Obsolete Coins

In addition to coins we use today, the U.S. Mint has in the past issued half cents, two-cent pieces, three-cent pieces, half dimes and twenty-cent pieces. These obsolete-denomination coins offer special interest and significance to collectors, as the period of issue and mintage quantities were limited, all are over 120 years old, and these coins are scarce and seldom seen today.

[photo: half cent designs]

Half cent designs, clockwise: Liberty Cap left, Liberty Cap right, Draped Bust, Classic Head, Braided Hair. The value ("1/200") was eliminated from the reverse beginning with the Classic Head type in 1809.

Half Cents

Half cents struck in pure copper were authorized by the original Coinage Act of 1792 that established the United States Mint. During its first year of production in 1793, the U.S. Mint struck only half cents and cents. The 1793 half cents bear a one-year-only "Liberty Cap, Head Facing Left" motif, featuring Liberty's left-side profile and a Liberty Cap on a pole behind her. The reverse displays the denomination half cent within a leaf wreath with berries, and the fraction 1/200 is seen below. From 1794-1797, half cents feature a "Liberty Cap, Head Facing Right" design – with Liberty's right-side profile and a Liberty Cap on a pole behind. These Liberty Cap issues of the 1790s bear the edge inscription two hundred for a dollar, which is not found on subsequent issues.

Draped Bust half cents of 1800-1808 depict Liberty facing right with streaming hair and a ribbon, and a plunging neckline covered with drapery. They were followed by the Classic Head type of 1809-1836, featuring Liberty with her hair in curls and secured with a band inscribed liberty, and the addition of seven stars to her left and six to her right. The reverse bears a continuous wreath encircling the denomination half cent. The last design is found on Braided Hair issues of 1840-1857, depicting Liberty with her hair in a bun tied with two beaded cords.

As the price of goods and services, as well as the price of copper, rose during the early 19th century, half cents became less popular and less practical, until the denomination was abolished a few years before the Civil War.

See our Half Cent inventory

[photo: two-cent piece]

The two-cent piece was the first U.S. coin to feature the motto in god we trust.

Two-Cent Pieces

The bronze two-cent piece was authorized in 1864 during the Civil War to alleviate a coin shortage and conserve copper for the war effort. The obverse features a Union Shield over two arrows, with a surrounding wreath and the motto in god we trust on a banner above. The 2¢ piece was the first U.S. coin to feature this motto, inspired by the religious fervor of the Civil War era and now found on all U.S. coins and paper money. The reverse displays an open wreath surrounding the denomination 2 cents. Mintages declined rapidly after the Civil War, and the short-lived 2¢ denomination came to an end in 1873.

See our Two-Cent-piece inventory

Three-Cent Pieces

[photo: silver three-cent piece]

Silver three-cent pieces were introduced to facilitate the purchase of 3¢ postage stamps.

[photo: nickel three-cent piece]

Because the silver coins were hoarded during the Civil War era, nickel three-cent pieces were produced, but discontinued by 1889.

The smallest U.S. silver coins ever issued, silver 3¢ pieces known as "trimes" were introduced in 1851 to facilitate the purchase of 3¢ postage stamps. The obverse bears a six-pointed star, upon which is a Union Shield. The reverse displays a C-shaped device (for "cents") encircling the roman numeral three (III), and surrounded by 13 stars. In an attempt to aid the striking of details, three outlines were added to the star in 1854. However, it did not improve production, and a more successful third variety commenced in 1859 with two outlines on the star. Mintages soon dropped as the coins were unpopular and easily lost, and silver 3¢ pieces were discontinued in 1873.

Nickel three-cent pieces of 1865-1889 were issued because silver 3¢ coins were hoarded for their intrinsic value during the Civil War era, and these coins as well facilitated the purchase of 3¢ stamps. The obverse depicts Liberty facing left with a coronet inscribed liberty. The reverse features the roman numeral III encircled by a laurel wreath. These 3¢ coins were not easy to "compute" for transactions and lost favor with banks, shops and the public.

See our Three-Cent piece inventory

Half Dimes

These silver coins worth five cents were struck at the U.S. Mint from 1794-1873. The first were Flowing Hair issues of 1794-1795, featuring Liberty with streaming hair on the obverse and a small eagle perched on a cloud and surrounded by a wreath on the reverse. The Draped Bust design introduced in 1796 features Liberty with flowing locks and a hair ribbon, seven stars to her left and six to her right, and a small eagle on the reverse. The 1797-dated Draped Bust half dimes come in three variations including 13, 15 or 16 stars on the obverse. No half dimes were struck during 1798-1799. The Draped Bust obverse resumed from 1800-1805, but with a new Heraldic Eagle reverse adapted from the Great Seal of the United States.

[photo: silver half dime designs]

Half dime designs: Flowing Hair, Draped Bust, Capped Bust and Liberty Seated. Silver half dimes were discontinued in 1873 and replaced by the more popular 5¢ nickel coins.

Following a hiatus of over 20 years, Capped Bust half dimes of 1829-1837 depicted Liberty facing left – her hair covered by a cloth cap secured with a band inscribed liberty. The reverse features an eagle on a branch, clutching arrows and with a shield on its breast. The Liberty Seated design was seen on half dimes of 1837-1873, depicting Liberty seated on a rock, holding a pole topped with a Liberty Cap and grasping a shield inscribed liberty. The reverse features the denomination half cent within a wreath tied with a ribbon. The obverse was modified to include 13 stars during 1838, and from 1853-1855, small arrows were placed to the left and right of the date to signify a decrease in the weight of the coins. A final modification was made in 1860, when the legend united states of america was moved from the reverse to the obverse (where it replaced the 13 stars), and the wreath on the reverse was enlarged.

Half dimes were last produced in 1873, as 5¢ nickel coins introduced in 1866 were more widely used and rendered half dimes unnecessary. The 1794-1795 Flowing Hair half dimes were minted in 89.24% silver, while all subsequent issues were struck in 90% silver.

See our Half Dime inventory

Twenty-Cent Pieces

[photo: silver twenty-cent piece designs]

The twenty-cent piece was intended to circulate internationally, but was terminated after just two years of circulation.

The short-lived 20¢ piece of 1875-1878 was created at the urging of Senator John Percival Jones of Nevada, who represented silver miners seeking greater government acquisition of their product. Struck in 90% silver, the twenty-cent piece was intended to circulate internationally on a par with the French silver franc. However, the 20¢ coin was too similar in size and design to the 25¢ "quarter", and was easily mistaken by shopkeepers, bank tellers and the public. After just two years of general circulation during 1875-1876, and two years of Proof-only issues for collectors during 1877-1878, the 20¢ denomination was eliminated.

See our Twenty-Cent piece inventory