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Consumer Information

About

U.S. coins

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


The U.S. Mint has issued dollar coins at various times since 1794, discontinued them altogether in 1935, and then resumed them in 1971 with the introduction of the silverless Eisenhower dollar. The silverless Susan B. Anthony coin, honoring the famed suffragette, replaced the Eisenhower dollar in 1979.


Currently, there are two dollar-coin series in production. Both are made of a blend of metals that include copper, zinc, manganese, and nickel. This blend gives them a golden color.


  • The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 created a series of coins depicting U.S. presidents in the order they served. Beginning in 2007 and ending in 2016, four designs appear each year. In December 2011, the U.S. Department of the Treasury suspended minting and issuing of the presidential $1 coins. The U.S. Mint began producing the coins anew in 2012, but in very small numbers to meet demand from collectors and others who pre-order the coins.
  • The $1 Native American coin features Sacagawea, the Native American woman whose presence was essential to the Lewis and Clark expedition, on the obverse. Starting in 2009 and ending in 2016, the Mint is introducing a reverse design celebrating the important contributions of Native Americans to the history and development of the United States.

Half dollars virtually disappeared from circulation following the introduction of the Kennedy half dollar in 1964. Despite heavy production, the half dollar was scarce in general circulation through 1970 for several reasons. For one, the U.S. Mint issued the coin shortly after Kennedy's assassination, so many people kept it as a memento. The rising price of silver also contributed to the coin's scarcity.


The U.S. Mint introduced the first silverless half dollars in 1971.


Other coin denominations in common use today are the 25¢, 10¢, 5¢, and 1¢ pieces, familiarly known as the quarter, dime, nickel, and penny.

Faces and backs of coins

Hover over image to view back of coins.

Penny

Penny

Nickle

Nickle

10¢

Dime

10¢

Dime

25¢

Quarter

25¢

Quarter

50¢

Half Dollar

50¢

Half Dollar

$1

Dollar Coin

$1

Dollar Coin

The composition of U.S. coins has changed considerably since the 1960s. Because of a 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.


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 1¢ 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.


Past U.S. coin denominations include the half-cent, 2¢, 3¢, and 20¢ coins, as well as a small silver coin called a half-dime. From 1795 until 1933, the United States also issued gold coins in denominations of $1, $2.50 ("quarter eagle"), $3, $5 ("half eagle"), $10 ("eagle"), and $20 ("double eagle").


Making cents

Minted coins

The first step in minting coins is to produce strips of metal in the proper thickness. (The U.S. Mint buys these strips, for all coins except pennies, from commercial suppliers.)


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


Next, the blanks go through the coining press. A ring, or collar, holds the blank in place as they are stamped 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 all finished coins except pennies and nickels, which have smooth rims. The presidential and Native American dollar coins have lettering on the rims.



The United States Mint

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


The Mint in Philadelphia has operated continuously since 1792. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, D.C., the Mint operates facilities in Denver, Colorado; San Francisco, California; and West Point, New York. The U.S. Bullion Depository is in Fort Knox, Kentucky.


U.S. coins typically bear a mark indicating which Mint produced them. The chart below shows the mint marks and their corresponding production facilities.

U.S. Mint facility

Mint mark

Philadelphia, PA

P or no mint mark

Denver, CO

D

San Francisco, CA

S

West Point, NY

W

Mints no longer in operation

Carson City, NV

CC

Charlotte, NC

C

Dahlonega, GA

D

New Orleans, LA

O

The Coinage Act of 1965 specified that no mint marks would be used for five years, but in late 1967 Congress authorized their use again. The marks reappeared on regular coinage in 1968.


Design

The director of the U.S. Mint selects designs for coins with the Secretary of the Treasury's approval. However, Congress may prescribe a coin design. A design may not change more often than every 25 years unless Congress determines otherwise.


Emblems

Most U.S. coins portray past presidents on the obverse (front, or face) side. In 2010, the U.S. Mint introduced the America the Beautiful Quarters series to honor 56 national sites in each state, the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories. Starting in 2010, the Mint is issuing five new reverse designs each year in the order that the featured site was established as a national park or site. These quarters are in general circulation, but the Mint also sells sets of collector-edition proof coins, which are made especially for collectors, as well as uncirculated coins and silver proof coins.


Two designs for the nickel, issued in 2004 and 2005 only, have images commemorating the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition. The designs appear on the reverse side of the coin, while the obverse depicts Thomas Jefferson. The obverse design for the 2005 nickel also features a cursive "Liberty" inscription modeled after Jefferson's handwriting. In 2006, a redesigned obverse portrait featured a likeness of Jefferson based on a portrait by Rembrandt Peale.


In 2010, the Mint debuted newly designed "Preservation of the Union" pennies. These pennies feature a union shield with a scroll draped across it with the inscription "ONE CENT."


Commemorative coins

Congress authorizes coins to commemorate American people, places, events, and institutions. Commemorative coins are manufactured in limited quantities and may be gold, silver, or clad. Clad coins are covered in a material that is different from its center. Commemorative coins usually sell at a premium, so they seldom circulate as regular coins.


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 featured Christopher Columbus. It was minted in 1892 to help finance the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Since then, the U.S. Mint has issued many other commemorative coins.


Recent commemorative coins include a $5 gold, $1 silver, and half-dollar clad coin issued in 2011 recognizing and celebrating the founding of the U.S. Army in 1775. Also in 2011, the U.S. Mint issued $5 and $1 coins in recognition of the Medal of Honor, which was established in 1861.