top of page

Pocket Change ! The History of American Coins

Updated: Aug 6, 2020

Do you like History? Fun Facts? STARZ Hit Show Outlander? I don’t know why I thru that in there but most likely as I was binge watching this Season while working on this post and Vlog. I kept wondering “what coins or currency forms Jamie was using…” Now that I’ve alienated 2/3rds of my readers, tis post is going to be a lot of Historical Geek Facts, an “all-about US Coins” guide and really a “how to” on coin collecting…and, you may not have anything better to do today during your quarantine. So why not learn something new to you !

We will begin our journey with the origin of American Coins in the colonial period. Then…I’ll guide you thru the latter half of 18th Century, all the changes in the 19th and 20th Century, and we will wrap it up in today’s modern era. You will learn how to identify, find values and much more. You might just come out of this, a coin expert, or…a little geekier than yesterday.

Sound good? Read On….To begin our journey thru the Numismatic History of the United States we must briefly visit America’s COLONIAL PERIOD…first off, the word Numismatic, that just mean the study, or collection of currency…. coins, tokens, paper money and related objects….

So, lets back to our early origins…I am talking pre-Revolutionary War and the Colonial Period in the Americas. There was some Colonial Currency at the time, but it was non-Standardized to say the least. Most of your English colonists had simply continued their use of the common British currency of the period. The Pound, Shilling, and Pence….but, as the colonies began to break away commerce from England, these radical colonists began to print their more of their own currency. This proved to be a much better way to support the growth of their new colonies, and give the proverbial “Ye Old Finger,” to the Crown.

It’s also noteworthy, that very few actual coins were ever minted in the original thirteen colonies… however, foreign coins like the Spanish Dollar were widely circulated. Also common at the time, coins from Portugal, France, German, Denmark, etc.… Early America was truly an international marketplace. And, Colonists were very resourceful… almost anything and everything was used as currency. You had the locally printed paper money and notes, wampum, one of my favorites and basically Native American trade beads comprised of shells… & of course, the good old fashion barter system. Also, let’s not forget other “trade-able” commodities…. such as corn, wheat, tobacco, & fur…. whatever the local economy accepted as legal tender and I am sure you can see how issues would arise when traveling. What had value in Connecticut may not have any in Georgia, and so on. It remained this way, well after the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783.

The fact is, it was not until The Coinage Act of 1792, 9 years later, that the United States Mint was Established. And the rest is history…

Oh wait….I am just getting started.

If you don't feel like can always watch and listen here...

The FIRST AMERICAN COINS the Congressional Act Created were in the denominations of the Half Cent, Cent, Half Dime (don’t call me a nickel), the Dime, the Quarter, the Half Dollar, Dollar, the Quarter Eagle, which was a $2.50 gold coin…a Half Eagle a $5 gold coin, and the Eagle or a $10 gold piece…

However, the first coin to actually be minted or produced, was The 1792 Half Dime. And there is a legend that the silver in these 1st half dimes actually came from Martha Washington's silverware.

Here’s the rest of the coins minted in 1790s….

The Half Cent (1793-1857)

Large Cent (1793-1857)

Early Dollar (1794-1804)

Early Half Dollar (1794-1807)

Half Dime (1794-1873)

$5 Gold Piece (1795-1908)

$10 Gold Piece (1795-1907)

The Bust Quarter (1796-1838)

The Bust Dime (1796-1837)

And $2½ Gold Piece (1796-1907)

This period of coinage 1792 thru 1837 features several designs variations. The Draped Bust design was featured on all copper and silver coins minted between 1796-1807. But by 1807 the Capped Bust began to appear on the Silver Coins, the exception of the the dollar…have a look at the 1807 Capped Bust Half Dollar…

Bust Half (1807-1839)