Odd Denominations…

Penny. Quarter. Nickel. What comes to mind when you think of a United States coin. Was it a half cent, or maybe perhaps a silver 5¢ coin? There are (correction were) more denominations than you think. Let’s take a look at them.

An 1800 Draped Bust Half Cent

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An 1800 Draped Bust Half Cent

Jason Christie, Writer and Cartoonist

Penny. Quarter. Nickel. What comes to mind when you think of a United States coin? Was it a half cent, or maybe perhaps a silver 5¢ coin? There are (correction were) more denominations than you think. Let’s take a look at them.

Half Cent: minted from 1793 to 1857, it was the smallest denomination of U.S. currency. They were used in general commerce (the cent was worth more in the 1800’s). The coin had a diameter of 23.5 mm, so it was about the size of a quarter. It went Through 5 different design changes before it was discontinued by the Coinage Act of February 21, 1857.

Large Cent: also minted from 1793 to 1857, it was used in general commerce (4¢ in 1845 had the buying power of about $1 in 2018, so a penny was about 25¢). It had a diameter of 28.5 mm. It was replaced in 1857, also due to the Coinage Act, by the smaller sized cent of today. It had 7 design changes. 

Two Cents: minted from 1864 to 1873, this is one of the shortest lived U.S. coins. It was produced in response to the economic turmoil of the Civil War. The coin’s diameter was 23 mm, and was made of bronze. There was only one design.

Three Cents: minted from 1851 to 1873, this coin was the smallest (in size) denomination with a diameter of 14 mm. However, due to the Civil War’s economic unrest, the coins, having silver content, were hoarded. This led to a “companion” series of copper-nickel three cent coins to be produced at the same time as the silver ones, from 1865 to 1889. The nickel variety had a diameter of 17.9 mm, the same as a dime. There was only one design each.

Half Dime: don’t adjust your computer. Yes, a separate denomination from the nickel, but with the same value. The Half Dime (spelled “disme” on the 1792 coins) was produced from 1792 to 1873. It had a diameter of 15.9 mm. There were 5 design changes. Fun fact: the copper-nickel 5¢ pieces of today first began to be coined in 1866, so yes, that means that, for 7 years, the Mint was making two kinds of 5¢ coins, one made of silver and the other out of copper-nickel.

Twenty Cents: this is not a typo. I meant it to say twenty. The shortest lived U.S. coin, this denomination was minted from 1875-1878. It had a diameter of 22 mm, which is the one of the causes for its hasty demise. It was unpopular because of confusion with the quarter, a better-established coin. There was only one design.

 

I hope you liked learning about some older denominations of U.S. currency. Leave a comment if you liked it!