Guide to United States Coinage - Littleton Coin Company
 
 
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Guide to United States Coinage

Hold a Liberty Cap half cent in your hand and travel back to colonial times. A silver 3¢ piece recalls the Civil War, while the Peace dollar echoes the glitz and glamour of the Roaring Twenties. Genuine U.S. coins not only blaze a path through America's history – they tell the country's story in a way that few other artifacts can. Why? Since our nation's beginnings, George Washington, Thomas Edison, our grandparents, parents, and even you today, have used coins!

The following is a guide to United States coinage that outlines the major design types of U.S. coins by denomination and date of issue.

Half Cent 1793-1857

[photo: Liberty Cap Left Half Cent]

Liberty Cap Left 1793

[photo: Liberty Cap Right Half Cent]

Liberty Cap Right 1794-1797

[photo: Draped Bust Half Cent]

Draped Bust 1800-1808

[photo: Classic Head Half Cent]

Classic Head 1809-1836

[photo: Braided Hair Half Cent]

Braided Hair 1840-1857

The smallest denomination U.S. coin, yet nearly the size of a modern quarter. Made of pure copper, the half cent was useful for making change during its early years of issue. But as time passed and things grew more expensive, the half cent lost its usefulness, and was abandoned shortly before the Civil War. Today, all half cents are scarce. All types carry a bust of Liberty on the obverse and a wreath on the reverse.

Large Cent 1793-1857

[photo: Flowing Hair (Chain reverse) Large Cent]

Flowing Hair
(Chain reverse) 1793

[photo: Flowing Hair (Wreath reverse) Large Cent]

Flowing Hair
(Wreath reverse) 1793

[photo: Liberty Cap Large Cent]

Liberty Cap 1793-1796

[photo: Draped Bust Large Cent]

Draped Bust 1796-1807

[photo: Classic Head Large Cent]

Classic Head 1808-1814

[photo: Coronet Large Cent]

Coronet 1816-1857

Along with the half cent, one of the first two coins struck by the United States, all the large cents were coined at the Philadelphia Mint. With twice the copper of the half cent, they were large and heavy – greater in size than today’s quarter – so a pocketful was quite bulky. As the price of copper rose during the 1800s, the large cent became too expensive to produce and was replaced in 1857 by the small cent.

Small Cent 1856-Date

[photo: Flying Eagle Cent]

Flying Eagle 1856-1858

[photo: Indian Head Cent]

Indian Head 1859-1909

[photo: Lincoln Cent]

Lincoln 1909-Date

[photo: Lincoln Cent, Wheat Ears Reverse]

Wheat Ears Reverse1909-1958

[photo: Lincoln Cent, Memorial Reverse]

Memorial Reverse 1959-2008

[photo: Lincoln Cent, Birthplace Reverse]

Birthplace2009

[photo: Lincoln Cent, Formative Years Reverse]

Formative Years 2009

[photo: Lincoln Cent, Professional Life Reverse]

Professional Life 2009

[photo: Lincoln Cent, Presidency Reverse]

Presidency 2009

[photo: Lincoln Cent, Shield Reverse]

Shield Reverse 2010-Date

America’s first small cent, the Flying Eagle, was introduced in 1856. It was nicknamed the “white cent” because of its 88% copper and 12% nickel composition. Designed by James Longacre, the Flying Eagle cent was minted for just 3 years before being replaced with the Indian Head cent.

In 1909, the Lincoln cent became America's first circulating coin to portray a president. It originally featured the "Wheat Ears" reverse design, which was changed to the Lincoln Memorial in 1959. Then, for the series' 100th anniversary and the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth in 2009, four different reverse designs were released. A new, ongoing reverse design featuring the Union Shield debuted in 2010.

Two-Cent Piece 1864-1873

[photo: Two-Cent Piece]

Two-Cent Piece1864-1873

The 1864 Coin Act also called for a 2¢ copper coin. This Civil War-era coin was America’s first and only 2¢ piece. It was the first coin to carry IN GOD WE TRUST.

Silver Three-Cent Piece 1851-1873

[photo: Silver Three-Cent Piece]

Silver Three-Cent Piece 1851-1873

The 3¢ piece is the smallest of all U.S. silver coins. Because it was struck in silver, the public hoarded it along with other coins when the Civil War broke out. Since the 3¢ piece was needed to help ease the coin shortage caused by war, the U.S. Mint decided to strike it in copper-nickel.

Nickel Three-Cent Piece 1865-1889

[photo: Nickel Three-Cent Piece]

Nickel Three-Cent Piece 1865-1889

The 3¢ nickel, so called because of its copper-nickel composition, was well received by the public. This coin helped the nation retire the unpopular 3¢ paper notes issued during the Civil War. Once the majority of notes had been exchanged for 3¢ coins, and production of 5¢ nickels and cents increased, the banks needed fewer 3¢ pieces.

Nickel 1866-Date

[photo: Shield Nickel]

Shield 1866-1883

[photo: Liberty Head Nickel]

Liberty Head (“V”) 1883-1913

[photo: Buffalo Nickel]

Buffalo 1913-1938

[photo: Classic Jefferson Nickel]

Jefferson Obverse1938-2004

[photo: Jefferson Nickel]

Jefferson Obverse2005

[photo: Peace Medal Nickel]

Peace Medal2004

[photo: Keelboat Nickel]

Keelboat 2004

[photo: Buffalo Nickel]

Bison2005

[photo: Ocean in View Nickel]

Ocean in View 2005

[photo: Return to Monticello Nickel]

Return to Monticello 2006-Date

In 1866, the nation’s first 5¢ coin of non-precious metal was created: the Shield nickel. The prior (and first) U.S. 5¢ coin, the half dime, was silver. In 1883 came the Liberty Head or “V” nickel, followed by the extremely popular Buffalo nickel of the early 20th century, and then the long-running Jefferson nickel. In 2004, new Westward Journey Jefferson nickels were released. Commemorating the Bicentennial of the Lewis & Clark expedition, two new reverse designs were issued annually. In 2006, the popular series ended with the “Return to Monticello” coin.

Half Dime 1794-1873

[photo: Flowing Hair Half Dime]

Flowing Hair 1794-1795

[photo: Draped Bust Half Dime]

Draped Bust 1796-1805

[photo: Capped Bust Half Dime]

Capped Bust 1829-1837

[photo: Liberty Seated Half Dime]

Liberty Seated 1837-1873

Minted in fine silver, the famous half dime was the nation’s first 5¢ coin. It was smaller and weighed less than a nickel. Several design types were issued long before the U.S. nickel denomination began. From 1866-1873, both the half dime and nickel were struck. The half dime played an integral role in the early life of America, and is of great historic and numismatic importance.

Dime 1796-Date

[photo: Draped Bust Dime]

Draped Bust 1796-1807

[photo: Capped Bust Dime]

Capped Bust 1809-1837

[photo: Liberty Seated Dime]

Liberty Seated 1837-1891

[photo: Barber Dime]

Barber 1892-1916

[photo: Mercury Dime]

Mercury 1916-1945

[photo: Roosevelt Dime]

Roosevelt 1946-Date

The 10¢ coin, or dime, follows closely the designs of the half dime through the Liberty Seated type. And until 1964, when production of circulating silver coinage was ceased, all circulating dimes were minted in fine silver. Dimes in higher grades are scarce and expensive, since this denomination was used extensively compared to quarters and halves. But many early dimes are still available in circulated condition at a more reasonable cost.

Twenty-Cent Piece 1875-1878

[photo: Twenty-Cent Piece (obverse)] [photo: Twenty-Cent Piece (reverse)]

Twenty-Cent Piece 1875-1878

The shortest-lived coin denomination in U.S. history! The twenty-cent piece, minted in 90% fine silver, was struck for circulation only in 1875 and 1876. A few hundred Proofs were coined in 1877-1878. Soon after the coin’s appearance, people complained that it was too close in design and size to the quarter – causing problems in making change. Fewer than 1.4 million were minted, so the twenty-cent piece is a scarce and treasured item today.

Quarter 1796-Date

[photo: Draped Bust Quarter]

Draped Bust 1796-1807

[photo: Capped Bust Quarter]

Capped Bust 1815-1838

[photo: Liberty Seated Quarter]

Liberty Seated 1838-1891

[photo: Barber Quarter]

Barber 1892-1916

[photo: Standing Liberty Quarter]

Standing Liberty 1916-1930

[photo: Washington Quarter]

Washington 1932-1998

Because of the practice of cutting up the Mexican 8 Reales coin into eight parts (thus the “Piece of Eight” name), the U.S. quarter, as ¼ of a dollar, became known as “two bits.” As a silver coin of substantial size until 1964, the quarter has always been popular – both in circulation and among collectors. Several designs have been used since 1796, and many collectors try to assemble at least one coin of each type.

[photo: Deleware Statehood Quarter]

Delaware 1999

[photo: Hawaii Statehood Quarter]

Hawaii 2008

[photo: District of Columbia Quarter]

District of Columbia 2009

Statehood, D.C. & U.S. Territories Quarters

A new era of coin collecting began with the start of America’s 50 State Quarters Program in 1999. From 1999-2008, every state in the Union was honored in the order they joined, or, in the case of the 13 original colonies, the order they ratified the Constitution. In 2009, an additional six quarters were issued, honoring the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories.

[photo: Hot Springs National Park Quarter]

Hot Springs 2010

[photo: Gettysburg National Military Park Quarter]

Gettysburg 2011

[photo: El Yunque National Forest Quarter]

El Yunque 2012

America's National Park Quarters

In 2010 another series, modeled after the Statehood quarters, began – this time honoring America’s national parks and historic sites. Designs are scheduled to be released until 2021 for each of the 50 states, D.C., and the five U.S. territories in the order their locations first became national sites.

See our complete Quarter Release Schedule

Half Dollar 1794-Date

[photo: Flowing Hair Half Dollar]

Flowing Hair 1794-1795

[photo: Draped Bust Half Dollar]

Draped Bust 1796-1807

[photo: Capped Bust Half Dollar]

Capped Bust 1807-1839

[photo: Liberty Seated Half Dollar]

Liberty Seated 1839-1891

[photo: Barber Half Dollar]

Barber 1892-1915

[photo: Liberty Walking Half Dollar]

Liberty Walking 1916-1947

[photo: Franklin Half Dollar]

Franklin 1948-1963

[photo: Kennedy Half Dollar]

Kennedy 1964-Date

Though the half dollar is almost forgotten today, it was once the major silver coin of circulation. At one time, a half dollar was often more than a person made in a day’s labor. To have one, or perhaps two, was a significant stash of money. Because the half dollar is seldom seen today, it continues to grow in popularity.

Dollar 1794-Date

[photo: Flowing Hair Dollar]

Flowing Hair 1794-1795

[photo: Draped Bust Dollar]

Draped Bust 1795-1804

[photo: Liberty Seated Dollar]

Liberty Seated 1840-1873

Early silver dollars represent the remarkable era in America’s history when the colonies united to form what would become one of the greatest nations on Earth. Since precious silver ore was scarce in that era, the dollars of that period have very low mintages. Silver dollars were not minted between 1804 and 1836, so those that still circulated were scarce and hoarded. In addition to the early dollars pictured, a number of so-called “Gobrecht” dollars were issued between 1836-1839, and served as patterns for the Liberty Seated dollar.

[photo: Trade Dollar]

Trade 1873-1885

[photo: Morgan Dollar]

Morgan 1878-1921

[photo: Peace Dollar]

Peace 1921-1935

[photo: Eisenhower Dollar]

Eisenhower 1971-1978

[photo: Susan B. Anthony Dollar]

Susan B. Anthony 1979-1981, 1999

[photo: American Eagle Silver Dollar]

American Eagle 1986-Date

[photo: Sacagawea Dollar]

Sacagawea 2000-2008

[photo: Presidential Dollar]

Presidential 2007-Date

[photo: Native American Dollar]

Native American2009-Date

[photo: Native American Dollar, Agriculture Reverse]

Agriculture 2009

[photo: Native American Dollar, Government Reverse]

Government 2010

[photo: Native American Dollar, Diplomacy Reverse]

Diplomacy2011

[photo: Native American Dollar, Trade Routes Reverse]

Trade Routes2012

The U.S. dollar coins of the late 19th century to the present are among the most sought-after collector issues. These include Trade, Morgan, and Peace dollars struck in 90% silver, as well as the Eisenhower dollars, which were the last large-size $1 coins struck for circulation. The Susan B. Anthony coins began a new era of small-size U.S. dollars, and were followed by the Sacagawea dollars of 2000 to 2008, and the new Presidential dollar series introduced in 2007. Though originally issued for circulation, beginning in 2012 the Presidential dollars were issued in limited quantities for collectors only.

In 2009, new Native American dollars debuted, with the familiar Sacagawea obverse (with date and mint mark moved to the edge) and annually changing reverse designs. The $1 American Eagle silver bullion issues, struck in 99.93% silver, were introduced in 1986 and are the largest of all U.S. coins.

U.S. Gold Coins

[photo: Liberty Head $1 Gold]

Liberty Head $1 Gold 1849-1854

[photo: Indian Head $2.50 Gold (Quarter Eagle)]

Indian Head $2.50 Gold 1908-1929

[photo: Coronet $5 Gold (Half Eagle)]

Liberty Head $5 Gold 1839-1908

[photo: Indian Head $10 Gold (Eagle)]

Indian Head $10 Gold 1907-1933

[photo: Saint-Gaudens $20 Gold (Double Eagle)]

Saint‑Gaudens $20 Gold 1907-1933

Between 1795 and 1933, the U.S. Mint produced various gold coins in the denominations of $1, $2.50, $3, $5, $10 and $20 (plus a few extremely rare $4 pattern pieces). These beautiful coins were minted in one of the world’s most precious metals, and designed by some of the finest artists of the day. Mintages were quite small, and many have been melted down over the years, so U.S. gold coins are of particular scarcity and interest today. Since 1986, American Eagle gold bullion coins have been issued just for collectors. For many, gold coins with their unmatched beauty and worldwide popularity represent the apex of enjoyment in numismatics.

U.S. Commemoratives

[photo: 1892 Columbian Commemorative Half Dollar]

1892 Columbian Half Dollar – the first U.S. Commemorative

[photo: 1982 George Washington Commemorative Half Dollar]

1982 George Washington Half Dollar

Official U.S. commemorative coins are authorized by Act of Congress to honor important persons, locations, and events in U.S. history. Commemoratives have been struck in both silver and gold, and more recently, clad. They are minted only in very small numbers compared to regular coinage. After 1954, no U.S. commemoratives were produced until 1982, when the George Washington half dollar was issued to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Washington’s birth. Official U.S. issues should not be confused with so-called “commemoratives” produced by private organizations, which are medals, not coins.

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