There are several interesting facts about coins that we would want to know in this 21st century.
Some Fun Facts About Coins
Table of Contents
There is approximately $8 billion worth of coins circulating in the U.S. today. In the past 30 years, the U.S. Mint, who is responsible for designing and producing the nation’s coins, has minted over 300 billion coins, worth about $15 billion.
One interesting fact about coins is that since its creation in 1792, the U.S. Mint has grown into a large enterprise with more than $1 billion in annual revenues and 2,200 employees. It is by far the world's largest manufacturer of coins and medals, producing coins not only for the U.S. but on behalf of several other countries as well. To make coins, the U.S. Mint purchases strips of metal (rolled into coils) in the proper dimensions and thickness.
Zinc metal strips coated with copper plating are used to make pennies. Strips used for nickels are comprised of a 75% copper, 25% nickel metal alloy. Dimes, quarters, half-dollars, and dollar coins are produced of strips consisting of three metallic layers fused together. The outer layers of these strips are comprised of the same alloy as that used for nickels with the third (core) layer being comprised of copper.
The first step in the coin making process involves feeding the metal strips through a “blanking” press. The press punches out cut round discs, or blanks, about the same size as the finished coin. These blanks are then heated in a furnace to soften them. Subsequently, the softened blanks are placed in rotating barrels of chemical solutions to clean and polish the metal. The cleaned and shiny blanks are then washed and dried.
Next, the blanks are sorted to remove any defective ones and the rest are put through an “upsetting” mill which raises a rim around their edges. The rimmed blanks then go to the coining or stamping press where upper and lower dies to stamp the designs and inscriptions on both sides of the coin simultaneously. At this point, the blanks become genuine U.S. coins.
Finally, the finished coins are mechanically counted and placed into large canvas bags for shipment to the Federal Reserve Banks. From there they are shipped to local banks on an as-needed basis.
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 afterward, 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.
The Great Depression
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.
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 quarter, dime, nickel, and penny are the coin denominations commonly in use today. The 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.
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 a gold color and made from a manganese brass metal alloy.
In addition, “commemorative” coins have been issued from time to time in various denominations to honor a particular noteworthy person, place, or event. These coins are usually made in limited quantities, sell at a premium and rarely circulate as normal coinage. The first such coin was issued in 1892 to commemorate the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
With the exception of commemorative coins and the Susan B. Anthony dollar, U.S. coins currently portray past 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 the inscription Liberty, and the year of coinage”.
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.
Coin Collecting Glossary
Coin collecting has its own specialized terms or “lingo”. The following, while not an exhaustive list of all the coin collecting terms that you may encounter, provides definitions for the most commonly used terms.
a combination of two or more metals in a coin such as cupro-nickel or cupro-zinc.
refers to any coin minted before 500 A.D.
nicks, marks, and scratches resulting from coins in a mint bag being in contact with each other.
a coin with the center made from one metal with its outer portion being comprised of a different metal.
a round piece of metal made for subsequent minting into coinage.
a coin made of gold or other precious metal with little numismatic value apart from the current value of the metal from which the coin is made.
a coin with a frosted appearance.
a coin that has actually been used as money and shows some degree of wear.
A coin with a design struck in honor of some historical or current event, famous person, or a special anniversary.
a coin minted by mistake or with a design different than intended.
the condition of a coin determined by a set methodology.
the highest part of a coin's design where the first signs of wear and tear generally appear.
the words that are inscribed around the outer edge of a coin, for U.S. coins, the legend inscription is E Pluribus Unum
the total number of coins of a particular denomination, date and/or type produced by a mint
a symbol identifying the particular mint which produced the coin
an un-circulated coin in the same condition as when it was originally minted showing no signs of wear
the study of coins, paper currency, tokens, medals, and other similar items
the “heads” side of the coin where a portrait of a president, king, queen or other national leader appears
coins that are struck with greater pressure than normal using specially polished dies to make the design more highly polished or mirror-like
the back or “tails” side of a coin, the opposite side to the obverse side of a coin
the outer edge of a coin.
a coin that has never actually been used as money and has no visible signs of wear
any change in the design of a coin results in a new coin variety
There are more terms which we will try to define as they come up in this book, but this is a good start for the beginning collector.
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