Monday, December 6, 2010


When I started cleaning out piles and files of this and that, I happened upon my coin collection. I had some of these coins since at least high school, which was long ago, but I think I started before that, I don’t actually recall. Dad and Mom started us out on this coin collecting, but in adult years, it waned as the pressures of career and other pursuits took the forefront.

Well, anyhow, I must have looked at them since that time, probably at the time I packed them away, because I also had a 2003 coin value book and a paper money value book. In anticipation of the treasures I might uncover in the various places I had squirreled away change and in my nest of older coins, I perused the coin book. I found the history of coins to be very interesting and thought I might share that information with you.

According to the Official Red Book, A guide Book of United States Coins, 2003 by RS Yeoman, the Spanish Milled Dollar and its fractional parts of ½ and 1 “real”, 2 and 4 “reales” were the principal coins of the American colonists and the forerunner of our silver dollar and its fractional divisions.

The early settlers of New England used “wampum” to trade with the Indians. Wampum was mussel shells fashioned in the form of beads. Beaver skins, wampum, and the tobacco from Virginia became the mostly commonly used media of exchange. The settlers had little use for coined money for exchange but when the traders from foreign countries arrived, coins were usually demanded for payment of goods.

The Spanish milled dollar, or “piece of eight”, continued to be a standard money unit throughout the entire Colonial era and was circulated, with it’s fractional parts, with official sanction until 1857. One “real” equaled 12 ½ cents and was known as a “bit”. A quarter of the dollar then became known as “two bits”, which anyone over 45 years old probably would remember that as a term used by a parent or grandparent.

England made no effort, in the beginning, to provide gold or silver coins to the colonists. The first coins minted in America were minted by John Hull in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, beginning in 1652.

Coins and tokens of many types were introduced and employed by the colonists until the Articles of Confederation, adopted March 1, 1781, provided that Congress should have the sole right to regulate the alloy and value of coin struck by its own authority or by that of the respective states. Each state had the right to coin money, but Congress was the regulating authority. Vermont, Connecticut, and New Jersey granted coining privileges to companies or individuals. Massachusetts erected its own mint to produce copper coins.

It took several years for a national, uniform, coinage to come about. It was actually discussed beginning in the Colonial years. So, by July 6, 1785, Congress gave formal approval to the basic dollar unit and decimal coinage ratio in its resolution. Because of other pressing matters, the idea was on the back burner and it was not until George Washington became President and the new nation was on firm ground, that Congress turned their attention to the subject of currency, a mint, and a coin system.

Finally, in April 1792, a bill was passed providing “that the money of account of the United States should be expressed in dollars or units, tenths, hundredths and thousandths of a dollar. So at that time we had a $10.00 Gold Eagle, $5.00 Gold Half Eagle, $2.50 Gold Quarter Eagle, a Silver Dollar, a Silver Half Dollar, a Silver Quarter Dollar, a Silver Disme (dime), Silver Half Disme, Copper Cent, and Copper Half Cent. The mint was constructed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In 1834, a new law was passed reducing the weight of standard gold. Branch mints in Dahlonega, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina were established in 1838 to handle the newly mined gold at the source.

In 1848, the California gold discovery prompted a series of private, state, and territorial gold issues in the Western states. The result of which was to establish another branch of the mint at San Francisco in 1854. In 1849, the legislature passed an act providing for a mint and specified five and ten dollar gold coins without alloy. Oregon City was the selected location for the mint since it was the largest city in the territory. About this same time, Oregon had been brought into the United States, by Congress, as a territory. When the new governor arrived in March, he declared the coinage act unconstitutional. The people, however, continued to work for a convenient medium of exchange and soon started a private mint which was named the Oregon Exchange Company. They produced the coins specified in the original act, despite what the Governor said. Incidentally, in 2003, those five dollar coins, in good condition, were valued at $11,000.00 each and the ten dollar coins at $27,500.00 each. Uncirculated condition coins were valued at $38,000.00 and $87,000.00, respectively. The coins had a beaver on the front of them. There were only 6,000 five dollar coins minted and 2, 850 ten dollar coins.... all made from virgin gold.

The law of 1857 abolished the half-cent piece and reduced the size of the cent. The new cent would contain 88% copper and 12% nickel. In 1864, the weight was again reduced and the composition became 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc. (Additionally, in 1962, the alloy was changed to 95% copper and 5% zinc and in 1982, it was changed to 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper).

The law of 1864, provided for the new bronze two cent piece. The two cent piece was the first coin to bear the motto “In God We Trust”. The denomination proved to be unnecessary and was discontinued 9 years later.

In the Spring of 1865, our country began producing a three cent piece of 75-25 copper-nickel alloy, until 1889. We also a had silver three cent piece until 1873.

In May of 1866, the five cent nickel was born with the same alloy as the three cent piece. The silver half dime was retired in 1873.

A mint was erected in Carson City, Nevada in 1870 as a convenient depository for the miners in that area and operated until 1893.

The law of 1873, eliminated the silver dollar. The coin had not been circulated in the US to any extent since 1803 for various reasons, even though it had been turned out steadily since 1840.
In 1878, the Bland-Allison Act authorized coinage of the silver dollar to resume. Coinage of the silver dollar was, again, suspended after 1904 when teh bullion supply became exhausted. Under the Pittman Act of 1918, more than 270,000,000 silver dollars were melted down and in 1921, coinage of the silver dollar was resumed. From 1921 - 1935, the Peace dollar was issued without congressional sanction under the terms of the Pittman Act. From 1971 - 1978, the Eisenhower dollars were issued. Next was the Susan B. Anthony dollars, issued from 1979 - 1999 and the Sacagawea dollars that began production in the year 2000.

From 1875 until 1878, there was a twenty cent piece created for the Western states. It was confused with the quarter dollar and discontinued.

So, anyway, it took me all day just to go through my pennies. I had a lot of them and they weigh a ton. I was kinda excited when I found one dated in 1921, it was the oldest one. I tore the book open to see how much my old penny was valued at in 2003, trembling with anticipation.... only to find that my penny was only valued at 20 cents! (Okay, I wasn’t really trembling with anticipation, but I thought it sounded more exciting that way! Ha ha)

Later on, I did some Internet checking and discovered that my penny is now valued at 50 cents. I have to admit that I was disappointed to find that the little coin that had survived through 82 years of use by 2003 and 89 years by 2010, was only worth that much. It seemed rather sad, actually. But, if you think about it, the little penny is now worth 50 times more than it was when it was produced... so now, I feel better!

The book I was reading has so much more information in it. I’m tempted to get the 2010 version, or actually, the 2011 version when it comes out. Plus, it shows pictures of the old original coins and tokens and they’re pretty interesting to look at. There were many more stories of different coins that were produced by the states before the uniform ones that we use, but since I wasn’t looking to re-write the man’s book, I just took out some stuff I thought was interesting! There’s also tons of different stuff that you need to watch for when you’re going through your coins that are specific to a coin, a year, a mint, or whatever, that may (or may not) increase the value of the coin.

While perusing information on the Internet, I found this site to be very helpful with today's values. It also has many links to other information, including pointers to finding a legitimate coin dealer and recognizing fake/altered coins.

From this site, I got the mint marks which show where the coin was minted. There are several U.S. Mints that struck coins over the years, below is the list:

1. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Mint- coins from this mint usually don’t have a mint mark if they do it will be a P.
2. San Francisco, California Mint- coins with a S stamped on the reverse or obverse.
3. Denver, Colorado Mint- coins with a D mint mark on the obverse or reverse.
4. Dahlonega, Georgia Mint- this mint also used a D and is stamped on gold coins from 1838-1861 only.
5. West Point Academy Mint- Coins with W mint mark. Only the American Silver Eagle (beginning in 1996 to present), Modern gold coins, and the 1996-W Roosevelt Dime.
6. Carson City, Nevada Mint- coins will have a CC mint mark on the reverse.
7. New Orleans, Louisiana Mint- coins will have an O mint mark on the reverse.
8. Charlotte, North Carolina Mint- is a C mint mark and is only on certain gold coins.

Happy collecting!

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