Category Archives: Silver

The Numismatist’s Corner: The Morgan Silver Dollar

Morgan Dollar ObverseThe Morgan silver dollar; one of numismatics most sought after coins. However, this beautiful coin didn’t always have the immense amount of interest it does today, in fact, at one point it was completely ignored due to silver prices and the rarity of its use. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s take a walk down memory lane and see how this iconic coin came into existence, and the reason why, despite how old these coins are, they still remain in such pristine condition.

The Morgan Dollar’s Political Beginnings

Politics is what brought the Morgan dollar into being, not public demand. The previous silver dollar had been legislated into oblivion and it was not missed at all by the public. What brought the silver dollar back into existence was the silver lobby pushing for its return. In 1878, Richard ‘Silver Dick’ Bland of Missouri along with other representatives funded by the silver industry, got the Bland-Allison act passed which authorized the minting of a new silver dollar. The act made the US Treasury purchase two to four million troy ounces of silver bullion (at market value no less) every month to be coined into dollars.

In November of 1877, about four months before the Bland-Allison act was passed, the treasury began to make designs for a new dollar coin. Mint Director Henry Linderman ordered Chief Engraver William Barber, father of the famous Charles Barber, and his assistant, George Morgan, to begin making patterns that would be used for the new coin. Morgan’s design won due to Linderman fixing the contest in Morgan’s favor since he was disappointed in the previous work of William Barber and his son Charles. Morgan recruited Philadelphia school teacher Anna Willess Williams to pose for the new design.

The “Buzzard Dollar”

Morgan’s new design featured a left facing portrait of Lady Liberty, with the reverse depicting a rather emaciated looking eagle which led to the coin being nicknamed the, “buzzard dollar” by its detractors. Like most coins of this era, this coin wasn’t without its issues. Soon after production began, someone advised the US Mint that the eagle should have seven tail feathers instead of the eight that were currently being shown on the coin. Morgan made the correction, however, this is the reason why some of the coins from the 1878 series have eight tail feathers instead of seven.

More than half a billion Morgan dollars were struck between 1878 to 1904, with production taking place at the Philadelphia mint along with New Orleans, San Francisco and Carson City. The coin returned briefly in 1921 under the terms of the Pittman act and another 86 million examples were produced at the Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver mints.

The Cinderella Morgan Dollar

Overall, 657 million Morgan dollars had been produced in 96 different date-and-mint combinations. However, a very large portion of these had been melted down over the years by the government under the Pittman Act and the Silver Act of 1942. Despite all of this melting, Americans still had more than enough Morgan Dollars for their everyday use. Because the Morgan was mainly circulated in the western part of the US, huge stockpiles of the coin remained in the US Treasury’s vault, and in private banks nationwide, which is why so many of them are so well preserved, because they saw very little to no use during their circulation.

Even when numismatics began to grow in popularity as a hobby during the 1930s, interest in other collecting areas far outpaced that of the Morgan dollar, mainly due to the high cost of silver at the time, and that the lower face-value coins that were readily available through circulation. Interestingly though, in the late 1930s someone discovered a large store of these coins in the Treasury Department’s cash room, and was paying out the uncirculated Carson City coins which had a market value of $5 or more at the time.

Truly, the coin didn’t begin really gaining popularity until the 1960s and is now one of the most pursued and desired of all classic US coins. Although many collectors find the challenge of assembling a complete date and mark set in Mint State compelling, others satisfy themselves with collecting one per year. Me, I have some dollar coins I need to sift through.


History Of The Quarter Part 4

When last we left we had just finished discussing the Kneass/Gobrecht quarter and how that two iterations of this coin ran for almost 60 years. To end our series on one of the cornerstone coins of the US we’ll talk about the most recent history of the quarter and end with the Washington quarter that most of us know and have grown up with.

Barber Quarter (1892-1916)

In the sunset years of the 1800s the United States found itself once again going through growing pains. A post-war depression raged through the country, unions began defining workers rights and their relationship to management. Scott Joplin introduced a new kind of music known as Ragtime, and the Chicago World’s Fair was introducing new technologies and sparked the imagination for generations to come. Against this backdrop, Charles Barber’s artistry was introduced to the American public.

Coins have a habit of always being referred to by their design or who is included on the coin. The Mercury Dime, The Franklin Half-Dollar, The Lincoln Cent, all named after those who were included on the coin. However, in very rare instances, the designer gets the famous (or infamous) recognition of being the creator of that particular coin. This accolade has only been given to a handful of individuals. Gobrecht and Morgan are famous for their beautiful design on the dollar coin, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, is known due to the penultimate Golden Double Eagle known to numismatic collectors world wide, and Charles Barber. In Barber’s case, he became known not because of the coin that he designed, but rather, the controversies during his tenure as Chief Engraver for the US Mint.

During this time, a bill was introduced into the US Senate that authorized the Treasury Department to redesign coins without the necessity of first obtaining congressional approval, as long as the coin had been in use for twenty-five or more years. The first coin to be changed under this new bill was the quarter which had remained relatively unchanged since 1837. After a disastrous competition, Charles Barber created the design for the new quarter, however, the coin itself wasn’t without its own issues.

When the Barber quarter was first struck in 1892, it was discovered that the coins wouldn’t stack properly. This problem was resolved by altering the relief and design elements of the coin which in turn created two series of coins, Type I and Type II, both sought after by collectors. While the series has no rarities, there are a few key coins, such as the 1896-S and the 1913-S both minted out of the San Francisco Mint. The coin would finish its run in 1916 when a new contest was held and a new design was chosen. However, because of their low relief design, Barber quarters continued to circulate well into the 1950′s.

Standing Liberty Quarter (1916-1932)

The year was 1916, war was ravaging Europe, and the political climate in the US was guarded, to say the least. President Theodore Roosevelt had began recommending and using classical design motifs for the higher denominations of coinage, and now, it was the quarter’s turn. Thus, the standing liberty quarter was born. The obverse of the design featured a frontal view of Liberty in a portrayal reminiscent of Greco-Roman sculpture, with an olive branch in her right hand, but a starred shield in her left in a posture of protection, a message of Liberty ready to defend peace if necessary. The reverse featured an eagle in full flight.

There are two major design varieties for the Standing Liberty quarter, Type I and Type II. Type I was only issued for the first two years of the coins minting due to an uproar over the design of the coin featuring Liberty’s bared breast. Due to public pressure, the design was changed and the breast was covered by chainmail.

Due to the beauty of the coin, the Standing Liberty quarter is very popular with collectors today. The series is collected by date and mint or as part of a complete type or century set. Unlike many earlier issues, it is still completely possible to complete a full set in uncirculated condition, a rare treasure that few have achieved. Unfortunately, the coin’s production would be cut short due to 1932 marking the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth, and in commemoration Congress approves a re-design of the quarter.

Washington Quarter (1932-)

Which leads us to the Washington Quarter. This quarter is one of the longest running coins in American History. Having started in 1932 and is continued in circulation today, 80 years after its inception. There have only been two major changes to the Washington quarter since it began circulation in 1932, the change in composition from silver to a sandwich metal of copper and nickel, and in 1975 when Jack Ahr’s Bicentennial “Drummer Boy” design appeared on the reverse of the coin from 1975-77. Since 1932, over 21 billion business strikes and 60 million proofs have been issued, an amazing quantity by any standard.

Well, that wraps up this series on one of the cornerstones of American numismatics. From humble beginnings to one of the most used coins today. Now if you excuse me, I have some quarters to sift through.


The History Of The Quarter: Part 3

Last time we talked we had just finished going over how the changes in minting technology changed the quarter from a large size coin to a smaller size coin. Today, we continue our multi-part look into the history of the quarter.

No Motto Seated Liberty Quarter (1838-1866)

Seated Liberty Quarter No MottoFor more than a decade, lauded engraver and medalist Christian Gobrecht had been seeking a permanent position with the US Mint. However, the nepotism in the Mint was too deeply ingrained in its employment practices. Everyone who worked there was a family member or friend of someone else who worked there. However, in 1835, necessity won over nepotism and Gobrecht became the assistant engraver of the US mint. Gobrecht made this design in the spare time he had in-between working on other denominations as part of his job with the US Mint.

In the Fall of 1838, Gobrecht’s design finally saw the light of day and replaced the old Reich Capped Bust design. For the obverse, Gobrecht used a modified version of Lady Liberty, sitting on a rock and surrounded by thirteen stars. For the reverse, Gobrecht took the eagle that was used on many of Reich’s coin designs with the denomination reading “Quar. Dol.” instead of the 25c used on Reich’s design.

This coin is often coined (pun intended) the, “No Motto Seated Liberty Quarter” because it lacked the, “IN GOD WE TRUST” motto that was added to the coin in 1866. Over 36 million strikes of this variety was made from 1838 to 1853 and again from 1856 to 1865. Three mints produced this coin; Philadelphia, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Both New Orleans and San Francisco both contained a mintmark, Philadelphia did not. While proofs do exist for every year this coin was struck, they are extremely rare. Additionally, this coin holds one of the rarest proofs in numismatic collecting. The 1842 small date proof is one of the rarest proofs as only six are known to still exist.

Seated Liberty Quarter With Motto (1866-1891)

Seated Liberty Quarter With MottoIn 1866, Reconstruction of the south had just begun. The devastation of the war had sundered many families and had caused the deaths of over 750,000 people collectively. The United States would never be the same again. As Americans, began to rebuild their lives and heal the wounds created from the Civil War, a new motto was necessary to help unite the people once more. In 1864, the motto of, “In God We Trust” was introduced and public reaction was so positive from it that the next year, Congress mandated that it be used on all coinage of suitable size.

A modified version of the Gobrecht design was used for the new minting of the quarter with the motto. Using the same Reich eagle, a graceful banner was added above the eagle stating the new motto on the reverse of the coin. Early mintings of this new design were extremely low during the first few years, due to little bullion reaching the mint due to silver hoarding during the war.

Due to the low numbers of strikes produced, this has led to certain years of the coins production to be extremely scarce rarities. However, it doesn’t stop the occasional gem to show up in collections that were completed years before.

In 1892, after a collective fifty years of service, the Gobrecht design was retired to make way for Charles Barber’s new design.

Well, that’s it for this week’s post, check back again next Friday for our conclusion of the history of the quarter where we’ll dive in with the Barber Quarter and end with the current running coin the Washington Quarter.


The History Of The Quarter: Part 2

Last time, we had just finished discussing the Heraldric Eagle Draped Bust quarter that was in production from 1804-1807 and how that the quarter had been having a hard time getting started and being used within commerce. Instead, it was hoarded and melted down for its silver content since it was heavier than the 2 Spanish Reale piece that was being circulated at the same time. Read on, as we continue our journey through the quarter’s interesting past.

1815-28 Large Size Capped Bust Quarter

Large Size Capped Bust QuarterThe American Revolution had created a ripple effect that had spread across Europe. France underwent its own bloody revolution and from it spawning the Napoleonic Wars, however, this also caused an influx in immigrants to the United States as they fled war-torn Europe. Enter John Reich, a German immigrant who fled Germany during the Napoleonic wars. After making his way to the US, Mr. Reich was hired by the Philadelphia branch of the US mint in 1807 and was tasked with creating new coin designs.

Reich’s designs brought a European touch to American coinage. The obverse design shows Lady Liberty facing left surrounded by thirteen stars. The reverse showed an eagle sitting on a branch, wings outstretched with the Union Shield on its chest and the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM appearing on the scroll above the eagle’s head.

Lady Liberty appeared as quite the buxom woman on this series of coins, which caused the press to jokingly call the representation of Liberty as looking like “the artist’s rotund mistress.” This design would be used for all US coinage in accordance with the policy of the US mint at that time. Even though the design was highly criticized, Reich’s design represents a technological breakthrough over his predecessor’s design. Because of the simplicity of the design, fewer design elements needed to be added by hand, which in turn, reduced production time by making it easier to design a functional die, and increased the life of the die as well which made the coins more consistent in mintages.

This series of coins had a relatively low mintage, with the total 11 year run only striking 1.3 million pieces. VG to VF pieces are easily found for collecting purposes, however, uncirculated are rare to non-existent. Two major rarities in this coin exist in the 1822-23 series and the proof-only series of 1827. The 1827 proofs hold significance due to the fact that they’re mainly associated with Joseph Mickley, the “Father of American Coin Collecting” who obtained 4 proof issues of the 1827 series.

Small Size Capped Bust Quarter

Small Size Capped Bust QuarterIn 1831, major technological changes had come to the newly constructed 2nd Philadelphia Mint. A device known as a close collar, or rather, a collar die was used with the production of the new quarter. Smaller in size, the quarter retained the design by its predecessor with some changes made to compensate for the smaller design area. The “E Pluribus Unum” motto was removed much to the chagrin of government and treasury officials. Additionally, the devices for the design were deepened giving it a more cameo appearance on the coin and also resulted in higher detail in the strikes.

The Small Sized Capped Bust had a shorter run than the large size, but had almost four times the strikes with a total coming to 4.2 million coins produced. All of the coins were produced at the Philadelphia Mint, and there are no stand out points in the series that are rarities. Small size quarters can be viewed as a great success for the mechanical advances that this series incorporated. Even though the design was a re-work of Reich’s earlier design, the precise, uniform appearance of the coins due to the new technology used make them state of the art for the time. This series and design would end abruptly in 1838 to begin preparation of dies for the new Seated Liberty design, which we’ll discuss next week.

Well, that’s it for this week’s walk down history of the Quarter. Come back next week for part three. In the mean time, check out the different numismatic collectibles we carry over at our store. Now if you excuse me, I have some old quarters to sift through.


The History of The Quarter Part 1

The Quarter, one of the most consistent coins in our currency for over one hundred years. This coin wasn’t a derivative of another coin, it didn’t start out of necessity, the quarter dollar has been a cornerstone of our coinage since 1796. It was also the third largest denominations in silver coinage that we had while we were part of a bi-metallic standard, but I’m getting ahead of myself, read on for our brief history on one of our four cornerstone coins.

In 1796 The First US Quarter Appears

While 1796 is made famous for it being the year that President George Washington stepped down, it would also be the start of one of our newest denominations. The (then) fledgeling Philadelphia Mint was preparing to manufacture a new denomination, the quarter dollar, as was authorized by the Mint Act of 1792. Back then, coinage was taken seriously at a completely different level than it is today. Officials saw these first coins as a statement and as our emissaries. These coins would say that we are officially a country, and we should be taken seriously. The educated people of the day understood  that a poorly designed coin would reflect badly on their country, while a well designed coin would be respected worldwide.

The design of this first quarter came about due to the public dislike of the previous copper and silver coin designs. To avoid a repeated embarrassment, Mint Director Henry DeSaussure engaged renowned artist, Gilbert Stuart to do the new design. Stuart, used a prominent Philadelphia socialite, Mrs. William Bingham, as the model for the design. However, all did not go to plan. The bland portrait that ended up on the quarters of 1796 did not resemble the beautiful model that Stuart had sketched. In fact, it had brought so much shame on Stuart, his name was practically forgotten until the late 1800′s when an article in the American Journal of Numismatics made reference to him in the design of the coin.

Only a little over 6,000 of these quarters were struck in 1796, and only two varieties are known. One with a low 6 in the date and one with a high 6. The former being the rarer of the two. While not a rare coin, it is necessary to complete a type set and as this design was only used for one year, it makes the coin extremely popular. The next quarter would not be released until 1804. Additionally, no proofs were struck from the 1796 dies, but several presentation strikings are known to exist.

The Quarter Strikes Back

Today, as I mentioned in the lead-in, the quarter is one of the cornerstones of the US coinage system. It plays a vital role in commerce, and annual production routinely tops 1 billion dollars. However, this wasn’t always the case, after the fiasco of the 1796 quarter, all production of the quarter dollar was suspended for almost 10 years. Quarters were even a rarity seen in the marketplace, few were struck, and fewer were used.

The quarter wouldn’t reappear until 1804. Using the same obverse as before, the reverse was replaced with the heraldic eagle used by the rest of the silver coins for the time. The coin would only have a short run of four years, and again had a miniscule production. Combined production of the four years it was minted totaled over 500,000 strikes. Additionally, no proofs were made if Mint records are correct. It is extremely rare to find the coin in mint condition, and nearly unheard of in grade levels above M-65.

After the production finished in 1807, this denomination would be shelved again for another very long break. Also, the coins that were still in circulation were being hoarded by people, because of the higher silver content than the Mexican and Spanish two reales pieces at the time.

Tune in next week for part two! Do you have either of these rarities? What do you think is the rarest quarter? Let us know in the comments below!


The Complete Historical Guide to Silver Certificates

Gold certificates, Federal Reserve Notes, US notes, all these notes always get so much attention. But, what about silver certificates? One of the most prolific certificates in US history, and one of the longest lasting legal tender notes next to Federal Reserve notes (US currency today). This guide will help bring to light some of the history behind these pieces of US history, and highlight this often overlooked collectible currency.

The “Crime of ’73″ – Silver Certificates are created

As the heading so dramatically puts it, the “crime of ’73″ was the passage of the fourth coinage act of 1873, which, at the time, made it so that silver was no longer part of the standard of currency, effectively ending the bimetallic standard of the US and ended production of silver dollars. However, due to public outcry and denouncement from the shift away from silver, an act was passed by Congress that required the government to purchase silver to be minted into coins.

Series 1878 – The First Silver Certificates

$1 Silver Certificate 1899 Series






In 1878 the first silver certificates were printed. These notes ranged in denominations from $10 all the way up to $1,000! However, banks were leery of the new bill. While they were much more convenient and less bulky to carry than silver coins, the new paper money was no accepted yet for all transactions. While they could be used in bank reserves and for taxes and public debts, they were not considered legal tender for private transactions. Due to this lack of ability, people still preferred the silver coins also due to the fact that paper currency was not trusted at all. Congress passed legislation to clarify this so that the silver certificates could actually be used in day to day activities, as well as authorized the printing of smaller denominations which helped increase circulation of silver certificates.

Small Size Large Amount of Power

In the early 1900s, then Secretary of the Treasury, Franklin MacVeagh, started up a committee to investigate the possible advantages of issuing smaller sized US banknotes. Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of World War I and the end of his tenure, any recommendations found by the committee were stalled. The question wouldn’t rise again until 1925 when Secretary Mellon would create a similar committee and probably found the same advantages that his predecessor’s committee had found. In July of 1929, the treasury would start issuing the smaller currency.

$10 Silver Certificate 1934 Series





An interesting little side note, the date on the bill did not necessarily mean that was the date when the bill was printed. The date on the bill signified the last time there was a major design change on the currency. Changes such as signature changes led to a letter being added below the date.

The Sun Sets on Silver Certificates

By 1963, the demand for silver bullion had risen to a cool 110 million ounces per year. Worried about a silver shortage, the government issued laws that repealed earlier acts that allowed people to purchase silver bullion and established base prices that it could not go below. This provided specific instructions to hold the silver that they currently had in reserve against the issued certificates still in circulation. Additionally, this also amended the Federal Reserve Act to allow them to begin gradually retiring small denominations of silver certificates and releasing silver bullion from reserves. While they still retain their legal tender status, the bill has been effectively retired and then, as of 1968 all redemption in silver had ceased.

Well, we hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane for the Silver Certificate. Curious about adding one of these banknotes to your collection? Great American Coin Company is proud to carry several denominations and series of these great numismatic collectibles.


The Curious Case of the Franklin Half Dollar

The year is 1948, the great war is over, America is recovering and proceding into its next Golden Age, but there is a subtle tension that’s building on the horizon. Across the ocean, the Iron Curtain has risen, and this peace and prosperity has a dark underbelly of tension between the world’s two modern super powers and the start of the “Cold War.”

This year was also a huge change for US coins as well. In 1948 the Franklin Half Dollar would make its debut. With it, it would complete the change in US coinage from featuring images from American mythos and philosophy to featuring portraits of famous Americans.

Franklin Half Dollar Obverse

Rise of the Franklin Half Dollar

Mint Director Nellie Ross had wanted to mint a coin featuring Benjamin Franklin ever since he saw an honorary medal made in Franklin’s Honor by John Sinnock, the Mint’s chief sculptor and engraver. There are even supporting documents that suggest that Ross began making these changes in the early 1940′s but was postponed due to the escalating production demands of World War II.

When it was announced that Franklin would be featured on the half dollar, Ross’ contemporaries had urged her to reconsider and use his portrait for the penny, due to him being so closely related to the adage, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” Sinnock’s portrait of Franklin was based off of an 18th century bust by sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon.

Franklin Half Dollar Reverse









Interestingly, the tiny eagle featured on the reverse of the coin was mandated by law, as any coin over the worth of a dime must feature an eagle. The tiny eagle was added by Gilroy Roberts, who took over the design of the coin after Sinnock’s death in 1947. Also, the commission of fine arts who oversaw the designs of the coins, commented that the crack in the liberty bell and the small eagle might lead some to make, “derogatory [comments about] United States coinage.” Although a redesign was recommended, they proceeded with Sinnock’s model without any changes made. This coin would run for 16 years until the assassination of JFK which would lead to the Kennedy half dollar memorializing the young president.

Even though production of the Franklin half dollar mintages are considered modest by modern day standards, the series doesn’t contain any particular rare years. Additionally, because they are so plentiful, Franklin half dollars in circulated condition are pretty much valued at the silver bullion value. However, the higher mint-state grades of a few years are somewhat elusive, especially ones featuring clear bell lines near the bottom of the Liberty Bell on the reverse of the coin. Some of the rarities come from the cameo contrast proofs that were struck in the set. These proofs feature a mirrored-like surface in the fields which contrasts with the frosted surface on the devices. These cameo coins can bring in a much higher premium due to their rarity.

Curious about adding this historical coin to your collection? Great American Coin carries several different years and grades of the Franklin Half Dollar. Check out how we can expand your collection today!

Gary Dyner is the owner of Great American Coin Company. Connect with him on Google+.


Red Seal, Blue Seal, Gold Note, Silver Note

When you look down at that $5 bill in your pocket. Have you ever wondered why that seal is green? Or why even include a seal? Well, once upon a time, there were actually different styles of notes. The notes that we have today are actually called Federal Reserve notes, but at one time, there were silver certificates and gold certificates as well, where banks were obligated to give you the same amount as dictated by the bill in that amount of silver or gold. Let’s take a look back at the different styles of bills and what the secrets of those seals actually are.

Yellow Seal US Dollars (Gold Certificates)

Introduced in 1863, the yellow seal US bank notes were actually gold certificates. Meaning, that the denomination of bank note was backed by the same amount in gold in the US treasury, and that you could exchange that certificate for the gold at a bank in the US. Which meant that US money was at one time backed by the Gold Standard. There were several times that this standard was suspended though. It was suspended twice during World War I and made it a free floating currency, similar to the fiat currency that it is today. The gold standard US dollar came to a close in 1933 with the Gold Reserve Acts, which made it illegal for the public to be in possession of gold coins or certificates. In 1964, the act was lifted and the notes could be traded again, however, like the silver certificates, they could no longer be redeemed for their value in gold, and became a collectible for numismatists.

Blue Seal US Dollars (Silver Certificates)

Similar to their gold standard cousins, the blue seal US bank notes were in fact silver certificates. These notes first began circulating in 1878 and were backed by the US stockpile of silver bullion. These certificates could be redeemed for their value in silver. At first, it was through an exchange of the certificate for silver dollar coins and later became an exchange for raw bullion. These notes were mainly done in the 1, 5, and 10 dollar denominations. In 1963, the notes were discontinued with a deadline of 1968 placed on any remaining silver certificates to be redeemed for their value in silver. These notes are still considered legal tender today but are valued at their face value and not at the current price of silver.

Red Seal US Dollars (US Notes)

The red seal dollars are an interesting fare. They were started during the Civil War and were in production for about one hundred years, making them one of the longest produced notes next to the dollar produced by the Federal Reserve. These notes were actual pieces on national debt. Which means they were direct obligations by the US government and that the individual who had them owned a piece of the national debt. These notes went out of circulation in the 1960s and were removed as legal tender in the mid 90s.

Green Seal US Dollars (Federal Reserve Notes)

The bills that we all use today are actually known as Federal Reserve notes. These are the only notes still being actively produced and are also the youngest. First introduced in 1914, these notes are backed by the US government but aren’t actually produced by the US. Instead, the 12 Federal Reserve banks within the US prints this money and, by law, must maintain enough assets to balance the notes issued. This currency is actually a fiat currency and is not based on any gold or silver standard.

Gary Dyner is the owner of Great American Coin Company. Connect with him on Google+.


History of The Nickel Pt. 2

Continuing from part one that we did a couple of weeks back. We’re here once again to talk about the history of the nickel. The nickel, also referred to as the half dime, wouldn’t gain it’s nick name (pun not intended) until the mid 19th century at the end of the Civil War. This war spawned half dimes north and south of the mason-dixon line, and as such, creates a wide overlap of the different coins.

Shield NickelShield Nickel (1866-1883)

This coin came to be at the end of the Civil War. During the war, people had begun to hoard gold and silver coins due to the government stopping the use of precious metals in coinage. This lead to the well known “shinplaster” coins. These coins were made of non-precious metals, and were quickly despised by the public. This coin would be one of the first to be a base-metal composite coin as the coin itself was made of 75% copper and 25% nickel. The shield nickel as it became known, was only minted by the Philidelphia mint and only 125 million had been struck, by the time it was replaced in 1883.

1913 Liberty Head NickelLiberty Head Nickel (1883-1913)

In the year of FDR’s birth, another birth was coming to the US; the Liberty Head Nickel. This coin designed by the famous (or infamous depending on the collector you’re talking to) Charles Barber. This coin was a change in design as well as shape for the nickel as the chief engraver for the mint used Barber’s design to increase the size of the nickel to help extend the life of the dies.However, this change along with Barber’s original design would end in disaster. After a special unveiling of the coin where the coin was handed out as a gift to dignitaries, the coin was then mass struck for consumption, but, there was one chief flaw in Barber’s design. He had not placed the word “cents” underneath the roman numeral V on the reverse of the coin.

This lack of designation lead to con men at the time to gold plate the coin and pass them off as $5 eagles, since the coin was the same size as one of the more valuable dollar coins. This was quickly remedied but the coins were already in circulation. This coin produced one of the most coveted rarities for the numismatic world, when 5 of the coins were discovered to have been illegally printed the same year that the Buffalo Nickel was supposed to be used.

1935 Buffalo NickelBuffalo Nickel (1913-1938)

We’ve written about the Buffalo Nickel before, when we did an article on some of the most sought after coins by collectors. This coin has a very rich history, as this featured a non-anglicized Native American on our country’s coinage. If you’re curious about it’s history you can read more about it here.

Jefferson Nickel (1938-)

This leads us to our current nickel which is known as the Jefferson Nickel. This version of the coin has been in production continuously since 1938. Will this change at some point? Possibly. However, a coin honoring one of our founding fathers will be hard to replace.

Well, we hope you’ve enjoyed this look at one of our oldest coins. For any of your numismatic needs, feel free to check out our inventory of great collectibles, including some of those talked about here.

Gary Dyner is the owner of Great American Coin Company. Connect with him on Google+.


History of the Nickel pt.1

When you think about our coins, which do you think is the oldest? Well, the oldest of our modern coin denominations is actually the nickel which is older than the penny by a year. The nickel is our oldest currency, dating back as early as 1792. Originally known as the half-dime, this coin has been around in one form or another since the early years of the union. Curious about it’s history and how it changed with our country? Read on.

1792 half dismeThe Half-Disme

First coined in 1792 the half disme (yes they spelled dime with an “s” it was the 18th century, modern english as we know it wouldn’t emerge until much later, and anyways it’s French) emerged as the country was first beginning to expand. The US had just grown to 14 states with the creation of Vermont, had no navy to speak of, and were paying tribute to the barbary pirates. At this point, we had trading relationships with the spanish colonies (Louisiana and Florida) and so Spanish reales flowed freely along with English shillings and pence. Because of the complete incompatibility of the currencies of England and Spain, it slowed down trade and exchange between the two required overly complex exchange calculations.

Which leads us to the creation of the US currency system. Congress was debating how we should change our national currency. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton all favored the adoption of the decimal system, which was useful on multiple fronts for the US. Firstly, it would represent a clean break from the English Pound Sterling currency and allow a way to reconcile the differences between Spanish and English currencies.

After the US adopted the dollar in 1785 events moved very quickly over the next 7 years. From the creation of a national mint to the actual minting of the coin. The half disme is very rare, and many counterfeits exist. To date, there are only 200-250 known examples still in existence. This coin was mainly used for visiting dignitaries and very few were actually issued into circulation. In fact, the coin was replaced in 1794 by the next coin on our list, the Flowing Hair half dime.

1794 Flowing Hair Half Dime1794-95 Flowing Hair Half Dime

The first nickel to be distributed to the American people was the 1794 Flowing Hair half dime. Designed by Robert Scot, the first chief engraver for the national mint. The coin was minted for two years before it was replaced, but it is an extremely rare and highly valuable collector’s piece. Around 7,500 half dimes were minted with the 1794 date, but were actually minted in March of 1795. Due to the infancy of the mint at this point, most of the half-dimes are of poor striking quality which is considered normal until the mid 19th century where techniques were improved and/or changed. All of the flowing hair half dimes were struck at the newly finished Philadelphia Mint. Interestingly enough, no true proofs are known, although there are some coins that are of presentation levels of quality.

This coin represents a very important piece of American history. This half dime is one of the first official issues of silver coinage by the US. Where in the past, silver coinage had been the purview of the monarchy, for our government to produce it was a clear and decisive act of nationalism.

Our money is a rich and colorful window into our nation’s history. A lot can be gleaned from our coinage. Come back next week where we’ll continue to look at the history of the nickel. Additionally, check out some of the great historical silver coins we have available for purchase.

Gary Dyner is the owner of Great American Coin Company. Connect with him on Google+.