Coins have always held a special place in the American psyche. Early on, Thomas Jefferson suggested that citizens could do without paper money entirely, relying instead on coins in a broad range of denominations. Cooler heads prevailed, but in 1792, Congress established the Coinage Act, which created the U.S. Mint and standardized coin denominations—from half-cent copper pieces to $10 Eagles made of solid gold.

U.S. gold coins are both symbolic and collectible, embodying the growth of U.S. economic power and influence in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Because they're made of a precious metal, even those with little numismatic value have been treated as investments, which can reward or punish a collector depending on the rise or fall in the price of gold.

U.S. gold coins were issued in several denominations over the years (starting in 1795), including one-dollar gold pieces, two-and-a-half-dollar quarter eagles, three-dollar pieces, five-dollar half eagles, ten-dollar eagles, and twenty-dollar double eagles. Many of the higher denomination gold-eagle coins did not circulate widely among the public—some were hoarded, others were melted down, and a great many were used for trade or interbank transfers.

Gold coins may get a lot of attention, but the first U.S. dollar coins, issued in 1794, were actually made of silver. They were not well received, because the press used to strike the coin was not strong enough to make a clear impression on a denomination that size. Only 1,758 of these Flowing Hair silver dollars were issued, with a few hundred more struck the following year.

In 1795, a depiction of Lady Liberty with a Draped Bust replaced the silver dollar’s obverse (front). The reverse of the coin, consisting of an oddly undernourished-looking eagle, remained fairly consistent until 1798, when it was replaced by what is known today as the Heraldic Eagle. That raptor made it onto the backs of the 1804 silver dollars, which are among the rarest and most mysterious U.S. dollar coins ever minted.

From 1840 until 1873, Seated Liberty silver dollars were put into circulation, though by 1853 the value of the silver in the coin was worth more than a buck, making their use as currency problematic. In some years, tens of thousands of coins were issued, although in two years (1871 and 1872) more than a million were struck. Rarest of all are the 1870-S dollars minted in San Francisco—less than a dozen are thought to have been produced.

The Morgan silver dollars of 1878 to 1904 and 1921 came next. Designed by the U.S. Mint’s chief engraver, George T. Morgan, the coin featured a profile of a garlanded Lady Liberty on the obverse, with an eagle clutching arrows and an olive branch on the reverse...

Peace dollars (1921-1928 and 1934-1935) were named for the word "PEACE" stamped below the perched bald eagle on the coin’s reverse. They replaced Morgans at a time when a post-World War I nation was looking for a hopeful sentiment. Sculptor Anthony de Francisci won the open competition for the coin’s design. Collectors prize the so-called high-relief coins struck that first year—the relief was so deep that the coins could not be stacked properly.

Silver was not the only material used to mint dollar coins. In 1849, the year of the California Gold Rush, gold dollar coins were minted. The original design, sometimes called the Type One gold dollar, featured a Liberty head on one side and a wreath on the other. Coins from 1849 whose wreaths appear open at the top are extremely rare.

In 1854, the Indian Princess gold dollar was introduced—coins bearing a Princess with a small head were struck from 1854 to 1856; larger-headed Princesses were produced until 1889. Gold dollar coins, especially the original Liberty heads, were sometimes soldered into jewelry. As you’d expect, coins with solder marks are worth less than those without.

U.S. half-dollar coins, also known as halves or 50-cent pieces, are another popular area of U.S. coin collecting. Some key collectible varieties include the early half dollars (Flowing Hair, Draped Bust, etc.), Seated Liberty half dollars, Barbers, Walking Liberty half dollars, and Franklins.

The first U.S. quarters were coined in 1796 in Philadelphia. Designed by Robert Scot, the so-called Draped Bust quarter featured basically the same Lady Liberty on its obverse as Scot’s silver dollars, dimes, and half dimes from the period. Like those dimes and half dimes, these early quarters carried no mark stating their value—it was not until 1804 that "25c" was added to the coin’s reverse. Only 6,146 quarters were minted in 1796, making this one of the most prized U.S. coins for collectors.

No quarters were struck after 1796 until 1804, when 6,738 quarters with a new Heraldic Eagle reverse were added to the young nation’s stockpile. Greater numbers of Draped Bust quarters were minted from 1805 to 1807, but then production of the denomination ceased until 1815, when the first Capped Bust quarter was coined.

In 1815, John Reich took over the design of the quarter. He made the coin larger in diameter by several millimeters, gave Lady Liberty a cap, revised the appearance of the Heraldic Eagle, and added a banner with "E Pluribus Unum" (which means "out of many, one") above the bird’s head. Certain coins minted in 1822, 1823, and 1827 are especially rare.

This Capped Bust design lasted until 1831 (although coins were not minted every year), when William Kneass reduced the coin’s diameter and removed the motto on its reverse. Through 1838, larger numbers of coins were struck—hundreds of thousands in most years, and almost 2 million in 1835. That’s why prices for these quarters are modest compared to the ones that preceded them.

Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty quarters came next. The same design was used on half dimes, dimes, half dollars, and dollars, as well as twenty-cent pieces. Almost half a million coins were struck in 1838 when the new design debuted, and robust production levels were maintained until 1891, when the Seated Liberty made way for Charles Barber’s Liberty Head quarter.

This coin, produced from 1892 to 1916, is considered by many to be the most beautiful execution of Lady Liberty on a coin. Because millions of coins were minted every year, the supply of these coins is great, which makes them a favorite of beginning collectors on a budget.

Standing Liberty quarters are noteworthy for the outcry they caused upon being issued in 1916. For many citizens, the coin was obscene since Lady Liberty, who is now standing between the words "In God We Trust" with a shield in her hand, is nude from the waist up. The next year, 1917, she was clothed in a sleeveless top of tightly linked chain mail—modesty, and Liberty’s virtue, had prevailed.

Washington quarters bring us to the present. From 1932 until 1964, silver quarters featuring America’s first president on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse lit up jukeboxes and dropped Coca-Colas from vending machines throughout the land. In 1965, silver quarters became copper quarters with silver skins. In 1976, the eagle on the quarter’s reverse took a year off for the country’s bicentennial—it was replaced for that one year by an image of a colonial drummer, designed by Jack L. Ahr.

At the tail end of the 20th century, in 1999, the State quarters program was launched. Washington remained on the coin’s obverse, but during each year from 1999 through 2008, the reverse of these quarters featured one of five designs to commemorate America’s 50 states. The coins proved incredibly popular, as young people and adults filled books with examples of each coin, minted in the order of statehood.

Dimes were not introduced until 1796. The very first U.S. dime coins were known as Draped Bust dimes, and the denomination (10 cents) was not written anywhere on the coin until 1809.

U.S. dimes have been released with such designs as the Draped Bust, Capped Bust, Seated Liberty, Barber, and Mercury (or Winged Liberty Head). In 1946, the Roosevelt dime we are familiar with today was issued.

Prior to the Coinage Act of May 16, 1866, which sanctioned the production of the nickel, five-cent coins were known as half dimes. Nickels, which were first produced in 1866, are larger than half dimes and are made of 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel. They completely replaced half dimes by 1873.

Nickel designs include Shield nickels, Liberty Head nickels, Buffalo nickels, and Jefferson nickels (which still circulate today).

The first U.S. cents issued were half cents, authorized in 1792. Although minted in multiple varieties until 1857, they were unpopular due to their weight and size.

Large cents were issued every year from 1793 until 1857, with the exception of 1815. They featured multiple depictions on the front, such as the Flowing Hair Liberty, the Draped Bust Liberty, and the Braided Hair Liberty.

Flying Eagle cents, made of copper and nickel, were struck from 1856 until 1859. Lady Liberty was not featured on this coin—instead, the coin’s obverse depicted a soaring eagle.

In 1859, the Indian Head cent was introduced, featuring Lady Liberty wearing a Native-American headdress. Made of the same material as the Flying Eagle cent, this coin was in use until 1909, when it was replaced with the Lincoln cent.

Lincoln cents feature Abraham Lincoln’s head, and although they have been made from different materials since its introduction, the design prevailed.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Legendary Coins and Currency

Legendary Coins and Currency

This online exhibition from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is a great way to get an overview… [read review or visit site]

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Home to the Society of U.S. Pattern collectors, this well-organized site provides in-depth information on pattern c… [read review or visit site]



If you just want to see beautiful photographs of coins, without any clutter whatsoever, this Flickr site is for you… [read review or visit site]

If you're a fan of contemporary U.S. Small Dollar Coins, Mike Wallace's is for you. This no-nonsen… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1893-s * Pcgs G06 G-06 Silver Morgan Dollar * The King & Affordable Even Color1795 Draped Bust Dollar Extremely Fine+ Scarce!!1909-s Vdb Pcgs Lincoln Cent Wheat Penny Pcgs Ms 63 Bn ** Free Shipping!1795 Flowing Hair 50 Cents Almost Uncirculated1907 Liberty Head Double Eagle $20 Dollar Gold Coin, Set In 14k Gold Pendant1795 Flowing Hair Dollar Extremely Fine Rare!!1811 Capped Bust $5 Gold Outstanding Uncirculated Extremely Rare This Nice!1909-s Vdb 1c Rb Lincoln Cent Pcgs Ms63rbSuperb Key Date 1877 Indian Head Cent Choice Au$10000 24k 2ct Diamond 1913 $2.50 Indian Quarter Eagle Gold Coin Mens Ring 50.4g1893-cc Morgan Dollar Outstanding Uncirculated Rare This Nice!Pre-sale Ngc 2014 W Pf70uc "ana Inaugural Releases" 50th Anni. Gold Kennedy Half1924 Double Eagle, $20 St. Gaudens, ** Free Shipping!1916 Standing Liberty 25 Cents -full Head- Uncirculated Rare Date!2007-w $100 Platinum * Ngc Pf70 Pr70 Proof * American Eagle * $2,600++ One Ounce1893-s Morgan Dollar Uncirculated Key Date!! Very Rare This Nice!!1861 $20 Dollar Liberty Double Eagle Gold Coin Rare Coin Uncirculated 1852 Liberty Head $20 Gold Double Eagle Uncirculated1904 - P $20 Twenty Dollar Liberty Head Coronet Gold Coin - AuBullion & Exchange Bank Morgan Silver Dollar Roll Unopened Bu Obw Kennedy 19631908 $20 St. Gaudens Gold Double Eagle No Motto Coin. Graded Ngc Ms 631881-cc $1 Morgan Silver Dollar Ms66 Pcgs. Cac.Lot Of 10 - 2012 Gold American Eagle 1/10 Ounce Gold Five Dollar Coins 702420264Series 1934a $1000 Note, Federal Reserve Bank Chicago, #g00249020a, No Reserve1889-cc Morgan Dollar Anacs Xf40 Key Date! No Reserve!!!!1908 $20 Saint Gaudens Gold Double Eagle Super Gem Brilliant Uncirculated Mint 1858-s Liberty Head $20 Gold Uncirculated Rare This Nice!1879-cc Morgan Silver Dollar Vam-3 Capped Cc Ngc Au 53 Top 1001918/7-d 5c Pcgs F12 - Rare Overdate - Buffalo Nickel - No Reserve!1883-s $20 Pcgs Au55 Gold Coin Liberty Double Eagle - No Reserve!1866-s Liberty Head $20 Gold Double Eagle - No Motto - Almost Unc Very Rare!!1896-s $20 Liberty Double Eagle Pcgs Ms621903 Morgan Silver Dollar, Ultra Rare Proof, ** Only 755 Pieces Struck!1800 $5 Gold Draped Bust Half Eagle - Ngc Ms 62 - Very Nice!2009 Ultra High Relief $20 Gold Double Eagle Coin W/box Coa1924 Double Eagle, $20 Gold St. Gaudens, ** Free Shipping!1849-o $10.00 Gold Eagle Liberty Coin Uncirculated Detail Rare Date CoinThree Rolls (60 Coins) Pre 1921 Mixed Date Morgan Silver Dollars $20 Double Eagle-ngc Au55-overall Numismatic Rarity 4.4:a Historical Coin1923 $20 St. Gaudens Gold Double Eagle Coin.graded Ngc Ms 631888-s $20 Gold Liberty Head Double Eagle Nicer Au Unc' ˜~ ~1913 $20 St Gaudens Ms63-- Pci--no Reserve!!--beautifulComplete Lincoln Penny Collection From 1909 Vdb S - 2007 Rare & Proof Coins 1994-p $1 Pcgs Pr70 Dcameo (proof Silver Eagle) - Pr70!!! Rare .999 1oz BullionComplete High Grade Morgan Silver Dollar Year Set One Per Year 28 Coins Unc / Bu1895 $20 Liberty Head Double Eagle Gold1904 20 Dollar Liberty Gold Coin In Ngc Ms61 Proof Like Uncirculated Condition$20 Lady Liberty Gold Coin 1904 Ms63Five Rolls 1923 Peace Silver Dollars.. Ch/gem Bu1993-p $1 Pcgs Pr70 Dcameo (proof Silver Eagle) - Pr70!!! Rare .999 1oz Bullion1922 $20 St Gaudens Gold Double Eagle Ms 62 Ngc Certified1908 No Motto $20.00 Gold St. Gaudens Pcgs Ms 64 Opens At .99c1879-s $20 Gold Liberty Double Eagle - San Francisco - Pcgs Xf 451873 Seated Liberty Quarter, Arrows, Proof, ** Rare With Only 540 Pieces Struck!1914-s Pcgs Ms64 Saint Gold Double Eagle $20 105974291908 St. Gaudens 20 Dollar Gold With Motto Bu - Low Mintage1915-s $20 St. Gaudens Gold Double Eagle Ms-62 Pcgs Clean!! No Spots! LusterousCollector Lot $10 Gold Libs: Pcgs Au55 1901-s, 1905-s (2 Coins) - No Reserve!1890 Double Struck Indian Cent Penny 1c, 60% Off Center - Ngc Au55 - Mint Error2009 Ultra High Relief Gold Double Eagle Pcgs Ms69pl

Recent News: US Coins

Source: Google News

To coin a phrase, that's so mint!
OCRegister, July 24th

Monaco Rare Coins received its Brasher doubloon, the first gold coin minted in the U.S. and estimated to be worth $10 million, at its headquarters for inspection. The coin, which will not be up for auction or sale, will be set on display as the center...Read more

Coin Collecting Strategies: Is it Time to Buy Indian Head Half Eagles?
CoinWeek, July 23rd

I am generally not a participant in the generic gold market as I tend to favor scarce and rare dates over more common ones. But I like Indian Head half eagles a lot and a recent experience made me ask the question: “is it time to buy Indian Head half...Read more

How Not to Get Robbed Buying Gold Bars or Rare Coins
Uncommon Wisdom Daily, July 22nd

My first time around with Weiss Research was more than 20 years ago as the editor of the Silver & Gold Report (SGR). I loved writing that investment newsletter, and it fueled a passion in me to become an advocate for individuals looking to safely buy...Read more

Coin Collecting Strategies: Rarity Wins In The Long Run
CoinWeek, July 18th

The Eliasberg sale was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to purchase incredibly rare coins. I recently viewed someone's collection and had the opportunity to examine the 1894-S Half Eagle from the Eliasberg collection. The coin, graded by NGC as...Read more

Coin collector admits stealing from parking meters, July 8th

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A 33-year-old Buffalo man has pleaded guilty to stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the city's parking meters. Franklin Lopez faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. Assistant U.S...Read more

Hoard of rare coins from Roman and Iron Age periods found in British cave
Descrier, July 7th

A hoard of 26 rare coins from the Roman and Iron Age periods in a cave in Derbyshire by a member of the public. The trove is the first time that Roman coins that predate the invasion of Britain in AD 43 and gold and silver pieces from the Corieltavi...Read more

Rare coins found buried in front yard of home on Elm Street
The Batavian, July 5th

Joseph Gottstine found four $1 coins in the front yard of his mother-in-law, Stacy Lynn Neureuther, Saturday afternoon. What makes them such a neat find, is three of them are silver dollars from the 1880s. One is a silver dollar from 1971. Gottstine's...Read more

Famed Brasher Doubloon Highlights Exhibits At Chicago ANA Courtesy Of ...
CoinWeek, June 30th

The finest certified 1787 Brasher Doubloon will be displayed by Monaco Rare Coins of Newport Beach, California as the centerpiece of the official Museum Showcase exhibits at the American Numismatic Association 2014 Chicago World's Fair of Money, ...Read more