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    

2015 Coin And Chronicles Set Dwight Eisenhower Dollar Pcgs Reverse Pr70 And Ms70✯jar Of Old Us Estate Coins ✯ $5 $2.5 Gold Trade Bust ✯ Cc Lot Silver Dollars ✯2015 Coin And Chronicles Set Dwight Eisenhower Dollar Pcgs Reverse Pr70 And Ms70Pcgs Genuine 1893 S Morgan Silver Dollar Fine Details/cleaning1856 Flying Eagle Cent Pcgs Vf-30 Original Original Unopened $20 Morgan Silver Dollar Roll Rainbow Toned 1896 ( P S O Cc ?)1955/55 Ddo Lincoln Cent Wheat Penny, Choice Bu++, Highly Desired Mint Error!Original Unopened $20 Morgan Silver Dollar Roll Rainbow Toned 1881 ( P S O Cc ?)1893 S Morgan Dollar Fine In Grade Key Date San Francisco Mint Issue1793 Chain 1c Ameri. Large Cent Pcgs Sheldon-1 Rare Original Unopened $20 Morgan Silver Dollar Roll Rainbow Toned 1885 ( P S O Cc ?)Noblespirit No Reserve Fantastic Morgan Dollar 1878-1921 Vf To Gem Bu Set2015 Coin & Chronicles Set - Dwight D. Eisenhower Ngc Pf70 & Ms70 Er Sku369241908 $20 Gold St. Gaudens Double Eagle No Motto - Pcgs Ms 63 - Philadelphia Mint1874 Cc Trade Dollar Pcgs Au 58 100% White.scarce Carson City Mint 1927 $20 Gold St. Gaudens Double Eagle - Pcgs Ms 63 - Philadelphia Mint1860 D $5 Gold U.s. Half Eagle Dahlonega, Ga Mint Rare-only 14,635 Coins Issued1879 $20 Dollar Liberty Double Eagle Us Gold Coin In Nice Shape! No Reserve! #c8Original Unopened $20 Morgan Silver Dollar Roll Rainbow Toned 1885 ( P S O Cc ?)Gold Minted Philadelphia For Saudi Arabia, 4 Pounds, .9420 Oz Agw, Cert Ngc Au551877 Pcgs Indian Head Penny Pcgs Au 53 ** Highly Coveted Ultra Rare Key Date!1889 Cc Morgan Silver Dollar, Pcgs Xf40, Rare Key Date!!!1910 D St Gaudens $20 Double Eagle Coin1907 St. Gaudens Double Eagle, Pcgs Ms64, Gold Saint1879 Morgan Silver Dollar Proof, Tougher Sharp Gem Pf++, Only 1100 Issued!1918/7-d Overdate * Pcgs Vf35 * Buffalo Indian Head Nickel 5c Rare $6,900+ Error1851 Rare Date Seated Half Dollar, Ngc Au53, Choice Orig David Kahn Rare Coins1914-d Gold St Gaudens $20 Double Eagle (ms+ Beauty) .9675 Troz Agw No Reserve2015 W Ms70 $100 Liberty Ultra High Relief Gold Coin True Blue First Release Uh8Original Unopened $20 Morgan Silver Dollar Roll Rainbow Toned 1882 ( P S O Cc ?)1894 S Liberty Head Double Eagle Twenty Dollar $20 Ngc Au 53 Gold Us Coin NrOriginal Roll 1899-p Morgan Silver Dollars Bu1914 Saint Gaudens $20 Twenty Dollar Gold Coin Pendant, 36.60 Grams -no Reserve 1911 $20 Gold St. Gaudens Double Eagle - San Francisco Mint - Free Shipping!Original Unopened $20 Morgan Silver Dollar Roll Rainbow Toned 1889 ( P S O Cc ?)2015 W $100 American Liberty High Relief Gold Coin Uh8 With Ogp Lot Of 285 Old Us Coins (213 Silver)~w/ 1884 Unc Carson City Gsa Morgan DollarHuge 1339 Unsearched Us Silver Mercury Dime Lot $133.90 Face Value 7lbs 3 Ounces1955 Double Die Lincoln Cent Pcgs Au 531895 $20 Gold Liberty Head / Nice Bu / Mint State + Specimen!Us Huge Coin Collection Lot 301 Pounds Old Silver Thousands Of Old Coins!1911-d Strong "d", $2.50 Indian Gold Quarter Eagle-ngc Graded Au-551908 $20 Saint Pcgs Ms63 No Motto St Gaudens Gold Coin Double Eagle Usa1924 $20.00 Saint Gaudens Gold Double Eagle Ms 63 Pcgs & Cac. Old Green Holder1892-s $20 Gold Liberty Head Double Eagle Coin. Z-1Pcgs Genuine 1797 Small Eagle Silver Dollar Vf Details 10x6 Stars1878 $20 Gold Liberty Double Eagle - San Francisco Mint - Free Shipping!Us Huge Coin Collection Lot 282 Pounds Silver Sets Mail Order Cost $30,000Us 1861 $20 Liberty Gold Coin, Certified Ngc Xf45, Early Civil War Date1989 U S Mint American Eagle 4 Gold Coin Proof Set $5, $10, $25, $50 WcoaToned Ends Original Unsearched Unopened Collector Morgan Silver Dollar Roll (20)2015-w $100 High Relief Pcgs Ms70 First 1st Strike .9999 Fine Gold Liberty Label2015 W Pcgs Ms69 American Liberty $100 Dollar High Relief Gold Coin First Strike2015 W Pcgs Ms69 American Liberty $100 Dollar High Relief Gold Coin First Strike1904 Gold Liberty Head Double Eagle. Pcgs Ms63 - Ogh. Very Nice Coin!1924 St. Gaudens Bu Double Eagle Gold $20 Coin - No Reserve2006 20th Anniversary Gold & Silver Eagle Set - Blue Label - Ngc Ms70 Set1910-d $20 Saint Gaudens Gold Double Eagle, UncirculatedToned Ends $20 Original Unsearched Unopened Collector Morgan Silver Dollar Roll1908 No Motto St. Gaudens Double Eagle Pcgs Ms-65 Sweet!!!

Recent News: US Coins

Source: Google News

Rotary club's Coin Collector unveiled
Sussex Express, August 30th

Rotarian Raouf thanked everyone who had been involved in the development of the Coin Collector including Rhett Thompson who Raouf said did “such a professional job on the signwriting,” Cllr and Senlac Rotary Club Past President Stuart Earl and Senlac ...Read more

Auction of rare coins could fetch $20 million
The Spokesman Review, August 24th

NEW YORK – A New York auction of American coins from 1792 to the 1830s could bring as much as $20 million. The 105-coin sale on Sept. 30 is the second of five auctions by Stack's Bowers and Sotheby's of federal coinage from the D. Brent Pogue ...Read more

Treasure hunters find rare coins
Independent Online, August 19th

Orlando - Florida treasure hunters found a trove of $4.5-million worth of Spanish gold coins 300 years to the day after a fleet of ships sunk in a hurricane while en route from Havana to Spain, the salvage owner said on Wednesday. The 350 coins found...Read more

Rare coins are not a commodity like precious metal, Garrett explains
The Lane Report, August 17th

In addition to owning and operating Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries in Lexington, Garrett is a major shareholder in Sarasota Rare Coin Galleries in Florida, and his combined annual sales in rare coins and precious metals total more than $10 million...Read more

Rare Coins Put On Display In Rosemont
Journal & Topics Newspapers Online, August 14th

Commerce is changing around the world and so is currency, for example with the introduction of bitcoins. During this week's (Aug. 11- Aug. 15) 'World's Fair of Money' Convention at the Donald E. Stephens (DES) Convention Center crime issues, ...Read more

Covering all coin collecting needs, August 12th

A series of life situations led Derek Sawchenko to open Certified Coin Consultants three years ago. For two decades, collectively, he worked as a financial advisor, currency trader, and in wholesale eyewear. Along the way, he dealt with customers who ...Read more

Glimpse of rare coins in Kolkata
Times of India, August 11th

KOLKATA: Time is money but some particular currency is timeless. On the eve of Independence Day, Kolkatans will get see some of the most ancient coins of Bengal at an exhibition by the Numismatic Society of Calcutta. On display will be 2nd Century BC ...Read more

Rare Coins in Michigan Unclaimed Property Auction: See the List, August 6th

Rare Coins in Michigan Unclaimed Property Auction: See the List. Coins, stamps and precious metals from unclaimed safety deposit boxes will be sold to the highest bidder Saturday and Sunday. By Beth Dalbey (Patch Staff) August 6, 2015...Read more