Dollars and Cents - U.S. Coins

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Introduction

Types of U.S. Paper Money

Currency Features

U.S. Coins

Circulation of Money

Spotting Counterfeit Currency

U.S. Coins

U.S. coins have changed many times since the Coinage Act of 1792, which adopted the dollar as the standard monetary unit.

Silver dollars have been minted and issued at various times since 1794. Dollar coins were discontinued in 1935, then resumed in 1971 with the introduction of the silverless Eisenhower dollar. The silverless Susan B. Anthony coin, honoring the famed women's suffrage advocate, replaced the Eisenhower dollar in 1979.

A dollar coin depicting Sacagawea, the Native American woman whose presence was essential to the success of the Lewis and Clark expedition, replaced the Susan B. Anthony coin in 2000. The coin has a copper core clad in an alloy of copper, zinc, manganese, and nickel, which gives the coin a golden color.

From 2009 through 2016, a series of dollar coins, still featuring Sacagawea on the obverse (face), will feature a new reverse design each year celebrating the important contributions made by Native American tribes and individuals to the history and development of the United States.

In 2007, a series of dollar coins was introduced depicting U.S. presidents in the order in which they served; four new designs will appear each year until 2016.

Half-dollars virtually disappeared from circulation following the introduction, in 1964, of the Kennedy half-dollar. Despite the fact that huge quantities were produced, the half-dollar remained scarce in general circulation through 1970. Silverless halves first appeared in 1971.

Other coin denominations in common use today are the 25-cent, 10-cent, five-cent, and one-cent pieces, familiarly known as the quarter, dime, nickel, and penny.

The composition of U.S. coins has changed considerably since the 1960s. Because of a growing worldwide silver shortage, the Coinage Act of 1965 authorized a change in the composition of dimes, quarters, and half-dollars, which had been 90 percent silver. Silver was eliminated from the dime and the quarter. The half-dollar's silver content was reduced to 40 percent and, after 1970, was eliminated altogether.

Faces and Backs of Coins

Face

Back

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln Memorial

Thomas Jefferson

Monticello

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Torch

George Washington

50 States Design

John F. Kennedy

Presidential Coat of Arms

Sacagawea

Bald Eagle

In 1981 Congress authorized a change in the penny's composition, abandoning the 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc alloy used for decades. The one-cent piece is now copper-plated zinc—97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper. The old and new pennies look virtually identical, but the new coin is about 19 percent lighter.

U.S. coin denominations used in the past were the half-cent, two-cent, three-cent, and 20-cent pieces, as well as 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 used from 1795 until 1933.

The Mint
The U.S. Mint, which makes all U.S. coins, was established by Congress in 1792 and became an operating bureau of the Treasury Department in 1873.

The Philadelphia Mint has been in continuous operation since 1792. The Denver Mint began its coinage operations in 1906. The San Francisco Mint, established in 1854, is now the primary production facility for proof coins. The Mint in West Point, New York, once used exclusively as a bullion depository, is now the chief producer of gold coins.

U.S. coins typically bear a mint mark showing which mint produced them. Coins minted in Philadelphia bear a P or no mint mark; those minted in Denver, a D; in San Francisco, an S; and in West Point, a W. Although the Coinage Act of 1965 specified that no mint marks would be used for five years, Congress authorized in late 1967 that mint marks be resumed. The marks reappeared on regular coinage in 1968.

Several branch mints are no longer in operation. These mints were located in Carson City, Nevada (mint mark, CC); Charlotte, North Carolina (C); Dahlonega, Georgia (D); and New Orleans, Louisiana (O).

Design
The Director of the Mint selects designs for U.S. coins with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, although Congress may prescribe a coin design. A design may not be changed more often than every 25 years unless Congress determines otherwise.

Emblems
Most U.S. coins portray past U.S. Presidents. They are the Lincoln one-cent piece, the Washington 25-cent piece, the Jefferson five-cent piece, the Franklin D. Roosevelt dime, and the Kennedy half-dollar.

The 50 States Quarters Program Act of 1997 provided for the redesign of the reverse side of quarters to depict emblems of each of the 50 states. Each year from 1999 through 2008, coins commemorating five states, with designs created by the states, were issued in the order in which the states signed the Constitution or joined the Union. These quarters are in general circulation, but the Mint also sells sets of collector edition proof, uncirculated, and silver proof coins.

Two designs for the nickel issued only in 2004 and 2005 depict images commemorating the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition; the designs appear on the reverse side while the obverse depicts Thomas Jefferson.

"In God We Trust"
The phrase was first used on the U.S. two-cent coin in 1864. It appeared on the nickel, quarter, half-dollar, and silver dollar and on the $5, $10, and $20 gold pieces in 1866, on the penny in 1909, and on the dime in 1916. Dropped from the nickel in 1883, the phrase reappeared on the nickel in 1938. All U.S. coins now issued bear the motto.

image of rolled up coinsHow Coins Are Made

The first step in minting coins is the production of strips of metal in the proper thickness. (The U.S. Mint buys these strips, for all coins except pennies, from commercial suppliers.) Strips for pennies are zinc. Strips for nickels are an alloy of 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel. Clad dimes, quarters, and half-dollars are produced from three layers of metal fused together; the outer layers are the same alloy used for nickels, and the core is copper.

The metal strips are fed into blanking presses, which cut round blanks (planchets) the approximate size of the finished coin. (The blanks for pennies, made of zinc, are coated with copper before going on to the next step. Commercial companies provide the planchets for pennies to the Mint.) The blanks are run through annealing furnaces to soften them and then through tumbling barrels, rotating cylinders that contain chemical solutions to clean and burnish the metal. Next, the blanks are washed and put into drying machines. Then the blanks go through milling or "upsetting" machines, which produce the raised (upset) rim.

Blanks next proceed to the stamping or coining press. The blank is held in place by a ring, or collar, as it is struck under tremendous pressure. Pennies require about 40 tons of pressure, and the larger coins require proportionately more. Upper and lower dies stamp the design on both sides of the coin at the same time. Grooves inside the ring holding the blank form the "reeding" or ridges on the rim of finished coins, except for pennies and nickels, which have smooth rims. The presidential and Native American dollar coins have lettering on the rims.

Commemorative Coins

Coins to commemorate American people, places, events, and institutions are authorized by special acts of Congress and manufactured in limited quantities. Commemorative coins, which may be gold, silver, or clad, usually sell at a premium, so they seldom circulate as regular coin.

Legislation specifies that commemorative coin programs must operate at no net cost to taxpayers. Surcharges raised from the sale of commemorative coins are designated for a specific purpose or for reducing the national debt.

The first commemorative coin was minted in 1892 to help finance the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Since that time many other commemorative coins have been issued.

Recent commemorative coins include a 2006 coin marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of American statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin and a 2007 coin honoring the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in North America.

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