from the Mint building, still under construction - apparently being made at the coin press storage place. The silver for these first coins was furnished by President Washington.
1792 -- In mid-December the first coiner of the Mint, Henry Voigt, recorded in his account book, "struck off a few pieces of copper coins."
1792 -- The following day (December 18, 1792) Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to President Washington describing their progress in coining, enclosing some varieties of sample coins for him and the Committee of Congress to examine in detail. Thus, the range of U.S. Mint issues began, and continue with successive changes to this day.
1792 -- The Silver-Center Cent (J-1) featured the pattern of Liberty facing right with flowing hair, and on the reverse a laurel wreath. The copper pattern had a silver plug worth 3/4 cent in the center of the copper coin, worth 1/4 cent.
1792 -- Other Patterns tried in 1792 were the copper Birch Cent, with and without edge lettering, the half disme in silver with reeded edge, disme in silver and copper, and quarter dollar.
1793 -- Beginning in 1793 with the cents and half cents, 180 degree die alignment was introduced, and was quickly adopted as the normal standard, before the first Chain cents were produced.
1794 -- Patterns for the half dime and silver dollar were prepared.
1795 -- The first gold coins were minted - both eagle and half eagle denominations. Also a few pattern trial pieces (struck in other metals) were attempted.
1795 -- Gold Eagle: First issued in 1795, and discontinued in 1933.
1795 -- Gold Eagle: Designed by Robert Scot, this first design had a small reverse eagle, used also in 1796 and 1797.
1795 -- Gold Half Eagle: Heraldic eagle reverse, also used in 1797 and 1798, and then from 1799 to 1807 (except in 1801 when no half eagles were minted.)
1795 -- Gold Half Eagle: Small eagle reverse, used through 1798, designed by Robert Scot. Large eagle reverses were also employed in this period.
1795 -- Gold Half Eagle: was first issued in 1795, and discontinued in 1889.
1796 -- The dime, quarter dollar and gold quarter eagles were first issued, while no new patterns were forthcoming.
1796 -- Gold Quarter Eagle: Obverse without stars (only year of this type); designed by Robert Scot.
1796 -- Gold Quarter Eagle: Sixteen obverse stars added to obverse.
1796 -- Gold Quarter Eagle: was first issued in 1796, discontinued in 1929
1797 -- Gold Eagle: Heraldic eagle reverse, used through 1804. In 1798 there were two die varieties, one with four stars facing, and the other with six stars facing. No eagles were minted in 1802.
1797 -- Gold Quarter Eagle: Thirteen obverse stars, also used in 1798; six stars facing.
1797-99 -- Regular die trials of the Half Eagle and Eagle were struck in 1797; a trial of the heraldic eagle reverse was also struck in uniface.
1799-1801 -- Gold Quarter Eagle: No Quarter Eagles minted
1800 -- The Heraldic Eagle appears on the half dime, and the design of the half cent is changed.
1801 -- The Heraldic Eagle appears on the half dollar.
1802 -- The position of LIBERTY on the gold Quarter Eagle is moved to the right of Liberty's cap, and the stars are five facing and 8 behind the head.
1802 over 1 -- Gold Quarter Eagle: as are all of this date. Thirteen stars, five facing. LIBERTY moved right, used through 1807 except 1803, when none were struck and 1805 when a six star facing variety was minted.
1804 -- The quarter dollar (not issued since 1796) was reissued with a change to the Heraldic Eagle reverse. Patterns were also struck for the large cent (J-28), for the half eagle in different metals, and for the eagle in gold and silver.
1804 -- Actually issued in 1834 for inclusion in diplomatic presentation sets, a gold 1804 eagle (plain 4 variety) carries this date to help make up the 'complete set' for the King of Siam requested by the Department of State of those denominations authorized by the Mint Act of 1792. A few in silver (J-34) (reeded and plain edge) still exist.
1805-1837 -- Gold Eagle: No eagles were minted.
1807 -- The Half Dollar and Half Eagle obverse designs were change to a Turban Head Liberty (by John Reich).
1807 -- Gold Half Eagle: Liberty Head left in round cap introduced. Motto on reverse; design by John Reich. Type used through 1812.
1808 -- A new Liberty Head was used on the cent and quarter eagle. A pattern in silver was made with the regular obverse die of the 1808 half eagle, and the reverse die of the previous type.
1808 -- Gold Quarter Eagle: New type introduced, with round cap (only year of this type), which was designed by John Reich.
1809 -- A new Liberty Head was used on the half cent and the dime.
1809-1820 -- Gold Quarter Eagle: No quarter eagles minted.
1813 -- A new type of Half Eagle was introduced, the the head larger and the bust undraped.
1813 -- Gold Half Eagle: Larger head, the type used through 1829 except none were coined in 1816 and 1817.
1814 -- Platinum Pattern varieties of the Half Dollar were tried.
1815 -- A new Quarter Dollar was introduced with Liberty facing left, with draped bust.
1816 -- A new design for the obverse of the cent showed Liberty with a coronet.
1821 -- The Quarter Eagle was reduced in size (though weight stayed the same) and featured an undraped bust of Liberty -- used until 1834.
1821 -- Gold Quarter Eagle: Reduced size, used through 1827 (except none minted in 1822 and 1823).
1822 -- Three pieces of a uniface copper half dollar were struck.
1828 -- The size of the dime was reduced; this newer variety was used until 1837.
1828 -- Gold Quarter Eagle: No quarter eagles minted.
1829 -- The Half Dime, not minted since 1805, began to be reissued with a Liberty Head in a round cap. The half eagle was reduced in size (weight stayed the same).
1829 -- Gold Half Eagle: William Kneass redesigned the Half Eagle, the type which was used through 1834.
1829 -- Gold Quarter Eagle: New style introduced with motto on reverse, used through 1834. Design was by William Kneass.
1831 -- The Quarter Dollar was reduced in size, continuing like this until 1838. Also a regular trial piece from the dies used for the proof quarter eagles was struck in silver.
1834 -- A new type for both the quarter eagle and half eagle were designed, removing the motto from the reverse, and a coronet ribbon inscribed LIBERTY replaces the cap.
1834 -- Gold Half Eagle: No Motto on the reverse, with different Liberty Head, designed by William Kneass. Type used through 1838.
1834 -- Gold Quarter Eagle: New style with no motto on reverse, and new style Liberty Head; this type was used through 1839
1836 -- A new steam press was put into service at the Mint. New designs for the Silver Dollar and Half Dollar and a new cent were all introduced. Patterns minted include a billon and white metal two cents, a silver dollar, and a gold dollar.
1837 -- The Liberty Seated design, without stars, was first used on the half-dime and dime.
1838 -- The Liberty Seated design with stars is introduced on the half dime, dime and quarter dollar. The half dollar shows a volant eagle in a new style, the first major revision since 1804. As a result of the Act of 1837, a number of new patterns for half-dollars and dollars were introduced, with Christian Gobrecht being prominent in their design.
1838 -- Gold Eagle: Size was reduced, the design by Christian Gobrecht. This type was also used in 1839.
1839 -- The Liberty Seated design of Gobrecht was adopted for the half dollar obverse, and a new Half Eagle was also introduced. Gobrecht designed a new obverse die for the half dollar patterns.
1839 -- Gold Half Eagle: Coronet on Liberty Head, and smaller eagle. Designed by Christian Gobrecht, this type was used through 1841.
1840 -- A newly designed half cent is introduced, the silver dollar reappears (the first minted since 1804), and the quarter dollar obverse now included drapery from the elbow of Seated Liberty. New gold quarter eagle and gold eagle designs are also accomplished as patterns.
1840 -- Gold Eagle: A slight change in the head, and smaller letters; this type was used through 1866.
1840 -- Gold Quarter Eagle: New smaller head design, larger eagle, the type used through 1907; the type designed by Christian Gobrecht. In 1848, there was one variant on which CAL was punched (the rest of the die being the same), which was punched to indicate that these pieces were in gold brought from California.
1842 -- Gold Half Eagle: Similar design, but large eagle. This type was used through 1866.
1843 -- Half eagles are reduced in size.
1844 -- A beaded cord now ties the hair on the cent.
1846 -- Specimen sets were minted in proof condition for presentation.
1849 -- Gold dollars were first issued; the three-cent piece (trime) was first proposed, and a number of double eagle patterns were produced.
1849 -- Gold Dollar: produced small size with both open and closed wreath varieties, used through 1854, the design by J. B. Longacre.
1849 -- Gold Dollar: was first issued in 1849, and discontinued in 1889
1850 -- Double Eagles were introduced; patterns were prepared for the cent, the trime, and double eagle.
1850 -- Gold Double Eagle: First issued in 1850, discontinued in 1933
1850 -- Gold Double Eagle: Liberty Head, eagle, without motto on reverse, the style used through 1866, designed by J. B. Longacre. Paquet design appears in 1861 only.
1851 -- The Trime was issued for the first time. The cent and double eagle patterns were tried.
1852 -- More patterns for perforated gold dollar coins emerged. (Silver coins were disappearing from circulation because they contained more in silver bullion value than their face value.)
1853 -- Arrows were placed at either side of the dates of quarter and half dollars to indicate their reduced weight.
1854 -- The rays on the reverse of the quarter dollar were removed; the trime's obverse star had triple lines bordering it. Other patterns for cents were prepared. The gold dollar was restyled to be larger and thinner; a three dollar gold piece was introduced.
1854 -- Gold Dollar: larger coin with feather headdress, was the type used in 1855 and at San Francisco mint only in 1856.
1854 -- Gold Three Dollars: One type only, continued through 1889 when the series was discontinued, with the design by J. B. Longacre. DOLLARS on the issue of 1854 is smaller than on any of the other years.
1855 -- Two more cent patterns were produced, with a flying eagle on the obverse, and thick/thin wreath design on the reverse.
1856 -- Third type of gold dollar was issued with Indian headdress on larger head. Additional cent and half cent patterns were struck.
1856 -- Gold Dollar: larger head; this type used through 1889 when the series was discontinued.
1857 -- The smaller copper-nickel flying eagle cent replaced the large cent. Patterns were struck for the cent, quarter dollar, quarter eagle and double eagle.
1858 -- A number of pattern cents were developed including obverses of Flying Eagle and Indian Head, matched (muled) with several reverse wreath designs.
1859 -- A third trime variety with two border lines on the star was issued. The Cent of 1859 was produced as a proof. The combined wreath reverse (corn, cotton, sugar cane, oak leaves & wheat) was introduced. Dies for the quarter and half dollar, and double eagle were made.
1860 -- The copper-nickel cent reverse was changed to an oak wreath with shield. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA replaced the stars on the dime and half dime.
1861 -- Discussion about recognition of Divine Providence leading our country on our coinage; experiments to counter the alteration of coinage.
1861 -- Gold Double Eagle: Reverse design this year only by Anthony C. Paquet
1862 -- Half Dollar and Eagle Patterns show "GOD OUR TRUST" on a reverse scroll or plain field.
1863 -- Hoarding of coins during the Civil War had brought new problems to coin circulation, along with the introduction of paper Postage Currency. Thus there were pattern proposals for a new three-cent piece, and changes from the copper-nickel cent to bronze, and a two-cent piece, as well as dime, quarter dollar, half dollar, silver dollar and eagle patterns minted.
1864 -- The cent was first issued in bronze, and a new two-cent piece appeared, bearing the first use of the motto IN GOD WE TRUST.
1865 -- The three-cent piece in nickel was issued (continuing through 1889). Two-cent, three-cent and five-cent patterns were prepared.
1866 -- The Act of 1866 prohibited further use of the fractional currency in denominations under a dime, and authorized a nickel five-cent piece, which featured stars and rays on the reverse. A number of five-cent patterns were produced. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse of the quarter, half and silver dollars, and also the half eagle, eagle and double eagle.
1866 -- Gold Double Eagle: Motto IN GOD WE TRUST added to reverse. TWENTY D. continued; this type used through 1876.
1866 -- Gold Eagle: Motto IN GOD WE TRUST placed on reverse, design by J. B. Longacre. Type used through 1907.
1866 -- Gold Half Eagle: A new motto design by J. B. Longacre, IN GOD WE TRUST placed on the reverse. This type was used through 1908.
1867 -- The five cent reverse had its rays removed. Consideration was given to eliminating the nickel series, substituting aluminum, but was never adopted. An international monetary convention in Paris agreed upon the French franc as a fixed international exchange value.
1868 -- Paquet designed a pattern reflecting the adjusted weight of the US $5 gold piece to equal a value of 25 francs, and reflected on the reverse, "5 DOLLARS 25 FRANCS," as did France and Austria. The plan was dropped however when Congress did not approve the legislation. A number of other patterns were designed, including cent, three cents, five cents, dime, half eagle and eagle.
1869 -- A smaller, lighter Standard Silver series of patterns were produced, with the intent of replacing the fractional currency altogether, while also preventing hoarding or exportation of silver coinage. They were produced in sets and sold at the mint.
1870 -- The word STANDARD appeared on the reverse of the silver coins from half-dime to dollar, with a number of muling combinations happening.
1871 -- While the trade between the US and the Orient had increased, the silver peso of Mexico was the favored coin of trade. Thus the California Legislature (representing the Western trade organizations) requested authorization of a silver coinage of the exact value of the Mexican peso, 420 grains, 900 fine. Thus pattern commercial trade dollars were struck in 1871, and the Trade Dollar issued in 1873.
1872 -- William Barber designed several sets of patterns, one set used for all gold denominations. He also designed the popular Amazonian theme for the quarter, half dollar and silver dollar. The Trade Dollar pattern was introduced, and the Commercial Dollar is repeated.
1873 -- The Trade Dollar was introduced to compete with the Mexican peso in Oriental overseas trade, authorized by the Coinage Act of 1873, which also abolished the old silver dollar, half dime and dime. Arrows at the date of some reflected an increase in weight.
1873 -- Silver Trade Dollar: was first issued in 1873, and discontinued in 1885
1873 -- SilverTrade Dollar: Designed by William Barber, shows Liberty Seated. Was the only type used although later dates vary ever so slightly.
1874 -- Two twenty-cent pattern pieces were prepared to assuage the shortage of five cent pieces in making correct change. An international Ten dollar piece was also patterned, but the effort to have it issued failed in Congress.
1875 -- The Coinage Act of 1875 authorized the coinage of twenty-cent pieces. Preparatory to this passage, several varieties of patterns for the twenty-cent piece were struck, as well as silver dollar, trade dollar, half eagle and eagle.
1876 -- This centennial year of American Independence, several patterns were struck for the silver dollar, commercial and trade dollar, and double eagle.
1877 -- The double eagle reverse changed from TWENTY D. to TWENTY DOLLARS. A number of patterns were also struck, including dime, quarter dollar, half dollar, silver dollar, eagle and double eagle.
1877 -- Gold Double Eagle: TWENTY DOLLARS on reverse; design by William Barber. Type used through 1907.
1878 -- The resumption of coinage of silver dollars came with the Bland-Allison Act inspired several different patterns (by both Morgan and Barber, with Morgan's winning out) for the silver dollar. A goloid (16/1 ration of silver/gold) dollar pattern was tried, though not adopted.
1879 -- Several new patterns for the silver dollar were produced; the $4 stella was also a proposed pattern, the thought being to produce a coin approximating the values of other foreign countries, though never approved.
1880 -- Similar patterns to those of 1879 were produced in sets of silver dollar, goloid dollar and Stella.
1881 -- Patterns for a one, three, and five cent piece, all designed by Barber, appeared.
1882 -- More designs by Barber for a new five-cent piece were patterned, including the "blind-man's nickel" with bars on the edge. Morgan created a good design for the dollar, half dollar and quarter dollar.
1883 -- Another round of five-cent patterns was produced.
1884 -- Perforated cent and five-cent dies were prepared as patterns.
1885 -- Other perforated patterns were tried; mint supt. Col. Snowden had a silver dollar pattern made with E PLURIBUS UNUM in raised letters on the edge.
1891 -- Patterns with the Barber design were prepared for the dime, quarter and half dollar, as well as several other designs
1892 -- The new Barber design was issued on the dime, quarter dollar, half dollar.
1896 -- A number of different metals were tried on the patterns for the one-cent and five-cent.
1906 -- A uniface Barber double eagle trial piece was struck in copper and gilted; a unique pattern piece was struck in gold.
1907 -- President T. Roosevelt commissioned noted sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens to prepare new designs for the eagle and double eagle. Roosevelt want no mention of GOD on the coins.
1907 -- Gold Double Eagle: Liberty with torch and olive branch in high relief; date in Roman Numerals. Only year of this type; design by Augustus St. Gaudens.
1907 -- Gold Double Eagle: Same St. Gaudens design in low relief; date in Arabic numerals. The motto has been omitted; this type was also used in 1908.
1907 -- Gold Eagle: Indian Head design by Augustus St. Gaudens, with no motto. Type used also in 1908.
1908 -- The motto IN GOD WE TRUST was restored to the eagle and double eagle; Bela Pratt designed a new quarter eagle and half eagle.
1908 -- Gold Double Eagle: Motto IN GOD WE TRUST added on reverse. This type, with 46 obverse stars, was used through 1911.
1908 -- Gold Eagle: Motto IN GOD WE TRUST added on reverse; this type used through 1933 (when minting of all US gold coins was discontinued). No eagles were minted in 1917, 1918, 1921-25, 1927-29, and 1931.
1908 -- Gold Half Eagle: Indian Head type, used through 1929, when series was discontinued. No half eagles were coined between 1917 and 1928, the design by Bela Lyon Pratt.
1908 -- Gold Quarter Eagle: Indian Head type introduced, a design by Bela Lyon Pratt, and used through 1929, when the series was discontinued. No quarter eagles were minted between 1917 and 1924.
1909 -- Victor D. Brenner was responsible for the a new design on the cent of Lincoln's bust, to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Lincoln's birth. There were also a number of pattern five cent pieces struck in 1909-10, most bearing a bust of George Washington.
1912 -- Gold Double Eagle: 48 stars on the obverse, in recognition of Arizona and New Mexico being added to the Union in 1912. This type continued through 1933, when the minting of all US gold coinage was discontinued. Double Eagles were not coined in 1917, 1918, or 1919.
1913 -- The Indian Head nickel was issued, designed by J. E. Fraser. Because the 'FIVE CENTS' on the reverse wore down too quickly, a variety that countersunk the letters was issued, and the mound changed.
1916 -- A number of new patterns for the dime, quarter dollar and half dollar were prepared, reflecting the times and the desire for peace. The dime's 'Mercury' design, and the Standing Liberty on the quarter dollar, and the Walking Liberty on the half dollar all reflected this new view.
1917 -- The reverse of the quarter dollar was altered, moving the flying eagle up, and rearranging the stars pattern.
1921 -- The silver dollar, discontinued in 1904, was reissued in 1921, taking on the new look of a commemorative 'peace dollar', the type which was coined until it was discontinued in 1935.
1925 -- The date on the Standing Liberty quarter dollars was wearing down too rapidly, so new dies were prepared with the date countersunk, the type which lasted until it was discontinued in 1930.
1932 -- The quarter dollar was redesigned and to honor the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington, his bust was put on the obverse.
1933 -- Gold Double Eagle: The 1933 specimens were reclaimed by the Treasury Department on the grounds that they were not legally released by the mint.
1938 -- In a competition for best new design for the five cent piece, Felix Schlag's design of Thomas Jefferson on the obverse and Monticello on the reverse won out.
1942 -- In order to conserve nickel for the war effort, a silver composition was substituted in the five cent piece, and so marked by the size and placement of the mint mark above the dome. The letter 'P' was first used on a coin for the Philadelphia Mint.
1943 -- The critical need for copper in World War II caused it to be removed from use in the cent, and zinc-coated steel was briefly used.
1944 -- The new cent was not well received; so bronze pennies were again issued, the early ones from old shell casings.
1946 -- The Roosevelt dime was issued the year after the death of this four-term president, with a design by John Sinnock. The former copper-nickel composition was returned to the five cent piece.
1948 -- The Walking Liberty Half Dollar design, used since World War I, was replaced with a Sinnock design of Benjamin Franklin obverse, and Liberty Bell reverse.
1959 -- The reverse of the Lincoln cent was redesigned from wheat ears to depict the Lincoln Memorial in order to mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's birth.
1964 -- Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the obverse of the half dollar carried his bust.
1971 -- Both President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Apollo 11 first landing on the moon by America are remembered on the newly designed dollar, with only slight modifications until its discontinuance in 1978.
1976 -- Bicentennial coinage to celebrate our country's 200th anniversary was reflected on the reverses of the Franklin quarter dollars, Kennedy half dollars, and Eisenhower dollars.
1979 -- Susan B. Anthony dollars were introduced, lasting only through 1981, honoring this pioneer in women's rights.